Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Engagement with European Movement Ireland

10:00 am

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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Our next session of this morning's work relates to the eighth term of reference of this committee's work, on the future of Europe. I am very happy to welcome Ms Noelle O'Connell, executive director of European Movement Ireland. For everything to be in order, I must declare an interest in that I am a former employee of European Movement Ireland. Ms O'Connell was my boss. She was a very pleasant boss. I remain a voluntary member of the organisation. I am sure those present will all trust that this will in no way impair my ability to chair this meeting impartially. I will be as objective as possible. Ms O'Connell is very welcome and we look forward to hearing from her.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

With that out of the way, the floor is Ms O'Connell's.

Ms Noelle O'Connell:

I thank the committee very much for its invitation to attend today's proceedings to discuss the impact of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union and the future of Europe. I am executive director of European Movement Ireland. Founded in 1954, European Movement Ireland is Ireland's longest established not-for-profit voluntary membership organisation dedicated solely to Irish European issues.

I congratulate this Seanad special select committee on the really high level of engagement on such a critical and complex issue. I have been following the debate closely, and European Movement Ireland, as an organisation, has had a presence in the Public Gallery at most of the committee's sessions. The Seanad is to be commended on having the foresight to set up such an initiative and on its endeavours to seek solutions to the many multifaceted challenges Brexit will create, not least on this island of Ireland. As we sit here today on 1 June, there are now 666 days left in which to complete a deal. To tweak the well-known phrase, the devil of these Brexit negotiations will be in the detail.

Sometimes it is hard to understand the sheer scale of Brexit, but the evidence this committee has heard has enriched the debate on the subject. In addressing issues from citizenship rights in Northern Ireland to the potential impact of Brexit on the aviation industry and the air bridge between Ireland and Britain, this committee has helped to advance the dialogue and understanding of how Brexit will have implications for the island of Ireland.

The future of Europe, on which I have been invited to speak today, is in itself no small topic. Like Brexit, the future of Europe is a deeply multilayered topic associated with many opportunities and complexities concerning its development and discussion.

I commend the efforts of the Irish diplomatic and political services and various channels in ensuring the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland have been prioritised in the European Union's formal negotiating position at the start of these Brexit negotiations. It is hugely significant that the Union's commitment to continue "to support peace, stability and reconciliation on the island of Ireland" has been enshrined in the first phase of negotiations. Ireland is the only individual member state to be mentioned in this way and to have its specific concerns prioritised as the Union's concerns, and we should not underestimate the significance of this.

With regard to the future of Europe and Ireland's position in a reformed European Union, Ireland overwhelmingly sees its role in that European Union. A recent Red C poll that we commissioned and that has been submitted to the committee showed 88% of people thought Ireland should remain in the European Union. That poll was launched for Europe Day just a couple of weeks ago, on 9 May.

As I am sure members are all aware, the European Commission published a White Paper on the future of Europe at the beginning of March earlier this year. Outlined in it are five scenarios for the EU 27 by 2025, to be taken forward for discussion by the member states. Scenario 1 is carrying on. Scenario 2 involves nothing but the Single Market. Scenario 3 concerns those who want to do more. Scenario 4 is doing less more efficiently. Scenario 5 is doing much more together. Following the European Commission's publication of the White Paper, EU leaders committed in the Rome Declaration in March to act together "at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction ... in line with the Treaties and keeping the door open to those who want to join later". Therefore, a reformed and reforming European Union and the future of Europe after Brexit are very much on the agenda.

It has become something of a truism to say the European Union needs to be reformed. Most politicians, political leaders, commentators, officials and citizens agree on this and, arguably, Brexit has created a renewed sense of urgency in this process.

The real questions that reforming the European Union and the future of Europe pose for Ireland are many, but I will focus specifically on two. First, I believe we have to have a debate about exactly what we would like a reformed European Union to look like. We need to look closely at the various scenarios outlined in the European Commission's White Paper, as well as our position on a so-called "multi-speed Europe". The forum exists for Ireland to engage in and to work to ensure the best possible outcome.

Second, we need to question how we can seek to have an input into and shape this reformed European Union to best suit and reflect Ireland's interests. Part of the solution would appear to be to continue to accentuate and develop Irish engagement at all levels and layers in Brussels and across the various EU capitals, which would aid in the related but distinct aim of diversifying, deepening and intensifying our European alliances.

