Ceann Comháirle, there have been many significant developments in the European Union since we last had statements. It is unfortunate that the government decided not have statements concerning the Council’s various discussions in July and August. The Taoiseach’s approach to cancelling and not replacing sessions of questions means that the practical opportunities to discuss and review European matters have been reduced significantly. I hope this will not continue.
The latest summit had some important items on its agenda but it was yet again highly complacent when you look at the range of urgent issues confronting the European Union and its member states.
It was a striking feature of last month’s budget that the government decided to completely ignore the growing threat of deflation in Europe and the impact this might have on Ireland. Equally no credit was given to the central role which the policies of the ECB under Mario Draghi have played in our return to growth. The government’s sole focus on the next election means that it is unwilling to acknowledge how important European policies still are for us.
The publication of the latest round of bank stress tests and the coming into effect of the Single Supervisory Mechanism yesterday have brought back into focus the issue of the link between banking and sovereign debt. It is over two years since the Taoiseach and the other leaders announced that the link between banking and sovereign debt had been broken and that Ireland would be receiving justice for the debts it took on because of failures in European policy.
If the Taoiseach looks back at a number of his statements to the Dáil since then he will find that he repeatedly said that retrospective justice for Ireland on bank-related debt would be achieved when the Single Supervisory Mechanism became operational. So why are the Taoiseach and Minister Noonan so reluctant to say anything?
The Taoiseach will remember that he and his colleagues announced that the decision on recapitalisation was a ‘game changer’ for Ireland. At a press conference held in Government Buildings, Minister’s Noonan and Howlin were positively giggling about the billions which were to come to Ireland.
When asked how much we were looking for Minister Noonan confirmed that we would be looking for retrospective recapitalisation. However he refused to give a figure saying: “It’s clear you’ve never been to the Fair of Glynn or sold a calf. Sure, if I told them the minimum, that’s what they would give me.”
Well it appears that we are receiving nothing – so is that what we asked for?
The reason why this still matters is because at the heart of the budget is the fact that the fiscal leeway for next year is supplied solely by the impact of debt-related issues.
As Fianna Fáil’s spokespeople have laid out in detail, interest changes available to all countries and EU-wide reductions in bond yields account for nearly €2 billion in the improved fiscal situation next year. In other words, every single element of the budget which Fine Gael and Labour TDs have tried and failed to sell to the people depends on getting the handling of debt-related issues right. The evidence is that there is a lot to be concerned about.
For various technical reasons, the decision of the Central Bank of Ireland to sell its holding of Irish bonds faster than planned is a short-term windfall, but expert commentators are saying that this will come at a medium and long-term cost. In fact, under many conditions the entirety of the benefit of the promissory note deal could be lost.
The government has so far bet, correctly, that these issues are too abstract and technical to have a public impact. However it is also increasing the risk to Ireland which may be felt sooner rather than later.
In a weak moment two years ago the Taoiseach said in Paris that Ireland was different from other countries because it was not allowed freedom of action on bank recapitalisation and resolution in 2010. He hasn’t repeated it because he saw that the truth undermines his partisan political attacks.
The fact remains that the full justice of Ireland’s cause on bank-related debt has not been recognised. We have not even been given the benefit of the same deal as one other countries in that the ECB does not return to us the profits it makes on our sovereign bonds.
Instead of ignoring the issue, the Taoiseach owes it to the Irish people to say exactly what was sought and whether Ireland is still looking for a deal.
The summit’s discussion about the state of the economy was short and general. The joint Commission and European Investment Bank task force is welcome. It is not large enough to lift the overall European economy but it can help if it means that projects get moving faster and co-funding is less of a problem.
This raises the question of what Ireland is doing to take advantage of the availability of long-term, low-cost, non-market financing for major investment.
As Fianna Fáil pointed out in our Budget statement, there is an urgent need for a new investment plan. Our domestic economy desperately needs it. It mightn’t fit the election cycle, but it is no less urgent.
Instead of using EIB financing to simply pay for elements of the public capital programme which would be funded anyway it should go into a new programme to support the competitiveness of the economy and tackling long-term social and economic issues.
There has been some, but not enough, flexibility in relation to excessive deficit procedures. Ireland needs to get off the fence and join those countries who are calling for an end to avoidable austerity.
Where countries have manageable debt levels the entire European economy needs them to help stimulate activity. The pro-cyclical, austerity for all approach has failed and will continue to fail.
The French and Italian governments are absolutely right in calling for a delay in reaching the 3% deficit target by their countries. The Taoiseach should publicly support their stance.
Climate Change and Energy
In recent days the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released it’s most conclusive and alarming report yet. Man-caused climate change is happening, it is happening fast and its impacts, already serious, may become catastrophic unless long-term action is sustained.
Under this government Ireland has deliberately stepped back from the position of taking an active role in climate change policy. It has made no constructive contribution and has set no vision for how Ireland will achieve its targets.
The Taoiseach was right to seek a special acknowledgement of the distinct position of agriculture and that it is wrong to put agricultural omissions on the same level as others. There exists little or no mitigation potential beyond dramatically reducing beef production – something which would impose dramatic social and economic costs and undermine food security targets.
However, this matter has not been finalised. It has been acknowledged as a legitimate concern for discussion. Just like the so-called deal on banking debt two years ago, only when the details are worked out will we know how significant it is.
In general I welcome the Council’s increased focus on climate change and energy and the broad agreements that were reached at this summit. The severity of the potential crisis is enormous. The state-controlled Russian company which supplies much of Europe’s gas has been attempting for months to try to stop Europe building up its reserves to survive a cut-off. Even the most naïve or compromised observer will now have to admit that Europe’s largest energy supplier is willing to use supplies to achieve political aims. The need to diversify supply is no longer just a matter of economic sense it is vital for the ability to stand against bullies.
