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Snippet Contents:

No one knows what Ireland's position is. More importantly, we are not building alliances and shaping discussions. While we talk about Europe in Dáil Éireann a lot more than in the past, this has become almost solely focused on short-term discussions. I acknowledge there are substantive sessions in committees but these receive little attention and tend to be focused on specific proposals. While I and my colleagues have delivered a series of lengthy speeches on long-term European Union issues in other fora, there is undoubtedly a need for the Dáil to take time to have a fuller debate on the core direction of the European Union. Brexit is only one part of a much bigger challenge and we have been too silent for too long. By completely replacing the ministerial team that was responsible for Europe, the Taoiseach clearly had some changes in mind which he is yet to outline. The Government press secretary has rejected reports that changes were made purely on the basis of support in the leadership contest. Perhaps the Taoiseach will clear up the issue.
While Brexit was a minor part of the summit's agenda, there have been very significant developments in the past two weeks which we should address. The opening of the formal negotiations involved an acceptance by the United Kingdom of the proposed sequencing. We do not know yet if this marks a flexibility on previous opposition to a financial settlement. If we take together the various statements of various British Ministers, the most likely conclusion is they are starting to address the issue of transitional arrangements more seriously. A significant part of the financial settlement will be rendered moot if the transitional arrangements stretch to the end of the current budget period thereby removing one cause of excitement for the hysterical elements of the anti-EU establishment in English political and media communities. Transitional arrangements will also allow time for a complementary series of transitional arrangements which support communities and industries that are being disrupted by Brexit. The other significant decision in the negotiations was to establish a distinct process for addressing issues specific to Ireland. On the face of it, this is welcome because it allows for much greater flexibility and focus in addressing issues than would be possible if Ireland were confined to the monthly negotiation sessions. It should also allow a greater direct input from Ireland and allow us to be more active in submitting material. What this sets in relief yet again is the fact our Government needs to table specific proposals concerning special status for Northern Ireland and the Border region. Given the levels of poverty in Northern Ireland and its relative underdevelopment, a form of special economic zone which operates across the Border and is recognised by both the United Kingdom and the European Union is a reasonable proposal which should be immediately tabled. While we do not know the exact nature and timing of Brexit, we do know that at some point the United Kingdom will almost certainly cease to be in the Single Market or the customs union. Let us base our proposals on this assumption and scale them down if something surprising happens to change this. People should know that the leader of the United Kingdom Labour Party is unlikely to change the basic scenario. On 24 June 2016, he called for the immediate triggering of Article 50. Subsequently he ordered Labour MPs to vote for the triggering of Article 50 and Labour's recent manifesto committed the party to what is essentially a hard Brexit under another name. While he has changed his previous position of being against the European Union, and while much of Labour's increased support came from pro-EU younger voters, there is no indication that the fact of Brexit will change irrespective of political developments in London.
One year after the end of a dark and nasty referendum campaign, the United Kingdom Government is only starting to set out the specifics. The proposal for a partial offer of long-term security to EU citizens in the United Kingdom is a poor start. The answer is a simple one. Both sides should agree to recognise the full rights as in place today for United Kingdom citizens in Europe and vice versa. Let negotiations deal with rights for new migrants. The ongoing uncertainty and treatment of millions of people as bargaining chips is a disgrace. It should be noted the growing evidence is that the United Kingdom is already suffering significantly from the Brexit vote. The economy has been sustained purely by Central Bank interventions and a 14% decline in the value of sterling. Government borrowing and taxes are up. Business uncertainty is up and long-term growth forecasts are down. Those on the left - such as our own People Before Profit alliance - who championed and campaigned for Brexit, should also understand it is workers who are already feeling the pinch the most. Inflation is up and wage growth is down while the Tory agenda on regulation is to remove measures that protect workers. Quite apart from defining a new relationship with the European Union, there are 759 agreements with international institutions and countries that the United Kingdom has to renegotiate. Thus far, it is not clear that even one of these negotiations is in hand. The summit agreed the rules to be followed in deciding where to relocate the two UK-based agencies. The guidelines state the agency should be capable of moving on the day Brexit happens. This seems like an unreasonable condition, given how few cities have free office, housing and international education places lying empty and ready to be filled at short notice. While of course we support the submission of bids for the agencies, it is likely a special deal allowing for the direct subsidy of Irish business will be more economically important for us. The decisions of the summit on security matters explicitly respect the positions of the six neutral member states. The proposals adopted appear reasonable. We would welcome a more detailed statement from Government concerning its attitude to the future workings of co-operation in this field.