Effective Irish engagement in Brussels and across all the EU capitals will be fundamental in helping Ireland to shape this reformed European Union in which we as a country clearly want to remain after Brexit. This engagement is something we should seek to step up across a range of policy areas. Sometimes in Ireland we forget that we have a voice. We have a significant voice and it is our duty and responsibility to use it. As a small open economy on the geographical periphery of Europe, we need to think of the best ways of amplifying this voice in Europe, not just on Brexit but also after Brexit as part of the EU 27.

Let me be clear. Brexit will be bad for the United Kingdom, bad for Ireland and bad for the European Union. It is something European Movement Ireland has never shied away from stating prior to the run-up to the referendum and in its aftermath. It is something no one in Ireland really wanted and is quite possibly the biggest peacetime challenge we have faced as a country as we work to ensure the best possible outcome.

With regard to the upcoming Brexit negotiations, it is certainly not in the interests of Ireland or the European Union for there to be a bad deal or, worse still, no deal. There has been much talk here in Ireland about needing to avoid a no deal scenario, which would mean falling off a so-called cliff edge. To me, that always brings to mind images of the great Blondin walking across a tightrope across the Niagara Falls. Each step in the tricky and complex process is crucial to succeeding. While we may be concentrating solely on walking this Brexit tightrope, a recent European Movement Ireland survey of our European Movement International network found that only 55% of responding organisations considered Brexit to be the top EU priority in their respective country. While sometimes it may seem to us in Ireland as if Brexit is the only game in town, it is certainly not at an EU level, where those concerned are grappling with many complex challenges. We should not lose sight of this reality. When considering the future of Europe, we must obviously consider Brexit but also look beyond it.

With the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, Ireland will lose, plausibly, its closest partner at the EU table. This comes against the backdrop of a less certain and more fluid global environment.

We should not be afraid to speak truth to power in this new global order. In order to remain fully active in the EU, we need to think about diversifying and intensifying our existing alliances across Europe, both politically and in terms of our trading relationships, as well as across our many different international networks including membership organisations, civil society organisations, business associations and trade unions. We have seen the beginnings of attempts to intensify these alliances in the context of Brexit with, for example, the recent meeting of the Taoiseach with the leaders of Denmark and the Netherlands to discuss how best to minimise the impact of Brexit on the economies of these countries. This is something which we will need to replicate throughout the negotiations but also once the UK has actually left the EU. Building strong alliances on a policy-by-policy basis, for example, will be crucial in ensuring Ireland’s success in a realigned and reformed EU.

There is also growing recognition of the need for Irish business to continue to diversify and expand into the vast European Single Market of over 510 million consumers, or 445 million post Brexit. This is a very significant market to which Ireland has full access and of which we are part. In that context, Enterprise Ireland’s eurozone market strategy with its vision of Irish companies powering the economy through strong positions in eurozone export markets represents the kind of strategic business thinking we need to explore further.

Jean Monnet, a pioneer of European integration, once stated “People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognise necessity when a crisis is upon them.” The ongoing success of the Government’s all-island civic dialogue on Brexit - which European Movement Ireland called for, welcomed and participated in - has shown the productiveness of participatory democracy in strengthening public ownership, involvement and debate and in feeding into Government policy and strategy. In that context, we are calling for a citizens’ assembly on the future of Europe to advance the debate on Brexit, which will have a significant impact on every citizen on the island of Ireland. We urge the committee to include this suggestion in its final report to the Seanad. I thank members for their attention and look forward to their questions.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I thank Ms O'Connell. I will now invite members who wish to contribute to do so and then I will revert to Ms O'Connell for a response. Senator Paul Daly is first.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms O'Connell for her presentation. I want to concentrate on the issue raised towards the end of her presentation, namely, our relationship with the UK within the EU. From the time of our initial involvement, we had a very strong negotiating partner in the UK and we were seen very much as allies within the whole set-up. With the UK gone from the EU post Brexit, we will be unique in that we will be the only English-speaking member state and the only island nation off the Continent. How does Ms O'Connell perceive our role in the future in that scenario? A colleague of mine was in Europe recently to set out the Irish stall in terms of what we need from Brexit, what would be acceptable to us and what would be seen as a good or soft Brexit from our perspective. He was listing our requirements but was asked if he was trying to negotiate for a soft Brexit on behalf of the UK. While some concessions for Ireland have been mentioned in various speeches and papers, which is welcome, there are elements within the European movement who believe that giving Ireland what we need is tantamount to conceding to the UK. How do we negotiate the best deal from Ireland's perspective without stepping on the toes of our colleagues in Europe in the future? How do we ensure that post Brexit, there is no sourness among our 26 EU colleagues, some of whom might believe that Britain got a soft deal thanks to Ireland putting the boot in and getting what was best for it? How do we make sure that we are not in a marriage that is starting off on a bad footing? How can we overcome such problems or iron them out after Brexit?

