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 Header Item Cabinet Committees (Continued)
 Header Item European Council: Statements

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 963 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] That is the proposal and the report has been accepted by the Government. Deputy Brendan Howlin rightly says it is possible to have two Secretaries General and two Departments under the one Cabinet Minister. That is what we have under the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. I have asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the head of the Civil Service, Mr. Martin Fraser, to examine this as a possibility. We have to advertise for a new Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. If we are to go the whole hog and split it into two Departments, this would be the appropriate time to advertise for two Secretaries General, rather than one. That is being scoped out as an option. We must bear in mind, however, that it would be a deviation from the Toland report which recommended having a single Secretary General of a single Department, with two deputy Secretaries General heading up different divisions.

The Cabinet has not yet agreed a salary scale for the new Garda Commissioner. That issue has not yet been considered by the Cabinet.

On the Kenneally case, the Government is very keen to allow the commission of investigation to begin its work as soon as possible. We have no interest in delaying the commission's work. At the same time, we do not want to jeopardise potential future prosecutions. The Attorney General and the Minister for Justice and Equality are working on the issue and the Minister will meet the families as soon as he has some news. We are working towards a solution that will allow the commission to begin its work. It might not be able to do all of its work, but it would at least be able to commence it. The Minister for Justice and Equality certainly speaks for me and all of Government on these matters.

On the additional documents provided by the Department of Justice and Equality for the tribunal, I am not sure what their volume is. I have heard reports that the volume is great, but I do not know that for a fact. I directed the Department of Justice and Equality to provide all documents for the tribunal and in doing so asked it to err on the side of generosity. If the officials were unsure about whether a document fell within the terms of reference, I asked that they send it anyway. It may be the case that many of the additional documents handed over do not fall within the remit of the tribunal. We will see that matter play out in the coming weeks and months as the tribunal does its work.

The budget of GSOC for this year has been increased to just over €10 million, up from €9.6 million last year, or an increase of over €400,000. The number of staff was 77 in 2015 and 2016. This figure increased to 84 in 2017 and will rise to 94 in 2018. That is not rhetoric; they are the facts. Consideration is also being given to additional staffing for the new protected disclosures unit once it is up and running. GSOC is already being given a bigger budget and more staff and may need a bigger budget and more staff into the future. However, the Government has to be prudent. We always have to bear in mind that we are dealing with taxpayers' money. Every public body states it is understaffed. I have yet to come across a public body since the foundation of the State that has stated it has enough or too many staff. Public bodies always seek additional staff. We have a job as a Government and custodians of taxpayers' money to validate requests or bids for additional staff; to prioritise, given the fact that even with an expanding budget, budgets are limited; and also to understand what the outcomes would actually be for taxpayers and society.

On changing the role of the Policing Authority and the independence of GSOC, these matters are being considered by the commission on the future of policing, which will report this year. Rather than make changes now to the role and remit of the Policing Authority or to whom GSOC reports, it would be appropriate to allow the O'Toole commission to make its recommendations. When we have them, we can make decisions on policy changes.

I do not know if there is a protocol on the use of personal email accounts. If there is not, there probably should be. I will check to see what the position is.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Of course, there should be.

European Council: Statements

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Tá áthas orm labhairt os comhair na Dála inniu faoi chruinniú Chomhairle an Aontais Eorpaigh a bhí ar siúl sa Bhruiséal an 14 Nollaig agus an 15 Nollaig. Bhuail an Chomhairle le chéile i gceithre bhfoirm difriúla le linn an dá lá. Bhí an phríomhchruinniú ar siúl Déardaoin, 14 Nollaig, agus dhírigh sé ar chomhoibriú sóisialta, oideachais agus cultúrtha, chomh maith le cúrsaí slándála agus cosanta. Níos déanaí an tráthnóna sin, bhuaileamar le chéile mar chuid de chlár oibre na gceannairí ar thodhchaí na hEorpa. Bhí béim ar an imirce, ach phléamar cúrsaí eile freisin, ina measc caidrimh sheachtrach agus trádáil. Maidin Dé hAoine, 15 Nollaig, bhí cruinniú mullaigh an euro i bhfoirm leathan leis an 27 ballstát chun an aontas eacnamaíoch agus airgeadaíochta a phlé. Ina dhiaidh sin, bhuaileamar le chéile i bhfoirm Airteagal 50, gan an Bhreatain, le dul chun cinn maidir le Brexit a phlé.

The Thursday afternoon meeting opened with a short exchange of views with President Tajani of the European Parliament. I look forward to meeting President Tajani again tomorrow in Strasbourg where I will be the first EU Head of Government to address the European Parliament as part of its debate series on the future of Europe.

The European Council then moved on to review security and defence. As on previous occasions, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, attended the meeting and in his remarks underlined the importance of complementarity between his organisation and the European Union and the need for strong European defence. A Europe worth building is a Europe worth defending and Europe should not rely on the United States and the United Kingdom to do it for it. Within the European Union work has moved forward with the launch of the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, arrangement. I am happy that Ireland is among the 25 member states to participate from the beginning. We are a founder member of PESCO, just as we were of the euro and the Single Market. PESCO provides a mechanism through which crisis management capabilities can be developed by member states in support of common security and defence operations. As I have said previously, participation in PESCO in no way changes our policy of military neutrality. We will continue to make our distinctive contribution based on our own traditions and strengths. However, we should also recognise that there are new challenges that confront all countries, including Ireland, such as terrorism, uncontrolled mass migration, cybercrime and drug and human trafficking and that it makes sense to work together to respond to them. No nation state can do so on its own. I look forward to Ireland participating in projects that are suited to our particular capabilities and position. I restate my view that our military neutrality and non-membership of NATO are a foreign policy strength and enhance our position as an honest broker and as UN peacekeepers in Lebanon and other parts of the world.

The next item for discussion was social, educational and cultural co-operation, following on from the successful social summit in Gothenberg in November. While member states remain primarily responsible for these areas, much can be achieved by working together. A number of interesting points were raised such as including the social agenda as part of the European Semester, although a decision on this was not taken at the European Council. The concept of European universities was also raised and we are very enthusiastic about exploring it further. The Commission will report back in the coming months on how some of these ideas might be brought forward. I see real opportunities in this for one or more Irish universities in becoming part of a European university. We also had a short discussion on climate change and the One Planet summit held in Paris last month.

In our evening session we had an extensive discussion on migration. While there were no formal conclusions, there was a clear recognition that much had been accomplished on the external dimension, with a sense around the table that the European Union needed to take further action externally to tackle the root causes of mass migration. On the internal dimension, different positions were aired and it was agreed that we would return to the discussion later in the year. Europe needs an effective and sustainable policy which will respect the responsibility and solidarity of member states. We also discussed a range of external relations items, including Russia and Ukraine and Jerusalem. The Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, will provide more detail on some of these issues and the social dimension in her remarks.

On Mercosur, we heard a presentation by the Iberian countries on the advantages of a trade deal for Europe. As the House is aware, while Ireland recognises the potential for a deal to be of great benefit to Irish industry and the economy, we have some concerns about the beef industry, in particular. France shares this position and both President Macron and I intervened to give our strong views on what should and should not be included in such a deal.

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