Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
As Members will be aware, I had bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister in London on 18 April and in Dublin on 18 May during the Queen’s visit, as well as meeting him at European Council meetings. I also spoke with the Prime Minister prior to the British-Irish Council meeting that took place in London on 20 June. We have had no direct contact since Dáil Éireann rose on 22 July.
I expect to next see the Prime Minister at the European Council meeting on 17 and 18 October. We have agreed to keep in close touch on a regular basis on bilateral matters and matters relating to Northern Ireland. I spoke briefly to the British Deputy Prime Minister at the European Union Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw last Friday.
Deputy Joe Higgins: Has the Taoiseach had any discussions with the British Prime Minister on the plight of the Travelling people in Dale Farm in England? These people, who are either Irish or English-born Irish Travellers, are facing extreme difficulties, including the threat of possible imminent eviction from the homes where many of them have been for a long time.  The Travelling people in England face many of the same problems they have traditionally faced here in discrimination and in particular difficulty in finding suitable locations to reside and educate their children etc. Has the Taoiseach made any representations on their behalf for proper accommodation and that their civil human rights would be respected?
The Taoiseach: No, I have not had any discussions with the British Prime Minister about this. I understand that is a pretty complex case in which litigation is still ongoing. Personally I have not made any representations about it, but I have obviously read some of the reports and seen some of the news headlines about what appears to be a very complicated issue.
Deputy Gerry Adams: When did the Taoiseach last raise with the British Prime Minister the issue of the British Government’s failure to co-operate fully with the inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? Has he brought to the Prime Minister’s attention the resolution passed here in May? Mar dhéan cad é an freagra a fuair sé?
On a number of occasions I have raised the issue of funding for Justice for the Forgotten, which has been working with victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Thus far it is not in receipt of funding from the Government. Can that be rectified?
The Taoiseach: I raised the question of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings when I met the British Prime Minister in April and again when I met him on the occasion of the state visit here by Queen Elizabeth II. Obviously everybody recognises the sensitivity of this, including all of the issues surrounding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, without getting into endless open-ended inquiries. A recent Dáil motion acknowledged that we are approaching this task in the context of transformed relations on this island and between Ireland and Britain. We still have many sensitive issues to deal with towards finding a resolution. However, as the Deputy knows, we do so on the basis of partnership in a very different way.
There were two significant and lengthy inquiries by the judges, the Hamilton and Barron inquiries, thorough examination by an Oireachtas committee and a full commission of investigation conducted by Patrick MacEntee. I understand the cost of the Barron inquiry came to €3.5 million and the total cost of the MacEntee commission was €2.6 million. There were very significant and lengthy inquiries by those two gentlemen. The Pat Finucane case also arose in the context of my discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron. I understand the British Government is continuing to consider how this matter might be resolved. I have not had any communication with Britain since then.
Deputy Gerry Adams: The question was about the contacts the Taoiseach has had with the British Prime Minister “since Dáil Éireann went into recess in July 2011”. However, he never answered that question, with respect.
Deputy Gerry Adams: What contacts has the Taoiseach had concerning the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? Has he raised the issue since we went into recess in July? I also asked about funding for Justice for the Forgotten, which he also did not answer.
The Taoiseach: I raised the question of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings with the British Prime Minister in April and again when I met him on the occasion of the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II. I have not had any communications or raised it with him since the House went into recess.
Deputy Micheál Martin: It would be a cause of some surprise that since those meetings in May there has been no follow-up or pursuit of the issue of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. When the Taoiseach was questioned in the House on that occasion he said he remained committed to doing something on the issue. Clearly it has not been raised since then with the British Government. Given that members of the Government are currently talking about atrocities over the years of the Northern Troubles and all the violence on the island of Ireland, surely this is an issue that should be of equal concern to the Government and Ministers. I agree that people should be open and honest about what they did during the years of violence, but I respectfully suggest the Government cannot have it both ways. Is it not time to stop equivocating on the issue and to meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, and tell him that covering up files concerning the worst atrocities of the Troubles — it must be remembered that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings were the worst of all of them even though there were some terrible atrocities all around — goes directly against the spirit of the peace process? I ask the Taoiseach to put that to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, in terms of the impact of this on the victims and also in terms of confidence within the broader peace process.
I agree in respect of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. When I was sitting where the Deputy is now sitting, I raised the issue many times with the former taoisigh, Mr. Ahern and Mr. Cowen. On each occasion the response was that the British Government would consider the matter. I got the same reply when I raised it directly with the British Prime Minister. It is an issue for all of us here. I do not want to get into a long series of endless inquiries, but it is an issue I will continue to raise and I will report to the House on a follow-up from the last time I raised it. Obviously when I do it again, I will be happy to come back and give the Deputy the up-to-date position.
I attended the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw on 29 and 30 September. I had bilateral meetings on the margins of the meeting with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte; Chancellor Faymann of Austria; the Prime Minister of Finland, Jyrki Katainen; President Yanukovych of the Ukraine; the Prime Minister of Moldova, Vlad Filat; and President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia. I also spoke informally with several other EU leaders.
