Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Post-European Council Meeting: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on the post-Council statements. Understandably, as other speakers have said, the priority issue was the Covid-19 pandemic, which, unfortunately, has been with us for more than 12 months. Of course, the Government leaders had the opportunity to review what has been achieved and what has not been achieved in regard to the roll-out of the vaccine programme. As we discussed here on the last day, it is very disappointing that there has not been greater speed in getting vaccines sourced and distributed throughout Europe. I sincerely hope the Commission President had some answers to the legitimate questions in regard to the contracts the European Union had with the pharmaceutical companies and how strong were those particular contracts.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing a very high level of infection throughout the European Union. It is most disappointing that this pandemic is still with us and that this deadly virus is so prevalent in most countries throughout the European Union. As we all know, the variant B117 has caused particular difficulties. I sincerely hope Europe can honour its commitments and that the pharmaceutical companies will honour their commitments to the European Commission in regard to supplies. We all know how valuable, how important and how essential a successful roll-out of the vaccination programme is.
As Deputy Haughey mentioned earlier, it is very heartening that President Biden partook in this Council meeting. It is long overdue that the American President would meet with his counterparts in the European Union. We all know of the need to have good US-EU relations. As a country that has a particular interest in the United States, and as the United States has a particular interest in our island, we know strong EU-US relations will benefit both continents and that, in particular, we can be major beneficiaries. We know not just of the historic links between our two countries but also of the huge economic ties our country has with America. We often hear about foreign direct investment coming to this country and there are well over 100,000 people employed in US companies in our State. Similarly, there are more than 100,000 US employees working in Irish businesses in the United States, so it is a huge and very valued business linkage between both countries.
I value the engagement I have had with the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, in recent months in regard to the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol. I brought to his attention in the early days of the new year the need to have particular difficulties ironed out. I have highlighted in numerous debates in the House that we need stability and trade between Ireland and Britain and between North and South. Thankfully, since 1998, we have witnessed the growth of the all-Ireland economy and the huge strengthening of links, North and South and east and west as well.
It is just not acceptable that Britain can make unilateral decisions in regard to an international agreement. I welcome the fact that, as I understand it from the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, sub-committees are meeting to ensure that the protocol is implemented in a sensitive manner. There have to be workable and deliverable solutions. The engagement I have with my neighbours north of the Border, from businesses and individual citizens to public representatives, is that they want the protocol to work. Those people see the benefit there is in having that unique trading relationship with Britain and the European Union. I urge the Minister of State to urge all his colleagues in the different European Union fora in which he participates to ensure that the protocol is implemented in a sensitive manner and that it delivers for the people of both Britain and Ireland.