Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Other Questions (Resumed)
European Council Meetings
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide details of all documents he has tabled for consideration at the European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4754/12]
Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach if he sought a meeting or received an invitation to meet Chancellor Merkel prior to the EU Council meeting on 30 January 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4775/12]
Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the strategically important issues for Ireland in the context of the draft EU treaty that he will be outlining at the forthcoming EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4776/12]
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach if he intends to speak against the proposal to harmonise taxes; if he will outline his reservations about the common tax at the EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5168/12]
Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if he intends to request that there needs to be immediate reform of the European Central Bank at the EU Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5170/12]
Question 12: To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide a detailed report on the discussions around the Eurocompac intergovernmental treaty at the EU leaders' summit on 30 January 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5270/12]
Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach if he made any further progress on the Anglo Irish Bank promissory notes at the EU leaders' summit on 30 January 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5273/12]
Question 14: To ask the Taoiseach if the recent IMF warnings about the severity of the global crisis and Europe's pivotal role in the crisis were discussed at the EU leaders' summit on 30 January 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5274/12]
Question 15: To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide details on discussions at the EU leaders' summit on 30 January 2012 on creating jobs and growth in Europe; the measures agreed or proposed at the summit in that regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5275/12]
Question 16: To ask the Taoiseach the proposals that were included in the joint sponsored paper prepared for the EU Council on priority actions to complete the single market including the potential in the digital single market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6178/12]
Question 17: To ask the Taoiseach his views on his contribution to the joint sponsored paper on the necessity of an emphasis by the EU on the external dimension of the single market and its potential for growth. [6179/12]
Question 18: To ask the Taoiseach the proposals that were included in the joint sponsored paper on reducing regulatory burdens on small and medium businesses; if targets were set; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6180/12]
Question 19: To ask the Taoiseach the particular labour supports and suggestions on tackling youth unemployment that were included from Government in the joint sponsored papers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6181/12]
Question 20: To ask the Taoiseach the way the comprehensive review of national progress under the Europe 2020 strategy is being prepared; when it is expected to be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6183/12]
Question 29: To ask the Taoiseach if he plans to make contact with the Greek Prime Minister in the context of the worsening Greek crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8038/12]
Question 30: To ask the Taoiseach if he has held any bilateral meetings with any EU partner since the last EU Council meeting; if there are any bilaterals planned in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9360/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 30, inclusive, together.
I attended the informal European Council in Brussels on 30 January. As I have already made a statement to the House on the outcome of this meeting, I will confine myself to some brief remarks on its proceedings.
The discussion of growth was a lengthy and important one. With the March European Council meeting already the agreed forum for discussion of the European Semester, the focus was on immediate actions to help promote growth and create jobs in Europe, without compromising the fiscal consolidation required to ensure fiscal stability. Important measures were agreed in the three priority areas highlighted for discussion: unemployment, especially of young people; access to finance for small and medium enterprises; and the Single Market.
At President Van Rompuy's request, I set the scene for our discussions on SMEs, focusing on what we in Ireland have been doing. I made reference to two key concerns - ensuring access to finance and reducing red tape - that must be addressed if SMEs, the engines of economic recovery, are to be able to fulfil their potential. I highlighted some of the key steps that are being taken in Ireland, including through the now published Action Plan for Jobs 2012. I described some of the targeted measures we have taken, including the reduction in VAT on tourism services, the cut in PRSI for employers of low earners and the reform of our bankruptcy laws. I also pointed to our encouragement of new and innovative companies, including through ensuring that small and medium enterprises can access research and development funding and providing a sales and marketing tax credit to companies exporting to new markets in emerging economies. I suggested that we should seek to learn from each other - on what works and what does not - by exchange of best practice and that we should return to the discussion in June. This is reflected in the statement adopted at the meeting.
As I have indicated to the House, Ireland co-sponsored two papers in advance of the meeting which addressed important national concerns. These included the following: priority actions to complete the Single Market, including in particular the significant potential we believe exists in the area of the digital Single Market; the further reduction of regulatory burdens on the SME sector; the better targeting of labour market supports, including a new focus on youth unemployment; and a stronger emphasis on the external dimension of the Single Market and the growth potential of third country trade. These were an important input to the text that was eventually agreed. Both papers have been laid before the House. As is usual, we also contributed drafting suggestions on the statement on growth and jobs, both ahead of and at the meeting.
Reaching agreement on the new treaty at the informal European Council was another important milestone. While much, if not most, of the treaty is already provided for in the EU treaties and EU law, it takes this onto a new level in ensuring that everyone will play by the rules and be held to account if they do not. This is an important consideration for Ireland.
As to whether a referendum will be required, my answer remains the same. Following the Government meeting earlier this month, the Tánaiste wrote to the Attorney General formally seeking her advice on whether a referendum will be required to allow Ireland ratify the new treaty. As the House is aware, the Attorney General is studying the legal implications carefully and will deliver her advice in due course. Once her advice is received, the Government will consider it carefully and will take whatever decisions are necessary. If a referendum is required, one will be held.
