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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)

[Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae] I appreciate the Minister's work. With regard to the humanitarian crisis, I compliment the people working in our Naval Service. As Deputy Wallace rightly said, they are picking people from the water they should not be in. We should not have allowed the humanitarian crisis to get to where it is. Every effort, political and otherwise, should be made to address this issue. There must be a better answer to the problem than people putting themselves in that kind of danger to get to what we would call a better place. Through dialogue, work and politics, many from this House and other parliaments were involved in stopping people killing each other on the streets of the North every day. Surely be to God, if that could be done, this humanitarian crisis can also be dealt with to allow us to reach a position where people can express their religious beliefs. I do not care what religion a person is and respect whatever religion it is wherever he or she is from in the world. That must be reciprocal, however. Where Catholics are willing to accept other religions, other religions should reciprocate and accept the Catholic religion and other Christians. That is only common sense, right and fair.

I turn to Brexit. Since becoming Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, I have embarked on a weekly dialogue with ambassadors from different countries. Earlier today, for instance, I met the Spanish ambassador. Spain faces many of the same implications from Brexit as we do. We have one very important thing in common with the UK, which is the Border. We are unique in that respect. The difficulties and problems we face represent unprecedented and uncharted waters. We are in a place with regard to our farming and business communities where we really do not know what the implications of Brexit are going to be. What we do know, however, is that we must be political and sensible about it. We have to be workmanlike in trying to minimise the negatives while maximising the positives if there are to be any for us as a nation. I compliment people like Deputies Mattie McGrath and Seán Haughey who are members of the committee and are doing Trojan work to grasp the problem we face. Last week, we met Members of the House of Lords and Commissioner Phil Hogan was here from Europe to give his overview. We might not have agreed on a lot of things in the past, but we respect the implications of the problem we all have currently. We have to deal with the situation we are in. We are all willing to put our shoulders to the wheel.

Deputy Mattie McGrath touched on the following a few moments ago. I would like to remember fondly and positively the great work that was done in the past on international relations. Deputy Haughey is in the Chamber and I refer in particular to his late father who did great work on our behalf and on behalf of our farming community. I acknowledge that because it is time things like that were said publicly. I will not back down from that for anybody. I am very concerned about the implications of Brexit and we have a job of work to do together in that regard. I will continue to do my best. Meetings are scheduled for many weeks to come with ambassadors and officials to grasp the problem we have and the committee and I will not be found wanting in that regard. We will work in co-operation with the Minister because this is too serious an issue about which to be political. The Minister and his colleagues in government are our Ministers. I want to be proactive, workmanlike and sensible about this and not score political points because for the farming community and business people, it is too important a matter about which to be politically adversarial.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan It is useful for us to be able to review the European Council discussions. It is useful to have a debate beforehand and afterwards. It is where so much of our key political discourse is taking place and it is appropriate for the House to spend time giving attention to it. This brings us to the big issues. It brings us out of the local and into the international and the great forces shaping our world and times. It is important that we address those. It is interesting to look at the key issues which dominated the Council. These were the movement of refugees and our treatment and management of the refugee crisis and the management of goods, having particular regard to CETA, the Canadian-European trade arrangement which does not look like it will be signed tomorrow. It seems to me that the approaches we are taking to these issues are connected.

I turn to the refugee issue first. I share the concerns that have been raised here and elsewhere that what I read in the Council conclusions and in the reporting from the summit suggests a certain sense of satisfaction about the worst aspects of the crisis which we saw last year, in particular with a large number of people crossing the Aegean from Turkey into Greece and from there into the Continent of Europe. The figure quoted in the Council conclusions is that 98% of the level of travel has ceased. The real fear is that, whatever about the management of the joint arrangement with Turkey, the management of those who have been caught in the middle in Greece in particular is indicative of an approach which sees the European Union failing to learn or change or improve its procedures. We have gone from an open-door approach to a complete shut down, which will serve neither Europe nor the people who are trying desperately to flee conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas neighbouring the EU.

I note in the Council conclusions references to the rapid deployment of permanent co-ordinators in the Greek hotspots. However, the reports from people engaged with those desperately isolated and vulnerable refugees caught in the middle of this whole policy change suggest that there is no sense of that actually happening. I go back to our own local example which is that only 69 of the 4,000 refugees we promised to take almost eight months ago are here. To take 69 out of 4,000 when the 4,000 are sitting in camps where they are mobile, easily accessible and easily identifiable is an indication of the wider problem. We can only fear that it reflects a European Council approach which is perhaps pleased that we have sealed off the problem on one immediate border and can now resort to restoring Schengen as if the current arrangements are working. They are not working. They are not working on a humanitarian basis or even in terms of the European Union living up to its promise to be a safe haven and an enlightened Union which treats people in flight from danger in an appropriate manner. I must raise concern on behalf of my party. The clearing of the camp in Calais, the horrific situation whereby a whole range of young people are now completely lost in the international response and the lack of a co-ordinated European approach to managing that and the restoration of national controls are signs that our European refugee policy is not working.

I referred earlier to the related issue of trade because the two are connected.

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