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Ms O'Connell. I agree with Senator Paul Daly's remarks about the UK having been an important ally. I have had the privilege of working on the Council of Europe and I notice in that forum, which will be very important post Brexit, that the UK and the Republic of Ireland will regularly ally on issues and that there is a commonality of interests and constant support there. It is true that we potentially will be losing a very important ally, which is a serious matter.

According to market research, there is a very positive sentiment towards the EU in Ireland. Would Ms O'Connell agree that this sentiment will be greatly and adversely affected if what has been said about Ireland's special position is not realised? If we do not see evidence of Mr. Barnier and his team positively batting for Ireland in the context of a solution, will that sentiment quickly erode? Could European Movement Ireland do anything to convey that point very clearly to Mr. Barnier and the negotiators?

A cynic or a pessimist might say that the remarks by Mr. Barnier and Prime Minister May, as well as the contents of the pre-negotiation documents regarding the unique and special position of Ireland, are only platitudes. I do not want to believe that, nor do my colleagues on this committee. Certainly those of us who live in Border communities cannot even contemplate such a scenario. Can Ms O'Connell provide reassurance on that point? She is very much a part of the whole process and is so close to it. Does she believe there is more to it than rhetoric? Does she think that Ireland will be batted for in a positive way?

When we lose the UK as an ally within the EU, one presumes we will form alliances with a new network of countries with similar interests. I ask Ms O'Connell to comment on that presumption. I am interested in finding out how we can achieve a practical expression of the good sentiments. If the sentiments expressed were to become realities, then all would be great. However, the fear is that they are no more than sentiments.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I thank Ms O'Connell for a comprehensive, forthright and frank contribution. Politics is politics but it is refreshing to hear the reality of what Brexit is going to do and the impact it will have on our people. In the vast majority of instances, the effects will be negative and sometimes we just need to call a spade a spade and not dance around the issue. We have political responsibility to people across the island of Ireland to try to offset or mitigate against some of that and it is quite refreshing to hear contributors being so frank with us in terms of the negative impact.

Ms O'Connell made reference to the all-island civic dialogue and I agree it was a very useful exercise. It is a pity that it took so many of us having to argue for that continuously but nevertheless, it happened and it was very inclusive and positive.

In one form or another the bulk of Members of the Seanad support a form of special designated status. The Dáil has mandated the Government to negotiate a special status for the North. That is also the view of the majority of the MLAs elected to the assembly in March. Does Ms O'Connell have a view on the emerging campaign for special status and does she see a role for her organisation in that? It is a positive and sincere reaction, albeit people have different views on what it might look like. What does she see as the importance of special status and where should it sit within our dynamic moving forward?

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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Ms O'Connell mentioned that in European Movement Ireland's survey of other members of the European Movement International, only 55% saw Brexit as the main priority. This is alarming but not surprising. Could she dig a bit deeper into those figures to see if there is a geographic imbalance, for example, is it the case that the further east the country, the less it is an issue? She mentioned Denmark and the Netherlands as being close to Irish interests and considering possible new alliances, as Senator O'Reilly mentioned. The European Movement International network gives a great insight into civic society. What are its thoughts on the future of the EU? Are they very different from the ones we are discussing in Ireland? Ms O'Connell complimented the Irish Government and the Civil Service on their approach to lobbying in Brussels. What lobbying is European Movement Ireland doing in the European Movement International network?

I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile's points on the Citizens' Assembly. I attended the civic dialogue with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and it was excellent. Rather than having one catch-all repeat of the forum in Europe, it would be better to force each Department to hold a dialogue every year, a different one each month, to focus on European issues.

What is the role of European Movement Ireland in the future of the EU and of Ireland within that Union? Is it worth fighting for? How will the movement fight for it? I am aware that Ms O'Connell's contribution this morning will be counterbalanced by the contribution we will hear this afternoon from someone who wants us to leave the EU. Why should we stay in?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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How does the number of our officials in Europe compare with that of other countries such as Denmark? This committee will need to benchmark its recommendations to upscale against other countries. In more than 90% of decisions made in Europe, we and Britain would have voted the same way because our interests were often combined. We obviously will need to stop riding on Britain's coat tails. Denmark carries out pre-legislative scrutiny of EU directives but we do post mortems after they have been implemented. It is a failing here of the way we implement directives and as a result, people blame Europe for all sorts of problems. There is much that Europe does incorrectly but it does more right than wrong.