It is important that we place the new treaty in the right context. It is a part of the jigsaw, not the full answer. We need to continue to focus on growth and jobs, and we need to ensure that we have convincing and robust firewalls in place.
The informal European Council was the first contact I had with President Sarkozy since 9 December. Ahead of last month's meeting, I spoke with a great many colleagues, in person and on the phone, including the Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Austrian, Spanish and Italian Prime Ministers. The Tánaiste also spoke with many of his colleagues, including Deputy Prime Minister Clegg.
In these conversations, I identified Ireland's priorities for the meeting, including an agreement on the new treaty that fully protected Irish interests and ensuring a full and meaningful discussion on growth and jobs. Both of these objectives were fully secured. I did not raise the question of the Anglo promissory note at the meeting – it was not the right forum in which to do so. As the House is aware, discussions are continuing at technical level on how the Irish programme can be improved to assist in the sustainability of our debt, including in discussions with the troika. The role of the European Central Bank did not feature in discussions at the informal European Council. As I outlined earlier, this informal meeting had a particular focus on two issues: the new treaty and the question of growth and jobs. The question of corporation tax and the Commission's proposal for a common consolidated corporate tax base also did not arise.
As the House is aware, I met with Chancellor Merkel ahead of the December European Council meeting. Ahead of the meeting of the European Council on 1-2 March I will travel to Berlin on Thursday for a working dinner with Chancellor Merkel and the Prime Ministers of Latvia and the Czech Republic. The following morning I will meet with Prime Minister Monti in Rome. I have no immediate plans to meet with Prime Minister Papademos; however, I will of course see him at next week's European Council meeting.
The Cabinet Committee on European Affairs has met on two occasions since it was established, on 10 November 2011 and on 19 January 2012. I chaired both of these meetings. The Cabinet committee will be meeting on an increasingly regular basis in the course of this year as the Irish Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers approaches.
Ireland fully supports the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy. The emphasis of the European Semester on strengthening the alignment between budgetary priorities and structural reforms is the right one. It is consistent with the direction we have set for ourselves in this country and complementary to the programme for Government.
Ireland submitted its national reform programme to the European Commission in April last year. As part of the 2012 European Semester, the Government will update the European Commission on progress by 13 April. Countries that, like Ireland, are participating in an EU-IMF programme, are not required to prepare a full national reform programme and a stability or convergence programme for submission in April. That is because the extent of the monitoring and reporting already taking place through the quarterly reviews is seen as rigorous and largely sufficient. However, we will, nonetheless, be preparing a review of national progress under the Europe 2020 strategy for submission. My Department is co-ordinating this process and work is underway at official level in close co-operation with the other Government Departments that have lead responsibility for the various policy areas.
I fully expect to adhere to the timeline set out by the Commission and look forward to engaging constructively in the second European Semester process.
Four Deputies are grouped for this set of questions. With your co-operation, I suggest we have one round of preliminary questions, with perhaps two supplementaries. We can then come back. Is that agreed?
Yes. I have some 13 or 14 questions in this group. The handling of these questions is a very good example of the way the Taoiseach has undermined his own accountability to the House. Many of these questions were put down well in advance of the summit but they were not taken due to the halving of the number of sessions of questions to the Taoiseach - we normally had two a week but that has been reduced to one a week, with a consequent impact. The Chief Whip promised that a review of July's changes would be held in December and I ask that we have that review.
Following the summit, the Taoiseach and others spoke about how jobs and growth were going to receive a big boost from the agreements. In reality, I think he would agree, the projections and ratings for the eurozone have declined further since the summit. The reason I asked whether the role of the ECB was discussed, whether the CCCTB was discussed and whether the Taoiseach used the opportunity to put Ireland's position in regard to corporation tax and CCCTB, is that we need to have that debate at these meetings. Does the Taoiseach not agree that the leaders, particularly President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel, need to know there are alternatives to the particular narrow approach they are taking to resolving the eurozone debt crisis? It is not all about austerity and it should not all be just about the narrow pitch of fiscal rules and fiscal compliance. There is a broader picture.
Let us be clear. Among both leaders there is a strong Franco-German push for harmonisation of taxes. In December, they explicitly stated that the new eurozone meetings would enhance the co-operation measures on taxes. That is why I asked the questions. I am surprised the Taoiseach said he did not discuss or raise this at the summit. He should take every opportunity at these meetings to say that Ireland does not support CCCTB and does not support harmonised corporation tax rates because to do so would harm and hinder our recovery from the crisis and our pathway to growth and jobs, and would have a very negative impact.
