Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

11:00 am

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach if the agenda for the December meeting of the European Council has been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46013/10]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he plans holding on the margins of the December meeting of the European Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46014/10]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if the arrangements for his planned visit to China have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46015/10]

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, together.

While I do not yet have any formal plans for meetings on the margins of this week's Council meeting, I expect to have informal discussions with my European Council colleagues while I am in Brussels. Prior to the Council meeting, I will attend a meeting of the European Liberal Democrat Party at which a number of my European Council colleagues will be in attendance. This week's meeting of the Council will focus on economic policy matters and external relations. We will reach agreement on limited treaty change to provide for a new permanent crisis mechanism. We will receive a report from President Van Rompuy on his consultations with member states in this regard.

The European Council will be informed of ongoing work on the evaluation of the European Union's relations with its strategic partners, including the United States, Russia and China. Ireland has been making major trade visits to China for over 12 years. Bilateral trade has increased substantially as a result. We enjoy excellent relations with China, not least in the cultural sphere. Two years ago, I led a wide-ranging trade mission to China. In the course of discussions in recent months, the Chinese Premier and a senior Chinese official indicated they would welcome a further visit in 2011. Our embassy has been following that up with the Chinese authorities but no firm arrangements have been finalised.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Will there be a discussion at the European Council meeting on the banking crisis that confronts Europe? Is it the Taoiseach's view that the possibility of a major restructuring of the situation at European level, as distinct from the application of pressure on individual countries like Ireland and Portugal, will be discussed?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Union's finances and the banking system generally provide a context for the discussions on the permanent crisis mechanism. Along with our colleagues at Council level, we will work through the issues that are up for discussion. I refer specifically to the permanent crisis mechanism. It is important to note that much of the speculation, including people's projections about what they think might represent a solution to the problem, can create its own problems in terms of market reaction, as we have seen. We have to discuss these issues with our colleagues this week.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Have there been any advance comments or indications with regard to the discussions that might take place about debt restructuring? Is it possible that the debt of senior bold holders that is not guaranteed might be subject to discussion and renegotiation? There is evidence that the State has given guarantees in respect of debts that have already been sold on. Is it likely that an internal discussion on the possibility of a major restructuring of debt at European level will take place at the heads of Government meeting?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is important to point out that the agenda regarding the permanent crisis mechanism is the specific context for the discussion on that. As Deputy Kenny is aware, there are ongoing discussions at ECOFIN and other levels regarding wider financial stability issues. I am sure the rate of progress that is being made on issues like the change in economic governance will be adverted to at the European Council meeting. Various issues are being pursued at ECOFIN level specifically.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach mentioned that no firm arrangements for a trade mission to China have been made to date. Is there a fix on that? Is it likely to take place before the middle of the year, or at the back end of the year? It takes a great deal of time to organise the logistics of these things and to receive confirmation from both sides that they can make arrangements to meet. What sort of emphasis is surrounding this trade mission? Will there be an emphasis on technology, food or other areas where we have an interest with China?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No firm arrangements have been finalised, as the official reply indicates, adverting to the fact that China is becoming an increasingly important trading partner for Ireland, as well as for other countries. We are promoting our interests there but there are no final arrangements regarding impending visits.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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In that context, might I suggest to the Taoiseach that he follows through on the proposals put forward by our party and others in respect of international education? There is serious potential in terms of English teaching and education here in Ireland. There have been difficulties in the past regarding visas and a system that might work effectively. However, China is one country where there is enormous potential if it is followed through.

In the context of a trade mission to China, this is something we would support very strongly, and it should be followed through.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Obviously international education has been on the agenda for previous trips during the ongoing engagement we have been having in bilateral talks in terms of both trips to China and visits from Chinese delegations to Ireland. There have been significant improvements in terms of the availability of visas for those purposes, and indeed for tourism purposes, for Chinese people coming to Ireland.

