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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 James O'Connor: Information on James O'Connor Zoom on James O'Connor] It has done significant harm to democracy. There has to be some accountability for that. Our former European Commissioner was sacked for playing a game of golf in Ireland, yet the European Commissioner in charge of health and vaccination procurement seems to be getting off scot-free. How is that fair in any democracy? The European Union is in a position where there does not seem to be any accountability when it comes to its failures with vaccinations. If I asked how many resignations there have been from the European Commission, the answer would be zero. That is not good enough. This is something that has to be said and I, as a Member of Dáil Éireann, am happy to say it.

Those are my simple messages. We cannot return to austerity politics or to austerity monetary policy because it would do substantial harm to democracies throughout Europe and to the European Union. There is also the issue of accountability regarding the failures relating to procurement.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan: Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan I am going to change tack slightly, but I will still bring my contribution back to the European Council meeting. During that meeting, there were discussions about societal well-being. That is an aspect of this pandemic that we do not talk about enough in the House. There is a mental health epidemic across continental Europe and in Ireland. That epidemic needs to be addressed and resources and funding must be provided in order that we can find solutions and address people's deteriorating mental health. The latter is becoming a major issue throughout the country. As Deputies, we can attest to this on foot of the nature of the calls that we get to our constituency offices. People are at their wits' end. They are despairing and incredibly frustrated.

A good measure of how people's mental health has deteriorated comes in the form of evidence I was given when I went to my local butcher a couple of weeks ago. A butcher's shop is the type of place where one would have this type of conversation. The butcher said to me that he had noted from February on, for the first time in the pandemic, that while one in ten people might be in a bad mood or might not be in the best form normally, it has been happening more and more. Almost everybody coming in to the shop and having a daily discussion was just despairing and had essentially given up. We are seeing that across the country. As a Government and a society, we need to intervene and ensure that the long-term impacts of this pandemic are minimised as much as possible.

It is not just my local butcher who has given me this evidence. Statistics show that there has been a 150% increase in the number of people seeking access to mental health services and that there was a 36% increase of people seeking support from the Samaritans in 2020. The evidence in there. We need to analyse that evidence and make sure that we use the statistics to which I refer to support the argument for significantly increasing funding for mental health, particularly as people are struggling. There is no doubt that people are struggling and we, as a Government, need to intervene. There has been an increase in the budget for mental health services but because of the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns and of people not being able to see family members or friends, travel or work and having reduced incomes, there has been a significant impact. I extend that to the recent announcement about the lifting of restrictions. The fact that those under 18, after 26 April, will be able to participate in training for sport so long as there are fewer than 15 and it is socially distanced and monitored, is welcome. It is tough when a 17-year-old person and someone who is 18/-and-a-half years old are friends and in the same class and the latter has to look at his or her friend going to sports training, whether it is for camogie, football, rugby or badminton. It will be difficult for that person to accept. There has to be room for flexibility in this regard because there is a level of unfairness that is hard to accept.

On the vaccine supplies from Europe, Ireland has had some of the strictest restrictions and they has worked. We have kept the case numbers and the mortality rate among the lowest in Europe. We need to be rewarded for that with increased vaccine supply.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The European project has failed Ireland and it is failing Ireland, from the fiasco at the summit last year, where we provided a substantial net contribution and were the second-lowest beneficiaries in the whole EU. There are affected individuals in Clonmel and in Tipperary, at South East Car Sales, McCarthy Motors and Eurocar Logistics, and a Deputy from Longford spoke about the problems that car importers are having. There is a stupid regulation whereby cars made in a European country, were imported into England while it was in the EU and now, because it has left in the aftermath of Brexit, we cannot get the Revenue Commissioners to understand simple dates and times in respect of those vehicles. Revenue is onerously penalising people. This is having a significant effect on those owners and garages and, by extension, customers who want to buy cars because Revenue is charging penal rates and an excess of duty in respect of these vehicles. This should be done when the vehicle registration tax is being paid. It is just making work.

I have to question our officials who are dealing with Europe and the Ministers. Deputy Michael Collins referred earlier today to how the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, might as well stay at home and not attend summits because he did not open his mouth and let our fishing be wiped out. Now we are here with the vaccines. We are a joking. England has administered 36 million vaccines and we are here looking for crumbs from the table of Europe. Phil Hogan lost his job because he went to a golf game. I want the European Commissioner in charge of health to be sacked because he has not delivered. Is there any accountability? We are the nice boys in Europe all the time, being told to jump and asking how high. We love the project. Europe is fleecing us now and is not delivering for us in any shape or form. The contract that was signed with AstraZeneca by EU officials is bizarre. A three- or four-year-old child would not sign it. Now we have the consequences. The one signed the day before by the British was clever and shrewd. It has delivered and will continue to deliver.

The roll-out and the support we are getting here is pathetic. Social issues will arise and debt will be forced upon us again as it was previously by the EU with the bail-out, which I called a clean-out. We have no heads in Europe any more. I want heads to roll if there is to be any accountability. Does the Minister of State think the people are monkeys? Tomorrow is 1 April but the Minister of State might want to wake up and smell the coffee. Every day is April Fools' Day for him, with the European project making a clown of him.

Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue I am just a mere mortal when it comes to European law and the ongoing European Council meetings. Clearly, there are not enough mortals from Ireland going to these meetings. I had to read through the minutes of the meeting we are discussing and nowhere did I see any mention of the horrors that hauliers and firms in Ireland are going through in order to get their goods delivered. Ireland is the most disadvantaged country in Europe as a result of Brexit. The latter took place just three months ago and it is as if it never happened. We are an island located off the coast of another island, the UK, which stands between us and Europe. Europe has all the choices while Ireland is clearly disadvantaged on many levels. Why do hauliers still have a paper-based T-forms instead of digital forms? Requirements should be effortless, modern and technology-based. Try driving around Europe with a perishable product such as shellfish and try to find a customs agent. This is unfair to any industry and it does not even get a mention on our airwaves or here in the Dáil. What about products arriving on time? Ask the owners of garages that are waiting for tyres and factories that are not getting supplies and are unable to function.

Since Brexit, the additional cost relating to every lorry leaving Ireland has been €500. We need concessions in European law regarding air, sea and rail transport. Why is this not being asked for by the Government? Cabotage is another avenue that we could look at for Ireland. In France, companies can only make two drops, thus eliminating income generated by securing a backload. This is where people could make a profit. How can Irish suppliers compete when it now takes six to eight hours longer to reach their destinations? This is not about the ferries. They are providing a service but it is more expensive. Why are issues like this being ignored at European Council meetings, particularly in circumstances in which Ireland is surely the most disadvantaged member state?

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