Ireland should support any proposals to increase storage and capacity for alternative sources.
The understanding that a more urgent approach to building interconnection is essential for Europe is welcome. Only then can intermittent supplies be properly integrated into a market which delivers more secure and less expensive energy for Europe’s citizens.
This has been a crisis which has been developing for many years. Russian policy of seeking to be a dominant supplier was allowed to proceed, particularly because of the work of some political leaders which close ties to the Putin regime. Now that everyone seems to understand the problem let’s not lose the opportunity to take rapid action.
Leaders adopted the formal resolution of appointment for the next European Commission. We wish them well in their important work and hope that President Junker’s early passion will not be allowed to disperse into bureaucratic management.
Fianna Fáil would also like to congratulate Deputy Hogan on being allocated the Agriculture portfolio and his success in the parliament. Through the years our Commissioners have a unique record in being willing to ignore party labels and work in the broader interest. Different governments have always been able to develop a constructive relationship with the Irish commissioner irrespective of who nominated him.
I’m sure that our new commissioner will continue this tradition. Deputy Hogan’s appearance at the Parliament was impressive and it is a pity that there was an attempt by some to grandstand for a domestic audience. We wish him well in his work in the Commission.
As was seen during the SARS and H1N1 crises, cooperation across Europe in dealing with public health emergencies is absolutely essential. I welcome the discussion which leaders had on Ebola. Under the Lisbon Treaty the Commission has a new role in helping member states with protecting people at a time of disaster or a major threat. This role should be allowed to develop.
The decision to use the European Response Coordination Centre as a clearing house is very welcome.
The contribution of the EU and its member states to helping nations with Ebola outbreaks will soon reach €1 billion – something we should be proud of and which should continue until the outbreak is contained.
As was seen with the news about Nigeria successfully containing the spread of the virus, there is nothing inevitable about this becoming an international epidemic.
I welcome the announcement of Irish support for work in West Africa. I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful work of Irish aid workers and experts in the worst affected countries. As a nation we should be extremely proud of them.
Since the last time we discussed the situation in Ukraine direct Russian army intervention succeeded in throwing back government forces and extending the area under de-facto Russian control. Unfortunately they appear to be very close to achieving their objective of creating another ‘frozen conflict’.
In recent months it has been amazing how far some people and parties have gone to try and avoid attacking Russian aggression against a neighbouring state. Russia has already partitioned and annexed a part of Ukraine. In Crimea it is now illegal to state publicly that Crimea should belong to Ukraine. Tartars have been banned from commemorating the genocidal action of Stalin in removing them from the peninsula. The OSCE, an entirely impartial international agency, is still prevented from gaining access to territory under Russian influence.
This is old-style imperial aggression and there can be no stepping back from calling it this.
It is a classic example of Sinn Fein double-speak that they claim to be an anti-imperialist party but will criticise everyone but the aggressor in this case. I look forward to Deputy Adams telling his audience at his next fundraising dinner in the United States that their country is equally to blame for Russian partition of Ukraine as Vladimir Putin. This is the line Sinn Fein and its partners in the European Parliament once again trotted out when voting against an EU association agreement which has the support of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens.
The EU eventually stumbled to a set of sanctions which have hurt the increasingly authoritarian and anti-democratic Putin government. They have clearly caused a step-back from further aggression – though provocations against EU members are happening every week. The sanctions should not be lifted until Russia ends the partition and occupation of Ukraine.
In past debates in this house and in the writing of some commentators, there has been an effort to push what is a Russian propaganda line about the Ukrainian side being dominated by fascists. This has completely fallen apart because of the results of both the Presidential and now parliamentary elections. In both elections, mainstream democrats overwhelmingly triumphed. The extreme right has fared much worse than in many long-established democracies.
Not only did the people of Ukraine overwhelmingly vote for committed democrats they voted for parties and candidates committed to building a permanent relationship with the European Union based on the association agreement.
It’s time for the Russian apologists and knee-jerk anti-Europeans to admit that the people of Ukraine have freely chosen what they want. Ireland should stand with them against the partition of their country and in support of a democratic future.
I think it is unfortunate that the summit did not take up issues relating to the Middle-East in a significant way.
Fianna Fáil has tabled a motion calling for Ireland to formally recognise the Palestinian state. The progress of events and the refusal of the Netanyahu government to take any constructive steps mean that simply waiting for everything to be sorted before recognising Palestine is no longer an acceptable route forward.
Over the decades Ireland has taken a lead in seeking justice for Palestine. We have not been afraid to speak up for the interests of this stateless and impoverished people. Nobody can or should attempt to justify acts of terrorism or indiscriminate bombings. Many people and groups who claim to fight for Palestine have, in fact, been its greatest enemies. But the two state solutions remains the only long-term solution and it is time to take a stand.
I am calling on the Taoiseach to show some leadership and agree to support the call for recognising the state of Palestine.
This summit saw another episode in the ongoing anti-EU grandstanding of the British Tory party. Prime Minister Cameron’s tantrum relating to budget contributions was not only ridiculous it exposed his strategy as bereft of any substance. These contributions are linked to agreed technical assessments. They are not controversial. The amount involved is tiny in comparison to the size of the British economy. It could have been brushed aside as a technical matter of no consequence, but they chose to be led by their fear of UKIP and the demands of hard-line anti-EU newspapers.
It is long since past time for them to stop the posturing and actually publish a statement of what their demands for changes in the EU actually are. We can’t go on with a government endlessly saying that it will leave unless it gets what it wants – while it has yet to say what it wants.
This once again brings to the fore the fact that our government has not stated policy on the bulk of the current debates about the future of the EU. Depending on what happens in the British election there may be a treaty negotiation starting next year. Let’s not wait until then to start our discussion.