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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 Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace]  On a different subject, I want to touch on the role of the European Union, and in particular the European Commission, during the establishment of NAMA. When NAMA was originally set up in late 2009, it was in clear breach of the EU state aid rules, under Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. However, as we know, the European Commission granted Ireland a special exemption to receive state aid due to the ongoing banking crisis, albeit with a number of conditions. The Commission stated that, with regard to the state aid exemption, it had received commitments from the Irish authorities at the time that the rights and exemptions contained in the NAMA Act would not lead to a distortion in the market in NAMA's favour. At this stage it now looks as though we have not held up to our end of the bargain. Under the reign of the previous Minister, Deputy Noonan, the Department of Finance allowed NAMA turn into an entirely different animal than it was originally intended to be, and in my opinion, in direct contravention of the NAMA Act. NAMA is now one of the largest developers in the State, with plans to build 20,000 houses by 2020. NAMA was set up to remove the bad loans and related assets of same from the balance sheets of the Irish banks and to manage them. It was not set up to develop expensive houses that the majority of Irish people could not afford. To my knowledge, there have been no amendments to the NAMA Act since 2009 yet it seems it can ride roughshod over its statutory obligations.

Another area where NAMA has ignored the provisions of its own Act is in relation to auditing. In the most recent financial statements, the chair of the NAMA audit committee, Brian McEnery, stated: "As the NAMA group entities are 51 per cent privately owned and operate to return dividends to shareholders, the companies were deemed to be trading for gain and the C&AG is not therefore in a position to audit the statutory financial statement of the NAMA group entities after 15 June 2015". That seems to be in direct breach of section 57(1) of the NAMA Act, which states: "NAMA and each NAMA group entity shall submit its accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit within 2 months after the end of the financial year to which they relate". It seems that the Comptroller and Auditor General is to be punished for exposing the truth about how NAMA operated on Project Eagle. Is the Government happy for NAMA to do that? If it is, that would beggar belief.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I wish to share time with Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Mattie McGrath.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae At the outset, I wish the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, well. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, I wish to say on behalf of the committee that we look forward to engaging with her in the very near future. Like many in this room, I am as interested in the issues that were discussed informally as those that were on the agenda, in particular the proposal presented by Prime Minister May for EU citizens who currently live in the UK. There has been a lot of commentary about that and it is important that all of us across the EU get this one right and get it right as early as possible. It has been a most uncertain time for the many EU citizens who study, work and live in the UK today and it is important that all of them are given clear notice of what they will be able to do. We all noticed that the proposal is for Irish citizens to be in a slightly different situation because of the common travel area and while I welcome that, this is a strategically important issue for the EU and we need to consider it carefully.

We all share the condemnation expressed by the Taoiseach and the other leaders of the recent terrorist attacks. I am interested in learning which of the measures that were mentioned in the conclusions he intends to introduce here. I refer to the establishment of an industry forum; new technology for the detection of inciting material on the web; potential new legislation on data encryption; and the new entry-exit system, among others. I presume that as we are one of the member states that is not a part of the Schengen area, the measures will not automatically apply to us but that we could opt in to them. In addition, there was discussion on the strengthening EU co-operation on external security and defence and the establishment of a European defence fund. I am interested in hearing which Minister intends to consider that issue. What level of involvement in the soon-to-be established permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, is envisaged for Ireland?

I was very pleased to see how much attention was paid to supporting the increase in jobs, and supporting growth and competitiveness across the EU. At the end of the day, that is what our citizens need, namely, to make sure that we have created the right environment for companies to invest and grow and to be able to hire people. While I agree that we need to continue to support and deepen the European Single Market, it is most important for Ireland to make our partners aware that when it comes to the energy union and interconnectors, Ireland may need understanding as we go backwards before we go forward again. As we are aware, a significant amount of Ireland's energy comes through the electricity interconnector via Wales, as well as gas via Scotland. That leaves us meeting the current rules and exploring whether it would be a good idea to build another interconnector directly to France. Depending somewhat on the Brexit negotiations, we will need the appropriate derogations to be allowed the time to develop new infrastructure and to find new solutions if the current infrastructure is not considered to be within the EU. If that is the case, Ireland will need to work over the next couple of years to get back to where we are now.

I note from the conclusions that the European semester process for 2017 is now considered finished. I would be interested to know what the Taoiseach thinks were the main lessons for this year and what we might bear in mind for next year.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy Rae Zoom on Danny Healy Rae It is what was not spoken about at the meeting that concerns me. As I said previously, the decrease in the value of sterling is seriously impacting on small businesses right around the country who are exporting to Britain and the North of Ireland. Such people are experiencing a reduction in income. That issue and the impact of Brexit that is already being felt must be highlighted to the foreign affairs Ministers and others in Europe.

Farmers will be affected right around the hills, valleys and glens of this country and when farmers are affected, all the businesses that feed off them will be adversely affected as well. That issue must be highlighted.

The motor industry is already starting to suffer. There is a decline in car sales because cars are being imported from across the water and from the North of Ireland as they can be bought more cheaply there due to the reduction in the value of sterling.

IBEC has already said the regions will suffer following Brexit. When it talks about "the regions" I understand it to mean rural areas. It has been said that urban areas will prosper. The Taoiseach must understand that urban regions are already doing very well but rural areas are not and if they are affected any further it could mean a significant decline in population as there will be an exodus of people leaving rural areas.

I note the Paris Agreement was discussed at the European Council. It is important to bear in mind that one cannot get blood out of a turnip. Is that all that was gained by the talks in Europe last week? I am concerned that farmers, who face a reduction in the amount of money they get for their produce, will be expected to pay for the Paris Agreement. I do not believe there is any hurry attached to the Paris Agreement because as I said previously in the Chamber, we cannot do anything about the weather. God above is in charge of that. If farmers and business people are expected to pay more in carbon tax because of the Paris Agreement they will be hurt more. I repeat; one cannot get blood out of a turnip.

There is much talk about exemptions for the North of Ireland and that is fine, but we must remember that we are representing the Twenty-six Counties and the people who are trying to live and work in this country and they need to be looked after. If we do not do that then we will not be here either.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I too am pleased to speak here today. I wished the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, well already.

In the remarks by President Donald Tusk after the European Council meetings on 22 and 23 June 2017 he indicated that the leaders made three important decisions. The first was the agreement to extend the sanctions against Russia for another six months. The second was that Europe will continue to work to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, to which Deputy Danny Healy-Rae referred, in co-operation with our international partners, as though that was important to us at this time. The third decision taken is that the EU 27 leaders agreed the procedure on relocating the two UK-based EU agencies. If that is all the work they have done, they are as useless and toothless as some of our own Departments.

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