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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 956 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] Such a role does not fit within the Commission's standard approach.

Before the start of the summit, I attended a meeting of party leaders from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, which included various Commissioners and prime ministers and the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator. I am pleased to note that goodwill towards Ireland remains high and the determination that Ireland does not suffer because of Britain's europhobia is as strong as ever. The most important issue, however, was that the leaders were not clear on what specifically Ireland is seeking beyond what has already been agreed. As I have stated repeatedly, we must step forward and start presenting specifics. We cannot wait for London to get its act together. Along with the interest which others are showing in Ireland's concerns comes an expectation that they will be kept up to date with Ireland's proposals.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy should conclude. He has significantly exceeded his time.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin To do this, we need to have sufficient staffing and expertise in place. The review of staffing resources engaged on Brexit, which was first promised almost a year ago, needs to be finished and its recommendations implemented. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his forbearance.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher My apologies to the House.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I hope we will all be shown the same latitude.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty With another European Council gone, another opportunity has been missed to put forward Ireland's demands and another chance has gone to tell the European Union that while moral support and rhetoric are fine and well, what this country, North and South, needs is real practical support. A first step would be for the Taoiseach to follow through on a promise he made to his party faithful while in election mode in Donegal when he gave an undertaking that, if elected Taoiseach, he would campaign for the North to remain within the customs union and Single Market. I ask him to spell out whether this remains his position and if it is, Sinn Féin would welcome it. Did the Taoiseach take the position at the European Council that this is a desirable outcome from the negotiations on Brexit? While we all know it is not certain that such an outcome can be secured, it will certainly not be secured if we do not ask for it.

  I was taken by the comment made by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, that we do not know what the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, wants from Brexit. She obviously believes we are telepathic. The Oireachtas also needs to know what the Government wants from Brexit and whether the Taoiseach will give the commitment he made during his election campaign to Members of the Oireachtas and, more important, people in the North of this island who want to remain in the customs union and Single Market.

Tá a fhios againn gurb é an seasamh atá glactha ag an Stáit go dtí seo ó thaobh an Aontais Eorpaigh ná a bheith ina ghasúr is fearr sa rang agus é ag cuartú pat ar an cheann ó am go ham. Tá a fhios againn fosta nach bhfuil mórán buntáiste, nó buntáiste ar bith, leis an seasamh sin. Cinnte nach mbeidh buntáiste leis an uair seo.

  We need to drop the rhetoric and produce concrete proposals. Many Deputies, including the leader of Fianna Fáil, have stated the DUP's deal with the British Government may result in a softer Brexit. They appear to be unaware that the DUP wants to leave the customs union and Single Market and supported Brexit. Moreover, the party was paid, under much suspicion, to adopt this position in the Brexit referendum campaign. We sometimes grasp at straws but it is time to get down to the nuts and bolts of this issue.

  On behalf of Sinn Féin, I have made concrete proposals which must be addressed in the context of Brexit. In addition to securing special status for the North within the European Union, state aid exemptions and guarantees on cross-Border funding streams are needed. We must not rely on the word of the Tories. We must ensure our research community, North and South, has security in funding. The European Globalisation Fund must be reconfigured to deal with unemployment and the threat of unemployment linked to Brexit. Our transport and energy infrastructure must be prioritised in the European Union's trans-European networks. We cannot be allowed become an isolated region of the EU adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. All of these demands are fleshed out in a policy document Sinn Féin submitted to Departments.

  It is critical that we secure flexibility in the fiscal rules. We saw in the sale of part of the State's shareholding in Allied Irish Banks how constrained we are under the fiscal rules. While I am pleased to note the conversion of other parties to Sinn Féin’s view on the fiscal rules, perhaps if they had listened to us earlier, we would not be scrambling around for off the book ways to build houses for citizens and the homeless. The fiscal rules are not fit for purpose. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin's assessment at the time, that the rules are a right-wing ideological straitjacket, has been proved correct. They must be renegotiated from top to bottom.