Will the Taoiseach explain why he did not take the opportunity at the last summit to broaden the debate in terms of a true fiscal union and broadening the role of the European Central Bank to give it the powers to enable it to deal adequately with the crisis? I find it astounding these issues were not raised at that meeting because, ultimately, that is what has to happen. It is strange that these meetings take place and issues that are being discussed everywhere else by analysts and in writings and articles do not get ventilated or articulated at key meetings that decide the destiny and future of the eurozone itself. That is the first major question I want to put in terms of the taxes issue and broadening the debate from the narrow debate we have had so far on resolving the eurozone crisis.
There are 30 questions and, to be fair, quite a number of them are in the name of Deputy Martin. The point should be made that the questions are actually more pertinent now than they were earlier because there is the agreed text from 25 of the 27 countries in respect of the fiscal compact and the new treaty.
Several of these issues could have been dealt with by way of written question if the Deputy required answers before now.
The discussion that took place at the last meeting followed intensive discussions after Christmas by officials of all the member states and focused on various wordings, texts and so on. The Irish focus in this was to protect our national interest in the context of the new treaty. There was no discussion regarding the European Central Bank, Ireland's corporate tax rate or a common consolidated corporate tax base. These matters were not raised by any of the 27 countries represented, 25 of which were working on the wording of the treaty. The reason for this is clear, namely, that these issues are not relevant in so far as the new treaty is concerned. The focus of the meeting was to define the parameters of the fiscal treaty and compact and to find forms of wordings that would progress our objective, which is the development of the European Union, the eurozone, the potential of the Single Market and so on.
President Sarkozy has his own view on taxation matters, as does every other leader. There is a variety of views on these issues across the Union. Several countries are very much opposed to fiscal transaction taxes. Some completely oppose a common consolidated corporate tax base. Others want to see changes in taxation measures. What I see happening here, at last, is that the political heads of the various countries have come together and found agreement in respect of a text, which has now been approved by 25 of them. The European Council of Finance Ministers has been discussing the situation in Greece for the past 24 hours. I welcome the fact that an opportunity now exists to move on from that.
To reiterate, the informal meeting was strictly about the fiscal compact and treaty.
No, because it was not necessary. The role of the ECB is not part of this treaty. The issue of the corporate tax rate is not part of the treaty. Nor is the question of a common consolidated corporate tax base part of it. My view is that there can now be a focus on the role, responsibility and future remit of the ECB by the political process, having secured agreement in respect of the wording of the fiscal compact treaty. The measures in respect of Greece are being signed off on by both the politicians in Greece and the Ministers for Finance of the other member states.
We must now move on to the agenda put forward by Ireland and several other countries, which relates to issues in respect of the European Union, the eurozone and its future. In speaking last week about the place of Ireland and Europe in the world, the former United States President, Bill Clinton, made the point that there are 500 million consumers in the European Union. He also observed that some of the countries experiencing the fastest rates of growth in the world are in Africa and that there are another 500 million people on the periphery of the European Union. Both Europe and Ireland are very good launching pads for exports into many of these countries. Mr. Clinton's analysis was that we should not confine ourselves to a market of 500 million and that there is far greater potential for us.
The reason the issues to which the Deputy referred were not raised by any Head of Government is that they are not relevant to the treaty. The question of the European Central Bank, its role and responsibility, can now be focused on in a different way. Mr. Draghi has made------
It is not relevant to this discussion. Of course the ECB is absolutely central to the future of Europe. Mr. Draghi, as successor to Mr. Trichet, has made changes in the direction and remit of the ECB which have been very welcome in relieving pressure on banks by making unlimited amounts of low-interest moneys available to them. Deputy Martin and I have discussed the question of the adequacy of firewalls and the relationship between the ECB and the European Financial Stability Facility and European Stability Mechanism. These are matters for political discussion from here on, but they were not and are not part of the discussion in respect of the wording to be agreed or not agreed in respect of the fiscal compact. That is why they were not discussed.
The Taoiseach has made an extraordinary statement in saying that the European Central Bank is not an issue in so far as this treaty is concerned. In fact, the ECB is at the heart of all of these issues. Much of the critical analysis of the treaty is that it is the wrong treaty for the wrong problem and will not in itself provide a solution. It is a political response to domestic political concerns and is being driven by the German and French leaders. Is it not time that other leaders, including the Taoiseach, broadened the debate and made these points honestly and in an upfront manner at Council meetings in order to get a robust debate going in terms of what is required to resolve the broader crisis over time? It is not enough simply to follow the leaders in this matter. The Minister for Social Protection, who is sitting alongside the Taoiseach, made the point in Brussels in recent days that it is transparent to the public at large that "Merkozy", as Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy have been labelled, is driving this agenda. Reform of the European Central Bank, including broadening its mandate, is central to the broader reform process. We should take every opportunity, including summits, to articulate that.
