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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 Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan] Any rational assessment of Dublin that is done by the end of July will look at how it matches up to the competing cities. I am sorry to say we do not have the public transport and housing infrastructure in place. I hate to say this about my own city. This supports the case for such investments to be made. This is not about Dublin versus rural Ireland. The European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority are not going to move to remote areas. They are going to relocate close to an international airport. If we are to get those sorts of agencies to come here, we need to invest in Dublin.

I would like to speak about the most important issue of enhanced security co-operation. I was particularly concerned to hear the Taoiseach say in his speech that when this issue was discussed, it was agreed to invite the European Investment Bank, EIB, to consider its role in investing in the munitions and armaments industry. There had been rumours in this regard, but it was deeply concerning to hear it mentioned in the Taoiseach's official report on this meeting. I have multiple concerns in this regard. The EIB raises a lot of funds when it sells its ethical bonds on the international markets. All of them will have to go if the EIB decides to invest into the armaments industry. Such a move would completely change the character of the bank and its business model. Such a move would be utterly wrong from an ethical perspective. It was interesting to hear the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment making the point today at the National Economic Dialogue that the Brexit bill will possibly be €300 million over a three-year period. He made the valid point that the climate bill we are facing from Europe as a result of our failure to meet our targets is ten times greater than that. It has the potential to reach €6 billion.

I think the EIB has a critical role to play in investing in the transformation of our economy that we need to make. We do not need it to invest in armaments as an alternative which would draw funding away from the climate action we need to take. Last week, I attended an event in the Oireachtas audiovisual room at which it was pointed out that the EU currently spends €1 billion a day on imported fossil fuels. The vast majority of that €1 billion a day is going to Saudi Arabia and Russia. I believe the EU's peace and security strategy should involve using the EIB to invest in the switch to clean energy alternatives. This would ensure we do not continue to give €1 billion a day to Saudi Arabia to buy American weapons to be fired into Yemen. This is a basic key tactical and strategic issue. Are we in favour of the EIB investing in armaments? I would be very keen to hear the Minister of State's response to that question in her reply. I think we should express our outright opposition to such a development. We should see the bank as an investment bank for the transition to a more secure future in which we invest in our own people and jobs, as well as in climate and economic security, instead of giving €1 billion a day to Russia and Saudi Arabia. This is the thin end of a very worrying wedge. Ireland's involvement in and support for the increased militarisation of Europe is wrong and we oppose it. What did this country's representatives say in response to the proposal to turn the EIB into an armaments-lending bank?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach There are approximately 20 minutes left for questions and answers. The Minister of State will have five minutes to respond at the end. Deputies Haughey and Tóibín have indicated. In the interests of giving everyone an opportunity, I ask them to curtail their questions to the Minister of State to approximately a minute, if possible.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey I congratulate Deputy McEntee on her appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs. As a member of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, I look forward to working with her.

Obviously, the big issue of security and defence was discussed at the European Council meeting. The Council agreed to strengthen EU co-operation on external security and defence. It reaffirmed its commitment to the EU-NATO relationship. It reiterated the need to strengthen defence-related research capabilities and operations. Reports were presented on a European defence fund which could support the joint development of capability projects and contribute to greater European defence co-operation. It was also agreed that permanent structured co-operation is needed to strengthen Europe's security and defence. Where does Irish neutrality stand in all of this? The Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU has now been firmly re-established. That will have a dynamic of its own. I spoke earlier about the options that are available for the future development of Europe. One of the options is a multi-speed Europe with more enhanced co-operation. I presume security and defence is one of the areas in which a multi-speed Europe with more enhanced co-operation might apply. I assume that having regard to our traditional policy of military neutrality, Ireland does not have to participate fully in all of these initiatives.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I thank the Deputy for his question. It is absolutely the case that our neutrality will not come into question in this context. I think our long-standing policy of military neutrality is sufficiently safeguarded, particularly through the existing constitutional provisions, including the protocol to the Lisbon treaty. Our commitment to this policy was reconfirmed in the Global Island foreign policy review and in the White Paper on Defence, which was published in 2015. I think it is time to start looking at security and defence in a different way. We will remain neutral with regard to our Army and its activities. We are talking about a different kind of threat now. We are talking about cyber-threats. People are walking down the street wielding knives, or walking into concerts to blow up young children, their parents and others who are with them. We need to start engaging with our European counterparts. We need to start tackling information that is being spread through the Internet to encourage these kinds of acts. We will remain neutral when it comes to our military defence. This cannot be changed other than by means of a decision of the Irish people.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach I know Deputy Tóibín is anxious to raise a few matters. If time permits, we will get around to a second round.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín I have a couple of questions.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach If Deputies are succinct in their questions and the Minister of State is succinct in her replies, we will be able to go around again. I have to take two more Deputies after Deputy Tóibín.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín Go raibh maith agat. I want to congratulate the new Minister of State and wish her luck. She might need it, given that some of her votes have been given to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, overnight. They might go to Deputy Ó Caoláin - we never know.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I might run in Cavan-Monaghan.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín The Paris Agreement on climate change was discussed at the European Council meeting. Ireland is currently on track to face financial penalties of up to €600 million by 2020. This would account for a significant proportion of the available fiscal space. Ireland is facing between €3 billion and €6 billion of penalties by 2030. Our climate targets involve a 20% cut in emissions by 2020, a 30% cut in emissions by 2030 and a 80% cut in emissions by 2050. However, we are going in the other direction at the moment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, our emissions are increasing. The current policies of the Government will mean that emissions will increase further. It is interesting that this Government is quick to lambaste Donald Trump for his shocking decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change even though it is flouting the agreements to which it is currently signed up. Was the Government's poor climate record discussed at the Council meeting?

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Obviously, there was a discussion on the Paris Agreement. I think everyone agreed that we do not want to see the US pulling out of the agreement. Ireland is being particularly ambitious with its targets. I understand that the energy Ministers met this week. Ireland has set very ambitious targets for 2030. One of the biggest challenges we face as we try to reach those targets and to improve the current situation in Ireland is to ensure we engage properly with communities. Deputy Tóibín and I have seen that in our constituencies. Wind, solar and other projects are less likely to go ahead when plans are not made properly, communities are not engaged with properly and proper plans are not put in place. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for us to reach our targets. There is a way we can work with communities that helps us to reach our targets. However, there is a lot of work to be done in that regard. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, is openly engaging in the various areas. He recently published a document on wind. He is asking people to come back with their own recommendations on that. I think we are being ambitious. We have to set ambitious targets. The Taoiseach has said we need to be ambitious in this respect.

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