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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)

[Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams] Last week’s European Council summit agreed to the establishment of a single supervisory mechanism and a single resolution mechanism for European banks. Sinn Féin supports the strongest possible regulation of banks and banking at domestic and European level. The light touch regulation of the Fianna Fáil Government was clearly one of the major contributory factors of the banking crisis and the meltdown in the Irish economy. However, Sinn Féin has serious concerns about giving more power to an unelected and unaccountable body like the ECB. It contributed to the crisis through its low interest rate policy, which flooded Irish banks with cheap money and cheap credit. The ECB pushed Ireland into a bailout in 2010 and also appears to be one of the main obstacles to a deal on Ireland’s debt. Commentators have been rightly critical of the failure of the Irish banking regulators to regulate properly the banking sector. Can we have confidence the ECB is fit for purpose before these institutions are given increased powers? Just because regulation failed in this State does not necessarily mean the answer is to hand over regulation to the ECB. The ECB has not shown itself to have any special insight when it comes to running itself or contributing to the banking debate. The ECB wants all the rights but none of the responsibilities when it comes to the banks. It centralises control and supervision over banks, some of which have been nationalised, but refuses to provide a backstop for the euro or to capitalise the banks centrally. Sinn Féin has called for the ECB to be a lender of last resort for the euro; however, that is not on offer. Focusing solely on problems associated with monetary reform of the euro will not solve the crisis. Bank debt must be written down and a growth strategy for the EU must be pursued.

In this context, I want to comment on Ireland’s forthcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU. On Monday, the Tánaiste outlined the priorities for the Presidency, which he said would be stability, jobs and growth. These are fine words but none of this has been delivered by the Government after 20 months in office. The six-month Presidency offers an opportunity for the State to show leadership at European level. It is an opportunity to move away from austerity towards a more socially inclusive EU and an opportunity to heal the disastrous social consequences of the austerity policies pursued by this and other EU governments. Many important decisions will have to be made under Ireland’s watch, including the signing off on the EU’s seven year budget or the multi-annual financial framework. The Government should be arguing for a budget that will create jobs, retain jobs and invest in jobs. How can the EU be taken seriously when it talks about stimulus while at the same time looking at cutting, or at least not increasing, its budget? The Taoiseach needs to argue for an alternative approach, including a well-funded and fair CAP that prioritises working farmers. I urge the Government to ensure that, under its Presidency, a new PEACE programme is secured so the good work to date of the PEACE programmes is not squandered.

I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment to an all-Ireland element to the Presidency. I understand Government officials have liaised with officials from the Executive in the North, which is a good thing. Co-operation with the northern Executive is particularly important on issues like CAP and the PEACE programme.

Sinn Féin has consistently argued that the Government should take a sterner line in negotiations with our EU colleagues on debt. We should be frank with them, which means telling them our debt is not sustainable, that we cannot pay it and that we need action to alleviate the burden on our citizens to give our economy a fighting chance of recovery.

During pre-summit statements last week, I asked the Taoiseach to raise the case of Mr. Pat Finucane, either formally or informally, in light of the publication of the de Silva review. I am disappointed the Taoiseach made no mention of it in a statement. I also asked him to raise illegal actions by the Israeli Government following the welcome ceasefires between the Israeli Government and the Palestinians. I am also disappointed there is no mention of this in the statement.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I raised it with the Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe It is good to hear the Irish Presidency will focus on youth unemployment. Like everyone, across all parties and none, we want to see this acted on and delivered during the six months of Ireland's Presidency. We know some countries in the European Union have introduced measures that have kept youth unemployment at a low level. Countries like Ireland, with an unacceptably high level of youth unemployment, need to look seriously at many of the credible and viable initiatives and adapt them to our local needs and conditions.

Earlier this month, the European Commission launched its action plan on youth jobs. Young people across Europe were waiting and hoping that something concrete would emerge or that new thinking would gain traction. The plan is welcome but it is weak and, crucially, it does not commit to any new funding to tackle youth unemployment as a problem that needs its own focus. Youth unemployment is running at 30% in this State and is as high as 49% in Donegal. In Dublin South-West, my constituency, it is 40% but some estates in Tallaght have rates far above that. If we could factor in the young people who have left because of the lack of work, the figure would increase dramatically. In the recent budget, one element created a push factor by reducing the time people are eligible for jobseeker's benefit. We hope progress can be made on youth unemployment during the next six months but people are not holding their breath with the Commission’s weak and vague plan.

My suggestion is that there is nothing stopping the launch of a young entrepreneurs fund during the Irish Presidency. Is there any difficulty in doing so? It could be funded by the European Investment Bank and, in view of the crisis in youth unemployment, if the fund is too low nothing stops member states increasing their subscription to the EIB for such a fund. That is a positive suggestion. We should do something concrete during the Presidency. The Taoiseach referred to the employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs, EPSCO, meeting taking place during February, with youth unemployment the main focus. We need to move beyond that and put something concrete in place. From listening to the Tánaiste, there is common agreement that this is the crisis facing us. I suggest putting something in place. There is a view that this is falling on the shoulders of the Irish Presidency but I would like to think we are genuine in moving it forward.

The adaption of the funding arrangement could also be looked at in view of the crisis with the 50:50 requirement being altered to a more realistic 75:25 for youth jobs in disadvantaged communities and regions. The bank recapitalisation could call on something like €700 billion from the European Stability Mechanism. Surely we can come up with some realistic proposal emerging during the Presidency for such a project considering there is so much common agreement across Europe.

The Taoiseach also mentioned the Common Security and Defence Policy. The conclusions of the European Council summit make large references to the European Common Security and Defence Policy. It states that in today’s changing world the EU "is called upon to assume increased responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security...and the promotion of its interests". Who is calling on the EU in this regard? Should it not read that the EU wants to assume greater international powers to promote its own interests? I refer to free trade agreements with countries that have abysmal human rights records.

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