On the point of Europe listening, as soon as Brexit happened, people were not soul searching; they were calling for expansion and seeking more integration. Nothing says more clearly that the people of Europe do not want more integration than the failed constitutional referendum. It was not listening when we voted against it but when France and the Netherlands voted against it, there was a change and it was decided to do it by governmental conference. Does that not tell one that the institutions in Brussels do not listen? When the people were asked their opinion and voted against it, Europe went ahead and created its own version of a European constitution.

I sat in a meeting with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Mogherini, where the talk was of replacing the United States, US. The European foreign service and its leading diplomat want us to replace the US on our borders with EU intervention. That does not sound as if they are listening to anybody because nobody in Europe wants to replace the US in respect of intervention in the Middle East and other jurisdictions. While it talks about subsidiarity and giving more powers, Europe takes them away with the other hand. That is why Brexit happened. When the British Prime Minister went to Brussels and got limited concessions, they were not enough for him to sell at home. Europe was not listening to him and as soon as the Brexit referendum happened, it did not listen but is doubling down on integration.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Professor Brigid Laffan wrote an article recently in which she said that our response to Brexit should be a willingness to sacrifice what she termed our sacred cows, namely, neutrality and our attachment to our autonomy on corporation tax. In respect of neutrality, when we negotiated the Lisbon treaty we negotiated an opt-out on neutrality but when the people were asked to vote on that treaty, it was inserted into the Constitution that Ireland would not play a part in a European defence. We are prohibited from doing it. Many people in the broader European movement seem not to understand that fact. I notice that in the survey Ms O'Connell so helpfully handed us, many think we should engage in co-operation on defence and security matters. That is a vague statement but we amended our Constitution to not permit us to participate in EU defence if it involved the State.

There is a sense in which many in Ireland feel that Professor Laffan's article and similar commentary invite Ireland effectively to give up on its opposition to a competence for the EU to determine corporation tax policy in detail because somehow we are seen to be obstructive. Macron mentioned it in his presidential campaign. That is disturbing from our point of view because it is one of the only weapons or instruments at our disposal enabling us to counterbalance the centripetal effects of economic concentration in the larger centrally located countries.

Sweden withdrew its embassy from Ireland some years ago as part of a cutback policy. If we are to forge new alliances, we should at least have full and functioning normal diplomatic relations with Sweden. I invite Ms O'Connell to comment on that point.

Ms Noelle O'Connell:

I thank the Senators for their wide-ranging questions. With the Chair's permission, I will take them in order

Senator Paul Daly asked a really important question about how Ireland, as a country and a people politically and administratively, would manage its relationship with the European Union when our closest neighbour and ally was no longer beside us at the table. I will make one point which might refer to some of the questions. European Movement Ireland as an organisation has a voluntary branch in Brussels. We do a lot of work in engaging and making sure the Irish voice is heard at all levels of the various associations, institutions and bodies. Having been in this role for more than six years at this stage, I can honestly say Brexit, without parallel, has been the single issue where I have seen a complete appreciation, recognition and understanding of how Ireland will be impacted on uniquely. We saw it in President Tusk's comments about money, people and Ireland. There is a recognition, understanding and appreciation that Ireland will be impacted on. The result and the outcome was not something that Ireland wanted. Notwithstanding that there may be some opportunities and upsides in terms of attracting foreign direct investment and things like that, on balance, we believe the negative outcomes and impacts will far outweigh any possible advantage that might accrue.

As for how Ireland will continue to negotiate and ensure we do not, as the Senator said, step on the other member states' toes, if I may use my tightrope analogy again, it will have to be very subtle and nuanced. However, Ireland is a member state. We have a voice and a right to use it and we should not be shy about putting forward out interests and our points of view. We are doing that quite effectively and efficiently. No one wants to see a no-deal situation where the United Kingdom leaves and walks out of the house leaving behind the wallet, the phone and the keys, only to realise it still needs to go back in and get them and still needs to use them. We must ensure it is not a bad Brexit deal or a no-deal situation ,while being cognisant and mindful of the fact that Ireland will be one of 27. It will not just be Ireland's concerns; they are the broader EU concerns.

