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Business of Dáil (Continued)

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh] In the opening round, speeches of a Minister, Minister of State and the spokespersons of the main parties and groups shall not exceed 15 minutes each, with speeches of all other Members not to exceed five minutes each, with a five minute wrap-up by a Minister or a Minister of State. All Members may share time.

The voting block will take place on the conclusion of the motion re Permanent Structured Co-operation and the suspension of the House under Standing Order 25(1) shall take place thereafter for 40 minutes.

Statements re climate change shall be taken not later than 7.40 p.m. and Topical Issues shall be taken not later than 9.40 p.m. or on the conclusion of the statements re climate change, whichever is the earlier.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Before we get going, is the motion to instruct the committee with regard to the Technological Universities Bill, which is non-contentious, agreed? Agreed. A number of Members wish to speak. I call Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh I am opposed to the provision itself being put before the House but I am proposing an amendment to the motion which is that the proposal on PESCO would be referred to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence sitting at 5.30 p.m. today for full and detailed consideration prior to it reverting to the Dáil for further consideration. This would allow the committee to decide how to proceed with the consideration. Full and detailed consideration is the equivalent of pre-legislative scrutiny. It would require a full hearing rather than a limited two-hour exchange of views on the proposal which would have no bearing on the fact that this is an attempt to ram it through the House tomorrow, with no proper notice or recourse to extending this beyond the three and a half hours which are now being offered for debate. Originally it was two hours.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We will hear from everyone who wishes to comment first. I call Deputy Brendan Howlin.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Yesterday I proposed to the House that this matter would be referred to the defence committee, and I understood there was broad agreement on it, so that it would be capable of calling witnesses and the Army would be able to present at it, but now I understand that a joke is being made of that proposal. It is going to the defence committee but it is coming back here tomorrow, so there is no time to call witnesses. If we have learned anything on issues such as the Lisbon treaty, where afterwards we did a lot of analysis, it is that people wanted to know what was going on. I listened to the Taoiseach's argument of support. Let that be made. Let the Chief of Staff of the Army come in and make his point. Let those with reservations ask their questions in an open forum. Let others who have reservations about our participation in PESCO state their case. Let the committee of the House then report back to us. As I said yesterday, there is no urgency to this matter. Should it be the decision of the House, we can join at any time. There is no timeline.

I raised the issue on 28 June last and in October, yet, as of yesterday, it all had to be truncated into a two-hour debate and now it is proposed to allow three and a half hours. However, we have the nonsense of a committee consideration when the committee will not have time to call any witnesses, probe any of the issues or answer any of the legitimate questions which people in the House or outside it might have.

In reasonableness, so that we can build consensus about these matters rather than divide and create conspiracy theories about them, can we not have an open and proper parliamentary debate that would occur in any normal democratic parliament in the world? Will the Taoiseach consider that and allow the committee to meet, call witnesses and make a recommendation to us? Let us then have a vote in the new year, one way or the other.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I second Deputy Ó Snodaigh's proposed amendment. It achieves exactly what Deputy Howlin is saying. In voting on this amendment, we are not voting on the actual issue of whether we should join. We are voting on whether we should have proper debate on it. Whatever their view on the issue, it would be a missed opportunity if parties refused the opportunity of debate.

I heard the Taoiseach, who is clear in his view that we should join and that military co-operation is a central part to our new future European development. However, this is not a small issue to be decided in such a rushed way. It is a critical strategic issue in terms of our relationship with the European Union and it deserves time, debate and consideration. It should not be rushed through in two days.

Nothing that I have read in the provisions establishing PESCO states that we have to agree this by Monday, 11 December. I see no reason it could not return to the Foreign Affairs Council in the new year. This would give us time to hear different views and have a public debate. It is not just this House but our public that deserves the debate. If we as a nation are going to take this role in Europe with greater military integration and investment in armaments and so on, our public deserves for it to be debated at some length and not in a rushed manner. I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh's proposed amendment. In particular, I ask Fianna Fáil in its republican tradition to ask for that debate as well.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I have looked for longer sittings but no one has agreed.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett What has gone on here stinks to high heaven. Something of absolutely eIn case we think that we are immune in this jurisdiction, remember that six years ago, an eternity in politics and technology, in the 2011 presidential election, the "Frontline" programme saw an acrimonious debacle which led to much recrimination and arguably altered the course of the Irish presidential campaign. It is too late afterwards to address it when the damage has been done.

