Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Ceisteanna - Questions
Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach if he will publish details of the proposed text on the interest rate paid for by Ireland circulated by President Van Rumpoy at the summit meeting of 11 March 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18231/11]
Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach his further plans for substantive bilateral meetings with other heads of Government which he has for the remainder of 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18388/11]
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach the manner in which he approached discussions regarding the European Central Bank at the recent European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18394/11]
Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide a detailed report on the discussions he was involved in at the recent European Council meeting in relation to the Gaza flotilla; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18613/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together.
I reported to the House on 22 March on the meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the euro area that took place in Brussels on 11 March. That meeting agreed that pricing of the European financial stability facility, EFSF, should be lowered to better take into account debt sustainability, while remaining above funding costs with an adequate mark-up for risk and in line with IMF pricing principles. It was agreed to reduce by 1% the interest rate applying to loans to Greece, which did not take place under the EFSF.
As I have previously told the House, it was not possible to secure a reduction in the rates applying to loans to Ireland at that time. Some partners sought a commitment from Ireland on corporation tax to which I was not prepared to accede. There were difficult exchanges and discussions. Partners made various suggestions, none of which were acceptable to Ireland. No text was formally tabled at the meeting by President Van Rompuy or anyone else.
The Government will continue to press strongly for an interest rate reduction but on a basis consistent with improving the prospects of successful implementation of the EU-IMF programme. As the Members are aware, resolution of this issue is being taken forward by finance ministers. The Government remains fully engaged in an ongoing, constructive dialogue with our European partners in both capitals and institutions and I remain hopeful of a positive outcome. There is now a greater understanding of the Irish position on corporation tax and its significance to our economic recovery than was the case last March.
My programme of bilateral meetings during the second half of the year will continue to be guided by ongoing assessment of strategic priorities. It will include a meeting in Dublin with the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Buzek, on 12 July; and most likely with Prime Minister Mr. Donald Tusk of Poland in September in the context of the Polish EU Presidency. It remains my intention to be in a position to travel to China later this year, subject to final agreement with the Chinese authorities.
The most recent meeting of the European Council confirmed the appointment of Mr. Mario Draghi as President of the European Central Bank with effect from 1 November 2011. This was on foot of a recommendation by ECOFIN, the Council of finance ministers, and following consultation with the European Parliament and the ECB. There was no substantive discussion of the matter at the meeting.
The European Council noted that the situation in Gaza remains of concern. Colleagues agreed that humanitarian assistance delivered to the population in Gaza should be in accordance with the relevant framework and decisions of the UN and should take care not to endanger human lives.
The three questions I tabled in this group refer to three completely different issues. Grouping them in this fashion leaving marginal time for questions only serves again to allow the Taoiseach to avoid answering specifically the questions that have been raised. I seek specific answers to the specific questions I am about to ask. First and specifically, the Taoiseach confirmed only last week in the House that on 11 March, President Van Rompuy tabled a text concerning Ireland's interest rate. Last week, I asked the Taoiseach whether he would publish the text and he replied he would not. In this reply, in something of a play on words, the Taoiseach indicated that no text was formally put forward. He confirmed the existence of the text in the House last week and I now ask him to publish that text. In a press conference that evening, President Van Rompuy stated that Ireland was not asked to surrender its corporation tax rate or to sign on for the common consolidated corporate tax base, CCCTB. There is a view abroad that a compromise text was put to the Taoiseach that would have effected the interest rate reduction. Members can only make a judgment in this regard if the aforementioned text is published.
The Taoiseach promised transparency and openness in Government and this is a fundamental issue. All the Heads of Government had agreed on 11 March that there should be a reduction in the interest rate and I note that much work had been done in advance. President Van Rompuy produced a text to try to break the deadlock and I ask for it to be made available to Members to allow them to make a proper assessment of how the negotiations were conducted on 11 March. I note that when Fianna Fáil tabled a motion on corporation tax in this House, the Government amendment referred to remaining highly sceptical of many aspects of the common consolidated corporation tax base proposal "but that the Government believes that a constructive and forthright engagement with all of our European partners on this issue will result in the best outcome for Ireland and for the European Union as a whole". May I take it that the Van Rompuy text and the wording in the Government amendment to the that motion on corporation tax are very similar?
