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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 Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] The European Union is not just an economic entity, it is also fundamentally based on the values of liberal democracy which include fair elections, a balance of powers and respect for rights. The attempt by the Polish Government to take direct charge of the judiciary is clearly against these core values. That said, the various illiberal decisions of the Orbán Government in Hungary, including taking political control of every independent state institution, seem to have gone even further and been subject to no intervention. Before this matter proceeds, it would be a good idea to have a wider discussion on where it is going and the specific objectives involved. I do not think we have had sufficient debate on these issues in this House in terms of the drift in the direction Hungary and Poland are taking or as fully fledged members of the European Union in enshrining the values the European Union espouses. To a certain extent, there has been silence and a brushing under the carpet in the domestic debate here and at European level. That said, I welcome the more recent initiatives on that front at European level.

  The euro summit which accompanied the full summit had no substantive outcome. The upturn in the euro economy is very positive, but the last thing it should lead to is complacency or a sense that the need for reform has been removed. The banking union is far from complete and the full separation of banking debt and sovereign debt has not been achieved. A unified system of control and a unified currency require a broad-based system for risk sharing and bank resolution. Continued German objections to it are holding back an essential reform. We are unconvinced by the Commission's proposal to subsume the mechanism for aiding states with borrowing problems under its oversight.

  We repeat our call on the Taoiseach to state exactly what Ireland is proposing on the digital taxation initiative. During Taoiseach's questions I repeatedly asked him to clarify his strategy for the March summit which is due to decide the issue, yet he has repeatedly refused to say anything. The more he does that the more it will look like he is simply waiting to see what will happen.

  While leaders noted actions concerning migration, there was no substantive discussion of the continued humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 5.4 million registered refugees from Syria. Of these, 1 million have sought asylum in the European Union. Ireland has, rightly, agreed to participate in the resettlement of refugees, but we should also acknowledge the generosity of Germany and Sweden which have, between them, taken fully 64% of all refugees. The political bravery of their leaders, particularly Chancellor Merkel, in standing for humanitarian values in the face of intolerance is something we should acknowledge and honour. However, more needs to be done. First, there should be a significant increase in support for basic facilities for refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and other countries in the region. The UNHCR states there is a €2 billion gap in the budget for 2018. Ireland and the European Union should take immediate steps to help to close the gap. Second, we should continue to speak up for the victims of war crimes committed during the Syrian conflict. That Russia has repeatedly vetoed the efforts of the United Nations to investigate likely gas attacks by the Syrian regime against its own people is a shocking reflection of how far it is willing to go in supporting a dictatorship and playing geopolitics.

  This year will be dominated by the Brexit negotiations. In the journey from generalities to a hard agreement an enormous amount of work must be undertaken. For Ireland, the challenge is to build the missing constructive relationships and be willing to start proposing specific solutions to at least limit the inevitable damage caused by Brexit. Deputy Donnelly is in London with Deputies Niall Collins and Darragh O'Brien. It is interesting that the perspective on Brexit they are getting from British interlocutors is far different from the message and sense of what the agreement means here. I met the Scottish Minister responsible for Brexit, Mr. Mike Russell, in Killarney at the weekend, with Mr. Mark Drakeford from Wales, and they were very surprised by my explanation of our understanding of what the phase 1 agreement constituted vis-à-vis what they were hearing from the Westminster Government on the same issue. That indicates clearly the need to be vigilant in the months and years ahead.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Beidh mé ag roinnt ama leis an Teachta David Cullinane.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Aontaithe.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Cuirim fáilte ar ais roimh an Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Tá súil agam go raibh sos maith aige i dTír Chonaill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Sin ceart, bhí.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Bhí mé ann fosta, leis an fhearthainn. Ahead of the crucial meeting of the European Council last month, Sinn Féin made it clear that it was vital that the Government secure additional guarantees from the British Prime Minister about the legal standing of the joint report issued by the European Commission and the British Government in December. We said that additional guarantees were needed because at the very heart of the report was a set of fundamental contradictions. Contradiction No. 1 is that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland but that the North will be dragged out of the customs union and the Single Market. Contradiction No. 2 is that there is no threat to the Good Friday Agreement, yet there 142 areas of all-Ireland co-operation that could be adversely affected by the Tory Brexit. Contradiction No. 3 is that there will be no erosion of rights for citizens living in the North but Britain is to push ahead with its withdrawal from the European Court of Justice. Contradiction No. 4 is that the people of the North voted to remain in the European Union, but that decision that has been ignored by the British Government, the DUP and others.

Sinn Féin flagged the contradictions with the Government and advised that it needed to be very careful in its dealings with the British Government. I note the Taoiseach's warning today that we need to remain vigilant to deliver on the commitments made in December, to ensure they will be delivered on in full and that there will be no backsliding. I have learned from decades of experience that British Governments are adept at ensuring the text of agreements is written in such a way that they allow for various interpretations on another date. The interpretation they adopt is always the one which advances British interests over all others. They argue that that is their job. In fact, a senior civil servant once said it was their job to allow for whatever interpretation was required.

The job of the Taoiseach and the Government is to protect, defend and advance the national interest. For too long the Government has seen itself purely as acting in the interests of the State. It is welcome that the Taoiseach is looking out for the interests of the people, North and South. It is a source of some bemusement for me that at this time the Fine Gael leader is more sound on issues to do with the national question than the Fianna Fáil leader.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Hear, hear.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams We want the Taoiseach to move beyond the rhetoric. We want him to drill down and ensure there is delivery on some of what he has been saying.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Are we warming up for a coalition?

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Rock solid, iron-clad guarantees that resolve the contradictions were required to allow the negotiations to move to the next phase with the approval of the Irish Government. That is what has happened, but the question is whether we have rock solid, iron clad guarantees. I can only assume that the Taoiseach sought them. We could ask him whether he secured legal assurances from his British counterparts and European colleagues. I assume that they delivered the necessary clarity, certainty and confidence that are so lacking in the joint report. Will the Taoiseach tell the Dáil what additional legal assurances he sought and secured, as opposed to it being a matter of the Irish interpretation or the European Union and British interpretation? Will he give a commitment to publish assurances he may have received in order that Members of the Oireachtas can take the time to examine them?

I also wish to take a moment to address remarks made by the DUP leader, Ms Arlene Foster, in Killarney at the weekend. I acknowledge and welcome her statement that she is opposed to a hard border. The problem is that while Ms Foster and the DUP state they are opposed to a hard border, they are also demanding that the North leave both the customs unions and the Single Market. If that happens, it will guarantee the imposition of a hard border. We have been championing a practical solution, namely, for the North to have special designated status within the European Union. That is the only and best solution. It would also respect the vote of the people in the North and is endorsed by the majority of MLAs. It is endorsed, in particular, by the people of the North and also by the Dáil. I commend it to the Government and also the DUP.


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