I understand this summit was the first occasion on which the Taoiseach had spoken to President Sarkozy since 9 December 2011. Is there an issue between him and the French President in terms of meeting? I understand there was an attempt to organise a bilateral meeting and that an open invitation was given to the Taoiseach, which has not been taken up. It is time to go and meet President Sarkozy and give him our position. French intentions in regard to the tax issue have not gone away. Mr. Hollande, leader of the French Socialist Party, wants the treaty renegotiated in its entirety, while the current Prime Minister believes it should be subject to a referendum in France. It would be interesting from our perspective to get a sense of President Sarkozy's perspective on all of that.
The informal meeting took place on 30 January. There is no issue between me and President Sarkozy. The last contact I had with him was when he hit me a tap on the shoulder, in response to which Deputy Gerry Adams said I should not be buddying up to the French President on such matters. I have spoken to the French ambassador about a meeting. It is a matter of finding an opportunity to talk to the President in France. That difficulty is compounded by the election process in which he has declared himself to be a candidate. In that context, such a meeting might not be appropriate.
I support the communautaire method very strongly, as does Deputy Martin. I have made the point to him on many occasions that I would prefer to see this process based on the communautaire method. There was a sense of frustration here - to a great extent on the part of some people - that all of these bilateral meetings should take place. I do not object to bilateral meetings, but this is about the communautaire method on which the European Union was founded, about co-operation, support and solidarity.
Of course the ECB is central to that broader process, but it was not central to the discussions about the wording of the treaty and the fiscal compact. I made the point at several of the Council meetings prior to the one at the end of January that in respect of the ECB, this should be the end or back stop in terms of the capacity to provide sufficient financial firewalls. That was supported by several member states but was an issue for comment and discussion rather for decision. The question of broadening out the debate was raised at the meetings prior to that at the end of January. That is why the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, accepted the premise that growth and jobs should be central to the agenda. It broadened out beyond that when the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, produced a paper, as did I, the Austrian Chancellor and several others. That discussion will continue. For instance, the issue of youth unemployment was raised. Youth unemployment in Spain stands at 50% and in Ireland at 29%. The figures differ depending on the particular circumstances of each country.
I have made it clear that this treaty is not a solution to Europe's problems, rather it is part of the process of arriving at a solution. Fianna Fáil supports fiscal discipline, properly run budgets and having the country's financial affairs in order, which is where we must go. Clearly, the challenges for us are in respect of our own public finances and dealing with the technicalities on the promissory note, which would ease Ireland's position in respect of its deficit and capacity to repay its debts. We are working on that.
As the Deputy correctly pointed out, we need to broaden the debate on issues such as how we are to ensure the European Union lives up to its potential and the future response of the Central Bank now that politicians in Greece and the ECOFIN Ministers have signed off on the deal for Greece, which presents us with a new opportunity for the future. These are issues on which I would welcome the Deputy's comments. The Deputy can take it that the debate will be broader and more focused on the future.
It was pointed out to me the other day that by the early 2020s, approximately 500,000 engineers will be required in the European Union. We should be focusing on what it is this country can do to play its part in providing answers to the economic challenges coming at us.
I wish to raise a number of issues with the Taoiseach but will focus for now on the issue of the referendum. The Taoiseach stated once again in his response that he is waiting for word from the Attorney General on whether there should be a referendum on the new fiscal treaty. There is a matter of democratic principle involved here. It is likely this treaty, which will have long-standing and profound effects, will be the most important the Government will sign up to during its term or terms in office. This treaty will introduce a regime of austerity and will, contrary to the Taoiseach's assertion that he wants to take back our economic sovereignty, centralise that with unelected officials at the heart of the two-tier European Union. In that context, it is essential that citizens have their say on this issue.
It is clear that this Government does not want to hold a referendum. If it did, one would be held. The Government is using the Attorney General as a shield. Will the Taoiseach concede that the people should have their say on a matter of this importance? While it should not be within his power to prevent this, he clearly intends to do so. When does the Taoiseach expect to receive word from the Attorney General on whether a referendum will be held? The Attorney General has a public interest mandate. Is it not in the public interest that we all know her advice? Will the Taoiseach share with this Chamber the exact proposition which is provided to him by the Attorney General?
Deputy Adams and his party, Sinn Féin, have a particular view of Europe, which is their own business. As I said to Deputy Martin on many occasions, we will not develop this country, the European Union or eurozone by following austerity programmes. This must be balanced with a demand structure which allows growth of an economy in terms of jobs and opportunities, such as those welcomed by Deputy Adams in Dundalk today.
