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Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar]   I hope that the withdrawal agreement will be ratified by the UK Parliament and the European Parliament in due course, but the Government, in close co-operation with the EU, is continuing its work to prepare for all possible outcomes including the central case scenario and the no-deal scenario. We are accelerating the recruitment of customs officers and veterinary health inspectors and we are developing infrastructure in ports and enabling legislation. We will be as ready as we can be for all eventualities. Whatever happens, Ireland will remain at the heart of the European Union, the eurozone and the Single Market in the common European home we helped to build.

  Four times in our nation's history we have travelled a different path from that of Britain: when we became independent and founded the Free State; when we declared a republic; when we floated the punt; and when we joined the euro without the United Kingdom. On each occasion there were risks, challenges, opportunities and a transition period, but on each occasion we emerged stronger and wealthier. That will be the case again.

  My final remark on Brexit is to recognise the noteworthy contrast between the political situation here in Dublin and that in London. Both the United Kingdom and Ireland are faced with existential threats because of Brexit. However, we have a degree of political stability and a degree of consensus across the House. That makes our country a much better place and puts it in a much stronger position as these negotiations continue.

  The Single Market, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, is one of the great achievements of the Union. It has brought about increased employment, increased trade and greater competition and higher living standards for our citizens. It has also given us, as European citizens, the freedom to work or study anywhere in the Union. Its further development is essential to ensure Europe's continued competitiveness on the world stage. This is a priority for Ireland as a trading country. We have been working closely with like-minded partners to ensure a high level of political ambition with a particular focus on unlocking the Single Market's full potential in the areas of digitalisation and trade in services. Our approach is informed by the work led by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, in conjunction with her counterparts in Finland, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Last month, they launched a report commissioned from Copenhagen Economics entitled Making EU Trade in Services Work for All.

  This meeting of the European Council also provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the implementation of the comprehensive approach to migration agreed at the June Council meeting. Europe can only respond effectively to large migratory flows by working together and I support the three-pronged approach we agreed in June. These three prongs are: securing our external borders, strengthening co-operation with countries of transit and origin, and dealing with the management of migrants within the EU on the basis of solidarity. The European Union needs an asylum system that can respond effectively to large-scale migratory movements, both legal and illegal. We are engaged in efforts to reform the common European asylum system. Discussions on controlled centres and disembarkation platforms have taken place in recent months. As I have stated previously, we would only seek to progress these initiatives if we were satisfied that they would be fully compliant with our obligations under international law. We continue to co-operate closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration to this end.

  Collaboration with these organisations is also an important part of our efforts to support our African partners both through Irish Aid and the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. We have pledged €15 million for this purpose. This is the third highest contribution per capita in the European Union. The global compact on migration, which was signed at Marrakesh earlier this week - with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, representing the Irish Government - reflects the need for co-operation at a global level without dictating how states should determine their own policies. It is regrettable that some EU member states did not participate in the compact. I hope they will revisit this decision in the future.

  Following our discussions at the June Council meeting, the Commission will present its action plan against disinformation. I fully support the efforts to see off this evolving threat. It is important that we work together to counter disinformation activities that threaten our shared democracy. The plan sets out four things we must do, namely: improve detection, analysis and exposure of disinformation; strengthen co-operation to enable a more cohesive response; engage with industry; and raise public awareness and support quality media and journalism. It is essential that the electoral process is safeguarded from inappropriate online interference and manipulation and that we respect international law and fundamental rights. The open policy forum held in Dublin Castle on 6 December examined some of the issues related to this including the regulation of transparency of online political advertising. The EU must act in a co-ordinated and comprehensive way and I look forward to discussing this further with EU partners.

  On external relations, we will discuss preparations for the summit between the European Union and the Arab League, which is scheduled to take place in Cairo in February. Recent developments in Russia and Ukraine are also likely to be discussed. The Government is gravely concerned about the increasing militarisation of Crimea and the Sea of Azov. We support calls for all sides to de-escalate the situation. Ireland is unwavering in its support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and we do not recognise Russia's annexation of Crimea. As part of our efforts to develop relations with Ukraine, we will open an embassy there as part of the Global Ireland 2025 initiative. I firmly believe that unity at EU level must continue to be the cornerstone of our approach to Russia. The EU is at its strongest when it speaks with one voice and I will emphasise this in my engagement with European partners.

  We will also have an exchange on the fight against racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Ireland fully supports the ongoing efforts in this area, including the Council's declaration on 6 December on the fight against anti-Semitism. All states share a duty to work towards achieving societies that are free of inequality, repression and discrimination in accordance with their international obligations.

  The focus of our discussions at the euro summit will be on strengthening and deepening economic and monetary union. The summit is expected to endorse the positive outcome of negotiations among Finance Ministers in recent months. These negotiations recently saw agreement reached on the reform of the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, which will now have additional responsibilities in the areas of crisis prevention and resolution in the eurozone and in advancing banking union. I welcome these positive developments which mark a further step in the development of economic and monetary union and which will serve to strengthen the resilience of our banking system and the overall stability of the eurozone. I expect that some will also want to discuss the possibility of a budgetary instrument for the eurozone as part of the multi-annual financial framework. This is a proposal which we are open to considering.

  I look forward to reporting back to the House next week on 19 December on the outcome of these meetings.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin According to current legislation, Brexit will take effect in 107 days. The deal on the table was reached after two years of tortuous and repetitive negotiations. It is a deal which reflects the commitments made by both the United Kingdom and the European Union to Ireland from late 2016 onwards. It is a good deal for all involved. It would allow for an orderly transition period, reduce the short-term economic damage and allow time to develop a long-term model for co-operation. Regardless of how good it is, a deal which will not or cannot be ratified ultimately becomes inoperable and worthless.

In the nearly three weeks since the deal was agreed we have all witnessed an escalating political crisis in London. It was the intention of the UK Government to hold a vote last night. There is no prospect of another vote being scheduled for some time. There are many scenarios but unfortunately there is no clarity. While Prime Minister May works to salvage the current deal she is confronted with a political class which has descended into open warfare between angry factions. Today’s no confidence motion is only the latest outbreak from members of a fundamentalist group in her own party who seem to be determined to destroy all around them rather than ever compromise. Their extreme Europhobia has developed over 40 years and it will not respond to evidence or reason.

It would be wonderful to be able to dismiss what is happening in London as a sideshow but we cannot do so. Ireland and Europe are directly affected. Regardless of whether Prime Minister May survives today, the core blockage to any deal remains. There is an overwhelming majority of MPs standing against the withdrawal agreement but there is no route to a majority for any alternative course of action.

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