Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs

Developments at European Union Level: Commissioner Mairead McGuinness

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Commissioner for coming before us today. I apologise if I repeat anything anyone else has said, I had to go in and ask a question of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Given what it related to, I might just direct it to the Commissioner. There is a particular issue for maize growers in Ireland in the context of the directive on single-use plastics. There was an unintended consequence with some of the plastics used. Obviously, finding alternatives is where we need to go. In the short term, however, I am dealing with a number of farmers and contractors who have probably spent a huge amount of money on plant machinery for these particular types of oxo-degradable plastics and suchlike. Is there something the State could look at in the form of mitigations, derogations or something of that nature? This is in short term because alternatives would obviously be better in the long run.

I welcome what the Commissioner said on the idea that health is not an EU competence but that the Commission definitely got its act together. The bulk-buying of vaccines and the solidarity involved have been shown to be the correct action. Beyond this, however, none of us is safe until all of us are safe, to use that terrible phrase. How engaged are we in finding a real solution? I am not ideologically wedded to the TRIPS waiver but I have yet to see an alternative put in place that we will look to as being a real solution. When we talk about COVAX, it is something that is probably only going to cover 20% of the population of developing countries. I am afraid to leave some of this to the market because we can imagine where it would go.

Will the Commissioner give us some general indication of the conversation on the movement relating to a possible European digital tax? Obviously, there is the whole conversation around tax harmonisation and the housing of profits in particular states. Some of this is just the world catching up with where the tech world has been for a long time, but there are particular implications for this State. It is about where we go from here.

There has already been considerable discussion on Brexit. I welcome what the Commissioner said about businesses in the North. It would be similar to some of the conversations I have had or what the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, said to us about dealing with unionist businessmen and farmers who are getting on with it and are just looking at solutions in respect of particular issues. Whatever about kicking shins and throwing an occasional elbow - and occasionally they are required - the big thing is us knowing for sure that the Commission and the EU are not for moving and that the Irish protocol is here to stay. It is about knowing that while we will look at mitigations and all the rest of it, the protocol is the only show in town. Sometimes we think the British Government is just engaging in conversation with itself. The problem is that it destabilises unionism and almost gives it false succour so it is dangerous, particularly at this point.

We have the conversation around legacy issues and the unilateral action on the part of the British Government. From time to time, the EU has been very strong on human rights and other issues. I wonder can it be part of this conversation, while accepting Brexit has changed things.

There was a motion moved in the Dáil recently on recognising what is going on in Palestine, namely, de factoannexation by Israel. We have had the conversation here about the occupied territories Bill. I am assuming that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has started a conversation on what role the EU could play in that regard. It is no different to what the EU is doing in respect of Belarus, that is, taking action against those who engage in international foul play, for want of a better term. I apologise, but I have a string of questions here.

There is an issue, which Maroš Šefovi has been open to, regarding the democratic deficit that exists in the context of representation in the North. We have citizens who are going to be impacted by EU rules but who have no voice at this point. There are modalities being looked at which may take the form of observer status or some sort of situation that could address this deficit. The Commissioner has already mentioned the difficulties around pricing and the supply chain problems at the minute. That is impacting on the housing crisis we have here to a great degree.

I welcome that the EU is looking at the impact of investment funds, etc. That is something which must be done. There has probably been a change of tack across the board during the pandemic in the sense that we cannot leave everything to the market. I assume that means there has been a change of tack in Europe, not just from the point of view of the pandemic but even onwards towards the necessity for states to take action.

This is my final question, and I apologise again for the number I have asked. We have a huge issue here with insurance, specifically public liability insurance, and the lack of players in the market. Is there, or should there be, a general audit of services such as this across Europe to see where those deficits are? They are going to impact on the economy in general and on organisations, community centres and businesses. It might put them out of action which will obviously have an impact on this State but also on the wider European economy. Beyond that, we have recovery and resilience and whatever else. Are we looking at something further in terms of fiscal stimulus into the future in order that we will avoid entering a recession following the pandemic, particularly as we are not through it yet and there are still major difficulties with the Delta variant and so forth? I thank the Chairman and apologise again.