Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Post-European Council: Statements
I will start with the last questions, around Brexit and when the €100 million funding will be ready. We are still implementing funding from the EU-funded INTERREG and PEACE programmes, which will finish when this current budget term ends. There is a question as to whether the next EU budget will be implemented on time. We are pushing to try to make sure it is ready, which will be the end of next year. The Croatian and German presidencies are the last two EU presidencies to deal with this. We will push to try to ensure it is agreed by the end date and it can move to the European Parliament, so all of these programmes, including the new PEACE+ programme, can be implemented from 1 January 2021. That is what we are aiming for and that is what we hope to see happen.
On the relaxation of state aid rules, we have already seen with the rescue and restructuring fund through the Department of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, which has allowed funding to be accessed in excess of what is normally allowed under state aid rules, specifically for companies to be rescued and restructured in the context of Brexit, where there are significant challenges for markets that are specifically focused on the UK and where they need to readjust and adapt. We would expect and hope that this would continue. Ireland and Belgium in particular throughout the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, have always sought flexibility within the next budget that would allow for possible challenges such as this, given that while we have been able to address Northern Ireland's specific concerns, we do not know what the future relationship will look like. There may still be significant concerns and issues for businesses, for small and medium businesses especially, who are mostly dealing with the UK.
On the issue of Cyprus and the question of Greece, I am not sure whether the Taoiseach spoke directly to either prime minister but through the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and I we have certainly expressed absolute solidarity with Cyprus and we have condemned the illegal drilling off Turkey in what are Cypriot waters and the move towards an illegal movement in what are now Greek waters. This was addressed and discussed at the most recent European Council meeting. We expressed solidarity with both of our European Union colleagues on this matter.
With regard to Malta, I share Deputy Crowe's outrage at what happened. We need to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. This is a matter for the police and we are aware that the Prime Minister had said he will step down by 12 January. If there was any involvement at any level of government, then it is a matter for the police and needs to be investigated. We would fully support that. I do not believe the issue was raised specifically at the European Council meeting, but I will come back to the Deputy on whether the Taoiseach raised it directly with the Prime Minister.
On the Middle East peace process, our position has not changed. Ireland has always supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Tánaiste is very focused on this. The Tánaiste visited Israel and Palestine in the past two weeks where I believe he held useful meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, and his foreign minister Mr. Katz. He also met President Abbas and others on the Palestinian side. We have always tried to encourage engagement and dialogue in this regard, but at the same time, when we see wrongdoing or statements we do not agree with, we are willing to call them out. The comments made by Mr. Netanyahu in September about annexation of the Jordan Valley were particularly grave. The Tánaiste raised this matter with him and made sure Ireland's opposition, and our position on it, was known. The annexation of territory by force is prohibited under international law, including the UN Charter. Our position on that will not change. We need, however, to ensure that we address this through dialogue. This is the position we have always taken, particularly given our position as a peacekeeping country. We will maintain this approach.
On the question of addressing the climate issue and people seeing it as a punishment, it is people who have driven this agenda. As the Deputy and many others have said, it is our younger generations who have taken to the streets and demanded that we bring about this change, but that we do so in a fair way and in a way that acknowledges that times and technologies are changing, including the ways in which we go about our daily lives and the ways we develop our businesses, industries and other sectors. This has come from the people, but we must make sure that we implement it in a way that is feasible and possible. This is why the Government's plan is based for the most part on a cross-party consensus to implement our objectives and goals to reach our 2030 targets and climate neutrality by 2050 in a way that is achievable, that would not put undue pressure on specific industries and sectors, that is affordable for people, and that is possible. We cannot ask people to drive certain cars or implement certain ways of living if they are not available to them, if there are not enough electricity ports, if there are not enough supports available to adapt or change their homes, and if businesses cannot access or avail of the new technologies. There is a lot of work to be done but a plan is in place. A funding mechanism will come through the Exchequer and we also hope to work with the private sector. We also hope to access EU funding, and not just around the just transition. There is also the €1 trillion fund that will be made available.
We have increased the State pension by €15 per week. It might not seem like a lot but we have tried to ensure that given the difficult times we have had with the economy, our older people in particular and those who are most vulnerable are seeing the increase and the positive turnaround in our economy. Obviously, that did not happen in this year's budget because we implemented a no-deal Brexit-specific budget, but we hope to return to that increase again next year, or in the next budget if that does not happen.
Reference was made to Europe moving towards a more right-wing position, but it is simply not the case that EU countries are not engaging on this, especially from Ireland's perspective. There is 92% support for the European Union in Ireland. People took to the streets in the same way they did everywhere else in the world to demand action on climate change. We acknowledge and accept, however, that we need to support people to be able to make that difference and make the change in their own homes. This is exactly what the Government is trying to do.