  We have also seen the rise of online advertising, an extremely useful and progressive tool which I imagine most practicing politicians in this House, including myself, use regularly but without the checks and balances which traditional political advertising is subject to. If an anonymous organisation was to erect 1,000 posters in a village or town without a hint as to who funded, sponsored or published them, they would rightly be in breach of the electoral Acts. They would be subject to civil investigation and possibly to the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, the same thing can be done online in an instant with practically no safeguards. It would be possible right now for an international lobby group to purchase thousands of euro worth of advertisements on online social media and run advertising under a series of false flag accounts. This is clearly an affront to our democratic process. It is not yet illegal, but it is certainly dishonest. As we approach a busy period of referendums and elections, while we welcome the opportunities for wider debate and citizen engagement, we must ensure a robustness of content, safeguard our integrity and protect our democracy against those who would subvert it in organised, systematic and sinister ways.

  The Bill recognises the large corpus of law that emanates from decades of referendums, in particular the McKenna judgments which state that public money cannot be used to sway either side in an electoral contest. The State is strictly neutral and this prohibition is restated in this legislation. The proposed measures are ideologically neutral. They apply equally to the left and to the right. Transparency takes no sides in electoral contests. It merely requires a standard of disclosure so that we know those who seek to influence our electoral outcomes are who they claim to be.

  On the specifics of the Bill, it contains a number of definitions, including the definition of political advertising as advertising which seeks to direct the outcome of a referendum or election, to increase the popularity of a particular party or candidate for office, to influence the outcome of an industrial dispute or to influence a vote before the Oireachtas. The Bill contains a number of offences for failure to disclose the publisher or source of that information and a requirement to carry a transparency notice along with any online advertisements in the same manner that existing literature, posters and paraphernalia already require in the traditional world. It includes an offence of operating a bot, which is to have multiple fake accounts masquerading as individual entities which are actually deliberately controlled by a single user or single organisation to perpetrate political fraud. To quote the words of the poet John Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty". I hope the Bill will enjoy cross-party support and I look forward to the wider debate.normous significance about advanced co-operation across Europe to progress the militarisation of Europe and ramp up the arms industry was not notified to the Business Committee and is being pushed through at a few days' notice. A vote is to be taken which, when one looks at the 20 different commitments under the PESCO arrangement, would include increasing defence budgets in real terms and increasing defence investment expenditure. It sets out targets in terms of percentage of GDP to be spent on arms which will be a significant increase on current levels of expenditure and a whole range of other commitments, yet the Government wants to ram it through with a few days' notice while the public does not have a clue about its implications.

  The Government knows that there is massive opposition in this country to any move away from our military neutrality. The Government may say that it is not a move but I beg to differ and many other people would like to know the facts before they make their own judgment on it. However, given the timescale being proposed none of the stakeholder groups which have an interest or expertise in this matter will have an opportunity to give their opinions. Basically, this is a con. I believe that there is a quid pro quo with EU support for Ireland's position on Brexit. This is the deal.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Come off it.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett That is what I think. Why then has the Government told us there is a deadline? The deadline for the Government is the EU Council meeting.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney It is not.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Why the rush so?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The Government wants to get it through, so it had the Chief Whip come into the Business Committee meeting to tell us there was a deadline to be met. There is no deadline for joining PESCO. We can apply at any time in the future following a proper debate and consideration. That was simply misleading the Business Committee and it is misleading the Dáil. There is no deadline. The Government is imposing that deadline because it wants to rush it through without public debate or consultation. We will be absolutely opposing it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl You have made your point, Deputy.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Frankly, it makes a sham of democracy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call Deputy Seamus Healy.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy I too wish to oppose the Chief Whip's proposal on this matter. It is an attempt to rush the matter through the House and present the public with a fait accompli. Although obviously an issue for the House, as I said yesterday it is not just an issue for the House. It is also an issue for the public. There needs to be full public debate, discussion and scrutiny on the issue which cannot be done in the parameters set out by the Chief Whip.

  It is quite clear to everyone that there is no deadline of any kind and no necessity to rush the matter through the Houses of the Oireachtas. Participation in PESCO undermines Irish neutrality and sends us in the direction of a European army. We all raised issues in this regard during the debate on the Lisbon treaty when we were told nothing like it would happen but here it is before us. It also raises the issue of additional expenditure in this area. The figure of 2% of GDP would be at least double, if not more, of our current spending in this area.

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