Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Post-European Council: Statements
I thank the Deputies for their questions. I should have outlined at the beginning that while there are announcements to be made tomorrow and there will be further clarity on the legislation about which we are talking, a lot of work has been done in trying to prepare. Certain industries, particularly agriculture, have already been affected by Brexit. In the past three budgets we have been putting measures in place not only to support people now but also to mitigate future threats. A sum of €450 million was allocated this year in business supports, while the Brexit loan scheme is worth €300 million. There is also the long-term loan scheme fund. We have taken steps to prepare the economy generally, including through the Action Plan for Jobs 2018.
To comment on Deputy Wallace's point, nine out of ten jobs created in the past year have been outside Dublin, in Galway, Cork and the major towns and cities. The last Action Plan for Jobs, like the current one, was very much focused on the regions and trying to spread the benefits. Also to be borne in mind is Project Ireland 2040. Earlier the Taoiseach mentioned the 25% increase in the budget for infrastructure. The Government has a trade and investment strategy. There is the hiring of staff in the area of ICT, as well as infrastructure measures for ports catering for east-west journeys. All of this work is ongoing, without having to start to look at legislation or anything else. That work will continue. We will also continue to engage with Deputies and share information as it develops.
On the global pact, it is not legally binding, but it is extremely important that we are part of it. I am not aware that it is having an impact on the population or growth. The population is growing. A total of 17% of those living in the country are not from Ireland. We welcome immigrants and celebrate immigration, as one can see from the recent ceremony at which the Taoiseach welcomed 3,000 people who became citizens. We very much welcome this and hope it will not change.
On what is happening throughout Europe and the recognition that there are challenges, the position was made very clear when Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker set out his White Paper on the Future of Europe. We have been engaged in dialogue with citizens for the past year. When Romania takes over the Presidency next month, at the summit in Sibiu, there will be a particular focus on a strategic agenda regarding what the European Union will look like and its plan, not only economically but also socially, in the coming years. I hope the collective work, with each member state engaging with citizens and EU leaders coming together to establish priorities and put the plan in place, will address some or many of the concerns expressed about the rule of law and what is happening in Hungary and also in Poland. This issue has been up for discussion many times. At the General Affairs Council I asked questions of my Polish colleague. The Polish Government has been very forward in answering them, but at the same time there are still concerns. We welcome the changes it has made, particularly in reinstating judges who had retired. Of course, there is still work to be done. We have stated very clearly that we are not happy with some the changes that have taken place, most recently this week, in Hungary. Anything that does not conform with EU labour regulations will be challenged. I can see that happening very soon.