As the Deputy knows, an international educational initiative was announced by the Government some months ago. It now forms a more co-ordinated and joined up framework between the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and others, which is reflected in the improved arrangements now available.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Earlier the Taoiseach mentioned May as the date for the sign-off by the eurozone Ministers for Finance of the deal he is asking the House to approve later today. In May of this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the economic crisis in Europe was an opportunity to make up for failures that were not remedied in the Lisbon treaty. She went on to say that beyond the economic crisis, "after the shared currency we will, perhaps, dare to take further steps", for example, towards a European army. Those were her words and she is not a small player in the EU context. What are the Taoiseach's views on the German Chancellor's comments?

What is the situation in relation to proposed changes to the Lisbon treaty regarding the so-called simplified revision procedure to provide for a permanent bailout fund? Has the Attorney General been consulted about any alteration to the treaty as to whether it might require a referendum or are there concerns from his office to the effect that such would be the import of any change under this procedure that it might compel citizens to seek recourse to the courts?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Regarding what Chancellor Merkel had to say, obviously there are issues in relation to matters that have been well articulated and amplified in the intervening period.

The whole question as to how we might proceed by way of a very limited amendment has become clear from President Van Rompuy's consultations. These indicate widespread support for a very limited amendment that should be given effect through the simplified revision procedure, which in turn implies no change of competence. Based on the form of wording currently being considered, I am hopeful that no referendum will be necessary, but, of course, we cannot be definitive in that regard until there is a final wording.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach is hopeful that it will not be necessary. From my viewpoint, I hope the Irish people will have their say so we immediately disagree. When does the Taoiseach expect that the deliberations on any considered change will conclude and will the current Government be making such a determination? Will the Taoiseach be making an announcement in the House before the Dáil collapses on what is intended? Can he give us a timeframe in that regard and to what level has the Attorney General been consulted in all of this? We are mindful of what the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, has been saying in recent days, and he is also hopeful, as is the Taoiseach. Some of us hope that he does not get his wishes for Christmas, but what can he tell us today?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I want to wish the Deputy a happy Christmas as well.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Nollaig shona.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Attorney General is, of course, involved in all these matters. I am simply respecting the situation where the Government will make its final decision when it has the final wording. However, based on what we have seen thus far, we believe the limited procedure that is being used for this purpose implies no change in competence. We will finalise our formal decisions and report to the Dáil in the normal way on the outcome of the European Council when we return and we are able to confirm the situation.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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In the context of EU trade with China, will the Taoiseach say what emphasis is being placed on the need for the European manufacturing and service sectors to be competitive, having regard to the fairly considerable relocation of many multinational corporations to China and south-east Asia generally?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We have been observing the rise of China as a world economic power over the past 20 years at least and it continues to forge ahead. From an Irish viewpoint, we have been indicating in our industrial strategy the need for Ireland to promote science and investment in research, development and innovation and we are seeing continuing significant investment in Ireland as a result. There are aspects of economic activity and indeed parts of manufacturing at the lower end of the scale perhaps where Ireland is no longer competitive, given the wage rates that our people are entitled to expect.

However, we still have a manufacturing base in Ireland and the competitiveness of Irish industry has improved significantly in the past couple of years as a result of the difficult but necessary steps we have been taking. That is reflected both in terms of the stabilisation of the economy, given the contraction that has taken place, and in the fact that our exports are increasing. Indeed, we have exceeded the targets set in our Asian strategy for exports to China over the past decade and we are now seeking to build on a far more substantive activity base to that which was in place ten years ago.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I was interested to hear the Taoiseach say that the wording of the proposed amendment has not yet been finalised. A draft wording has been reported in the newspapers. Is that not to be the wording that is to be presented to the European Council meeting? In the event, when does the Taoiseach expect the wording to be finalised and publicly available?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The President of the Council will formally put forward a wording and the reply I have given is based on the drafts we have seen thus far. However, when the final wording is presented - I cannot anticipate whether any amendments will be tabled or agreed at the meeting - I am simply observing the necessary protocols in saying that we will evaluate the final wording when it is agreed politically. The wording that President Van Rompuy has been addressing would indicate a limited procedure to us that will not involve a change of competence. On that basis alone, subject to detailed examination, we are very hopeful that a referendum will not be necessary.