Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
On 22 December I visited Pristina in Kosovo along with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea. We had a cordial meeting with the President and Prime Minister during which I congratulated them on their efforts to implement the Ahtisaari proposals, including the adoption of the constitution in June 2008.
While in Kosovo, I addressed Defence Forces personnel stationed in Camp Clarke who are currently serving with KFOR. I congratulated them on the hugely significant role they have played in restoring peace and confidence in Kosovo since 1999.
I visited Japan between 12 and 17 January at the official invitation of the Japanese Government. The visit follows more than 50 years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan. Japan is the country in the region with which we share the closest political and economic values and is a priority country under Ireland’s Asia strategy. It is the second largest economy in the world and, as such, is a hugely significant global player thoroughly deserving of our full attention.
I was accompanied on the visit by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, and by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy John McGuinness. I was also accompanied by a significant Irish trade mission with more than 70 companies participating, including businesses from Northern Ireland.
The aim of the mission was to raise awareness of the potential of Japan among Irish companies and increase the knowledge of Irish companies among Japanese businesses. We also aimed to explore the potential for Irish and Japanese businesses to collaborate, particularly in the area of research and development. While in Japan, I participated in a number of trade and promotional events organised by the various state agencies and a number of important trade and investment-related deals with Japanese partners were announced.
I delivered a keynote speech on research and development policy and opportunities in Ireland at a joint IDA Ireland-Science Foundation Ireland event. I also addressed an audience at one of Japan’s oldest and most prestigious institutes of learning, Keio University in Tokyo, on the theme of Ireland, Europe and Japan.
I met with Prime Minister Taro Aso and we exchanged views on a range of bilateral and global issues, including the international economic and financial situation, climate change and conflict resolution. These discussions proved to be extremely useful and, during the course of our very cordial meeting, I extended an invitation to Prime Minister Aso to make a reciprocal visit to Ireland. I was also received in audience by the Emperor, His Imperial Majesty Akihito, a significant and rare honour for Ireland.
I made a brief visit to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January. Coming ahead of the G20 summit in April, discussions focused on the need for greater global co-operation, governance and regulation of business and finance, following the crisis in the banking sector and the onset of recession in many countries. I participated in key working sessions for Heads of State and Government on the global economy. More than 40 Heads of State and Government attended the forum. While in Davos, I also addressed a function organised by IDA Ireland, attended by senior executives of major international companies, to reinforce the message that Ireland remains a very attractive location for foreign direct investment, international business opportunities and research and development. I also took the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Reinfeldt of Sweden in the margins of the World Economic Forum meeting. We discussed the follow-up to the December European Council conclusions and preparations for the forthcoming Swedish Presidency of the EU.
On my travel plans for the remainder of this year, it is my intention to visit New York and Washington around St. Patrick’s Day, and to attend the New York Gala of the Ireland Funds on 7 May and attend the European Council meetings scheduled for 2009, including the extraordinary Council on the economy which has now been fixed for Sunday, 1 March.
With regard to future meetings with EU leaders and the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jóse Manuel Barroso, I have no specific meetings planned at present. I recently received the draft agenda for the spring European Council which is due to focus on the economic and financial situation as well as on energy and climate change.
As regards the National Forum on Europe, I expect that it will hold a number of meetings during this year, continuing its good work in promoting public debate on the European Union, its future and Ireland’s place in it. It is an independent body and as I have no function in its day to day operations, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on its planned work programme for this year.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Arising from his meetings in Davos and with the European leaders does the Taoiseach feel we should revisit the Lisbon agenda? The Lisbon agenda, as distinct from the Lisbon treaty, was put out by European leaders and Heads of Government to be the direct competitor to the United States in terms of creating more jobs, reducing red tape, providing incentives for employers and initiatives for job creation. This is now a crisis.