Deputy Martin tabled three questions in this group. The first pertains to details of the proposed text on the interest rate for Ireland circulated by President Van Rompuy. The second relates to bilateral meetings and the third concerns the European Central Bank. I have dealt with each of those three questions in my reply. The Deputy is aware of what happens at such meetings, at which a variety of wordings may be presented to individual leaders, depending on the issue. However, this range of wordings may not have been circulated to, or approved or agreed by, others. The position is that no formal text purporting to be the proposition being put to Ireland was circulated to everyone. Ireland was asked to increase its corporation tax rate. This condition was being requested if Ireland was to be granted a reduction in the interest rate that had been agreed by the leaders. I refused to do that and made that clear. Because I took that stand in respect of our country, which is supported by the Deputy, agreement was not forthcoming on the interest rate reduction. As a consequence, the matter is still being discussed and I hope it can be brought to a conclusion. It is not a case of an agenda containing a formal text to be debated in respect of Ireland. As the Deputy is aware, such items could comprise a variety of options being presented that were not presented to the body as a whole or agreed by individual leaders. I hope this response deals with that matter for the Deputy. I have referred to the bilateral meetings with other Heads of Government and as I stated, the ECOFIN Ministers have recommended that Mr. Draghi should take up office in the European Central Bank in November 2011.
I am trying to ask the Taoiseach questions to get to the bottom of this issue. European Council President Van Rompuy brokers solutions to any difficulties arising. I ask the Taoiseach to say whether at the meeting President Van Rompuy provided him with a compromise text as a possible solution to the problem?
It is very important in the context of this key debate on debt sustainability. The Taoiseach has confirmed that a text was presented to him by President Van Rompuy. A lot of money has been at stake in the past three or four months and I would like to know whether the text is similar to the amendment tabled by the Taoiseach during the debate on corporation tax. People are talking all the time about a formula of words; even at the last ECOFIN meeting the Minister was talking about a formula of words. Therefore, we need to know what this is all about. We know the issue of the corporation tax rate is not up for grabs and that this has always been the stated position of Governments. I am focusing on the formula of words President Van Rompuy presented to the Taoiseach. I think the Taoiseach owes it to the House, given the enormity of the debate, to tell us what it was. This is a key issue and the Taoiseach's priority. He owes it to the House and the public to publish the text of the compromise presented in order that people will be able to make an independent, objective assessment of the issues between EU member states and the eurozone countries and Ireland.
President Van Rompuy made an effort to arrive at a compromise, but I was not prepared to accept it on the basis of our view of a CCCTB, common consolidated corporate tax base. As for the Deputy suggesting various texts be published, I had to make a judgment in that regard as the Head of Government at a leaders' meeting and I did so. It is not a case of publishing ten drafts of a text that might be acceptable-----
President Van Rompuy was the person who was attempting to arrive at a compromise and as leader of the Government, I had to make a decision in Ireland's interests. While the leaders agreed in principle on a reduction of 1% for those in the EFSF, the text given to me was unacceptable. We have moved on from there and I hope we can come to a conclusion on an agreement before too long.
In respect of papers being tabled by the European Commission, I have no problem in participating in discussions, but I am entitled to have a view for or against these proposals. I have indicated a healthy scepticism about the common consolidated corporate tax base.
The conflict in the Middle East was discussed at the summit, as were concerns about the flotilla sailing to Gaza, which concerns were expressed in this House. The Taoiseach will know that the crew of MV Saoirse have since expressed their belief their ship was sabotaged - I have seen some photographs - and that Irish citizens were put at risk. Have Government representatives spoken to any of the people on MV Saoirse or the Israeli or Turkish authorities about this matter? If not, has the Government any plans to do so?
It was discussed at the meeting and concern was expressed that the blockade arranged by the Israeli Government was still in situ for ships leaving ports for Gaza. There was also concern that nothing should happen as happened on the previous occasion when lives were lost. I note the Greek Government has indicated that, in the case of ships wishing to travel to Gaza, it is prepared to have humanitarian aid delivered through Israel or Egypt. I have not had contact with anybody on board MV Saoirse and cannot confirm whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has been in touch with any member of the crew. I will inform the Deputy when I have contacted the Minister.
It was act of piracy by the Israeli authorities. The blockade of Gaza is completely illegal, as it is in breach of international law. It is a very serious matter. Thankfully, no one was hurt or killed owing to the diligence of the crew and the captain, a Waterford man, who examined the ship. I ask the Taoiseach to pursue the matter both in the interests of peace in the Middle East and also of those very courageous activists and ordinary citizens who have gone to make a stand in pursuing their cause.
I know many hold strong views and I have been contacted about the matter by many. The political establishment must make every effort to ensure peace talks recommence between Prime Minister Netanyahu and everyone else involved. In that regard, an agreed starting point for talks would be helpful. As I said to the Deputy on a previous occasion, I recall vividly my own visit to Gaza. I had discussions with Mr. John Ging who was in charge of the provision of humanitarian aid in Gaza at the time. The Deputy will know that the problem is complex and very serious. I note Prime Minister Papandreou's offer to have any humanitarian aid on ships leaving Greek ports to be delivered by the Greek authorities through Israel or Egypt. I hope nothing like what happened on the previous occasion will happen again.
