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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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Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell It has been reported in recent weeks that Ireland's share of the EU's pandemic recovery and resilience fund may be reduced by somewhere in the region of €321 million as a result of GDP figures over-inflating the health of the Irish economy. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to me and many others. I have been highlighting the inappropriateness of GDP as a measure of the condition of the Irish economy for some time. Despite the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, forecasting that real GDP would decline by 12.4%, somehow this country, with the longest lockdown in the EU and record unemployment numbers, not only managed to grow but outgrew all of its EU peers. I cannot imagine that it is just me who thinks that there is something seriously off here. Lots of developed nations would not sneer at GDP growth of 3.4% in a normal year so to record that during a global pandemic certainly seems like the stuff of divine intervention.

  The reality is that the ESRI, the Central Bank and even the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, are aware that this measure is more or less useless for international comparisons. In fact, from an Irish perspective it is worse than useless because it is proving harmful to us vis-à-vis the reduction in pandemic emergency funds and the oversized contributions we have to make to the EU budget. GDP is a metric that is hurting this country. Basically, the use of GDP means that we have to contribute more to the EU budget than we should and, as the example of the pandemic emergency fund shows, we receive less than we deserve. In the EU's defence, it is not singling us out here. The fact is that Ireland's distorted GDP figures are the product of the kind of economy that successive Governments have constructed. Herein lies the triumph and the tragedy of this metric that is bandied out, with which some people sense there is something amiss but most do not stop to question. It is very clear that it is simply a vanity metric at this point. I ask the Minister of State to raise and address this issue at Cabinet and at a European level.

  I also want to raise the case of Julian Assange. My colleague Deputy Andrews and I raised this with the Tánaiste last month and I raise it again today because I am deeply concerned at reports about Mr. Assange's poor state of health, which is being exacerbated by harsh prison conditions. As elected representatives of the Irish people it is our democratic duty to be vigilant about human rights abuses both at home and abroad. Mr. Assange's case is of particular interest as the charges against him relate to his role as a journalist and publisher. His incarceration in a prison institution designated for those deemed to be the most dangerous in British society is of considerable concern. A country's defence or suppression of freedom of speech and of the press is a touchstone of how healthy its democracy remains. The Minister of State may also be aware that in recent days even the Pope has written to Mr. Assange. I ask the Minister of State to raise this case with the British ambassador at his earliest convenience.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The People's Vaccine campaign, which is supported by 80 countries, many NGOs, the UN Aids programme, Oxfam and others, published a survey of epidemiologists, immunologists and infectious disease specialists in 28 different countries, 88% of whom predict that within nine to 12 months, variants of Covid-19 will have evaded the first generation of vaccines. That is a very stark warning. In roughly the same timescale it is anticipated that only 10% of the population of the some of the poorest countries in the world will be vaccinated. If those predictions are correct we are in deep trouble. The misery and the darkness of the last year of this pandemic could roll on for years to come if variants of Covid-19 evade the first generation of vaccines. The key to addressing this very frightening prospect is to ramp up the global production of vaccines to the absolute maximum level to get people all over the world, not just in wealthy countries, vaccinated as quickly as possible in order to prevent the development of new variants.

The science is absolutely clear on this but the European Union, including Ireland, failed to support the People's Vaccine campaign which calls for the waiving of patents, intellectual property rights and other protections for vaccine production technologies. The EU did so because it dances to the tune of the big pharmaceutical companies who do not want to waive those patents and intellectual property rights because they want to make cash from the pandemic. This is particularly disgusting in the context of the threat to public health, as well as the fact that it was public money that allowed those companies to develop vaccines in the first place. It was the advance orders of taxpayers and working people from all over the world that financed the development of vaccines in record time. It is absolutely shameful and unacceptable that the EU is not supporting the People's Vaccine campaign and is not insisting that technology patents and intellectual property rights are set aside in order to enable the open development of vaccines so we can ramp global supply. It is worth noting that Cuba is developing four vaccines as we speak and is willing to waive intellectual property rights. We should take our lead from the Cubans.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry More than 5,000 peaceful protesters were arrested in just one day in January this year in Russia and the repression has continued since then. I wish to focus on two of the less high-profile cases. The first is the case of Anastasia Ponkina, a feminist and environmental activist. On 9 March she was charged in Izhevsk for attending a protest in January. She now faces the prospect of up to five years in prison and her organisation, the Russian Socialist Movement, faces being branded by the state as an extremist organisation. On 22 March in a Moscow court, Matvey Aleksandrov, a member of the Socialist Alternative, a sister organisation of the Socialist Party in Ireland, was imprisoned for 15 days, having just completed a 25 day jail sentence for the crime of distributing leaflets promoting protests on International Workers' Day. He can be arrested and charged again on his release, in a revolving door-type scenario. There should be a right to assemble, associate and protest in Russia and every other country. I ask the Minister of State to contact the Russian ambassador to oppose what is being done in the aforementioned cases and to oppose the wave of oppression that is sweeping across Russia at this time. If he contacts me after this debate, I will happily pass on the details.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I want to speak about the European Council summit in the context of Covid-19 vaccines. I note that the transparency and authorisation mechanism for vaccine exports has been extended until the end of June. I also note that the UK has received 9.1 million vaccine doses from the EU, which is virtually three times the amount exported to the next highest on the list, Canada. While it is important that we continue to export vaccines, the UK must acknowledge the level of vaccines coming from the EU and must stop playing games. While Ireland will obviously accept any spare vaccines, the UK should not be playing political games with Covid-19 vaccines because lives are at stake.

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