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Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 953 No. 1

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  9 o’clock

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Ireland's application for membership of the AIIB was accepted on 23 March 2017. As our membership of the bank will involve ratification of an international agreement, it is necessary for the primary legislation to be approved by the Oireachtas before we complete the process of joining. The Bill is short and is based on previous legislation which allowed for our membership of other international financial institutions such as the World Bank. The Bill will provide for our membership of the AIIB, approve the latter's articles of agreement and allow payments to be made.

As our economy recovers slowly following the crash that marked the end of the Celtic tiger era, we must ask if investing in this bank is the best thing for our country to do. Every time we join an institution of this sort, do we actually lose some of our sovereignty? The Bill is before us at a time when some Deputies are questioning the Minister for Finance's decision to sell off a portion of our share of AIB. Given that AIB is turning a corner and is now making money and that the State bailed out that bank as well as other banking institutions, is now a good time to be paying €125 million for membership of the AIIB? A sum of €25 million is payable in five instalments over five years. It is a very serious time for us and this is a very serious decision to be making. At the same time, we must be very conscious of the massive trade that we have with China. The amount of money involved in trade both ways is enormous but we must be sensible about what we do for our taxpayers.

This multilateral financial institution came into operation in January 2016. It aims to foster economic development and regional integration in Asia, primarily through investment in infrastructure. The bank has 57 founding members and is based in Beijing, with China playing a leading role in its establishment. We have seen the way that China is aggressively playing its part in terms of global dominance. I heard recently that the Chinese bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York and closed it down. They are entering into a programme of investment to turn it into residential units. They have big ideas for taking over but I am at a crossroads as to whether it is in our best interests to be a part of that. We are being told that the rationale for Ireland's membership of the AIIB includes geopolitical and economic considerations and, in particular, trade relations with China and the wider Asian economy. Over the past 15 years, Ireland has increased its engagement with Asia and particularly with China. Of course, that is to be welcomed because we are exporting goods to China and making money from that trade. China is the world's second largest economy in a broad number of areas. Bilateral trade has grown significantly and Ireland's total trade with China in 2015 was worth €11 billion, a massive sum.

Membership of the AIIB will also complement Ireland's international development policy which aims to support sustainable development and inclusive economic growth. On the other hand, not joining the AIIB could possibly deprive Ireland of a chance to play a role in an important new addition to the global financial architecture of the world. It would also raise questions about Ireland's position on China's increasing integration into the global economy. We are at a crossroads but the decision has been made. The application for membership was accepted in March. We must weigh up the situation that is before us and decide whether it is a good deal for the taxpayers of Ireland. In recent days I have spoken to a lot of individuals about this issue, including those who work in the banking sector and business people. Some have said that we would be insane not to join while others have said the exact opposite. Ultimately, membership will cost us €125 million. That is a very large investment. We must try to weigh up the pros and the cons as best we can.

To refer back to the earlier debate on fostering an environment that encourages foreign direct investment into Ireland, in light of the level of trade that we already have with China, it would be very foolish to do anything that would jeopardise this. We must ensure that we have as many jobs as possible in our economy, especially in the coming years. We must try to encourage those young people who left during the bust to come back. We must continue to attract new investors to Ireland who will create well-paid jobs that will encourage our emigrants to come home. They will not come back here to work for the minimum wage, however. They will not leave the lifestyles that they have in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and America to come back here to work in jobs for which they will only be paid the minimum wage. That is not going to happen. They will need to be encouraged. There will have to be a business environment here such that they will be able to obtain loans to build houses, rear their families and have good, sustainable jobs. Jeopardising in any way the trade that we have with China, or upsetting the apple cart, would be unwise. It is incumbent on all elected representatives to do their best to ensure that people have the opportunity to work at home. Whether it is our children or grandchildren, we do not want to see them being forced to leave. We want to see them staying here if at all possible. On that note, I will hand over to my colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thought for a moment that Deputy Mattie McGrath was going home.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath If the Ceann Comhairle is referring to Fianna Fáil as home, I often fleetingly go in and out of it but I always maintain that it was a case of them leaving me rather than me leaving them. When they are ready to come back to my standards for the Fianna Fáil Party, of which my father was a founding member, I will be ready, willing and able to take up the cudgels. Having said that, I am very good friends with the Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson and with many other members of the party, including the Ceann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I am independent.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I know the Ceann Comhairle is independent now but in his previous incarnation, we were good friends. I hope that we will stay friends and, in that vein, I will not keep the Ceann Comhairle here too long tonight.

We are discussing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2017. One could nearly make a mistake, given what Fine Gael did yesterday, through the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, despite the request of the Dáil, in selling off shares. We could drop one of the letters and it would be AIB that we are talking about. We should talk some more about that because this House voted not to sell off shares in AIB. We further voted that the proceeds of any sale should not to be given back to the gods in Europe but be used for badly-needed infrastructure in this country. Instead, we are pursuing some sort of pipe dream.

Founded in January 2016, the AIIB is a multinational financial institution founded to bring countries together to finance energy, transport and other infrastructure projects in Asia. The bank started operations with 57 member countries and $100 billion in capital.

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