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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 Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] Tá sé náireach go dtacaíonn ár gceannairí i mballstáit an Aontais Eorpaigh le córas ina bhfuil dídeanaithe atá tarrthála ó bhaol a mbáite curtha ar ais go priosún sa Libia i gcoinníollacha uafásacha.

These Council meetings will become a regular part of the Taoiseach's agenda and, on behalf of the country, I wish him and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, well in their participation. I also congratulate the latter on her appointment. However, the question needs to be asked of whether we will see any change in the Government's attitude. Are we going to see a new Taoiseach standing up for Ireland or, indeed, other EU countries and people in need around the world at these meetings? We need to know the answer. Alternatively, will it be more of the same - more hoping that the EU bosses will give us another pat on the head while their policies and rules hurt society and leave us vulnerable to the shock of Brexit?

Next time, will the Taoiseach go with a clear message based on the mandate of this House - special status for the North within the European Union - and the result of the referendum in the North and say that the people of Ireland do not accept that there will be a border in this country? Will he repeat the commitment that he gave in Donegal - no better place to give it - that he as Taoiseach would campaign for the North to remain within the customs union and the Single Market and that he wanted the support of his European Council colleagues to try to achieve that objective?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I hope that the Taoiseach enjoyed his first Council meeting. I congratulate the Minister of State on her new responsibilities and wish her well in that regard. It seems from reports that the Taoiseach enjoyed his visit to Brussels and had a busy schedule there.

  Last week, Deputy Micheál Martin raised with the Taoiseach his frustration with the level of debate and engagement on EU issues. He has done so again today. There is a lack of appropriate briefing material being circulated to us in advance of and after Council meetings. We rely on European Council websites for agenda items. The Taoiseach's press releases are summaries of what will be, and what was, discussed. The House can do better. It would be worthwhile were the Taoiseach's office and Department to circulate in advance of these statements the agenda and positions about to be taken by Ireland and, afterwards, a note on what was achieved and what the attitude of others was exactly.

  There is little coverage or debate in Ireland regarding the major agreement coming out of the Council, that being, co-operation on defence. Nor has it been reported or debated widely as to what Ireland's position was stated to be on this matter and whether we are in favour of the EU proposals. Mr. Paddy Smyth in The Irish Times reported: "On Thursday, Ireland was saying to fellow member states that it is enthusiastic about the project, wants it to be 'ambitious', but we are not necessarily committed to participating in each and every iteration." The Taoiseach's pre-Council statements focused on security with no mention of defence. He stated:

I will offer Ireland's continuing solidarity and our strong commitment to working closely with our partners in combating this growing threat. The meeting will send out a strong message that Europe stands united and firm against terrorism, hatred and violent extremism.

Clearly, no one would object to that. The Taoiseach told reporters: "We believe that by being a country that is neutral, but not being part of any military alliance, that it actually makes us stronger in the world". However, we still do not know what Ireland's attitude is to the growing view among so-called core EU member states about common defence.

  The EU will now use a provision of the Lisbon treaty, known as permanent structured co-operation, PESCO. This enhanced co-operation requires the agreement of all 28 countries. Speaking after the summit, the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, described the move as historic. He stated: "For years and years there has not been any progress on defence, there has been one today". Those views were shared by Chancellor Merkel, who stated: "In the next few weeks and months, we will look at possible projects".

  As the Taoiseach outlined, the Commission is proposing to add €500 million of EU funds in 2019 and 2020 to finance EU defence research and new military development. After 2020, the figure will increase to €1.5 billion every year for research and development of new military technology. We are slowly seeing the militarisation of the EU. As the Taoiseach referenced, Ireland has a long history of military neutrality. I am not sure what our current position is, but I doubt that the Taoiseach's own party does not have some level of ambivalence towards these new trends in Europe.

  The Council has clearly taken steps to intensify co-operation on defence and there is now a plan to expand the range of common military activities. This is designed to complement NATO structures but Ireland is not a member of NATO. What is Ireland's position on these steps driven by France and Germany in a move towards enhanced military integration embraced wholeheartedly by the European Commission? This approach is gathering pace due to the exit from the EU of the United Kingdom, which had traditionally opposed it, seeing any co-operation within the umbrella of the European Union as a duplication of NATO activities.

  Interestingly, I noticed that the Taoiseach added a sentence to his circulated script in the paragraph beginning with "Ireland's neutrality was restated and is, of course, fully respected". The second sentence in the circulated script reads: "However, we favour initiatives to strengthen the EU's capacity to act as an international peace provider, particularly in support of the United Nations and its missions". To this, the Taoiseach added "and to defend itself as a Continent." We need a fuller debate on these matters, given that there are different views in the House. As other Deputies have mentioned, much future thinking happens in the EU without our participation. We are reactive instead of being shapers of policy. It would be good for us to have an open and frank debate on our position as opposed to allowing others to be pace setters while we determine post factum what our position is. The Irish people demand at least that. I would welcome a debate on this matter.

  In the three and a half minutes remaining to me, I will move on to Brexit. Did the Taoiseach discuss with his European colleagues the sequencing of negotiations? I raised this matter with him last week. Did he raise it with the chief negotiator, Mr. Barnier, or Presidents Tusk and Juncker? I am concerned that Irish aspects of the negotiations may be delayed towards the end of the first phase, which means that it might be more difficult to find imaginative solutions to deal with the Border issues Members have discussed time and again. Had the Taoiseach any engagement with EU Heads of State or Government or officials on the common travel area? Is there a consensus view on this among all member states? Will some member states see it as something to be negotiated in light of the rights afforded to their citizens within Britain after the UK exits?

  On climate change, the Taoiseach mentioned in his pre-Council statement that he was determined that the Government would show a new ambition when it comes to tackling the matter and that this would be the subject of a full-day strategic meeting of the Cabinet. He also spoke to President Trump yesterday. Given that we debated the issue beforehand, I presume that the Taoiseach raised the question of the Paris Agreement with him. That would have been important in the context of the role that the US will play in climate change mitigation.

  Most of the discussions at the Council on Friday focused on jobs, growth and competitiveness, including the European Fund for Strategic Investments. This has particular relevance for the economic fallout that Ireland may experience after Brexit. I have raised this matter time and again with the Taoiseach and his predecessor. Has the Taoiseach flagged the impact of Brexit on jobs and growth in Ireland? Is there now a united EU view of the uniqueness of Ireland's case? As other Deputies have asked repeatedly, where stands the resolution of this House in respect of the special status for Northern Ireland in a post-Brexit scenario?

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