A large majority of the people have great sympathy for and are in solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza who are suffering mass unemployment, the malnourishment of children and extreme penury as a result of the blockade by the Israel. If the Taoiseach knows this and says he knows what the situation is in Gaza as a result of his visit, why did he agree to such a gutless communiqué from the EU leaders' summit meeting on the flotilla to Gaza? Why did he agree to the inclusion of a mealy-mouthed sentence that put the onus on those trying to deliver aid to the people of Gaza by calling on them to desist as they would endanger lives? Who endangered lives? Who carried out a massacre the last time people tried to deliver aid to Gaza? Can the Taoiseach understand why Israel is encouraged in its imprisonment of the people of Gaza by this mealy-mouthed sentence from the EU leadership?
Why did the Taoiseach not call, in particular, for the Irish ship, delivering aid to the tune of more than €100,000 collected from a great number of Irish people, to be given the right to deliver aid to Gaza? How would he like it if people bringing goods to this country were forced by another power to deliver them through England, for example, which is what he is suggesting with regard to the proposal to deliver aid through Egypt? Why does the Taoiseach not shout from the rooftops that this is an illegal and immoral siege of the people of Gaza and should be ended forthwith?
It is a matter of politics. Last week the Deputy's word was "spineless". This week it is "gutless". He will have another adjective next week. I do not want to see any lives lost as a result of somebody with good intent attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza and finding a blockade. I hope what happened the last time will not happen again.
The Greek Government has made an offer, whereby any persons wishing to send humanitarian aid into Gaza can have it delivered by it through Israel or Egypt. If the intent is to provide humanitarian aid for the besieged and beleaguered people of Gaza, it is a perfectly legitimate and guaranteed way of seeing that it gets through in order for it to be effective for people who are in need of it. I spoke to the father of the caretaker of the American international school who was blown up when it was bombed. I met many of the people who are in desperate family situations. They need help.
On the political front, I hope these discussions can start again. In respect of humanitarian aid, there is a far better method of getting it through to people by accepting the offer of the Greek Government to have it delivered through Israel or Egypt with immediate beneficial effect for people, rather than persons with good intentions running a blockade where they will be turned back.
I tabled three separate questions and timing has become an issue. I asked the Taoiseach his plans for substantial bilateral meetings. Given the debt issue and the priority given to it by the Taoiseach, it is extraordinary and incredible that he has yet to have a substantial bilateral meeting with a eurozone leader. The programme he outlined in his reply is scant in terms of any substantive bilateral meetings with eurozone leaders on this issue. For the life of me I cannot understand why he will not meet President Sarkozy on the issue. Will he explain why there have not been any major domestic initiatives on his part despite his commitment? There clearly have not been any and there are none in train because he is not meeting leaders in substantive bilateral meetings.
On my question on the European Central bank, before Mario Draghi was named ECB president he specifically and forcefully rejected Ireland's wish to burn more bank bondholders. Did the Taoiseach raise this issue before he agreed to his appointment? If not, why not? He mentioned that he made a number of interventions at the Council last week but said nothing about the ECB. Does he accept that it needs to be reformed? If he does, why did he not table a question on the matter at a summit meeting?
Very serious questions need to be asked about Gaza and what happened to the MV Saoirse. Representatives of the Government should meet the crew members to get a first-hand account of what transpired. I have spoken to them. The most important point is that the Greek and Cypriot Governments offered routes into Gaza last year and were rejected. There is a principal political objection to public aid and the impact it is having on the peace situation and so on.
The Government has been lacking in terms of upholding fundamental rights of our citizens to protest, object and highlight the injustice of the blockade in the context of the suffering of the people of Gaza. It should be done in a peaceful way which does not provoke violence. We should not allow ourselves to be sucked into a debate in which it is argued that somebody who travels with a flotilla is somehow looking for trouble. That nuance is creeping into the debate. We must uphold the right of people to protest and highlight issues that are fundamentally wrong. That is what democracy is about. We must ensure their safety in protesting, as long as it a peaceful protest.
Nobody is denying the right of people to peaceful or legitimate protest. Nobody is denying people the opportunity to highlight what they consider an injustice. These things are all right and proper in any democracy. While we can understand the situation that arises in this case, it should not lead us to a point where people's lives are endangered. I hope that never happens.
The Tánaiste referred to following up on the incidents that occurred in respect of the MV Saoirse. I am sure in his responsibilities as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade he will deal with the issue during Question Time when the rota comes around. There is no question of not wanting to see that people have the right to protest and highlight what they consider to be injustices and concerns.
The interim situation in Egypt opened another crossing into Gaza some weeks ago which was of great interest to citizens who were unable to leave before then. These matters are of interest to us. I respect the concerns of many people about what has happened and what is happening in Gaza. In respect of humanitarian aid, the European Union is a major contributor. For those who wish to collect humanitarian aid with a view to having an immediate impact and expect it to be delivered by flotillas leaving Greek or other ports, the Greek authorities have said they will see to it that it is delivered through Israel and Egypt with immediate impact and benefit for the citizens of Gaza.