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Post-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 5
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue] I will finish with a quotation from the European Council meeting:

With a view to the upcoming Porto Social Summit, we [the EU] underline that a successful digital transition requires that no one is left behind. We need the necessary tools and infrastructure ... while ensuring fair working conditions and high standards in the digital economy.

This quotation is not about Ireland, but it should be.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I wish to ask a question of the Minister of State. I know he does not have the capability to answer now. Subject to a ruling of Leas-Cheann Comhairle, who is occupied, I do not think the Minister of State can answer straight away, but I would appreciate it if he could.

I would like to know what was concretely concluded with regard to the digital pass. The digital pass has the potential to be a very good thing. Equally, it has the potential to be a negative and destructive thing. Obviously, the EU is based on three freedoms, namely, the freedoms of the movement of people, goods and services. I do not need to tell the Minister of State this; he knows it well, from a variety of perspectives. Nobody is suggesting that-----

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Thomas Byrne): Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I can answer the Deputy on this point.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Sorry?

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I can answer the Deputy on the issue of the digital green certificate.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I look forward to that.

  The concern among people is that while the Commission has framed it as something that will facilitate the free movement of people in a safe way, ultimately it will become a barrier to free movement.

  In particular, the Minister of State should answer in respect of sunset clauses. As I have seen two sunset clauses extended with regard to Covid restrictions in Ireland, I do not have huge confidence in them per se, or at least the Irish approach to them. For example, I do know that in Italy a quarantine measure has been introduced. It is the second country to introduce quarantine measures in respect of other EU nationals. However, the measure introduced in Italy is to be place for a very limited period of time. I have no reason to believe that it will be extended. The Irish quarantine measure is more open to extension.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne They are not hotels but it involves home quarantining.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara Yes, but it is quarantining of EU nationals and it is the second country to require EU nationals to quarantine. We were the first, in respect of Austrian nationals.

  The proposal in Ireland is to extend the quarantining measure to the nationals of a number of other countries. I wonder where that sits in respect of free movement. Most EU countries, if not all at this stage, are only allowing essential travel. There is no need for the Minister of State to tell me that; I understand that. However, there is a hope and expectation that this will ease this summer, which is part of the reason - not the only reason - this digital pass has been proposed. I do not know where the proposal to extend quarantining to many of the EU member states sits with the essential right to freedom of movement. I am not just referring to the freedom of movement of people, but also of goods. How are we going to maintain agrifood exports? Europe is a huge and important market for us. How are we going to maintain that in terms of delivery if there is quarantining? In respect of live exports, we export cattle, calves in particular, live to Spain to an important if not huge extent and particularly to Italy. Have we thought about that?

  Previous speakers, including Deputy O'Connor, spoke about when Europe is vaccinated. I read an article very recently in The Lancet by members of the French Covid-19 scientific council, which is the French equivalent of NPHET. I do not know if it holds as much sway over Government policy in France as NPHET does in Ireland. The article stated: "The fervently awaited end of this global health crisis might be continually postponed, as new variants emerge and immune evasion reduces vaccination effectiveness in the short and medium term." It concluded: "Using stop-start general confinement as the main response to the Covid-19 pandemic is no longer feasible." That is a hugely different approach to the approach we are taking at present. We are hoping that vaccination will be the magic bullet. It is fair to say that we are less concerned that this might prove elusive. How do we reconcile that difference in approach in France with the approach we are taking here in the longer term, while maintaining free movement? If there are vaccine-resistant variants evolving right through the EU, that means there will permanent quarantining here or we will have to deal with the reality.

  It seems to me that in Ireland, we have not dealt with the reality of living with Covid for a long time. We seem to think that we are like New Zealand or Australia and that we can suppress it. We are not. We have a very different social structure and-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Tá an t-am caite.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I wish to make one last, brief point.

  The free movement of people is important for attracting foreign and direct investment into Ireland, because many US-based and other international multinationals base themselves in Dublin on the basis that they can bring in young, skilled workers from across the EU. That becomes much more difficult if those young, skilled workers cannot see their families throughout the-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath There are now 20 minutes for questions to the Minister of State. I will allow each group roughly two and a half minutes, so please-----

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne If I may, I am in the hands of the Acting Chairman and those of the Members. Sometimes at this point, I answer the questions that have been raised already. However, if Members wish to ask questions now, I am happy to do it either way.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The order here is for 20 minutes for questions and answers. I do not mind. It depends on how the Members feel.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I asked a question and the Minister of State offered to answer it, so I would appreciate it if we could start the questions and answers with an answer, rather than taking time to ask the same question again, particularly if the Minister of State is minded to answer it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I will allow that. I will call on Deputy McNamara first.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I can answer more at the end. If the Acting Chairman wants me to go through the points that have been raised, I am more than happy to do that.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Do any Deputies wish to ask another question?

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady I asked a number of questions in my contribution. I want to ask a number of supplementary questions of the Minister of State which I did not cover in my contribution.

I want to raise the issue of Catalonia. Sinn Féin defends the right of nations to choose their own destiny through democratic means. The objective of the Spanish Government is to criminalise those who have peacefully worked to see the will of the Catalonian people realised, namely, their independence. This persecution strikes at the heart of European democracy. Recently, the European Parliament voted in favour of removing parliamentary immunity for three Catalonian MEPs facing extradition to Spain on charges essentially linked to the Catalonian referendum. It sets a dangerous precedent in the European institution. Indeed, were this China, Russia or Syria, there would be outrage. Perhaps the US would be trying to funnel arms and weapons to them. Yet, there is complete silence on the issue on the part of the Irish Government and the European Council. I ask the Minister of State why that is the case. Has the issue been raised at European Council level? What is the view of the Irish Government on the rights of the Catalonian people to self-determination?

I also want to raise an issue concerning Turkey. On the EU approach to Turkey, how much of that relationship is coloured by the fact that Turkey houses more than 4 million refugees, primarily from Syria, who would otherwise make their way to Europe? The fact that Turkey is prepared to accept payment from the EU for the hosting of refugees appears to be a factor in the failure of the EU to deal with a host of transgressions by Turkey, including the ongoing attempts to ban the third largest party in Turkey, the HDP, along with a decision by Turkey to withdraw from the Council of Europe accord, which was introduced to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and to promote equality. There are other issues in respect of Cyprus, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the kid glove approach by the EU in relation to Turkey.

I ask the Minister of State to provide an explanation for that. Why is that approach being taken? Is it primarily to do with the failure of the EU to deal with the refugee situation stemming from neighbouring countries and refugees who are housed in Turkey?


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