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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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Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Does the Minister of State wish to respond to those questions?

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I am more than happy to answer as many of the questions as I can. Deputy Brady asked about Catalonia. It is a matter for the people of Spain and the people of Catalonia as to how their affairs are dealt with, in accordance with the rule of law. It is a matter for the European Parliament to make decisions regarding the application of its parliamentary privileges and immunities. It is up to the MEP of the Deputy's party to vote in accordance with his views on this issue and other MEPs are likewise free to vote as they choose. There is no role for the Government in telling the European Parliament what it should do on this issue. MEPs are our democratically elected representatives in Europe.

The Deputy raised important points in regard to Turkey. I fully agree with him on the Istanbul Convention, which is an issue the Taoiseach raised at the European Council last week. There were quite detailed conclusions issued on that matter. The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is an issue of serious concern. It is always necessary for us to show solidarity with Cyprus and Greece in particular because there is a great deal of hassle, suffering and real hardship for the people there arising out of the huge migrant crisis there. We want to see whether we can move things along in Turkey by helping to develop the country economically while also making sure there is adherence to human rights and democracy. Work will go on in regard to the customs union. We are prepared, as set out in the Council conclusions, to launch a high-level dialogue with Turkey on the major issues. It is important that we do so while making sure that Turkey is held to account in terms of its international and national responsibilities.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady Will the Minister of State answer my first question? I asked about the Government's position on self-determination for Catalonia-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Deputy Brady had three minutes to ask his questions even though only two and a half minutes are allocated to each group. If there is time at the end, I will let him back in.

Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue We have seen from the minutes of the Council meeting, from which I quoted, that Ireland has lost its voice in Europe. Do our MEPs need a Lemsip or lozenges to get their voice back? The minutes referred to every other member state but Ireland was not mentioned. What has gone wrong?

On the issue of vaccines, we have seen what is happening in regard to the contracts with AstraZeneca. I asked people in Russia about vaccines and I was the only Deputy in Ireland to do so. Other European countries were doing the same, once the Russian vaccine was cleared for use. We in this country have lost our voice and we need to get it back without delay. We need to have our voice heard in Europe. We are a good country that can hit well above its weight but we seem to have gone silent when it comes to Europe. We need to get a bit of backbone and start roaring and shouting. I heard a Minister say recently that we are not elected to this House to roar and shout. In fact, it seems that the only way the Government will listen is when we roar and shout. We need members of the Government to shout for Ireland and get us going.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Hopefully, the Deputy will give me the opportunity to answer quite a few questions that have been raised in respect of the general issues he has raised. Before Christmas, Deputy O'Donoghue was anti-vaccines. Now he is telling us that we should be going to Russia-----

Deputy Richard O'Donoghue: Information on Richard O'Donoghue Zoom on Richard O'Donoghue On a point of order, I said I would take advice from my doctor in the context of having an underlying condition. Again, the Minister of State goes to the gutter and cannot give answers to the questions raised. If he were as good at answering questions as he is at-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State is on his feet and the Deputy must allow him to finish. The Deputy can come back in later.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne In regard to what Deputy O'Donoghue said about Ireland not being mentioned in the conclusions - or minutes, as the Deputy calls them - of the European Council, he should look back at all the conclusions of previous Council meetings and all the records of discussions at the General Affairs Council and in the European Parliament, particularly since Brexit. I honestly think he will find that no country has been mentioned more than Ireland in terms of the effects of Brexit. I urge him to look back at all the other Council conclusions and all the other discussions that have taken place. Our officials have been working hard for us on a broad range of issues.

  I agree with some of the points raised by the Deputy. Brexit has brought huge inconveniences. However, the problem is not the European Union or the Government. The problem is the fact of Brexit. We did not decide that there should be customs barriers with Britain. Britain decided to leave the Single Market, the customs union and the European Union. It does not want to align with the standards for our products. In the case of cabotage, for example, an absolutely huge effort was undertaken by our officials to negotiate what has been negotiated in that area. There are huge efforts under way by officials and Ministers to make sure the protocol for Northern Ireland is implemented. There is a huge effort being made to resolve some of the issues referred to by Deputy Flaherty. The problem is Brexit. The problem is that our nearest neighbour and trading partner has left the European Union. We have been working really hard over the past number of years, on a cross-party basis, to make sure the negative effects of that are ameliorated to the greatest extent possible. However, we cannot bring back what we had before because Britain, in its wisdom, although I do not think it was very wise, decided to leave the Union.

  A number of speakers, including Deputies Cathal Crowe, Haughey, Brendan Smith, McNamara, Howlin and O'Donnell, raised the issue of vaccine supply. In regard to the projections for quarter 2, which is starting this week, Deputies should note that approximately 100 million doses have been delivered to EU member states up to now. That is almost on target, as are our own figures. We have managed to get 95% of the delivered vaccines into people's arms within a week. That has been a huge challenge. In the case of Moderna, as I understand it, it is necessary to hold back vaccine for the second dose. We are not doing that with the other vaccines. The projection for quarter 2 is that 360 million vaccines will be delivered on a European basis. That is made up of 200 million Pfizer vaccines, 35 million Moderna vaccines, 70 million AstraZeneca vaccines - that company has contracted to deliver significantly more than that - and 55 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines. It is important to note that the latter is a single-dose vaccine. I understand that 55 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines are equivalent to 110 million doses of a different vaccine. The leaders agreed at the European Council that the pro rata system that has been implemented for the distribution of vaccines will continue. There have been various media reports on how we will benefit from that. There is no question but that deliveries are ramping up. Deputy Ó Murchú mentioned Commissioner Thierry Breton and the work he is doing in this area. There is a huge effort under way and we are beginning to see the fruits of that.

  Before I move on to digital green certificates, I want to put some matters on the record.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State will have an opportunity to wrap up at the end.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The difficulty is that I have been asked to mention Turkey and Russia in my wrap-up. I want to get through some of the questions now, if I can. In regard to new variants, which were mentioned as a cause for concern, there is a great deal of work under way in the European Union on that issue. The EU's early warning and rapid response system is providing some data on the circulation of variants but the information is not complete. We are working with other EU member states on the response to new variants and making sure we have enough vaccines not just for this year but for next year.

We tentatively support the idea of a European health union but further work needs to be done on how it would operate in practice. We are still considering in detail the information the Commission has set out on the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, HERA, Incubator but we are very positively disposed to it. We are looking for greater detail in that regard and we will work with the Commission on it. The HERA Incubator is a central pillar of response that the EU is proposing for the future. Dr. Ronan Glynn has been nominated as Ireland's representative on the high-level expert group. That is an issue for the future.

Deputies McNamara, Cathal Crowe, O'Connor and a number of others asked about the digital green certificate. The conclusions from the European Council were that the leaders agreed that work would continue on this matter. The Commission has published a proposal for a regulation that would be legally binding in regard to digital green certificates. It would involve an interoperable certificate that outlines one's vaccination, test and recovery status. What these certificates might eventually be used for would be a matter for each member state.


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