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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 Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne] The key point is the information would be there and it would be interoperable between member states. Currently, the Council of Ministers is agreeing its position and the European Parliament is considering it. They agreed to an expedited procedure and the Commission wants this in place by the summer. When agreement is reached between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and the legislation is passed, it will be directly effective and we will have to apply it. The Taoiseach and the Government has said we are committed to doing the technical work to ensure we can comply with that regulation.

There is much positive work on that. Currently the focus is on the medical position, including vaccines and ending the pandemic so we can open as best we can. We will continue to work on the digital green certificate proposal. We will see in the near future what particular uses it may have.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I noted in the pre-European Council statements that the Minister of State indicated this would be used for collecting information. Without putting words in his mouth, I understood the implication was that rather than it being for facilitating free movement. This goes to the final point made by the Minister of State when he referred to the use it can be put to. It would be a concern for people if it were to be put to a use other than that for which it was intended or ostensibly developed, which was solely to facilitate free movement. Will the Minister of State clarify that?

The Minister of State indicated it is hoped to have this developed and legally binding by the summer. It would be open to countries to determine the use for people coming in but it is very difficult to see how we can prevent countries stopping their nationals from leaving because there is freedom of movement. One must be an Irish citizen to be in the Dáil and I carry a purple passport. It is not a green passport, although I once had one. I am a citizen of the European Union. I appreciate that citizenship is complimentary to and does not replace nationality but it is existing and the Irish Government in some of its measures, and certainly the Department of Health in its recommendations, has no cognisance of the fact we are citizens of the European Union with all the rights and duties that entails.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I am very happy to echo the comments of Deputy McNamara. We were in a state of some disagreement last week but I completely agree with his comments in that the fundamental right of free movement is not only a human right but a legal right. It is one of the benefits of European Union citizenship and the treaties. The Deputy also mentioned free movement of goods, which is another critical area.

There is a debate ongoing as to what this will be used for. Fundamentally, it will be for member states. Some of the member states want these used for travel and some of the northern countries have really serious concerns about human rights and ethical issues. These matters will be teased out and discussed in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. I understand it will come before the General Affairs Council on which I sit, so I am happy to engage on discussions with the Deputy, along with Deputies Cathal Crowe, James O'Connor, Lawless, Richmond and others who have come to me about this, as it happens. If it comes to my Council, it is possible we will deal with it. MEPs will also have an input.

There is a division of opinion in what this will be used for. The Government here has not said they will be used for travel, although that may change at some point. The Deputy is correct that it is a fundamental right.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara The Greek Government has done it.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne If the Greek Government wants to accept something like this, that will be its concern. Currently, the position here is it is an offence to travel abroad unnecessarily. It is complicated. The vaccine roll-out is getting under way fast and we hope we can put this behind us. We must be very careful.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I would be very glad to avail of the offer to sit and meet to discuss those matters. We can also discuss the various strains of republicanism on these islands, both historical and current, when we meet. I thank the Minister of State.

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú I welcome the Minister of State breaking down the 360 million vaccine doses. Is it possible to get a timeline on when in the second quarter they will be delivered and if we can get the specifics for this State? That would be beneficial.

I understand there will not be a pile of time for the work of Commissioner Thierry Breton, specifically with regard to the contracts between the EU or Britain and AstraZeneca, or the conversations that the Commission has had on the likes of C-TAP, maximising global vaccine supply and looking at the possibility of waiving intellectual property rights.

Just to put it on the agenda again, what mention was there of dealing with the Irish protocol? As much as everyone is up for sensible solutions, it is not going anywhere, and there are people on this island and further afield who need to know that.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Global solidarity is really important and fair and equitable access to a vaccine is vital, regardless of income, around the world. EU engagement will accelerate global efforts to bring the pandemic under control and scale up the distribution of successful vaccines when available. We strongly believe in a co-ordinated and multilateral response to Covid-19 as an unprecedented global health crisis.

  We have quadrupled funding to the WHO in 2020. We support COVAX, the Covid-19 vaccines global access programme, very strongly, and this supports 92 countries. It has shipped over 31 million vaccines to 57 countries. Irish Aid recently announced a planned contribution of €4 million to COVAX to finance procurement for developing countries. We will contribute an additional €1 million to the WHO to support oversight of the COVAX mechanism to ensure it is fair and transparent. The EU announced last month that it would double funding for COVAX from €500 million to €1 billion, and we make a pro rata contribution to that as well. The entire EU pledge to COVAX is €2.2 billion.

  Some of the benefits of COVAX can be seen in the developing world but the example of Palestine struck me most. We congratulate Israel on its vaccination programme success but it is us, along with Britain, in fairness to it, as well as other wealthy countries, that are paying for the start of the vaccination roll-out in Palestine.

  Last week the EU gave authorisation for a number of vaccine factories, including Marburg for the Pfizer-BioNTech, a factory in the Netherlands for AstraZeneca and a factory in Switzerland for Moderna. The process, along with many others, is ongoing. These are designed to ensure we have the capacity to supply ourselves.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State has five minutes to wrap up the debate.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I thank everybody for their statements and questions. As the Taoiseach indicated, I will report on the discussions of the members of the European Council on the two external relations items on the agenda, namely, Russia and Turkey.

As the meeting was by videoconference, the discussion on Russia was only an information point. European Council President Charles Michel briefed leaders on his phone call with Russian President Putin on 22 March. Ireland fully supports the EU's position on Russia, which has been set out in five principles since 2016. These principles form a stable and effective framework for our interaction with Russia and it is important that the EU maintains its unified approach. EU leaders agreed to hold a strategic discussion on relations with Russia at a future in-person meeting of the European Council.

EU leaders discussed relations with Turkey and welcome the recent de-escalation of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. Provided this de-escalation is sustained and Turkey engages constructively, leaders indicated the European Union is ready to engage with Turkey with a view to enhancing co-operation in a number of areas of mutual interest. The engagement would be phased, proportionate and reversible. Its purpose, however, is to bolster the more recent positive dynamic and EU leaders will return to this in June.

Leaders also agreed to provide financial assistance for Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey. There are approximately 4 million Syrian refugees so this is a humanitarian imperative not just for Turkey but all of Europe really. These refugees and the communities that host them deserve our support and solidarity.

EU leaders also confirmed their commitment to a comprehensive statement of the Cyprus problem in accordance with the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. In our capacity as a member of the UN Security Council, our priority is to see both sides resuming talks. We welcome the convening of the "5+1" talks in Geneva in late April and hope these talks will be conducive to the resumption of negotiations on the Cyprus matter.


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