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 Header Item European Council: Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item Rural Recreation Policy

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 963 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] We are respected far and wide because we are a neutral country. I hope we will not be sucked into any of the areas against which we railed during that debate. I certainly opposed it and voted against it. In that context, I ask the Minister of State to reassure us that our personnel will be respected. I refer in particular to the Naval Service and commend it on the great work that it is doing out at sea, trying to rescue massive numbers of unfortunate people who have, in some cases, been tricked and duped and who had to pay money to get onto totally unsafe, makeshift boats. We have all seen the consequences of that and I commend the Naval Service on its work in that area.

On the matter of Gaza, we need to take a more upfront role because of our respected position internationally. We must heed the humanitarian crisis that exists there and the Taoiseach, if he is visiting, must engage in an even handed fashion. We must respect the result of the election, unlike many other countries.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I can repeat and absolutely confirm that Ireland's neutrality will not be impacted by our membership of PESCO. In fact, we were one of the last countries to sign up to it and that was because officials in the Department were making absolutely sure that there was no possible way that our neutrality could be compromised or that the work we do could be impacted in any way by PESCO. I can give the Deputy that assurance. We will be focusing on continuing our peacekeeping missions, strengthening co-operation with member states and looking at projects in areas like maritime surveillance and cybersecurity. These are the types of missions on which we will be focusing while also enhancing the capabilities of our Defence Forces here in Ireland. I am happy to give the Deputy the reassurance he seeks.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We will have two final supplementary questions from Deputies Haughey and Boyd Barrett.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey I welcome the conclusions of the summit relating to Jerusalem. The European Council reaffirmed its firm commitment to the two state solution and confirmed that the EU's stance on Jerusalem is unchanged, which I welcome. My question relates to climate change. I note that the summit endorsed the One Planet summit conclusions in Paris and reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Agreement. There is a reference to supporting and adopting a number of pending legislative proposals at EU level relating to climate change. I do not expect the Minister of State to have those proposals with her today but I ask her to give an undertaking that details of pending legislative changes at EU level would be brought before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs so that members are fully briefed on matters relating to climate change.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I will not rehearse the debate about PESCO again. As the Minister of State knows, we are against involvement because we believe it is the slippery slope towards involvement in a European army. The Minister of State and the Government dispute that but I will not get into that debate now. What exact commitments are we going to have to honour as a result of this? The Minister of State and the Taoiseach have identified specific areas but one that I worry about is terrorism because that is a catch-all term. What are our commitments in terms of "combatting terrorism"? That was the justification for the Iraq war. What exactly are we involved in, in the context of combatting so-called terrorism? That is a term that can be used to justify just about anything and to potentially involve us in just about anything. Will the Minister of State be precise about what commitments we have to give under the monitoring process for arms expenditure and the type of arms expenditure, which is referenced in what are described as the "binding" commitments in the annexe of the PESCO agreement. What exactly are our commitments in that regard? Do we have to produce an annual report on the nature and quantity of arms and military expenditure, which is then overseen or dictated by Europe? What is going to happen between us and this new European body with regard to arms expenditure, in terms of both the type and amount of such expenditure?

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee Regarding Deputy Haughey's question on climate action, it will not be a problem to provide the information to which the Deputy referred and I will engage with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on that. As the Deputy said, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, represented Ireland at the One Planet summit in Paris on 12 December, the second anniversary of the conclusion of the Paris Agreement. He reaffirmed Ireland's commitment to the global objectives of that agreement and supported the call for ambitious contributions to managing global emissions from the international shipping sector. This was reaffirmed at the European Council meeting and member states reaffirmed the implementation of the Paris Agreement. We are happy to provide the relevant information to the Oireachtas committee.

In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett's questions on PESCO, involvement in various projects is on an opt-out basis. It is not that we are specifically tied to any of the programmes or projects; we can opt in or opt out. As I mentioned earlier, cybersecurity is an area in which we feel we can contribute in the context of combatting terrorism. We know that terrorism has changed in its format and is not what is was 20 years ago. There is a lot of terrorist activity happening online through cybersecurity attacks, through YouTube videos aimed at brainwashing people and so forth. We feel that we can co-operate and work with various member states in that regard.

On the question of expenditure, we are looking at a 2% increase of each individual member state's defence expenditure but that is an overall figure. Ireland will not necessarily have to increase its budget by 2%. If France, for example, were to increase its budget by more than 2%, then Ireland could increase its expenditure by less than 2%. However, we would seek to ensure that any money expended on our behalf is spent in areas that we feel fit with Ireland's profile, that such spending does not impact on our neutrality and that it is in line with what we have already agreed in signing up to PESCO.

I accompanied the Taoiseach to Brussels for the December European Council, as he indicated earlier. I will focus my concluding remarks on social, educational and cultural co-operation and migration, which were all discussed on Thursday, 14 December. Following on from the social summit in Gothenburg in November, discussions continued at the European Council on social, educational and cultural co-operation between member states. These are areas in which member states have primary responsibility but where the Union plays an important role in co-ordination, co-operation and sharing best practice while fully respecting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. This debate is central to Europe's future. Education and culture are key to building inclusive and cohesive societies and to sustaining our competitiveness. The aim is to ensure that as we continue to develop and co-operate economically we also protect and promote social standards and labour rights. The Taoiseach intervened in the European Council on these issues, including to express his view that the social pillar allows us to go back to the founding principles of the social market economy. He highlighted several elements, including pension rights and student cards, noting the need to focus on specific initiatives, to set timelines for them to happen and to monitor implementation. President Macron of France has also been very vocal in this debate and the Taoiseach supported the President's proposal for a network of European universities. The European Council will come back to these matters in March 2018 to ensure that there is a follow up.

Migration was discussed over dinner and there was a useful exchange on the internal and external dimensions in an effort to explore how best to achieve and effect a substantial policy which would respect the concepts of responsibility and solidarity. Key to this is working with countries of origin and transit in Africa and the Middle East and building on our development assistance in order to do this. As intended, this was an open ended discussion with no conclusions but it was agreed to come back to this issue with an ambition to be able to take some decisions by June.

The leaders also discussed President Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and agreed to restate the EU's common position, with which the Taoiseach agreed, that EU embassies will remain in Tel Aviv. The European Council also expressed its opposition to actions that undermine the viability of the two state solution. There was also a quick exchange about Russia and Ukraine, with the leaders agreeing to a roll over of the sanctions on Russia. These will now be renewed when they fall later this month.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl That concludes our discussion on the European Council meeting, pursuant to Standing Order No. 111.

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Priority Questions

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We will now move on to questions to the Minister for Rural and Community Development. This is our first Question Time with the Minister.

Rural Recreation Policy

 43. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring his priorities for the development of rural recreation in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1840/18]

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I welcome the Minister to the House. Given that he has already waited seven months, having to wait an extra 20 minutes beyond the scheduled time was not too much to ask of him.


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