We are up to the challenge but it will not be easy. On the challenge in terms of the rhetoric and the debate, it is welcome to see an evolving and more forthright and frank public discourse taking place in Ireland. That is why the committee is to be commended. We must have this grown-up conversation about the challenges and the potential difficulties that will be encountered. This will not be easy. We are at the start of a marathon that will take place in the next few years with many twists and turns in the tale. It will not be a win-win in every sector and we will not be happy with all the outcomes but we have to ensure we are active, taking part and having our voice heard. There is a responsibility that I would see as being part of the civic dialogues and various sectoral reforms the Chair mentioned. The responsibility is not just on our legislators and political leaders; it is also on us as a civil society, businesses and membership organisations. We must amplify and extend our voice and message across the member states. It is important that this take place.

I know that the Chairman is familiar with this from his time in European Movement Ireland but, in terms of European sentiment, when we first started these surveys in 2013, having commissioned Red C, the first question we asked was whether Ireland should follow the United Kingdom out of the European Union. That was just in terms of the Brexit vote. The sentiment for it at the time was at 29%. Two weeks ago, it has dropped to 16%. It has effectively halfed in the past few years.

Senator Joe O'Reilly had really important questions on changes in the positive sentiment towards the European Union in Ireland and whether European Movement Ireland as an organisation could convey this message to Monsieur Barnier and Task Force 50. We have done so. We had a number of meetings and engagements here and in Brussels with the various officials on Task Force 50. It is reassuring to see the commitment and the understanding shown by the Commission and Task Force 50 in respect of recognising that Ireland should not be uniquely disadvantaged by the Brexit vote.

Notwithstanding this, as alluded to by Senator Michael McDowell, there are the legalities and the complexities. I go back to my devil in the detail story. However, it was reassuring that creative and innovative solutions would be entertained and considered. Again, there is an onus on us all to try to feed into those solutions. This is somewhat unprecedented, notwithstanding Greenland, which had a population of 55,000 and concerned mainly a single issue in terms of fish. I venture to say this is the most complex divorce that will be undertaken for quite some time. There is no template. We have the recent Commission guidelines, which are very helpful, but there is no folder that can be taken down off a shelf and a plan implemented with no hiccups along the way. We have to be mindful of this. European Movement Ireland, as an organisation, will continue to ensure and to give reassurance that Ireland's voice will be heard. It will focus on ensuring that the rhetoric, dialogue and the discourse are kept informed, robust and engaged and on ensuring that people feel their voices are being heard.

On sentiment and the Red C poll, 88% believe Ireland should remain part of the European Union and the figure is 99% among full-time students. It is very high in Connacht-Ulster at 87%. It has continually been more than 80% since 2013. People in Ireland recognise that we have benefited from our EU membership. I would not claim that the European Union and all its institutions are perfect and it is not a panacea for all ills but in an increasingly challenging, complex and multifaceted global environment, our interests are better served as an active, committed and engaged member rather than being outside it. I believe that quite strongly.

I welcome Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile's comments on the civic dialogue. As an organisation, we have a voluntary branch with our colleagues in European Movement Northern Ireland. As part of our efforts to continue to further the all-island debate, we are delighted to be hosting them, as well as representatives from Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom in June. I extend an invitation to all members of the committee. We would be delighted to welcome them to the town hall debate on Brexit in the two islands on 13 June.

In terms of the special status and Northern Ireland, as the Senator mentioned, there is a huge amount of work, debate and dialogue. The island of Ireland has been recognised at an unprecedented level in terms of the negotiations, as mentioned, and its specific concerns have been prioritised as the European Union's concerns. This is something we hugely welcome and in which we take great store. We should not underestimate the significance of this. However, the Senator knows far better than I do the 499 km and the 30,000 or so people who cross the Border seamlessly every day. No one wants to see that change. No one wants to see a hard border. Monsieur Barnier's comments in that regard were very welcome. The challenge will be giving substance to the positive rhetoric, which will not be easy. We look at the fact that POLITICO recently noted that approximately 20,833 laws and regulations would have to be analysed in the two-year timeframe. That is approximately 40 a day. I am sure somewhere someone has been beavering away on at least ten regulations. That underlines the complexity we are facing.

The Chairman asked a very important question about the views of the European Movement councils in the member states. We forget sometimes in Ireland that further to the east, things like defence and security have great significance, while the eurozone challenges and the migrant crisis are huge issues of concern for our Italian and Greek colleagues. Attending some of the sectoral dialogues was really useful for me as there was a deep focus on the specific challenges facing the different sectors. In addition to the sectoral dialogues, there was the plenary forum. I was not as familiar with the complexities around children's issues. The plenary forum was an opportunity for me to get a greater appreciation and understanding. There is merit in having both. It is absolutely worth fighting for. I would not be here if I did not think so. We tend to forget in Ireland not only the benefits that our membership of the European Union has given us but also the important contribution Ireland has made to improving the Union. We have a voice. It is not them versus us. We should not be reticent about making our voice heard.