The final communiqué states the role of security and defence capabilities in a civilian crisis management was discussed. This is a challenge for Ireland. International crisis management in conflict and humanitarian disaster situations is something in which our Defence Forces have a proud record. As the Taoiseach has no doubt been briefed since he called for the establishment of an Irish COBRA-style unit, the Department of Defence already runs just such a facility and co-ordinates major emergency management across Government. When the current national plan in this field was published by Deputy O'Dea, the European Union had not yet been given competencies in the area of assisting states with major emergencies. Fianna Fáil once again calls on the Government to update the national plan and incorporate within it measures to ensure Ireland is fully prepared to provide and receive assistance during the increasingly frequent natural disasters and other events.
One of the reasons for the increased numbers of weather-based disasters in Europe is climate change. Fianna Fáil welcomes the summit's agreement to restate its full commitment to the Paris accord. The stakes are too high to allow one or two countries to sabotage the genuine effort to limit the appalling consequences of man-made climate change. The downgrading of climate change by the Fine Gael-Labour Government was damaging. Many real opportunities for Ireland to embrace more sustainable actions were missed. Hopefully this is in the process of changing.
We also welcome the agreement of the summit to undertake an urgent review of cyber security in the Union. This has been identified as Ireland's most significant risk in the national risk assessments carried out by our Government. We, just like every other country, are highly vulnerable particularly due to the commitment of one powerful country to use cyber activity to undermine neighbours and democratic systems. On Monday there was a nearly successful attempt to take down the Ukrainian power system. Ireland should actively support new and more urgent action at EU level to help states protect themselves against this new type of aggression.
On Thursday evening, President Tusk stated a report from France and Germany concerning the non-implementation of the Minsk accord should provide the basis for extending sanctions on Russia. The decision last week by Russia to accept passports issued by the rebel governments they fund is a further step towards the formal partitioning of Ukraine. I hope the Taoiseach will maintain the policy of Ireland defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine against Russian interference and aggression.
On economic matters, the summit did very little other than restate previous policies. We welcome the commitment to continue to promote the idea of freer trade. Ireland benefits as much as nearly any country in the world from trade. Greater trade barriers would lead immediately to dramatically fewer jobs and falling incomes. Irish workers would bear an incredible price if the companies they work for suddenly faced extra barriers to trade. Investment in increasing the productive capacity of the economy and especially our infrastructure is also vital for our long-term success. The summit made passing reference to the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which was established under the so-called Juncker plan. This provides long-term low-cost financing for productive investment. The outturn so far shows Ireland very much in the second division when it comes to seeking and securing funding under the fund. No doubt the infrastructure plan, which has been delayed so it can be claimed as a major new initiative, will include within it proposals for increasing our drawdown of these funds. I caution the Taoiseach against using them to displace ongoing activity. The bulk of the project submitted by Ireland so far involved facilities previously announced by Government on multiple occasions. Not discussed at the summit was the proposal by President Macron to significantly reform the workings of the Union on fiscal matters, particularly within the Eurogroup. The proposal for a permanent finance minister who would chair the Eurogroup is one we should strongly support. However, this position should be based in the Council and not in the Commission. Until there is a significant change in the treaties to create some elements of a fiscal union, the role should primarily be about co-ordination and facilitation.