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Post-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gary Gannon: Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon] I strongly encourage the Taoiseach to bring action and meaning to those words by allowing Ireland to sign up to COVAX and C-TAP and to allow Ireland to advocate that we sign up to TRIPS. To me, that would have meaning and it would place us on a pathway to leadership. That could be the most important thing we do this at this moment in time.

It is immoral that 75% of vaccines that have been given out in the world to date have been given out in just ten countries. That will prolong this pandemic far beyond where it needs to be. We have spent much of this morning talking about our own vaccine programme, which will see 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of the summer. If we are allowing the developing world to become an incubator for new variants, that will not mean anything in terms of making our own population safe or making the global population safe. I strongly encourage the Government to take a leadership role in terms of vaccine justice in the global world and to be a voice at a European Union level.

There are other issues at a European Union level that will be waiting for us as we, hopefully, begin to emerge from the pandemic, in particular, a global climate crisis that still requires a unified approach. There are also conflicts that will create massive challenges. I do not have time to speak about the presence of Russian troops in the Nagorno-Karabakh region at present but it creates a challenge for the European Union and the US in terms of our role in the world in alleviating conflict. What Russia did was simply to put troops there and nobody else had an answer to it. There is also the issue of what is happening in Tigray in Ethiopia, where an armed conflict is continuing, and even if it is stopped, there is still massive potential for famine and drought, which will be a lasting legacy of that conflict. These are real challenges for the European Union without even mentioning the continuing rise of the far right and the challenges that will pose in the coming years. I hope we can demonstrate leadership at a European Union level and, in particular, I strongly encourage that we sign up to COVAX, C-TAP and the TRIPS waiver programme.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I call Deputy Brendan Smith, who is sharing time with Deputy Flaherty.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on the post-Council statements. Understandably, as other speakers have said, the priority issue was the Covid-19 pandemic, which, unfortunately, has been with us for more than 12 months. Of course, the Government leaders had the opportunity to review what has been achieved and what has not been achieved in regard to the roll-out of the vaccine programme. As we discussed here on the last day, it is very disappointing that there has not been greater speed in getting vaccines sourced and distributed throughout Europe. I sincerely hope the Commission President had some answers to the legitimate questions in regard to the contracts the European Union had with the pharmaceutical companies and how strong were those particular contracts.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing a very high level of infection throughout the European Union. It is most disappointing that this pandemic is still with us and that this deadly virus is so prevalent in most countries throughout the European Union. As we all know, the variant B117 has caused particular difficulties. I sincerely hope Europe can honour its commitments and that the pharmaceutical companies will honour their commitments to the European Commission in regard to supplies. We all know how valuable, how important and how essential a successful roll-out of the vaccination programme is.

As Deputy Haughey mentioned earlier, it is very heartening that President Biden partook in this Council meeting. It is long overdue that the American President would meet with his counterparts in the European Union. We all know of the need to have good US-EU relations. As a country that has a particular interest in the United States, and as the United States has a particular interest in our island, we know strong EU-US relations will benefit both continents and that, in particular, we can be major beneficiaries. We know not just of the historic links between our two countries but also of the huge economic ties our country has with America. We often hear about foreign direct investment coming to this country and there are well over 100,000 people employed in US companies in our State. Similarly, there are more than 100,000 US employees working in Irish businesses in the United States, so it is a huge and very valued business linkage between both countries.

I value the engagement I have had with the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, in recent months in regard to the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol. I brought to his attention in the early days of the new year the need to have particular difficulties ironed out. I have highlighted in numerous debates in the House that we need stability and trade between Ireland and Britain and between North and South. Thankfully, since 1998, we have witnessed the growth of the all-Ireland economy and the huge strengthening of links, North and South and east and west as well.

It is just not acceptable that Britain can make unilateral decisions in regard to an international agreement. I welcome the fact that, as I understand it from the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, sub-committees are meeting to ensure that the protocol is implemented in a sensitive manner. There have to be workable and deliverable solutions. The engagement I have with my neighbours north of the Border, from businesses and individual citizens to public representatives, is that they want the protocol to work. Those people see the benefit there is in having that unique trading relationship with Britain and the European Union. I urge the Minister of State to urge all his colleagues in the different European Union fora in which he participates to ensure that the protocol is implemented in a sensitive manner and that it delivers for the people of both Britain and Ireland.

Deputy Joe Flaherty: Information on Joe  Flaherty Zoom on Joe  Flaherty The House will be aware there are a large number of small and family-run car dealership businesses in a state of turmoil post Brexit given the interpretation of the Union customs code regarding returned goods relief. There are a number of these businesses in County Longford, and they include the family-run Clonfin Car Sales in Ballinalee. This business has extensively researched the issue and clearly set out a number of anomalies in the current Revenue interpretation of the legislation. That Revenue interpretation states:

Under UCC (Art 203) goods can be exported from the EU to a 3rd country and re-imported into the EU without payment of Customs Duty .... The goods must have been originally exported from the EU, must not have been altered and must be re-imported within three years of export from the EU.

  The Revenue Commissioners’ interpretation of the article continues: "When a motor vehicle was originally moved from the EU to the UK before the end of the transition period and is imported to the EU within three years of the original movement to the UK, the vehicle can be imported to the EU under the provisions of returned goods relief." However, a further interpretation from the Revenue states that the original date of the export of the vehicle to the UK is the date it employs to set the clock in motion for the three-year rule. Unfortunately, this erroneously fails to acknowledge or recognise that, prior to 31 December, the UK was, in fact, a member of the EU, and the vehicle in question was exported from an EU country, that is, Germany, to another EU country, as the UK then was, although it subsequently became a non-member state of the EU after 31 December. Therefore, if the clock is to be started, surely it must be started when the conditions of the article are complied with, namely, when the vehicle is exported to a third country.

  I know that is all very technical and legalistic but vehicles exported from the EU to the UK prior to 31 December have been exported to a member state and, as such, no third-country status applies. The erroneous application of the article must be addressed. I have passed on details of the case to the Minister's office and I have also corresponded with the Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, as well as with the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners. It would appear Revenue is retrospectively classifying the UK as a third country for the purposes of the Union customs code but it seems there is, in fact, no authority within Article 203 to provide for this retrospective application of the legislation.

  I believe it is critical for those businesses I mentioned that this matter is reviewed. The survival of small family-run businesses such as Clonfin Car Sales is in grave danger given the current interpretation of the article, which is weighted in favour of vehicles registered since January 2018, when, ordinarily, the purchase of these vehicles is beyond the financial capacity of many of our citizens.

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