Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Post-European Council Meeting: Statements
No one is safe until everybody is safe. This is an incredible expression we have heard time and again in recent weeks. It was said with honest intent by Mike Ryan in his capacity as head of the World Health Organization and it has been repeated several times, including by the Taoiseach. As the European Council came on the horizon last week, it was not where the various countries were. In fact, they were far from it. What seemed to predate the European Council meeting was a vaccine arms race in which the only intention seemed to be who could get their entertainment industries, pubs, nightclubs and concert venues opened first by getting vaccines into the arms of their citizens quicker, with procurement and negotiation with pharmaceutical companies at the top of the agenda. Let me be first to say I have no interest in whether Wetherspoon pubs open in the UK before we get to open our pubs. That has absolutely no interest for me.
What I believe is of utmost importance when we speak about the idea of vaccinations and increasing supply is that we do so as world actors. For me, this is infinitely more important in the conversation. Thankfully, we have moved away from the conflict and vaccine arms race between the UK and Europe. I believe there is potential now for Ireland, which has always been neutral and stood for human rights and justice, to create a bigger role for ourselves in speaking about vaccine justice throughout the world. This is a part of leadership that we need to take on.
At its very heart and at its most fundamental, the EU is a project of peace. There is no greater threat to global peace at present than the pandemic ravaging the world. It is exacerbating inequalities on a global scale. Ireland can stand up for the initiatives that others are proposing, such as COVAX and the Covid-19 technology access pool, C-TAP, and signing up to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, to waive the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies. The phrase "nobody is safe until everybody is safe" is just words.
I strongly encourage the Taoiseach to bring action and meaning to those words by allowing Ireland to sign up to COVAX and C-TAP and to allow Ireland to advocate that we sign up to TRIPS. To me, that would have meaning and it would place us on a pathway to leadership. That could be the most important thing we do this at this moment in time.
It is immoral that 75% of vaccines that have been given out in the world to date have been given out in just ten countries. That will prolong this pandemic far beyond where it needs to be. We have spent much of this morning talking about our own vaccine programme, which will see 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of the summer. If we are allowing the developing world to become an incubator for new variants, that will not mean anything in terms of making our own population safe or making the global population safe. I strongly encourage the Government to take a leadership role in terms of vaccine justice in the global world and to be a voice at a European Union level.
There are other issues at a European Union level that will be waiting for us as we, hopefully, begin to emerge from the pandemic, in particular, a global climate crisis that still requires a unified approach. There are also conflicts that will create massive challenges. I do not have time to speak about the presence of Russian troops in the Nagorno-Karabakh region at present but it creates a challenge for the European Union and the US in terms of our role in the world in alleviating conflict. What Russia did was simply to put troops there and nobody else had an answer to it. There is also the issue of what is happening in Tigray in Ethiopia, where an armed conflict is continuing, and even if it is stopped, there is still massive potential for famine and drought, which will be a lasting legacy of that conflict. These are real challenges for the European Union without even mentioning the continuing rise of the far right and the challenges that will pose in the coming years. I hope we can demonstrate leadership at a European Union level and, in particular, I strongly encourage that we sign up to COVAX, C-TAP and the TRIPS waiver programme.