From discussions I have had with my own grouping in Brussels, I think this is a real opportunity for Europe and the Heads of Government, of whom the Taoiseach is one, to revisit the Lisbon agenda which was never implemented properly or focused on properly by European Governments and which could be responded to very strongly by European Heads of Government backed by the European Central Bank. In my view, this is a real opportunity to put forward a very strong case for job creation throughout Europe proportionately in this sense and I would like the Taoiseach’s views on this.
Last week I asked questions on the following matter. The Taoiseach intends to travel to Washington in March. Has he received an official invitation to the White House to meet President Obama? Are the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs working with their counterparts in the US to make this a reality given its importance in terms of the relationship between Ireland and the United States and the circumstances in which we find ourselves at present?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: With regard to Davos, the President of the European Commission made a number of very unflattering remarks about Ireland and comparisons with Iceland which I know the Taoiseach rejected in Davos. I note the European Commission President repeated much of what he stated in Davos at a later stage. Has the Taoiseach taken this up with the President of the Commission and what response has he given?
I appreciate that visits abroad are planned in advance and one cannot always anticipate what will be going on at home while one is abroad. However, given what did happen while the Taoiseach was in Japan, such as the gaffe about the IMF which caused huge damage to our international reputation, and the issue of the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank and the way in which the Government decision was made on this, does the Taoiseach now think it was wise for him to have fulfilled the engagement in Japan or was it something that, on reflection, he might have usefully delegated?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: To reflect a little more positively on the Irish Government delegation’s visit to Japan, I welcome very much that one of its products was the removal of the ban on Irish pork accessing the Japanese market as a result of the negotiations that took place. I understand negotiations also took place on reopening the Japanese market for the importation of Irish beef. This negotiation has not concluded. Will the Taoiseach indicate where this is at? What prospects does he hold for a successful conclusion to the negotiations to see Irish beef once again access the Japanese market?
Bearing in mind that we are hearing a lot about the forum in Davos, was the Irish Government represented at the World Social Forum in Brazil? The forum was attended by 135 countries and had 150,000 participants. Its central focus was the urgent need for major reform of the United Nations. Were we represented and, if so, by whom?
The Taoiseach: On Deputy Kenny’s question on the Lisbon Agenda, the objectives were updated, I believe, during our own Presidency in 2004. The annual economic spring summit that takes place at European Heads of Government and State levels has as its precise focus, in normal times, the progress being made in regard to the achievement of those objectives. While one would like to see progress in a range of areas accelerate, there is, in the annual calendar of Heads of State and Government, a specific summit meeting held for the purpose of determining how the Lisbon Agenda is being advanced. That structured approach has brought more focus and commitment to that important work.
I am not so sure Deputy Gilmore’s question accurately reflects what President Barroso had to say. I said at the time in question, and reiterate, that Ireland, as part of the euro area, has a wider zone of stability in which it can seek to meet the very serious challenges it is confronted with. This contrasts with the position of Iceland, which had to try to rely on its own resources. This led to and will continue to lead to great difficulties for Iceland. We wish it well in its efforts.
I was simply making the point that Ireland must confront the effect of sterling depreciation, the financial crisis, the economic crisis, the international recession and the Lisbon treaty issue. These constitute a confluence of events that have occurred at the one time and which make the challenge a considerable one, and one about which we cannot be complacent. I emphasise the difficulties that do not go away and also the need for all of us, in trying to deal with the issues, to do so in a way that does not exacerbate an already difficult problem.
I do not know to whom Deputy Gilmore is referring in regard to the gaffe about the IMF. When this became known here, the emphasis in the reportage was unfortunate. I certainly did not indicate that I regarded that as something that was imminent or relevant to us, particularly given that we are part of the euro area. The European Central Bank continues to be of strong support to Ireland in these circumstances.
Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to my recent visits and plans for the year. I am not aware of what representation, if any, there was on the part of Ireland at the World Social Forum in Brazil. I will have to check this and revert to the Deputy.
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