The Government is committed to putting two referenda to the people, namely, the referendum on child protection and on abolition of the Seanad. The Deputy will be aware that for either to happen, constitutional change is required. The Attorney General has been asked to consider the wording of the treaty which has been accepted by 25 of 27 countries, including Ireland. She must consider if that wording is in compliance with Bunreacht na hÉireann and, therefore, European Union treaties and legal obligations. From that point of view, the Government awaits the Attorney General's advice. As regards when she will provide that advice, while I have not pressurised her or asked for a timeframe - the Deputy will be aware it is not my place to do so - I expect it will be presented in two to three weeks. I cannot answer for the Attorney General. When I have been formally advised of the Attorney General's advice, I will of course make it known to the House and the country. It is in everyone's interest that I do so. That is the position. We have always followed such a process in this country. Where a change of competency in the context of Europe is required, it is normal to seek the advice of the Attorney General, following which the Government makes it decision. I have made clear that following the Attorney General's advice, the Government will act accordingly.
I am not surprised by the Taoiseach's response. However, I am disappointed. There is a democratic principle involved here. The Taoiseach's party, Fine Gael, also has a view of the European Union. One of the reasons we are in the fix we are in is because Fine Gael, and the other main party in Government, played fast and loose with the people's democratic entitlements in re-running referendums when the results did not suit.
I tabled eight questions to the Taoiseach. I note from his one line response to my question on the promissory note that he did not raise that issue at the summit. The Taoiseach was, however, at pains to highlight the assertion that the Government is working with the troika on the Anglo Irish Bank promissory note. I heard on the news this morning that a deal in respect of a second bailout for Greece was agreed at last night's meeting of Finance Ministers. I also heard the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, say that he did not raise the issue of the promissory note either.
Has the Taoiseach ever raised the issue of unsustainable bank debt at the European Council meeting? I do not know how this Government proposes to get a deal when it continues to tell us it has not sought debt restructuring, that Ireland will repay its debt and so on. This is continually said on the record prior to summit meetings. If I understood him correctly, the Taoiseach stated that technical negotiations are continuing. Can he give the House an update in that regard and on when those negotiations are likely to conclude? Is it still the Government's intention to pay €3.1 billion to Anglo Irish Bank at the end of March?
As stated on a number of occasions, I do not like that we have to pay out that money. The Deputy spoke about democratic principles. The Government adheres to those democratic principles. The question of requirement for a referendum is clear. It is a democratic principle that people expect effective spend for their money. The Government, because the airgead is not as flúirseach as it was in the past, found itself in the position of having to decide whether or not to contribute to the A5 to Letterkenny. Consequently, the Government made a decision to invest €50 million in 2015 and 2016. While people in other parts of the country might disagree with that decision, it is possible for the Government to do this without holding a referendum. One could hold a referendum on the democratic principle of whether it is worth spending €50 million on, for example, a major carriageway to Letterkenny. It is worth spending, but others might disagree and there is a democratic principle, too. In the case of this referendum question, the Government sent the wording to the Attorney General to ask for her formal legal advice on it. The Government will act on that advice and I hope it will not be too long before she provides her response.
The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, attended the meeting in Brussels yesterday, which went on for 14 or 15 hours. The question on the table was not about the promissory note for Ireland but was whether is was possible to deal with the additional details regarding the proposal to give a further €130 billion to Greece. Consequently, there was no point in the Minister of State raising the issue of the promissory note during the meeting last night which was devoted exclusively to the situation in Greece. The reason it was not necessary to raise was the troika was working on the technicalities of the issue.
Deputy Gerry Adams should believe me when I tell him I have heard some explanations from experts in this field that there are quite a number of highly complex and convoluted systems therein that must be brought into line before there is clarity and a decision can be arrived at. I can only tell him that when the troika concludes its paper, it will have the status of a troika paper. The Government looks forward to receiving it and obviously I hope Ireland can derive some benefit as a consequence. Ireland and taxpayers have already been the recipients of a saving of approximately €10 billion on foot of the interest rate reduction, which is a significant amount of money and of benefit to us. The question of the promissory note is being pursued. The current reflections on the consequence of the decision made in respect of the situation in Greece are important and the Government looks forward to continuing to engage with the troika in so far as further flexibility for Ireland is concerned.
My questions are related to whether there was any discussion at the Council meeting in January on the impact of the austerity programme on the potential for growth in the economy, on what it had done to the Greek economy and on what, according to all the mounting evidence, it was doing to the entire European economy. The Taoiseach may have seen an article by the economist Paul Krugman in today's edition of The Irish Times in which he has yet again pleaded with political leaders across Europe to break with what he describes as the "destructive folly" of austerity and calls "delusional beliefs about the virtues of austerity". He is right, of course, because each week the evidence mounts and new figures confirm that austerity is crippling the European economy. Austerity, not the behaviour of the Greek people, has destroyed the Greek economy and all the evidence is mounting that it will destroy the Irish economy.