I will also attend the British-Irish Council in Dublin in November, and the European Councils in Brussels on 17 and 18 October and 9 December. I hope to be in a position to travel to China later this year, subject of course to final agreement with the Chinese authorities. Other arrangements, including for meetings with key European partners, are being prepared and will continue to be based on assessment of strategic priorities and dates. I will continue to keep the House informed.
Deputy Joe Higgins: When the Taoiseach next meets the leadership of the European Union on 17 and 18 October and on 9 December, given his election pledge to the people, does he intend to resume to seek a significant cut in the amounts of bad debts that are to be repaid to the European bondholders, bankers and speculators who gambled so wildly on Irish property or given that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, capitulated to the president of the ECB, Mr. Trichet, in Poland two weeks ago, has he now given up on that promise and therefore negated what he said in his opening speech on the day the new Dáil first met with regard to sharing the burden and so on? When the Taoiseach meets the likes of Council President Van Rompuy, Commission President Barroso and ECB President Trichet in the next few weeks, will he demand an explanation for their insistence that the Irish people carry tens of billions of euro on their backs for private European institutions? I would like him to ask that question on my behalf, as a representative of the Irish people and taxpayers. How can he sit at meetings with these people, who are blackmailing the Irish people, demanding that they be gouged for up to €60 billion, their services and living standards cut, the future of their children put at risk by being forced out of this country, in order to pay off private profit-seeking institutions in Europe? Does the Taoiseach find that revolting?
The Taoiseach: I do not find it revolting. The Deputy’s salary is paid by the decision of these people and the European Central Bank. We do not control the ECB, although our governor attends its meetings. The 17 eurozone governments obviously each have very different views about how individual countries operate their economies. From those with triple A status down along the line, there are very different views. The leaders of which the Deputy speaks were the leaders who made the political decision to bring in the EFSF, and consequently followed through with the decision, which was in part put on the table by Ireland, that there be no margins for funding, which has meant a substantial saving for the Irish taxpayer here.
We have pointed out recently the impact of the discussions between the Minister for Finance and Mr. Trichet about writing down debt against senior bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank, which might result in a saving of €100 million. The Minister for Finance made it perfectly clear that if it were possible to do something in respect of the promissory note over a longer period, the savings would be of a very substantial nature to the Irish taxpayer.
I do not find it revolting to sit at meetings with leaders who are democratically elected by the people in their countries and who make decisions there about the European Union, of which Ireland is a central player. At this meeting, I spoke to President Barroso, Mr. Van Rompuy, the special representative, Ms Catherine Ashton, the Prime Minister of Poland, the German Chancellor and a number of other leaders who were present. In so far as Ireland is concerned, we will continue to point our country in the direction it is now headed, which is one of increasing confidence, with an injection of equity into our banks and an inflow of deposits. These represent a sign of confidence, although I recognise we have a long way to go and have some difficult decisions to make. We will continue to work with our European partners to ensure Europe gets back to where it should be, which is right up there at the top.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Does the Taoiseach agree that it is surprising that he has gone seven months without a substantive bilateral meeting with a eurozone leader? At the start of April, the Government announced it would be holding a series of these meetings. In April, the Tánaiste announced he would be undertaking a series of bilateral meetings with his foreign ministerial counterparts, and that in turn, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance would engage with Heads of State and other finance ministers. The Tánaiste has had a few such meetings, as has the Minister for Finance, but the Taoiseach has not done so. He told Members he had no intention of either phoning or meeting anyone before the July summit. Given how central the leaders are to this crisis, can he explain why he has taken this approach?
The Taoiseach: In answer to the Deputy’s question, I am interested in results, and the savings to the Irish taxpayer as a consequence of the interest rate reductions have been substantial. I do not dictate the schedules for other European leaders, no more than they dictate ours.
I had a bilateral meeting with the Finnish Prime Minister, which is a triple A rated country. Finland had inserted a clause in July that its participation in the EFSF would result in a requirement for collateral to be made available to that country. This was a source of considerable difficulty for other countries, but the matter has now been resolved. I spoke at length to the Finnish Prime Minister about that, and one of the issues we discussed was Finland’s interest in looking at the global economy next year, the possibility of a downturn in the Finnish economy, and the production of a competitiveness index for the European Union and the eurozone. I pointed out to him the reduction in unit labour costs here, the increase in our competitiveness and the decisions taken by the Government that impact on that. We both agreed on the potential of the Single Market and the opportunity provided to European countries to market their goods.
The Dutch Prime Minister’s view in July was for a charge to be levied against countries that avail of EFSF funding. That matter has been dealt with technically and it has all been sorted out. I also discussed the future with the Austrian Prime Minister. As a triple A rated country, the Austrians were anxious to hear about the decisions Ireland has been making and the consequent progress that has been made.
I have been in touch with Chancellor Merkel’s office on a couple of occasions. I expect we will be able to arrange a formal bilateral meeting of substance. I cannot confirm the date yet, because it depends on schedules here and there, as well as with the——
The Taoiseach: I do not determine the schedule for the German Chancellor, but she had a very substantial vote in her favour in the Bundestag last week in respect of the EFSF, and that is significant. I will let the Deputy know when the meeting is agreed, as I will for any other formal bilateral meeting. The French President invited me to go to Paris, following the last meeting in Brussels, and we are in contact about that. I will let the House know whenever they take place.
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