Statements on EU Summit

Dáil Éireann

Wednesday 19th October 2016

Micheál Martin TD, Leader of Fianna Fáil

Ceann Comháirle, the issues to be discussed at this week’s meeting of the European Council are of fundamental concern to the people of this country.  They address profound economic and humanitarian challenges.  The need for our government to play an active and constructive role is clear, yet what we are seeing is an, at best, reserved approach lacking any initiative.

The time available in these statements does not allow for dealing with every item on the agenda let alone the Brexit elephant in the room which is not down for discussion but overshadows everything.  As such I would like to address the current state of the Brexit process and the linked issues of migration and Russia’s aggression against democratic forces in both Syria and Europe.

In the days after the UK referendum in June there was great fear and uncertainty about what would happen.  Four months later the situation is much worse.

The UK cabinet has failed to set out even the most basic framework for how it wishes to proceed.  There are many reports of splits between ministers.  At one end the Brexiteers are continuing with their nonsense arguments that everything is OK and it really doesn’t matter what is agreed.  The Secretary of State responsible for Brexit has gone as far as to say that the UK will have no problem quickly negotiating trade deals amounting to ten times the EU’s internal market.  Given that the EU accounts for 23% of global income, this forecast doesn’t even fit into the realm of fantasy.

On the other hand the Chancellor of the Exchequer is apparently trying to point out that simply walking away from the EU would be the most damaging thing possible for their economy.  His reward for this is to be subject to daily abuse about supposedly trying to sabotage Brexit.

There is an increasingly fevered atmosphere in London, with daily leaks, counter-leaks, policy announcements and U-turns.  The people who sold Brexit based on a sleazy, dark campaign are still pushing and their arrogant belief in their own righteousness is actually growing.

In the midst of all of this a few things are becoming clear.  It is highly likely that in the first half of 2019 the UK will cease to be a member of the EU and will not be willing to agree to any of the basic requirements for membership of the single market.  There seems to be a near zero possibility of a ‘soft Brexit’.

Prime Minister May has said that their bottom line is that they must be free to exclude EU citizens from an automatic right to live and work in the UK and that Westminster must be able to act without reference to the court which enforces EU rules.  In fact she has said that next year a so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’ will be introduced which will take effect immediately on day one of Brexit.  This legislation’s stated purpose is to immediately end the application of any EU law in the UK.

Given that freedom of movement and the primacy of EU law are two defining features of membership of the Single Market, the only reasonable conclusion is that a ‘Hard Brexit’ is underway.

This is an appalling scenario for Europe as a whole, but for Ireland most of all.  If this is to be mitigated in any way it will require unique agreements and unprecedented speed.  No modern trade agreement has ever been negotiated in two years, even when the process has started with clear objectives.

As my party has been saying for some time, Brexit is already hitting Ireland.  The collapse of Sterling is already damaging businesses and costing jobs.  Businesses and communities which are threatened by a weak Sterling and new trade barriers lack any security about their future.  Before this problem becomes a crisis we have to start acting.

Taoiseach, my party is calling on you to state clearly to the other governments that the response to Brexit cannot wait for two years, it needs to start now.

There must agreement on the core principle that the EU will seek to help member states disproportionately impacted by Brexit.  It must allow and provide aid to industries that need to diversify away from over-reliance on the UK market or which need help to maintain markets following the UK leaving the Single Market.

We also need an early and formal acknowledgement that Border communities must be supported.  They are already feeling the impact of massive sterling volatility and face enormous uncertainty about the future.

So far there have been a lot of warm words but little substance.  We need a concrete recognition from the EU that Ireland’s interests are understood.

In relation to Prime Minister May, we should formally state to her our concern that the unique position of Northern Ireland has not been recognised by her in the Brexit cabinet committee established last week.  This committee is due to oversee all elements of the Brexit negotiations and has 12 full members.  By any measure this is a large committee yet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has no right to attend other than when summonsed.  The internal fights in the Tory party are enough of a priority for the Tory Chairman to be a member – but Ireland ranks much lower.

It should also be said that the UK ministers should cease to give us all lectures about the future of Europe.  In May and June we heard what they think of us all and they should park their arrogance and get on with stating what they want.  The Foreign Secretary’s statement in Turkey that he supports that country’s application for EU membership is brazen even for him.

The Summit will also deal with the ongoing humanitarian crisis of migration to Europe and the lined issue of Russia’s escalating aggression towards democratic forces in Europe and elsewhere.

As I have said here for years, the root cause of the mass migration from Syria is a brutal regime seeking to destroy the popular will for democracy.  This refugee crisis is not an accident; it has been Syrian state policy for five years.

There was a clear opportunity to transition to a government chosen by the Syrian people in 2011 and 2012 but this was rejected by the Assad regime.

Syria has been a client state of the Soviet Union and Russia for over 50 years and this relationship has been toxic for the Syrian people in recent years.

Russia vetoed every effort on the part of the United Nations to stop the fighting.  It vetoed four resolutions at the Security Council which had near universal international support.  It even vetoed allowing the international criminal court to investigate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.

There will be a full session tomorrow on the inhumanity of the joint Syrian/Russian bombing of Aleppo where this can be addressed more fully.

But I want to make it clear that the pathetic and craven attempt to avoid a clear and specific condemnation of Russia’s behaviour simply exposes those who adopt it.

After weeks of being challenged, some of those who claim to be anti-war will hold a demonstration tomorrow – but are attacking all foreign forces in order to avoid focusing on Russia’s unique role.  They had no problem in focusing on the US and UK when those countries proposed bombing the grotesque and genocidal ISIS movement.

Let’s be clear, 80% of Russia’s bombs have, according to independent NGOs, been directed against democratic forces including Kurdish forces.  They have repeatedly targeted hospitals and used bunker-busting bombs against civilian areas.  Not by accident, but as a core strategy.

To try to equate this with the actions of democratic nations bombing ISIS is perverse and yet that is what we will continue to hear from those in this House and outside who love nothing better to accuse others of hypocrisy.

This is the same as we saw when Russia invaded, partitioned and started a war in a neighbouring country because it wanted to get away from Russian dominance.  In this House, there were Deputies who trotted out the most sinister disinformation and moral relativism.  Sinn Fein in Europe even refused to condemn the partition of a sovereign country and repression against a national minority.

Russia’s interference in the democratic politics of various European countries is growing all the time and always involves the support of hard-right forces.  It has given and acknowledged funding for the National Front in France and has given but not acknowledged funding for a range of other neo-fascist groups in Hungary and elsewhere.

Russia’s transparent support for Donald Trump’s campaign and sinister attacks on Hillary Clinton are unprecedented and a warning to us all.

Taoiseach, at this grave moment, with this frantic anti-EU aggression and with basic values at stake, this EU Summit must not step back.  It must not agree with the right wing politicians demanding an end to Russian sanctions.  In fact it needs to wake up and stop acting as if Vladimir Putin will one day become a reliable neighbour.

What we need from this summit is more clarity and a determination to get to grips with Brexit.  We need a commitment to do whatever it takes to helps countries under pressure.  We need an unequivocal statement that Europe will not be intimidated by Russia or any groups trying to undermine basic democratic values.  And Ireland must speak up.