I specifically ask the Taoiseach whether he took the time at the Council meeting in January or more recently to talk to the Greek Prime Minister. The Taoiseach has made a virtue of stating how different Ireland is from Greece. I happened to attend an event organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions this morning on community employment and the devastating consequences of cuts, at which it was pointed out that the level of poverty in Ireland had risen fast and child poverty faster again but that the level of both had risen faster than in Greece. The increase in the incidence of suicide in Ireland is on a par with that in Greece. What has happened in Greece in the past year is absolutely shocking, in that its suicide rate has doubled and all the health professionals there and everyone who has examined this issue has stated this is as a direct result of the austerity to pay off bankers and bondholders. Moreover, Ireland has seen a similar dramatic increase in the level of suicide and no one in his or her right mind is unaware of the connection between this increase and austerity.
I also ask the Taoiseach about job creation. At the presentation I attended this morning organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions its report confirmed that, according to the Government's own figures, the level of employment in the community and voluntary sector would drop from 48,000 when the Administration came into power to 36,000 in this vital sector that provides a range of services, including child care, health care and sports services. The level of employment will fall as a direct result of the cuts the Government is imposing. How can it talk about this or how can leaders in Europe at summit meetings talk about their concern about the level of youth unemployment which, as the Taoiseach has pointed out, is running at 29% and then implement austerity measures that will lead to a reduction of 12,000 in the number who work in the voluntary and community sectors over the term of the Government? Moreover, this only pertains to a single sector.
It is clear at every level that this does not make sense. I ask the Taoiseach whether there is any cognisance or awareness, either within the Government or at summit meetings of European Union leaders, of what all economists are saying and what each set of statistics confirms, that austerity is not just causing immense suffering but, in terms of all its stated objectives, is also failing? It is contracting growth, increasing the level of unemployment and making matters worse. At what point will this issue be discussed or will it just be left to the pages of the Financial Times and Nobel Prize winning economists to point this out? Will the policy leaders in Europe discuss it at any point? Moreover, what are they going to do about it when everything they do and each decision they make is making matters worse? Furthermore, agreeing to a treaty that will institutionalise austerity which has failed for three years for at least another seven or eight simply defies belief. The Taoiseach should indicate whether there was any serious discussion of this issue.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett should travel to Westport and ask the people there what they think about the decision of Alllergan Pharmaceuticals to invest €350 million in a new plant, with the associated construction jobs, as well as the opportunity to create several hundred more. He should visit the Shell site, where he would be very welcome, and consider the additional €800 million that will be invested in the project to build a tunnel under the bay that will employ 1,500 people and supply gas for the next 25 years. He should ask people there what they think about it.
As for the austerity programme, the way the Deputy goes on he would talk Hell out of its own fire. He would swear there was nothing happening in this country in respect of people wanting to create employment or having the opportunity to create it or to go out to work. The Deputy and his likes want things to be confined in the structures we have had for years but which must change to give young people freedom, liberty and the opportunity to have employment. He speaks about lower paid workers, but the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has 23,000 employed in community employment schemes, with no reduction, as well as 1,400 supervisors. Moreover, this week the Government will launch the new document on pathways to work that will deal with those who are on the live register or in receipt of social assistance in offering new opportunities to engage in retraining to enter the world of work and pursue new careers. However, the Deputy rants on about austerity, austerity, austerity. He would not know a good day for this constituency if he saw one.
Does the Taoiseach accept what health professionals in Greece and Ireland are stating, namely, that austerity has led to a dramatic increase in suicide rates? Is the Taoiseach stating that there is no connection and that it is just a coincidence? Is he saying that a reduction of 12,000 in numbers in the community and voluntary sector, as a result of the cuts introduced by the Government, represents job creation? Will this be of assistance in resolving the problem of youth unemployment or will it instead do immense damage? I am not surprised that a Fine Gael Taoiseach would dismiss the points I am making. However, I am actually shocked that the Minister, Deputy Burton, is nodding in agreement, particularly when the ICTU has referred to a massacre in respect of community and voluntary services and has highlighted the damage being done to our most disadvantaged communities.
Is the Taoiseach seriously disputing the fact that there has been a dramatic and accelerating contraction in growth across the European economy as a result of the imposition of austerity measures? Surely he is not denying the existence of such a contraction. If he is, then I put it to him that what Paul Krugman referred to as delusional beliefs about the virtues of austerity are truly rife in this House. Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate whether there is a connection between suicide and the austerity that is being imposed in Greece and Ireland? Does it concern him that the rates of poverty and child poverty in this country are increasing faster than is the case in Greece?
It is a fact. The Minister should read the evidence in this regard in the ICTU's report. If she had attended the launch, she would already have seen the evidence to which I refer. What does the Taoiseach have to say with regard to the rate of child poverty here being ahead of that which obtains in Greece?
I am not going to take any lectures on suicide from Deputy Boyd Barrett. Long before the Deputy became a Member of this House, week after week from the Opposition benches Deputy Neville raised the question of suicide, its impact on people throughout the country and the absolute devastation it visits upon families. It is beneath Deputy Boyd Barrett to attempt to lecture Members as if he knows everything about the subject of suicide.