  We must ensure that additional breathing space for dealing with the potential consequences of Brexit is built into the fiscal rules. This breathing space must be used in an appropriate manner and cannot be used to fulfil the type of commitment the Taoiseach gave this morning when he undertook to find money to cut taxes whatever it takes. In his campaign to be elected leader of his party, he gave a commitment to reduce the marginal tax rate to 50%. Is he aware that all those earning less than €70,000 pay tax of less than 50% on their earnings? The Taoiseach's commitment to cut taxes for the wealthiest would cost €441 million and benefit those who earn more than twice the average national wage. He will not make a commitment to find the money needed to fix our hospitals or ensure that the one fifth of breast cancer patients in County Donegal who are waiting to see a specialist are treated on time. Coronary care rehabilitation services in the county have been suspended as a result of faulty equipment and we do not have the money to fix them, yet the Taoiseach is committed to finding money to cut taxes for those earning most. He must dump that commitment and get real about the economy.

  I have made realistic and winnable demands which Ireland must push at every European Council meeting. I genuinely hope the Taoiseach has made some allies and friends in Brussels but he should not mistake a smile for the concrete friendship we need. As a small country in a big club, Ireland must speak up.

  The European Council meeting also focused on the development of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. Is iad na pleananna go bunúsach atá ag an Aontas Eorpach ná arm Aontais Eorpaigh a chruthú a bheidh in ann idirghabháil míleata a dhéanamh agus cogadh a sheoladh agus é sin chun cur le NATO. Tá aon bheartas atá ag an Aontas Eorpach a bhfuil mar aidhm aige cur le míleatú an Aontais Eorpaigh ina bhagairt ar neodracht na hÉireann. Tá sé dochreidte nach bhfuil focal labhartha ag an Taoiseach in éadan na bpleananna seo go dtí seo. Ní hamháin go bhfuil an togra seo mícheart ach tá cáiníocóirí an Aontais Eorpaigh ag íoc go hiomlán as.

  The latest plans to update the European Union's military capability will be funded to the tune of €1.5 billion per year directly from the EU budget. When the Government and European Union claim they have no spare money for positive social and economic programmes, we know it is a lie as this is a matter of choice. We can clearly see that there is no problem finding €1.5 billion a year when it is to be used for regressive military projects. Sinn Féin wants Irish and European taxpayers' money spent on health care services, ending the trolley crisis, making education more accessible, improving public services and creating good quality jobs in urban and rural areas, rather than on developing an aggressive standing EU army which will dismantle Ireland's long-standing stated position of neutrality.

  The Taoiseach will be aware that last week was refugee week. One would expect the European Council to send out a strong message to some of the 22.5 million refugees in the world who are fleeing conflict, oppression and destitution. Instead, we got a recommitment to the EU-Turkey agreement and an agreement to equip the Libyan coast guard to return refugees escaping from Libya to that war torn country. Turkey is backsliding into an autocracy under President Erdoğan. Civil and human rights are being violated with impunity, journalists and opposition politicians have been arrested, the army has laid siege to Kurdish majority areas in the south east of the country and the annual Istanbul Pride parade was banned for the third year running, with LGBT activists who gathered to mark it on Sunday tear gassed, beaten up and arrested. Despite all of this, the EU continues to label Turkey as a safe country of origin, which allows us to send back to Turkey refugees who have arrived in Europe from that country. This is completely wrong and the Government's support for the agreement is a stain on our international relations.

  Furthermore, the Taoiseach either offered support or said nothing when those attending the European Council agreed to support the Libyan coast guard in capturing and returning people fleeing Libya and attempting to reach sanctuary in Europe. As my colleague, Deputy Crowe, pointed out in his pre-European Council statement, those who are returned are taken to so-called detention centres where they are likely to face abuse and exploitation by armed militias. Reports by non-governmental organisations on conditions in these centres and the abuse meted out to those imprisoned in them are shocking.

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