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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] It is astonishing that European Council President Tusk has said, "As a matter of fact, Brexit took up very little time at this European Council." He said "as a matter of fact". He nearly told us not to worry about Brexit at all, that he was just trying to protect the EU. He went on to speak about:

[A] renewed hope in the European project [the dream again] which positively impacts on our economy. This confidence translates into strong growth, more consumption, more investments, and above all, more jobs.

What medicine is this fellow on? Does he even know what is going on and the impact that Brexit will have on our island? It is up to the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, in her new role with special responsibility for European affairs, and it is up to the Taoiseach to tell Donald Tusk that we are here to try to look after our people and that he is on a different planet. What planet is the man living on? He went on to speak about the great strength in employment. Where is the great strength in employment in Ireland? The view from the top of the European Council is clearly very different from the view at the bottom where people have no jobs. There are farmers and small business people all over our island, North and South, but we are worried now about those in the South. When we meet the Irish Farmers Association, Irish Business and Employers Confederation or any business groups, they tell us how frightened they are. We see IDA Ireland had ten positions and it only filled two of them.

  There is a blasé, sleepwalking approach to Brexit and we seem to be bystanders and admirers of Donald Tusk. We need to tell him that this is a mess and they need to sort it out. They need to treat us seriously in Ireland. Brexit will have a massive impact on our Twenty-Six Counties and the island. The very thought of a hard Border is just one thing we cannot even contemplate. We see it in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I have travelled. It is impossible. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Breathnach would know also this well from the North. We cannot go back to the days of Newry, Crossmaglen, Aughnacloy and all those crossing points. We just cannot, and yet these fellows are talking about more consumption. I am sure he is able to eat and drink plenty and is consuming enough but he needs to consume the views and the hardship this will cause to Ireland's economy. It will be a flight from the land worse than the Famine because farming especially depends on exports to Britain and elsewhere. We need to wake up and someone needs to pinch this guy and tell him to get real. The reason that Britain is leaving the EU is because of arrogance such as this from senior people in the EU and we do not want any more arrogance. We want understanding and we want to be treated as equals in the EU. We do not want to listen to that kind of baloney. We need to step up to the plate and we need to have a Taoiseach who will do so. I am disappointed he is not here. The Taoiseach was late coming in to Leaders' Questions this morning and he fled away from here early.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach The Deputy's time is up.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State, in her new very important role, understands the Border counties as she is quite near them. We need action and we need to be treated as good Europeans, as we have always been, not lapdogs. We need respect now and support, not his kind of baloney where Tusk says that Brexit took up very little time in fact.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach The Deputy is way over time.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy It was with interest that I noted the remarks of President Donald Tusk following the most recent European Council. He wanted to emphasise the point that Brexit had in fact taken up very little time at the Council. On the one hand, I am delighted that elements such as the Paris Agreement and the horrendous migration humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean Sea route are getting the prominence among European leaders that they deserve, but I also feel strongly that Brexit is not something that can be allowed to develop in an out of control way as a footnote to these gatherings. I suspect that geography and the size of Ireland are part of the problem. It is not as if we can float ourselves off nearer to the Continent. There is a real issue in relation to our geography.

According to Mr. Tusk, there was a quick agreement which confirmed unity and a determination to reduce the uncertainty caused by Brexit. It is very important for us in Ireland to be vociferous in having our voice heard around the impact of Brexit on us and we must also look to our own readiness to deal with the fallout.

There are two perspectives on Brexit: the European one and ours. While it is all very well looking at it from the point of view of making sure the books balance, there are other concerns regarding our voice in Europe about which we must be conscious. For example, on the one hand, we are speaking about fiscal space, balancing the books and not having money for capital investment. On the other hand, we are missing our climate targets. We are going backwards and we are going to end up with significant fines from the European Union while the EU is constraining us from investing in public transport or retrofitting housing and buildings that would save energy. This is indicative of the problem we have and one that may well increase in the wake of Brexit unless we strongly take control of the situation and refuse to continue what has become a culture of kowtowing to the EU and being pacified with pats on the head.

Mr. Tusk’s remarks also referred to his belief that things have changed for the better in the European Union and that there is now renewed hope in the European project. What does that mean? What does this European project - this organisation we are all supposed to be partners in - mean when we carried the lion's share of the burden around the banking collapse? We got a commitment to retroactive recapitalisation but it did not mean anything. We need not just commitments but also to see the hard facts. What is going to be done to overcome some of the issues that will present really serious problems for Ireland if they are not addressed in advance of Brexit? By virtue of the straitjacket we are in, we do not have the ability to invest, especially with regard to investing in items where we could spend now and save later such as housing.

We have a difficult time ahead, more so than any other European country, when it comes to dealing with Brexit. Ireland must have a strong voice to navigate that uncharted course and be in agreement with Mr Tusk’s commitment to reduce the uncertainty caused by Brexit. The German car industry will be concerned about he fallout for it in terms of sales into Britain, but Ireland has a whole economy that is much more exposed. We need to have this understood and forensically dealt with. It must not be some sort of side note, footnote or quick agreement at the end of a meeting. For Ireland this has to be much more centre stage and much more about what the EU is going to do to make sure we can cope with the fallout and that it will not just be by virtue of our size. It must not be another case of "Whoops, we got that wrong", which is pretty much how the bank debt was dealt with.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I want to make three points in response to the Taoiseach's report back from the European Council. I regret he is not here but I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. It is a real issue in terms of speaking arrangements that the Taoiseach is never in the Chamber for later contributions.

  The Taoiseach said in his speech that he wants to see progress as quickly as possible on the Brexit negotiations. He said something similar in his earlier presentation to the national climate dialogue. We need to think tactically and slow down the Brexit process. I asked the Taoiseach a question last week about the political tactics given the very uncertain political environment in the UK. It is my concern that there is a keen interest among certain elements in the UK to have a fast crash-out Brexit. They would like it to be very quick, and according to the Daily Express this morning, it can all be done in a week. The UK will get it all sorted out, leave the EU and take back control. There are other people on the EU side, I fear, who similarity think that Brexit could be done very quickly in that, if the UK crashes out, then it is the UK's fault, and the clock is ticking, so we had better move on quickly. That is not in Ireland's interest. We do not necessarily need to speed up this process or force the pace on it. We need to create a sense that there is a space for people to reconsider, look at different options and not be looking at the process at breakneck speed. This is why I was concerned when I heard the Taoiseach earlier. I am equally concerned about his comments in his speech. Speed is not necessarily our ally in this issue.

  My second point is about the comments made on Dublin and regional development. I am afraid that the chances of us getting either the European Medicines Agency or the European Banking Authority are slim to nil. When we look at the competing cities such as Vienna, we see that they have public transport, housing and schools ready to go.


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