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Snippet Contents:

Following on from the European Council meeting last week, it would be easy for all of us in this Chamber to focus on Brexit. I will certainly make some references to it. Given that the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, took only a few minutes to set out her views at about 1 a.m., it clearly was not the focus of that meeting, but I will come back to the issue.
On the issue that dominated the European Council meeting, namely, Russian aggression in Syria and the migration crisis, the distressing scenes of devastation in Syria have, rightly, caused outrage and dismay. Last week in the Seanad the Labour Party spokesperson on foreign affairs, Senator Ivana Bacik, secured all-party agreement on a motion condemning the appalling bombardment of civilians in Aleppo and the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria. The Dáil also debated the issue last week in some detail. At such a remove from the war, it can be hard to make a real difference, but the Labour Party will continue to question the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, about what Ireland is doing and to ensure there will be a concentrated effort to deliver whatever assistance we can, humanitarian or otherwise. We have asked the Minister to express in the strongest possible terms Ireland's condemnation of Russia's support of the Syrian Government and its role in the horrific and inhumane bombardment of Aleppo. We want Ireland to support the extension of sanctions against Russia and vote against its admission to the UN Human Rights Committee. We have also called on the Minister to support the stronger approach being adopted by the German and French Governments to Russia's complicity in war crimes being committed against the civilian population in Syria. The failure of the European Council to include any reference to possible sanctions against Russia, given this complicity, is hugely disappointing, to say the least. I hope Ireland was not one of the country's responsible for this omission.
It is not acceptable for the European Union to stand on the sidelines and not take action. The delay in welcoming those fleeing the war to Ireland deserves criticism in this House. It is an issue for all Europeans. Surely, we can now all accept the need for greater urgency in the resettlement and relocation of Syrian refugees. Delays are occurring in Italy in the admission into that country of Irish personnel to help to process applicants for inclusion in the programme. It is about time we were given a concrete timeframe for the admission into Ireland of the 4,000 refugees we have committed to receiving. Our target is to have 520 refugees resettled in Ireland by the end of the year. Will the Taoiseach commit to increasing that number? Ireland is ready to provide for the safe relocation of those fleeing the war and we must deliver on our commitment.
When the budget was unveiled, the Labour Party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, criticised the Government for failing to include any increase in the Irish Aid budget, with only an extra €10 million being provided for overseas development assistance. Perhaps the Taoiseach might confirm if the additional €10 million will be used to support the EU-Turkey refugee deal. Faced with such a grave humanitarian crisis, we could have done better. Like Deputy Micheál Martin, I salute the commendable work undertaken by Naval Service personnel and also their humanitarian efforts and professional approach which have earned them respect and admiration across the world.
On Friday the European Council discussed the issues of trade and the CETA. The collapse of the trade deal does not bode well for a possible UK-EU settlement following Brexit. A key issue with the CETA was the lack of an input by national parliaments across Europe. If the European Union is to retain competency on trade issues, it must do substantially more to reflect the concerns of the peoples of Europe expressed through national parliaments and their representatives. There are many who welcome the stance adopted by Wallonia and Belgium as it highlights, in stark form, the democratic deficit at the heart of trade talks. Future trade deals are dead, unless legitimate concerns, in particular about agricultural and food products and the investor court, are addressed.
On Brexit, on which issue I made a 20-minute contribution in April, the greatest challenge facing Ireland in Europe is presented by the prospect that there will be a hard Brexit. A hard Brexit would not be in Ireland's interests. The taking of a hard line in Europe means bad outcomes for Ireland. Whatever our views and whether we like it, the people of the United Kingdom have spoken and decided to leave the European Union. This is the time to engage in serious planning. We most definitely need to accelerate our planning process. I have heard too many people who think they are informed experts on this issue speculate about what might happen. My view is that a Brexit will take a considerable period of time to complete. Two years is only the starting base. It took Greenland three years to leave and it is a small country. A Brexit will take much longer to complete and this will create huge uncertainty. It could take four to five years for it to be completed, irrespective of people's commitment. I am, therefore, extremely concerned about this process.
Last week, according to reports, the British Prime Minister was given just a few minutes at 1 a.m. to set out her views on Brexit. That her contribution was met with silence before a group moved on to discuss other items should tell us a lot. It was reported that Mr. Juncker had responded to questions with a "phew". Francois Hollande said the negotiations would be hard, while Ms Merkel said they would be rough. It appears we are facing a further five months of uncertainty, as Article 50 will not be triggered until March. Has Ireland sought a place on Mr. Barnier's team? There are many experienced negotiators in Ireland, both politicians and civil servants, who played key roles in the peace process and EU negotiations. These skills should be available at the Brexit negotiating table, principally to protect the peace process, as alluded to by Deputy Gerry Adams, but also in the context of the unique circumstances faced by Ireland.
In recent days I read with interest the national risk assessment 2016 report which indicates that Britain's departure from the European Union is the number one threat to Ireland's prosperity and that this will impact on the economy, our social infrastructure and standing on the international stage. That is clear. We should not, therefore, underestimate the significant change that is likely to occur at EU level from a political perspective in terms of maintaining a balance.