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Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall] He denied that there would be any checks required for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and he was quickly pulled up on that by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn MP, when Mr. Corbyn produced documents from the UK Treasury which point out that checks would be needed in some cases. Indeed, when that question was put to the Tánaiste on Monday, he stated, "Goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland will need to have some checks to ensure that the EU knows what is potentially coming into their market through Northern Ireland." This is a critical point. How do we have a system of checks for goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland which can then move freely into the Republic of Ireland? The point is it is very much in Ireland's interests that we are seen to have a tight border in relation to the Single Market. It is in our interests in terms of ensuring confidence is maintained in Irish goods and yet nobody in government can explain how this critical issue will be dealt with. I do not know whether the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, has answers today. I was hoping that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, or the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, would provide clarity in relation to that. We are still left in the extraordinary situation where neither we nor anybody in government has a clue about how the Brexit agreement will operate in terms of safeguarding the integrity of our trade and the goods that we trade. That is a dangerous situation to be in.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell The Minister of State has five minutes to conclude. It is scant time to address all of the issues raised but that, as I am sure the Deputies will understand, is a matter for the Business Committee.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Ciarán Cannon): Information on Ciarán Cannon Zoom on Ciarán Cannon I thank the Deputies for their statements.

The Taoiseach has already outlined his expectations for the discussions on climate change, the multi-annual financial framework, Brexit and proposals on the future of Europe at this week's meeting of the European Council. The Taoiseach has also set out the issues of primary focus for leaders at the Euro summit taking place on Friday. I will direct my remarks on a number of important foreign policy issues and on the current situation at the World Trade Organization, which are also on the agenda of this week's European Council.

As is customary, leaders will take the opportunity at the European Council for an exchange on current foreign policy issues. Among the topics for discussion is the EU's relationship with Africa. At its meeting in June, the European Council emphasised the crucial importance of the EU's strategic partnership with Africa and committed to developing that relationship further. This week, discussion on EU-Africa relations will focus on preparations for the EU-African Union, AU, summit in late 2020. The summit, together with the conclusion of post-Cotonou negotiations next year, will make 2020 a key year for EU-Africa relations. I was pleased to launch Ireland's new Strategy for Africa with the Tánaiste on 28 November last. As well as enabling Ireland to build on our already deep bilateral relationships on the African continent, this strategy places a strong emphasis on the need for, and benefits of, Africa and Europe working more closely together.

The prosperity and security of our two continents are closely intertwined. The EU is Africa's largest partner in trade, investment and development and we should work together to strengthen our political partnership. Ireland strongly supports Commission President von der Leyen's priority of delivering a new ambitious Africa strategy. Dr. von der Leyen's visit to Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union, in her first week in office was a clear statement of the importance she attaches to the EU-Africa relationship. It is expected that EU leaders will call this week on the European Commission and on the High Representative to begin to prepare the ground for a strategic discussion of EU-Africa relations at the European Council in June 2020, which in turn will provide political direction in advance of the important three-yearly EU-AU summit scheduled for December 2020.

Relations with Russia and the extension of EU economic sanctions for a further six months to 31 July 2020 will be discussed also at this week's European Council.

In relation to the situation in Ukraine, Germany and France are expected to update leaders on the Normandy format meeting, which took place at Heads of State level in Paris on 9 December. Ireland is a firm supporter of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and recognises that Russia must respect the fundamental principles of international law and restore Ukraine's internationally recognised borders. Ireland supports the efforts of France and Germany to find a resolution through the Normandy format and welcomes the resumption of dialogue between Russia and Ukraine in this regard.

Leaders are expected to discuss the risk of paralysis of the World Trade Organization's mechanism for settling disputes. The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization, WTO, ceased functioning due to the United States' continued veto of new members to its panel. As a small open economy, Ireland values its membership of the WTO and the protections it affords to all its members as part of a rules-based multilateral trading system. However, like others, we acknowledge the need for reform and the need to address areas of unfair trade or advantages within the WTO. We support the interim appeal arbitration mechanism developed by the European Commission as a temporary workaround, while also emphasising the need for perseverance in resolving the wider impasse with the US.

Leaders have a busy agenda ahead of them this week with a broad range of pressing issues to discuss, including climate change, the EU's seven year budget and Brexit, as well discussing economic and monetary union, EMU, reform at the Euro summit. There are also a range of other challenging global issues on the agenda, including Russia, the EU's strategic partnership with Africa and the functioning of the WTO and I welcome the focus which the European Council will give to these this week.

I thank Deputies for their attention. The Taoiseach will report to Deputies on his attendance at the European Council after his return.

  Sitting suspended at 3.36 p.m. and resumed at 4.36 p.m.

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