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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 Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] The proposal from the leaders' agenda to envisage an ERASMUS programme for young artists would be a fitting legacy to and expansion of his work, as well as a tangible benefit for all EU citizens. The outcomes of the Council also refer to a proposal to encourage the emergence by 2024 of some 20 European universities. Will the Government outline what this will mean and if an Irish university will be encouraged to pursue this goal?

The last Council was dominated by Brexit. I was sceptical as to whether progress could be made. It went to the wire but, thankfully, agreement was reached. We would be under an illusion if we were to think that significant challenges do not remain. It is a challenge for all of us when we are asked how the apparent opposite objectives of the UK Government's commitment to have no border on the island of Ireland while leaving the customs union at the same time can be achieved. We need to get down to concrete detail ourselves, as well as those in the discussions taking place between Michel Barnier and UK Government, to ensure we have a deeper step-by-step understanding as how this will be envisaged and achieved.

The December Council meeting agreed to begin work on the type of transition agreement that will be put in place for approximately two years. It also will open discussions on the type of framework for the future relationship of the EU and the UK. In advance of the March Council meeting, the detail of both the transition and the future relationship will have to be worked out. Some details are beginning to emerge. I believe that only the UK staying in the Single Market and customs union can deliver the type of border and future trade arrangements that Ireland needs. Having listened to some Members earlier, I do not want a customs union barrier between Rosslare and Holyhead or Fishguard or Dublin and Liverpool. While the issues discussed in some detail about the Border are important, the bulk of our trade is east-west and it is critical for all of us.

The recent move by the UK Labour Party to acknowledge the need to stay in the customs union, as well as some form of linkage to the Single Market, is welcome. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. However, the news that Norway would seek radical changes to the European Economic Area, EEA, agreement in the event of special UK access to parts of the Single Market is a further reflection of the constraints on the UK's manoeuvrability in this regard.

Moves are under way to identify funding for the next EU budget. Where will the EU go when the UK exits? The debate started by the French President has been added to in Germany by the Social Democratic Party of Germany, in the context of coalition discussions. The future of Europe is a core concern for the Labour Party and for all social democrats, as well as democrats, on the Continent. Across Europe, parties of the left fought long and hard to advance this political project and the benefits it would bring to all Europeans. Laws, like the working time directive, parental leave and women's rights, have been an enormous advance for EU citizens. As I said in December, we need the debate on how we can bring Europe closer to all our citizens, and that it is not merely some economic or trading entity but has an impact on the quality of lives of everybody else.

We need to have a view on how Europe will be structured in the future. Due to our understandable focus on Brexit, the future of Europe debate has been somewhat put to one side. I note the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, has been pivotal in this discussion but I share the concerns expressed in the House about the drift away from liberal democracy and adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, which were the drivers of the European project in the aftermath of the Second World War. We need to understand what kind of European Union we want in the future. Ireland should be a leader in that. Although we have interests, we have also got values. Those values should be clearly articulated in all discussions about the next steps to be taken about Europe's future.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy I am sharing time with Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy I want to raise the question of Palestine and the EU's relationship with Israel. I know it was on the Council agenda.

  I must say goodbye to the Taoiseach. I note his regular departure once Solidarity-People Before Profit Members start to speak.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I have been here for the past four hours. How long has Deputy Paul Murphy been here?

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy Has the Taoiseach ever stayed for any of our contributions in any of the debates he leads off on?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Regularly.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy No. For every single European Council debate, the Taoiseach stays until the Labour Party, with its seven Members, speaks, as he rightly should. Then he leaves when Solidarity-People Before Profit, with six Members, starts to speak because our ideas are not worth listening to. I am sure he can read the Official Report later.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Rural Independent Group has seven Members. I do not get the Deputy's point.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The Taoiseach should also stay and listen to Deputy Mattie McGrath's group. He should stay to listen to what all Members have to say in these debates in which he leads off.

Obviously, the question of Jerusalem was on the agenda of the European Council meeting. The European Union is not like the US or Donald Trump in enthusiastically endorsing and cheering on Israeli oppression with, for example, the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. The EU can try to bask in an inverted reflected glory of not being Donald Trump and look as if it is somehow friends of the Palestinian people. However, the reality is different. While the EU has a different approach in how it puts the case forward and sheds crocodile tears for Palestinians, the same complicity exists between the EU and Israel. The relationship between the EU and Israel has actually deepened over the past several months.

A graphic demonstration of why this is absolutely abhorrent, morally wrong and outrageous as a foreign policy is the treatment of the 16 year old Ahed Tamimi over the course of the past several months. She is a Palestinian activist and a recognised human rights defender who was arrested in the early hours of 19 December. She was taken from her home by Israeli soldiers, put into a military jeep and has been held in a military prison, Ofer Prison, since. Her mother was detained on the same day when she went to a detention centre to ask of her daughter's whereabouts.

One day, prior to her arrest, Ahed Tamimi was protesting against occupation soldiers who shot her 15 year old cousin in the face, putting him in a critical condition. During the raid, soldiers forcibly entered her home, physically assaulted her mother and her siblings and confiscated electronic devices including laptops, cameras and mobile telephones. Her treatment comes after her challenging the presence of the Israeli Defence Forces in her family's courtyard, following the injury of her 15 year old cousin. The village in which he lives has been the location of regular protest in which she has played a role because it is illustrative of the growing occupation by Israel, forcing people out of their homes. For example, water was redirected to a local Israeli settlement, leading to a lack of water for Palestinian farms. Ahed Tamimi faces 12 charges in a military court, which have grown over time, as a result of her being involved in protests.

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