Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 15 July 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Developments at European Union Level: Commissioner Mairead McGuinness
I thank the Chair and the Commissioner for joining us this morning. She mentioned the vaccine roll-out which has been incredibly successful. However, the original invitation to her to speak to the committee came in the context of the triggering of Article 16 back on 29 January 2021. I know the European Commission wants to move on from that and pretend that it almost did not happen but, as the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, we need an understanding that it will not happen again in the manner that it happened in that the Irish Government and the Irish State were blind-sided. The consequences of that decision are still being felt today on the island. Despite the enormous work done by the European Commission, the Parliament and all the institutions in defending our island's interests during Brexit, that couple of hours of madness undermined much of that work. We need an understanding that there are new procedures in place to ensure that such a thing will never happen again and that where our strategic interests are central, the Irish Government will be centrally involved. As the Irish nominee to the Commission, what has the Commissioner changed in terms of her ways of working to ensure that does not happen again and that we are not blind-sided?
In regard to the Commissioner's role, there is an area around the financial equivalence side of Brexit. I suspect we are going to move from sausages to financial services very quickly. The Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, said recently that on equivalence, nothing has moved forward. Can the Commissioner give us an update from her perspective of where we are in negotiations on financial equivalence? I do not want the Commissioner to show me the poker cards, but to give me a sense of her vision for the EU's financial markets post-Brexit and post the city of London not being part of the EU. Are there opportunities for Ireland in that?
In regard to the banks, the Chairman and I are dealing with a situation which the Commissioner will be familiar with from her parliamentary days, namely, pyrite in blocks and mica. It speaks to building defects, and not just in Ireland.
We see the whole issue of cladding in England. I imagine there are similar issues across Europe. They all have an impact on banks' balance sheets because banks have invested in homes and commercial properties. Is the issue of building defects on the Commissioner's radar across the European Union with respect to its potential impact on the balance sheets of banks?
To move to the climate side of things, I will refer to the human impact of these weather events we have been referring to this morning. We have seen this in Germany. The Chairman has referred to that. It is appalling. There will also be an impact on the physical buildings and capital assets that are used as collateral by our financial institutions. At what stage does the Commissioner believe there will be an awakening as to this potential impact?
On the climate agenda, does the Commissioner get the sense that the financial companies and institutions around Europe are engaged in respect of this matter? There is a phrase used. I am sorry; my brain is not fully working yet. I believe the term used is "greenwashing". Is it a question of greenwashing on the part of the financial services industry? Are these companies just seeking to be seen to be doing something and to tick the boxes or are they actually going to engage? The Commissioner mentioned digital currency. We know the impact this has on, for example, electricity usage which, in turn, has all sorts of consequences for our climate. Does the Commissioner get the sense that the financial institutions see this as a serious issue and are genuinely interested in truly green products or are they greenwashing? If they are greenwashing, what is she going to do about it?