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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 Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams] There should be no shying away from this because it came from Sinn Féin. We do not care who gets ownership of it or what it is called. I urge An Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and Ms Foster to examine once again the proposals contained in the various policy documents and discussion documents produced by Sinn Féin.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Three issues emerged from the last European Council meeting: Brexit, defence and monetary reform. All three are crucial and central to the future of the people of this island. All of these Council meetings are at a time when there is a focus on the future of Europe and discussion on the type of Europe we want to build. We all now recognise that this future will be without Britain and that Britain is intent on leaving the European Union. It is the job of the Irish Government to ensure we protect our interests and those of Irish people.

With regard to Brexit, we welcomed, as the Taoiseach knows, the relative progress made in recent times in the joint agreement and joint report agreed by all member states regarding the Irish issues and others also. We are now entering a second round of talks at which the heavy lifting will be done, at which the flesh will be put on the bones of all these issues and where the real negotiations will begin. The caveat and background to all that is that the other member states will be really focused on the big issue of whether there will be a trade agreement between Britain and the European Union. Obviously, we want such an agreement and, if possible, Britain to stay within the customs union and the Single Market. The difficulty we have is that there are real contradictions. By "we", I mean everybody on the island of Ireland, particularly those who want to avoid a hard border and those who want to ensure we protect the rights of citizens, be they Irish citizens or citizens from other member states living in the North or South, and protect the Good Friday Agreement.

What we are hearing from the Tory party depends on what wing one is listening to. It is very difficult when one is negotiating with three wings, or possibly four, of another political party, but that is what the member states are trying to do. If one listens to the British Government and British Prime Minister, however, one notes they are saying that Britain and the North will come out of the customs union, Single Market and legal framework of the European Union. That means the Good Friday Agreement also. Thus, we do not have assurances that citizens in the North will enjoy exactly the same rights as European citizens in the South when the North is taken out of the European Union. These are contradictions that cannot be squared unless we have absolutely firm commitments that the North will stay in the customs union and the Single Market and remain subject to the Good Friday Agreement.

We have consistently said all of this is possible. We, and even members of the Taoiseach's Government and the former Taoiseach, heard that any kind of special solution for Ireland was not possible. It is possible. It is possible for the North to remain within the European Union. It is possible to have special status. It is possible for the North to stay in the customs union and Single Market if the political will exists. If the political will exists, anything is possible. All of this is unprecedented in terms of Britain leaving the European Union anyway. Let me state my words of caution to the Taoiseach. I doubt that he needs them. He has been described as being a bit greener than previous Fianna Fáil leaders in the past, which some might regard as quite ironic. Even leaving that aside, I do not need to remind the Taoiseach that when the heavy lifting will be done over the coming months and when we begin to negotiate the actual detail, the British Government will act in British interests, as Teachta Adams said. That is what it would be expected to do. The Taoiseach must act in the interest of Irish citizens in the North and South. He has to make sure he gets the best possible deal for us and make sure full alignment means full alignment. The only way he can achieve full alignment is by having the North stay in the customs union and Single Market. If he comes back with something less, if there is a hardening of the Border, if the Good Friday Agreement is not protected and if EU citizens who live in the North do not have the same rights that they have now, it will be a problem and a matter for which his Government will have to account. As long as the Taoiseach is acting in the national interest for all people who live on the island of Ireland, he will enjoy the support of Sinn Féin. I am sure he will enjoy the support of many people across the island.

We are very focused on the time ahead. We want to get the best possible deal and result but that will require considerable diligent, hard work and attention over the coming weeks and months. My party will not be found wanting in making sure we do whatever we can to achieve the best possible outcome for everybody. As I stated, that means the North staying in the European Union, the customs union, the Single Market, the political framework and legal framework, in addition to remaining subject to the Good Friday Agreement.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call Deputy Brendan Howlin.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Fáilte romhat ar ais.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Go raibh maith agat.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is nearly a month since the December European Council meeting. Significant progress was made on Brexit and on the leaders' agenda, discussed prior to Christmas. It is unfortunate that debate on many of the changes under way in Europe has been limited and more often lost in the understandable focus on Brexit. Europe is changing, however. The rush to advance the defence agenda just prior to Christmas is just one example.

For six months, I called in this House for a debate on PESCO. I listened to the leader of Fianna Fáil give his view on it. It was perfectly reasonable but we should have the debate and a full, open discussion on these matters.

Permanent structured co-operation on defence and security matters has been central to the changes under way in Europe. It is a shame, therefore, that these matters were rushed through in two hours. We were not to have any debate at all in this House on the matter until I insisted on it. It was a joke of a reference to the defence committee of the House when the debate on its report was scheduled for the next day. Thus, there was no opportunity to hear any expert witnesses on important matters. That is not the way we bring people with us in an important debate on the future of Europe. We have made such mistakes in the past. Any changes will be subject to referendum in the future. Therefore, let us bring our people on a journey of understanding as we discuss fundamental issues pertaining to the future of Europe, including this country.

As I said in December, Ireland should have taken the same position as Malta, which adopted a wait-and-see approach because it believed certain operations may be in breach of the neutrality clause in its constitution. The Irish Government has still not informed us which of the 17 joint projects under PESCO it intends to sign up to. There should be no fear about an open and reasonable debate on these matters.

On foreign policy in the Middle East, I welcome the firm commitment by leaders reiterating support for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and the fact that the EU position on Jerusalem remains unchanged. It is three years since the Dáil unanimously voted to recognise the state of Palestine. The Irish Government should now move to declare its recognition of Palestine as a state, and more efforts are needed to stop and reverse the development by Israel of illegal settlements. This is an important item for the agenda of the European Union. It seems we are moving away from peace as opposed to towards it, as we had hoped. So many of the problems of the world have their genesis in the conflict in the Middle East.

The Council welcomed the progress on climate change and the outcome of the One Planet Summit in Paris. That work now needs to be progressed further.

In the context of the next EU budget, there is an interesting proposal from the Commission that proceeds and profits of the EU emissions trading system should move from state level to EU level. This is one of the proposals put forward to fill the EU budget gap that will be created when the UK leaves the Union. The Government's view on this proposal and the other financial proposals should be set out clearly for us and we should have an opportunity to debate that also.

More than likely Ireland will be asked to make a larger contribution to the EU budget. There should be an open public debate on that. Again, we need to address that matter and explain, if there are to be increased contributions, what they are for and how they are to be constructed.

The second agenda item for the Council was the social dimension, education and culture. Last month, I flagged a number of ideas proposed by the Party of European Socialists. I hoped then that the Government would consider those. A key agenda item at the Council was extending the ERASMUS programme on its 30th anniversary. It is timely, as we recall with sadness the death of Peter Sutherland, to remember the work he did to create that ground-breaking programme when he was a European Commissioner. It is one of the really important instruments that brought European citizens together.

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