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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 963 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey] The House needs to be informed every step of the way so that we can scrutinise these projects and give them our agreement if they are compatible with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

It seems that President Donald Tusk attempted to launch a major review of the EU's migration strategy. He suggested that we should abandon the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers. I understand that Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were singled out for not sharing in the responsibility in this regard. It was agreed to set up a fund to stem the flow of illegal migration. A reform of the Dublin Convention is also envisaged.

We in this country are somewhat removed from the issues of migration, but I hope that, in any input into the debate that we have, our traditional humanitarian approach will be to the fore and we will seek a humanitarian solution to this problem. I hope that the Minister of State can give me an assurance in that regard.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee As there are so few of us and we have 20 minutes remaining, perhaps we might go back and forth.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Yes.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I wish everyone a happy new year and success throughout the year.

I will answer Deputy Haughey's two questions. The House agreed that Ireland would join PESCO at the initial stage so that we would have an input into what happened in future and not join later as a third party country. That was the right course to take. Since the co-operation involved is in line with the Lisbon treaty, it does not impact on our neutrality. Nor would we allow it to reach that point. Politically, there would have to be a referendum to put the question to the people if there were an impact. We have been clear that, similar to countries like Austria, Finland and Sweden, which are neutrals, the kinds of project in which we will be involved will be maritime surveillance, cybersecurity and strengthening of our current peacekeeping missions. Ireland and its soldiers have an excellent reputation on peacekeeping missions. We view PESCO as a mechanism to enhance that as well as our co-operation with other member states. The climate has changed. As the Taoiseach outlined, we need to be able to co-operate with other member states on tackling terrorism, cybercrime and drug trafficking.

I see no reason not to keep the House updated on those missions in which we take part. None of them will impact on our neutrality.

Regarding migration, the EU and Ireland as a part of it have adopted a broad range of measures. We are engaging with countries of origin and transit to try to address the root causes of migration. We have agreed to a plan relocating migrants in Italy and Greece across the EU. We have launched the EUNAVFOR Med, or Operation Sophia, and have provided substantial financial assistance to countries that are hosting large numbers of migrants.

At the European Council meeting, leaders held an informal discussion on migration. No conclusion was reached. Currently, the two schools of thought are whether countries that have given substantial amounts of funding should also have to take in substantial numbers of migrants and whether specific figures should be allocated to specific countries. There has been no resolution to that debate yet, but I hope for more definition in the coming Council meetings.

Ireland's view is that there should be a stand-alone solidarity instrument that is not attached to the Dublin review. That is the position that we have put forward and we will put it forward again at the next stage of discussions or negotiations.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Next are Deputies Cullinane, Boyd Barrett and Mattie McGrath. Will we take the three together?

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I did not signal, so I do not need to speak.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl In that case, I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I will follow up on my statement and the questions about Gaza with which I concluded. Jerusalem was discussed at the Council meeting, but I would like a response on the issue of Gaza. I do not know whether the Minister of State can tell us much about what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, did there last week. He met some people, but they were linked to one faction, namely, the Ramallah-based Government, and so he should have. However, that he did not meet elected representatives from Gaza itself is a problem. Let us remember that Gaza was the trigger for the Israeli assaults. Israel did not accept the outcome of a democratic election and then attacked. Last week, the Minister saw some of the consequences of that. He was clearly aware of them, yet he has reinforced the Israeli position by not talking to the representatives of the people of Gaza. It legitimises Israel's position, which we should not do. At the very least, we should be balanced. Some reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is now happening.

I have received a direct request from the Speaker of the elected representatives in the Gaza Parliament for us to send an all-party delegation to Gaza to meet them or for us to invite the Speaker to the Oireachtas. We should do that if we are serious about talking to all sides. According to the request, since Ireland has incredible credibility among all Palestinian factions, there is nothing that we could propose that they would not seriously consider. That puts us in a privileged position. We should use our credibility to talk to the political representatives in Gaza. The Government should consider doing so, given the appalling and intolerable humanitarian situation there. I was told about some of it and the statistics show more. Anecdotally, people are suffering bad health conditions - for example, kids and others in need of dialysis and new kidneys - but they cannot get out to get treatment. Apparently, kidneys are being sold for €30,000 and €40,000 in Cairo, but someone needs €5,000 to bribe an Egyptian guard to get out through Rafah. That is how it works. The number of people being allowed out for medical reasons has reduced significantly.

We need to intervene. We have a great deal of credibility. We should use it by engaging with the political representatives in Gaza. I hope that the Government will consider doing so, as this request comes straight from Gaza.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I cannot speak on the Minister's behalf, but I can send that request to him. If I outline some of what the Tánaiste did on his visit, perhaps the Deputy can ask him for more detail and about what happened at the next Question Time.

He met the Palestinian President and the foreign Minister, Dr. Malki. He also announced an increase of €200,000 in funding for Palestinian students seeking education and training in Ireland. This came during his meeting with the Palestinian Minister for education. Ireland's overall funding to the Palestinian people in 2017 amounted to €11.19 million, with €4 million of assistance for this year announced by the Tánaiste during his visit last week. He met the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, the UNRWA, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based NGO.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I will raise a similar matter regarding PESCO. We debated it before the Christmas break. Assurances were given by the Tánaiste, the Minister of State and others. Will the Minister of State ensure that those commitments will be lived up to so that our personnel who are serving on UN missions will not be asked to do anything that would infringe upon the highly respected role that we have developed around the world?

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