Dail Statements in advance of EU Council
18 October 2017
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland
Speech by Party Leader Brendan Howlin in advance of the EU Council, 18th October.
When we last discussed this issue in June I flagged, as did others, the need for appropriate briefing material to be circulated to us in advance of the Council and afterwards.
Once again that has not happened.
As I said in June, it would be worthwhile to be informed of the agenda and the positions being taken by Ireland before the meeting, along with a note afterwards on the outcomes.
It says a lot about how seriously the Dáil is considered that time for these statements was only added to the Order paper yesterday.
This is despite the date and importance of this meeting being known well in advance.
This really can’t continue in this way.
In the future, and I am particularly thinking of the next Council meeting in December which will be a critical point for Brexit talks, Party and group leaders should be given the courtesy of a briefing from your Department in advance of statements.
Doing so would allow for a much more detailed and informed discussion.
Bluntly, it would be a more productive use of time for all of us.
The official agenda of course includes a number of serious topics including Migration, Digital Europe, Defence and External Relations.
I will return to these but the topic all of Europe will be focused on is Brexit.
The sad reality is that without significant movement on the financial settlement by the UK that talks will not advance.
Prime Minister May knows that she will have to pledge more than the €20 billion proposed to get talks to progress, but by doing so she will be denounced at home.
The Florence speech while important has distracted from the central three issues of Phase one talks.
So it will be the December Council meeting at the earliest before trade discussions can open and in the meantime 3 extra rounds of Brexit divorce talks will take place.
The EU27 meeting will make clear that not enough progress has been made to move past the issues of
- the rights of EU and UK citizens
- Ireland and the peace process
- and the bill the UK will pay upon exit.
That is welcome.
It is my firm belief that if Irish concerns are not dealt with upfront, it will be too easy for them to get forgotten about later.
There was a late effort by Theresa May on Monday to allow discussions on trade to advance.
I understand that the Prime Minister contacted the Taoiseach by phone to outline why the British believe it has put forward enough to move on to discussions on trade and a transition deal.
The Taoiseach might outline what his response was to this lobbying?
This move has been resisted by the EU side, but it is concerning that much of the public reasoning has been a lack of progress on the bill the UK will have to pay post-Brexit.
In other words, if Germany and France can be satisfied that Britain will pay their bills, the talks might be allowed to skip ahead.
This would be an incredible risk for Ireland.
There has been some progress, apparently, on how the common travel area might be continued.
But as we know, anything short of keeping the UK in the single market and customs union will result in a real border on this island.
As we have seen in recent weeks the dangers of a hard Brexit are ever present and not receding due to the toxic politics within the Tory party.
Now, I think the British Labour Party could be playing a much more active role in achieving this.
I went to Brighton a fortnight ago to make that case, and I am reassured that some are listening.
But we need our Government to do the same.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have links to members of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
I hope you will use those links, as I have sought to do with my contacts with the British Labour Party.
Because we all need to do more.
Going back to the three key conditions for Brexit talks to advance, there was an interesting Bloomberg report yesterday.
That report suggested that the Irish Government is considering pushing for guarantees that no border will be re-imposed on our island as the price for allowing Brexit talks to advance?
Taoiseach, you might advise us whether this is now the Irish position and if you have made that clear to the British Government?
Are you planning to seek a concrete commitment on the Border?
It has also been reported that Minister Coveney is delighted at the ‘very strong language’ on Ireland in the draft conclusions of the Council.
What is the Irish position now on talks moving forward?
Have we demanded a road map from the British on preventing the return of any border?
I have no doubt that Prime Minister May will make her case to the Council, but it is imperative that we here in the Dáil are informed on what the Irish Government is seeking, and saying at this meeting.
European Pillar of Social Rights.
As I raised with you yesterday, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission are today due to agree the Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights.
You mentioned yesterday that you will travel yourself for the event in Gothenburg around this today.
Since you are going to attend at the publication of this proclamation, and you were asked about it yesterday, I hope you’ve had some time to find out something about it.
This is an important development – another move to codify social rights at the heart of the European project.
But I am very concerned at some of what I have heard regarding Ireland’s role in this process.
From European contacts, I am told that Ireland appears to have taken on the role normally played by the UK, seeking to obstruct social rights when possible.
In doing so, I believe we have aligned ourselves with countries such as Hungary – hardly champions of social rights.
In particular, I believe we have been demanding changes to the preamble.
We have apparently lead the charge in seeking to add text that would water down any obligation on states to give meaning to the social pillar.
The social pillar is built around three principles: equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and inclusion.
For a man who like to champion the idea of a Republic of Opportunity, this should be comfortable territory!
The purpose of the proclamation is to have a clear agreement between the Parliament, the Commission, and all member states, that we will now move to deliver on the 20 areas outlined in the social pillar.
But from what I have heard, Irish efforts have been focussed on watering down the obligation of states to move towards delivering on these rights.
Taoiseach – I will ask you again today, as I did yesterday, to state clearly your support for the Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights.
I will ask you again today, to clarify what, if any amendments, you have been seeking?
And I will ask you again to explain the reasons why Ireland has joined with countries such as Hungary to pursue such changes?
After the Last Council meeting I highlighted the need for a debate in this Chamber on the decisions on defence co-operation.
In September the French President Macron gave a speech on the future of Europe.
At the heart of it was security cooperation and defence. This included the creation of a European rapid response force by 2020.
In effect he is calling for an EU army and shared defence budget. Once you create a military intervention force you are on the path to a very different EU to the one Ireland signed up to.
Where does Ireland stand on this?
The vision of Macron is in harmony with what the EU council has discussed in recent meetings.
According to the agenda for this Council - Heads of state or government will resume discussions on the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) on defence. At the June European Council, leaders agreed on the need to launch PESCO.
What position is Ireland taking on this move towards the militarisation of the EU?
It is time the Taoiseach outlined his views on this agenda and the approach of the Irish government.
Following on from the Summit in Estonia, the Digital Single Market is again an agenda item.
Macron has also sought an EU tax on internet companies.
Can the Taoiseach advise if a proposal has or will be brought to the Council?
On Migration – the Council will call for progress on the reform of the common European asylum system.
Can the Taoiseach when he returns outline Ireland’s position, and how many refugees Ireland has now accepted, and plans to take in the year ahead.
In conclusion, I would also ask the Taoiseach to outline what his input into the Leader’s Agenda was, and in statements after the Council if he can tell us what his EU priorities are.