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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 926 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] This openness is one of the reasons international companies locate here and why Irish companies, particularly SMEs, do so well exporting and trading on the international stage.

The Government, while watchful of our own interests, continues to support free trade agreements where the substance and the detail are right. From Ireland’s perspective, the discussions on trade at the European Council were probably the most significant. EU leaders agreed on the importance of trade in creating jobs, growth and investment, and on the need to respond to today's challenges with an outward-looking and balanced trade policy. I emphasise that, on CETA, Ireland was among a group of member states that successfully sought its designation as a mixed agreement. This means that only those elements of the agreement which fall within the competency of the EU would come into force upon provisional signature. Those elements which fall to national competency would not be in force until national parliaments, including the Dáil, vote to allow that to happen. The Government, along with others, insisted on this for legal reasons. Furthermore, the investment protection provisions have been specifically carved out from provisional application which means that they will be implemented only when the Dáil has voted for them. We fully support the provisional application of CETA at the earliest opportunity. When it is signed, there will be an accompanying interpretative declaration clarifying that the agreement will not affect public services, labour rights or environmental protection. It is still hoped that the agreement can be signed at the EU-Canada Summit on 27 October. The European Parliament would then be expected to give its approval in December. The prospects for finalising the TTIP agreement with the US are, of course, much more difficult. It will not happen before the presidential election.

More generally, the Council also discussed EU trade defence instruments. They came to the fore due to a variety of global trade factors, particularly pressure on the steel sector. We do not have a steel industry and we, therefore, are consumers. I intervened on the broad question of tackling unfair practices, and I stressed the need to ensure policies designed to help the few do not harm the overall competitiveness of EU industry. This is particularly important for a small, open economy like Ireland, which is dependent on importing products. However, we recognise that unfair trade practices need to be tackled efficiently and robustly and we have engaged pragmatically on this item.

I will leave it at that. The Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, will deal with Russia when he replies to the debate.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Next March will be the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which created what is now the EU. Within days of the anniversary, the UK will submit formal notice of its intention to leave the Union. In spite of 60 years successfully fighting the extremism of the left and the right and delivering a significant increase in living standards and a historic fall in poverty, the anniversary marks a dramatic escalation of what is a threat to the EU's very existence. June's Brexit referendum is not just bad for Britain; it is bad for everyone. Every day it becomes clearer that the hysterical anti-Europeanism of mainly English politicians, ideologues and media owners did not involve preparing any concrete plans for what to do after the referendum. They continue to abuse anyone who points out issues but they have yet to get beyond a shambolic and often arrogant statement that everything will be great when Britain leaves.

The damage to Ireland is not hypothetical. It is happening already and it risks becoming much worse. Following the forthcoming forum, we should have a detailed discussion in the House about our strategy for Brexit and seek to agree a resolution setting out at least a statement of core principles which can be supported by all Deputies who believe in Ireland’s long-term place in the EU. However, I reiterate that we are not confident that the scale of the threat and its urgency are being properly reflected in Government policy. Brexit represents a deep long-term economic and social threat to this country. It will impact our core economic model and threatens to reintroduce divisions on this island which we have worked so hard to overcome.

The budget was long on rhetoric but lacked any substance. It is welcome that we are targeting companies in Britain to encourage them to move here, and we should certainly seek the transfer of an EU agency, but this is only a small part of the challenge we face. Key industries and communities will suffer enormous damage from the volatility of sterling and the introduction of barriers to trade. I have outlined previously what the Department of Finance's own two reports on exposure of the economy following Brexit will mean. The Retail Excellence figures published last weekend are worrying as they suggest an initial reduction in sentiment and a downward trend. We cannot wait two years to outline a strategy to help companies to diversify and compete. We need to have our demands on the table from the start.

If the EU wishes to show that Britain made a mistake, and if it wants to keep the 27 intact, then it has an obligation to do everything to assist Ireland and any other part of the Union which can show a significant negative impact. Immediately following the referendum, it was a reasonable position to state that there should be no discussions until Article 50 was triggered. This is no longer appropriate and discussions should start now. First, the British have indicated when the two year period will be triggered, and, therefore, we are not talking about an open-ended negotiation. Second, it is increasingly clear that any agreement beyond a crude hard Brexit will require the full period and that may not even be enough. Finally, and more important, uncertainty and the fevered atmosphere which is developing are causing damage. We need clarity and that can only happen when at least some preliminary discussions happen. I agree fully with the idea that the British need to say what they want before there can be detailed negotiations, but it would be irresponsible to fail to at least agree formalities beforehand. It would be unforgivable if time were wasted on discussing how the negotiations would be conducted or who would be involved. It is ridiculous that there was no substantive discussion at this summit concerning the gravest threat facing the Union.

Fianna Fáil believes that it is also time for the British Government to follow up its warm words for Ireland with a concrete demonstration of its good faith. There is an increasing sense that Ireland will be prioritised only after the English Tory agenda has been addressed. First Minister Sturgeon's frustration about how the devolved administrations are being treated has been well articulated and should be of concern to our Government. There is much more to be said on this topic, but given time constraints, this will have to wait for another occasion.

The summit’s discussion on migration does not appear to have involved much of substance. The emphasis of the policies discussed should have been placed on the actions required to stop so many people feeling they need to make a potentially deadly journey in fleeing to Europe. I would like to again acknowledge the great humanitarian work carried out by our naval personnel. We should be immensely proud of them and continue to support them in their work. Separately, migration has been used by many political movements in a dark and cynical manner. I addressed this issue in depth in a speech last week. I will only repeat that it is our obligation to stand against the crude and divisive anti-immigrant populism which is present in too many countries. There is clearly a need to dramatically increase funding for the EU bodies that can systematically study and report on such racist activity.

The Taoiseach agreed yesterday that we would have a full debate on the current status of trade negotiations. I have no sympathy for those who see a conspiracy in every trade agreement and refuse to acknowledge any benefits of free trade. The fact is that Ireland is one of the world’s biggest beneficiaries of the freer trade of recent decades. To be anti-trade is to say to hundreds of thousands of Irish workers that their companies might not be able to compete fairly internationally. However, as these agreements become more comprehensive and complex, the need to review them in detail and to ensure public legitimacy has also increased. I hope the work on the CETA agreement will not be abandoned and a way forward can be agreed. Notwithstanding what happens in Wallonia and in Belgium, it is important that we have a debate on this House because it has been one-sided so far.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe Hear, hear.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The benefits of an open free trade policy for Ireland have not had sufficient articulation. There are many issues in respect of job creation and so on.

The summit’s conclusions on the energy union are, to say the least, disappointing. Given our level of connectivity in energy and communications with the UK, an early statement is needed from Government on how it sees these areas developing as well as proposals for diversification where required.

I welcome the fact that the summit condemned in clear language the barbarity of the ongoing bombing of Aleppo by Russia and Syria. The fact that leaders failed to do anything other than issue a strongly worded statement on this humanitarian disaster is shameful. The people of Syria are facing another winter in terrible conditions. Millions are displaced and losing hope. If Russia and Syria continue as they are, then at east hundreds of thousands more will become homeless and will be driven out of their country. I am frankly sick and tired of the false equivalence we keep hearing from those who want to avoid singling out Russia for condemnation.

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