Senator Daly asked how Ireland should upscale following the structures. Every year European Movement Ireland does an accountability report, which I am happy to forward to the committee. It provides a report card, as it were, tracking, analysing and measuring Irish engagement at all levels and comparing it with the other members states. For example, we look at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs, the Taoiseach's attendance at the European Council, various Ministers' attendance at ministerial councils, and our MEPs' speeches and parliamentary questions. We acknowledge that it is only a statistical snapshot but nonetheless we feel it shines a light on Ireland's relationship and engagement with the European Union. The findings have been quite positive. We are seeing an upward trajectory in most indicators and scorecards.

The Senator Mark touched on the issue of subsidiarity. It is very important for the Oireachtas to continue to analyse legislation and Directives coming from Brussels, to make sure they are robustly interrogated. I would never claim that the European Union is perfect. From European Movement Ireland's experience of the Brexit debate, it is encouraging to see the shoe leather expended, not only in Brussels but across the member states, by our politicians, the various committees, the Government and the sectoral interests. It is ensuring the unique impact of Brexit on us is being heard about. We have an opportunity to maximise this and ensure the least worst outcome.

As for Brexit happening, I would be delighted to come back at a later date and spend many hours talking about it. As members of this committee will appreciate, it was impossible for a four-month campaign to reverse 40 years of negative media and public discourse constantly denigrating and blaming Brussels for absolutely everything. The referendum result proved this.

Senator Michael McDowell mentioned Professor Laffan's excellent article. We could talk forever about how we frame polling questions and the 57% in respect of the defence question. We wanted to get a snapshot of whether people felt Ireland should take part in increased EU defence and security co-operation. The Commission's reflection paper on the future of European defence is due to be published in the coming weeks and will include options for the member states on the way forward. A high-level conference on security and defence is also being held in Prague on 9 June. It is not a question of boots on the ground in terms of an EU army or the broader defence issue. More recent developments in EU defence and security co-operation have been focused on pooling resources and efficient spending. It will remain a national competency for member states. The Senator mentioned Sweden. Without commenting on specifics, some member states do not have embassies here that have them in Britain. However, there is positive engagement, even where there is no presence. I do think it is important to acknowledge the hard work that is being done by the admittedly smaller and more meanly resourced Irish diplomatic service across the different EU member state capitals. It is being recognised. It is a very long process. The work will continue in the coming years.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Would Ms O'Connor be able to get those figures for us, showing how many officials we have in Brussels compared with the numbers for other countries? If we are not even matching Denmark, we are tailcoating on Britain's massive civil service presence in Brussels.

Ms Noelle O'Connor:


Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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We will be able to get those figures from the permanent representative and departmental officials. We can provide the comparison for the number of Irish people employed in the Commission also.

Ms Noelle O'Connor:

Since its foundation, European Movement Ireland has worked on encouraging Irish people to consider the European Union and its various institutions as a viable career alternative in order that there is a pipeline of Irish officials working in the different institutions. We work with the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Commission, the Parliament and the Public Appointments Service in that respect. Our organisation conducts a graduate jobs in Europe campaign. We go around the country speaking in third level institutions. If requested, we give career talks to provide guidance and advice.

The Senator mentioned Irish people working in the EU institutions. We have been fortunate to have incredibly high-calibre people at the top levels such as the former President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox; the former Secretary General of the Commission, Catherine Day; and David O'Sullivan, EU ambassador to the USA under the EU external action services. While there has been strong Irish representation at the top level, the cohort of Irish officials who joined the institutions around the time of Irish accession to the European Union is approaching retirement age. There is a challenge to make sure Irish people apply for the different roles. We are working very actively on this and the Government is very cognisant of it. Languages are a huge challenge and it is an area on which we need to focus a lot more.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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Ms O'Connell mentioned that she would be delighted to come back again. Unfortunately, we will not be here for much longer.

As today is 1 June, I remind members that we must report in 29 days. In that period, however, if other matters come to Ms O'Connor's desk that she would like to pass on, I ask her please not to be a stranger and send them to the committee. It has been a pleasure to have her at the committee. I wish European Movement Ireland all the very best in its work and continuing efforts.

Sitting suspended at 12.10 p.m. and resumed at 12.15 p.m.