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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 956 No. 1

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] That says a lot about what is happening in this country. The vulture funds swoop in to buy up the land and property assets which NAMA sells to them, and the housing crisis is thereby exacerbated and perpetuated. Apparently that is good for us. It indicates how it was actually encouraged. That is why there were 65 meetings with these vulture funds. It is because Fine Gael asked them to come in and buy up the property and said, "By the way, if you do come in, we have a thing called section 110 where you won't pay any tax on the capital gains and all the profits you make." The net result is the worst housing and homelessness crisis in the history of the State.

We are positioning ourselves on the extreme neo-liberal wing of the European Union. At a time when some in the Union are questioning whether it is a good idea to allow these vultures and multinationals to come in and buy up our assets and strategic infrastructure, the Taoiseach and his Fine Gael colleagues are saying that it is actually quite good to let these people in and that we should not put barriers in their way. I find that bizarre, particularly in the context of Brexit. As has already been stated, what we need to do is say that the fiscal rules make no sense now because they are crippling our ability to invest in the infrastructure we need. In addition, the state-aid rules make no sense whatsoever at a time when we need to give state aid to particular sectors, industries and enterprises in the face of the economic challenge Brexit represents. However, the Taoiseach's commitment to the free-market, neo-liberal orthodoxy means we probably are not asking to do that either.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan who is sharing her ten minutes with Deputy Wallace.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan I first wish to speak about the Malta declaration, which is supposedly about capacity building, training and adequate reception capacity in Libya for migrants. In April, €20 million was added for the protection of migrants on top of the at least €120 million already provided. The reality in Libya is very disturbing. It is a country in turmoil and chaos. There are three ostensible governments running the country, which is sliding towards bankruptcy. There are shortages of electricity, fuel and medical care, and armed groups are roaming about. This is one of the countries that is getting EU funding to look after migrants.

During a recent Topical Issue debate, I referred to the inhumane conditions in the so-called migrant centres in Libya. Those centres are dangerously overcrowded with no light or ventilation. There is a shortage of water, and there are sanitation issues and health hazards. There are reports of extreme violence, including forced prostitution and forced labour. There are also accounts of acute malnutrition. As people feed from communal bowls, one can imagine the scramble for food there.

Many were rescued - I use that word reservedly - in the Mediterranean before being brought to these centres in Libya. The EU is also providing training and support for the Libyan coast guard, but there is evidence that members of the latter are not treating people with the respect they deserve or even in a humane way. They are relieving them of their phones or of whatever money they possess. A doctor working on one of the rescue ships has said that every day Libya haemorrhages people to the bottom of the sea. I asked the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to raise this issue at the Foreign Affairs Council; I do not know if that happened. The EU needs to look seriously at accountability and transparency when it comes to this funding. It needs to revisit where it is going and the Malta declaration.

Europe also depends on Turkey in the context of migration. We continue to receive disturbing reports of human rights abuses in Turkey. A week ago, a journalist reported that thousands of people are languishing in Turkish jails, some of them for peacefully protesting or because they were suspected - not convicted - of links with the US-based cleric, Gülen. Amnesty International has advised that the authorities have fired more than 100,000 civil servants. Many reporters and journalists have been detained. Turkey now accounts for one third of all jailed journalists worldwide. Where is Ireland's voice at the EU on this?

The second issue I wish to raise relates to Palestine and the statement on achieving a just and meaningful solution. Matters relating to Palestine have reached a stalemate. The situation is moving further and further away from the so-called two-state solution. I do not believe there can be a two-state solution while the settlements continue to be built. The peace negotiations to date can only be described as a charade. How can there be negotiation between two powers when there is such inequality between them? We know the effects of the occupation and we usually look at the political effects. The World Bank compiled a report on the economic effects of occupation. Is Palestine being considered at all by the EU? In the Quartet roadmap, Israel agreed to halt settlement activity prior to negotiations. However, neither the EU nor the UN has insisted on that. I have not even mentioned Gaza. People need to come to the table, but first the imbalance needs to be redressed.

My third issue relates to the areas of need for development aid. I know the EU is a formidable contributor. I want to ask about funding for the increasingly difficult famine situation in east Africa. It is a human crisis that has been described as unprecedented. Given that we have had many other human crises, it is very alarming to hear it described in that way. Some 24 million people - six times Ireland's population - rely on food aid in a number of countries in east Africa. This is as a result of drought, which is caused by climate change. It is also caused by conflict, land grabs and displacement. It is a crisis that is receiving very little attention. The appeals for funding have been underfunded.

I am struck by a quote from Pope Francis, who said, "Today we cannot be satisfied with simply being aware of the problems faced" The EU is a major contributor to aid and the question is whether it is going to the most needy. The health system in Yemen is on the verge of collapse, medical services are under fire, hospitals are being bombed and those who are providing assistance are being obstructed with complete disrespect of humanitarian principles. Those are really important issues that need to be raised at the European Council and the Foreign Affairs Council in a real and meaningful way.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I congratulate the Minister of State on her new appointment. I again express my disappointment that the Taoiseach does not feel we are worth listening to. Perhaps we need to give him more reason to show some respect.

The EU tends to view the refugee crisis as a defence and security issue. However, this is deeply destructive and separate from the real problem. As others have said, we are throwing money at despots to keep desperate people from leaving countries we have helped to destroy. Giving money to countries such as Egypt, Libya and other African states, as well as Afghanistan, to stem the flow of refugees is nothing short of immoral. I wish the Taoiseach would say so. The Turkey deal is just one of a number of disastrous deals. The amount of money we have given that country beggars belief, particularly in light of what is going on there. The European defence action plan, which includes proposals to use European Investment Bank funds to develop the arms industry - or so-called security research in Europe - was also discussed.

Despite the Stability and Growth Pact restrictions on public infrastructure spending in member states, it is planned to use a loophole which exempts increases in the European Investment Bank's capital from being governed by the pact. Therefore, while member states must abide by EU fiscal rules when it comes to housing, education and social security spending, the best lawyers in Europe are paid to figure out how we can divert more funds to arms research. What should we expect when the defence industry is probably the biggest and most powerful lobby in Europe?

Climate change was discussed, but not its impact on the refugee crisis. Along with the disastrous imperial wars of recent years, climate change is driving people to a situation where they must flee or die. According to United Nations estimates, nearly 20 million people are at risk due to famine or near-famine conditions in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen alone. More than 120 refugees, mainly Sudanese, died in a shipwreck off the Libyan coast last weekend. These people are fleeing hunger, death, rape and other human rights atrocities being perpetrated by all sides in the conflict that has been raging since 2013. The US has been arming, training and funding the government army that recruits child soldiers and rapes, tortures and has carried out massacres of civilians. The EU is giving the same administration hundreds of millions of euro to stem the flow of refugees from the country. This money is nearly impossible to track and many human rights organisations fear it is being funnelled into the military.

Instead of pouring arms into these countries, picking sides in battles where every player is in the wrong and exacerbating the breakdown of the structures needed to deal with climate disaster, we should be dramatically increasing humanitarian aid and engaging in research aimed at helping farmers and making it possible to sustain the lives of people in these countries, rather than, as at present, facilitating their being bombed.

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