Everybody in the House has an understanding of what is happening, as do young people. The issue of suicide relates to the days when the veneer of everlasting wealth obtained during the Celtic tiger era. We know all about that matter.
I am glad to point out that this Government actually appointed a Minister of State with specific responsibility for mental health and that it has allocated €30 million in funds which are ring-fenced. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will do a very good job with her brief in so far as is possible.
Mr. Krugman is much more capable and learned than I. When he refers to austerity, however, he also states that it is necessary to foster growth and create job opportunities in order to develop the economy. That is what the Government is doing. We changed the emphasis - even with the constraints that have been placed upon us - in both the budget and in the Finance Bill in order that entrepreneurs and those who want to invest money and create jobs will provide opportunities for young people.
The Deputy listened to Mr. Krugman but I do not know if he has listened to the words of the former President of the US and those of chief executives of US companies which have invested in this country. They recognise that the package which this country has to offer in the context of tax, technology, talent and track record is unbeatable. What we have to do-----
-----is harness these constituent parts and say to young people that this is their country and that the Government will provide them with the opportunity and the platform to live here, if that is what they wish to do.
Deputy Boyd Barrett's philosophy of austerity, austerity, austerity will continue to force people down into the trenches of disillusionment out of which he has emerged. In those trenches, people do nothing and pay for nothing and they expect everyone else to provide for them. The Deputy never created a job in his life and he does not know what a day's work constitutes.
-----in repeating, almost word for word, the responses of former Fianna Fáil Ministers, when they were in power, to questions from Deputy Burton, allegedly the current Minister for Social Protection? It would be a pantomime if the issues were not so serious.
The Taoiseach did not deal with the substantive issue. How can the Government support the deal agreed by EU Finance Ministers last night in respect of Greece when it is clear that said deal will not solve the critical issue of indebtedness in the peripheral countries, so-called, of the European Union? Is the Taoiseach aware of what will be the extent of the consequences for the Greek people of the endless years of austerity to which this deal - on which the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, signed off - will give rise? The number of hospital beds in Greece has already been cut by 30% and will now be reduced by a further 20%. In economic terms, pensioners and workers in that country are being crushed by the burden of austerity being imposed on them. Teachers and parents in Athens have reported that children are fainting in classrooms as a result of hunger.
I will, however, provide one. Deputy Higgins represents a constituency in Dublin and he comes from the noble county of Kerry. It should be within him to say that in Blanchardstown in his constituency, PayPal employs 1,400 people. I am glad that today the same company announced 1,000 further jobs for Dundalk. The Deputy does not have it in him to welcome that.
Deputy Adams was gracious enough to state that this a good day for County Louth and for Dundalk. However, Deputy Higgins does not even recognise the fact that 1,400 people receive cheques for the work they do for PayPal.
There are 23,000 on community employment schemes and there are 1,400 supervisors for those schemes. What Mr. Krugman was referring to is what the Government is seeking to do, namely, making the changes that will allow for credit to flow to business in order that the latter might create jobs. People will then be able to work and live in their own communities and the economy will grow. The Chinese Vice President visited Ireland to discuss opportunities for Irish companies. If Deputy Higgins had bothered to be present at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham yesterday and had spoken to some of the companies represented there which want to export goods, create jobs and grow the economy, he might have learned a thing or two about reality.
We all appreciate the stress and pressure with which those in financial difficulty must contend. However, the situation of these people will never change unless the economy expands. That is why the Government is making decisions in respect of jobs and bringing forward proposals designed to open the doors of business in order that Ireland might export more goods, generate further income and create additional jobs. That is where the future lies. If Deputy Higgins does not want to recognise this, and wants to wallow in the mists of disillusionment from which he emerges very occasionally, I might say we have a very different view over here. We will do everything we can as a Government to provide opportunities for many thousands more young people like those who go to work every day in the constituency of Deputy Higgins, and are very grateful to do so and do a wonderful job. There will be a parallel 1,000 jobs in Dundalk. Deputy Higgins cannot even recognise that this in itself is a step in the right direction. We have many more thousands to employ and much work to do but the type of suggestions Deputy Higgins makes certainly do not help.
Will the Taoiseach recognise that I value every job? However, his over-reliance on foreign multinationals to create jobs - it is virtually his only policy - does not provide sustainability of jobs, in the medium to long term in particular. Just as they walk in, they can walk away. The Taoiseach had not much to say when TalkTalk left with 500 or 600 unemployed workers in its wake.
Does the Taoiseach not recognise how ludicrous it is? A serious issue is raised, which is debated in the serious financial press, on the effects of austerity on the economy and on people's lives and how it depresses the real economy, but the Government will not address these questions honestly and comes out with abuse and sidestepping. Will the Taoiseach realise and understand that while he is trying to entice foreign investment, he is crushing the domestic economy by taking billions from the pockets of ordinary working people with the austerity policy? Does the Taoiseach not realise this?
