Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Post-European Council Meeting: Statements
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle agus leis an Teachta Haughey for the precise sharing of time. It is very much appreciated. We are mastering our double act on European Council statements at this stage.
There are three issues I would like to raise in the context of this debate. The first concerns a matter that the Minister or other Members may not have been aware of, namely, to the very harrowing report on "RTÉ News At One" detailing the decision by the station's correspondent Yvonne Murray to leave China due to the increased levels of surveillance. In the context of the European Council meeting, David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, raised the serious concerns that five members of the European Parliament's human rights' subcommittee have been hit with significant sanctions by the Chinese Government. This is merely the latest in a series of very troubling actions on the part of the Chinese Government. One such action relates to the treatment of the Uyghur population.
There is also the crackdown on democratic values in Hong Kong, the continued incarceration of Irishman Richard O'Halloran and so much more. It is about time we made it clear at European level, because it is only at European level that real impact can be made, that we will stand for the continuing, flagrantly brutal actions of the Chinese Government domestically and internationally. We see the academic independence here in Ireland constantly being undermined by the Chinese Government. It is a truly worrying state of affairs. The situation that Ms Murray and her husband find themselves in is merely the latest example and we simply cannot stand for it.
I also want to refer to the transatlantic alliance and continued co-operation between the EU and the US. As others have correctly stated, this is so important. I was slightly disappointed, and I am willing to be corrected, that the Taoiseach did not use his opportunity in the joint videoconference to stress again and wholly the importance of the protocol in the withdrawal agreement, not just to Ireland but to the entire European Union and Northern Ireland, to ensure the many challenges that Brexit has thrown up can be overcome. This is an issue that goes quiet for a while but we know it will come back. It has a cyclical nature. Everything to do with the post-Brexit relationship is cyclical. We have to be clear that there is flexibility, patience and consideration for the troubling situation in Northern Ireland and an element of sympathy and an ability to work with those who have concerns about the protocol, the majority of whom are from the unionist community. None of this can be done unless there is effective and transparent engagement. Unilateral action is simply not helpful. Those who seek to remove the protocol are misguided in their actions. There should be greater focus on what can be achieved.
My next point is probably the most important issue of the day, not just in the context of the European Council but regarding everything impacting on our country at every level. This is the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines. I have a series of questions to which the Taoiseach might be able to respond in writing. I put some of them to the Minister for Health through parliamentary questions. The new allocations are being announced. When will we know the precise amount of vaccine that will be allocated to Ireland? When will we receive these vaccines? What is the impact of the slightly truculent attitude of the Austrian Government in terms of the allocation? How can we ensure Irish citizens do not suffer as a result?
Can we see a comparison of EU member state vaccination strategies? A major decision has been made by the Government, stating it is following scientific advice. Like many, my phone and email have been hopping with members of An Garda Síochána, teachers, special needs assistants and many others who are concerned. What is the European approach? What are other EU countries doing in terms of allocating vaccines? Is it done solely by age or is it by vulnerability or cohort? I simply seek clarity on this issue because it is very important.
My final point is on ensuring the contractual obligations of drugs companies are met. This is not a new point. The ongoing reluctance of a certain drugs company to be transparent with its contractual obligations to the EU and UK has caused huge problems in recent weeks and months. These problems need to be addressed and in due course, although possibly not in the next couple of weeks, the drugs company in question needs to be held accountable for its duplicity and inability to fulfil its obligations to the European Union.