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Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe] Will the Taoiseach be adopting a new approach? Will he be arguing for debt write-off and a substantial stimulus package to create jobs and growth?

People across Europe are concerned about the increased federalism of Europe. They feel their countries are rapidly losing sovereignty, with the EU becoming more autocratic and dictatorial and less democratic. Many Government MEPs voted in favour of a motion which called for a leap towards a federal union in Strasbourg last week. Does the Government share these views and will this significant departure be discussed at the Council meeting?

Yesterday, I heard from European Movement Ireland, which gave an accountability report for 2011 tracking Ireland's engagement with the EU. Ministers' attendance is up, as one would expect given that the root of many of our problems lies with the EU and its policies. The report is critical, however, of Irish MEPs' engagement and particularly their input at the pre-legislative phase. It suggests that they appear to arrive at the debate when it is already half over, or not at all. Their weak engagement seems to mirror that of the Government in Europe, engaging with the EU on key issues too late, or not at all.

Lack of accountability is becoming a real problem for citizens across the Union. I recently met some British MPs who said the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, will make a keynote statement in January. Many believe this will be a game changer for Britain and will signal its withdrawal from the EU. Is the Taoiseach aware of this pending statement? Has he considered the potentially serious implications this will have for Ireland and particularly the potential difficulties this will cause in Border regions? There is a strong view not only across the British Labour Party but also among Conservative Party members that this will happen sooner rather than later. It will have serious implications for Irish people on both sides of the Border and will also have an effect on Ireland's relations with the EU.

I am disappointed the EU has given the green light to a free trade agreement with Colombia. All major trade unions in Latin America, most of the human rights and environmental organisations and many parliamentarians have come out against this free trade agreement. We know Colombia is the most dangerous place on earth to be a trade unionist. Yet the Colombian authorities have offered nothing but weak promises on the issue of workers and human rights. Those forces in Colombia which are committed to democratic and peaceful change need support from the outside world. This agreement is seen by many, particularly during these sensitive times when negotiations are ongoing between the Colombian Government and one of the rebel groups, as rubber-stamping human rights abuses, and it will have a negative impact on the push for civic society to be involved in negotiations and to bring about positive change in regard to land reform and so on.

With regard to the Palestinian situation, will the Taoiseach raise the issue of the Israeli decision to create new settlement colonies in the West Bank? Some 3,000 new illegal settlement homes are due to be built in the highly contentious E1 zone of the West Bank. Existing Israeli settlements currently form a near-complete ring around East Jerusalem. E1 is the last gap in the ring. If Netanyahu builds on E1, it will seal off East Jerusalem and split the West Bank in half. This means any future Palestinian state would lose its ancient capital, which puts a two-state solution in real jeopardy. While the EU will probably use strong rhetoric and criticise Israel, will the Taoiseach argue in favour of the EU's introducing concrete punitive measures such as banning goods from illegal Israeli settlement colonies in the West Bank? I believe such a ban would help stop the spread of illegal settlements, as the EU is already a major trading partner of Israel. It would also send out a very strong signal that Ireland and Europe will not stand by while Israel continually breaks international law and commits human rights abuses in the occupied territories.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I wish to share time with Deputies Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Mattie McGrath.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Yesterday, I spent an hour on the radio debating with the German ambassador. Among other things, we debated Ireland's banking collapse and the subsequent €64 billion of debt. The ambassador is clearly a man of integrity and he is very well informed on financial and geopolitical issues. What he had to say on the banking debt was very interesting. In essence, he said the banking debt was our problem, that we had created it and that it was up to us to solve it. He said it was our choice to guarantee the banks and he also said there was no international pressure being put on Ireland to carry through payments of bondholders, payment of promissory notes and so forth.

What he said was reminiscent of what I have heard in other parts. A few months ago, members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform met members of the Bundestag finance committee, and what they said was very similar. They said we caused this and we need to fix it, so we must take the hard medicine and be very cognisant of the support we are receiving from the German people. If the Tánaiste talks to our MEPs, as I am sure he does regularly, he will be aware they tell similar stories of the European political establishment - people feel this was our fault, that we need to get ourselves out of it and that Europe is supporting us. Further, they will tell us we are on the road to recovery. The message is that we caused the problem, it was an expensive problem, we need to fix it and they are supporting us, but things are turning good for us so we should just get on with it.

I make the point to the Tánaiste that not only are these views incorrect, they are very dangerous for the Government's efforts in trying to negotiate a substantial write-down on the €64 billion. Obviously, some of the banking collapse was caused in Ireland. Fianna Fáil did allow loose regulation and did guarantee the banks, supported by Fine Gael. However, there is no doubt international pressure is being put on the Government to continue paying unguaranteed bondholders and the promissory notes.

Of course, the banking collapse was not just our problem; it was Europe's problem and, in truth, it is Europe that has gained. We have not gained. Most of the banks are gone - they are dead, or should be dead. It was Europe that gained, particularly in terms of financial stability. Unfortunately, contrary to the figures thrown around at budget time, I do not believe we are on the road to recovery. Unemployment is not falling, or not really, emigration is rising, there are 35,000 fewer people at work now than there were one year ago and economic growth is tenuous. Indeed, if we were to take a close look at where that tenuous growth is coming from, a good portion of it is actually down to accounting measures rather than a real increase in productivity in the export sector. Sadly, we are not 85% of the way through the correction - that is based on one accounting figure for the promissory notes. We are actually less than halfway through. I take no pleasure in saying this. Unfortunately, I do not believe we are yet on the road to recovery. We need this deal and we need a balance between fiscal consolidation and investment to achieve that.

Why is this happening? I would say it is partly down to a diplomatic failing on behalf of the Government and, maybe, of all of us. The Government has focused on rebuilding Ireland's reputation, and for very good reason. However, I believe the balance is now incorrect and that the Government may have sacrificed much-needed honesty about what happened and what is happening here, and the pain the Irish people are taking for goodwill, important though that goodwill may be. My message before the European Council meeting is this. I believe it is time to redress that balance. It is time to have a robust and honest conversation with our European partners, including the ECB and the Commission, about what happened here, about who paid for what and who has gained, and about the fact we are really not being supported by Europe.

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