Will the Taoiseach explain why in the letter he goes along with these right-wing economic leaders in favour of far more deregulation and liberalisation, which is precisely what caused the massive crisis in the financial world and the markets?
In the letter the Taoiseach states that banks and not taxpayers should be responsible for the risks they take. If he states this in a letter why is he not implementing it instead of bailing out these very banks at huge cost to our people?
The 350 firms at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham in Dublin yesterday were all small Irish indigenous companies, with the exception of a few. They are the backbone of the economy and they were there to meet business interests from China with a view to doing business in that country and exporting from Ireland to China. This was occasioned by Enterprise Ireland, which structured dialogues and conversations between many companies. Many of them are based in Blanchardstown. They are small operators which employ small numbers of people and which want to expand. It would be very good for Deputy Higgins to call to these businesses and speak to them about how they might grow their workforces in Blanchardstown in his constituency.
However, he wants to ignore this type of thing.
As Deputy Higgins knows, a job can transform a life and give a person a new sense of dignity, a new challenge and excitement about living and playing one's part in contributing to the local economy. The loss of TalkTalk in Waterford was devastating for many people. It may not create as many jobs, but it has been replaced by an Irish company which will do a very good job employing people in Waterford. This is the type of opportunity we need to take, and we need to change the rules and regulations which restrict small business from expanding. This is why we appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for small business to deal with this. Last week, we launched the jobs action programme, the implementation of which will be overseen by the Department of the Taoiseach.
I do not mind having regular conversations about this with Deputy Higgins. Some day he might actually come in with a good proposition. If he does, he can be sure the Government will listen to it, and if it is worthy of being acted upon, it will be. Our priority is to grow opportunities for small and medium enterprises in order that they can grow local economies and employ local people and give them the chance to live and work in their own areas. This was the purpose of 350 businesses coming to the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham yesterday to speak to their counterparts about opportunities, about which they are excited, to grow and export and, as a consequence, to increase our economy. I am sure this is where Deputy Higgins's focus is in reality.
One of the central reasons we are a member of the eurozone, and one of its great benefits to us, is because we are an exporting country. We depend on exporting goods and services to markets abroad. I welcome the announcements on PayPal and Allergan because they bear out what has been a very successful and effective industrial strategy for the past decade. It was not today or yesterday that companies such as these began investing in Ireland. There is a research and development dimension and it underlines the importance of us raising the issue of the low corporate tax rate at every European Council meeting we possibly can. I am disappointed the Taoiseach did not take the opportunity at recent meetings to hammer home this point, particularly to the French and German leadership. This is also the case with the common consolidated corporation tax base, CCCTB, because the Department of Finance has illustrated the impact of the CCCTB would be devastating to our foreign direct investment. We need to have a debate on this.
The Taoiseach described Deputy Boyd Barrett's contribution as a rant. I am delighted the Taoiseach is now beginning to see the glass as half full as opposed to half empty. There was a time 12 months ago when he would probably have said something very similar to what Deputy Boyd Barrett said.
The debate is on the issue of austerity. I agree with the need to balance and get revenue and expenditure in line. However, the real issue is why I asked whether the Taoiseach has raised the issue of broadening the role of the European Central Bank at these meetings and the need for fiscal union in its truest sense, not a narrow fiscal balance agenda but a fiscal union which means a transfer of funds from some states to others. This is the definition of a true fiscal union.
Regrettably, European leaders have failed over the past 15 months to deal with the core issue that could move us onto the definitive route to resolution. Last night's Greek deal does not do this. If anything it just copperfastens the role of Greece as the driver of uncertainty in the eurozone. My concern about last night's deal is its sustainability because Greece will end up at approximately 120% in its best case scenario, which is even worse than any of our worst case scenarios. The issue is that of sustainability. Stimulus is needed, but only Europe has the wherewithal to create this type of stimulus and bring resources to create jobs throughout the eurozone.
I want to return to the issue of the referendum. When I put it to the Taoiseach that it involves a democratic principle, given the depth and extremity of the austerity treaty, the Taoiseach stated the Government made a decision and then cited the Government's decision on the dual-carriageway to Letterkenny. He stated some people might think this was an issue which required a referendum, but the Government's decision is as it is and a referendum is not appropriate. Explicit in this answer is that the Taoiseach does not think a referendum is appropriate for the austerity treaty.
If the Taoiseach stood up and stated this, people would know the situation and would respect him for taking this position. The Taoiseach states he will act on the advice of the Attorney General but that is making a virtue out of a necessity because he cannot do otherwise. Would it not be much better, in terms of the empowerment of people, the democratic entitlements of citizens and the wish of this Government to do the right thing by giving citizens their say, for the Taoiseach to declare there should and will be a referendum on this issue?
-----that as an industrial development authority it has been a worldwide success in the way it regulates its affairs with potential inward investors. I have commended it for what it has done throughout the years. I agree the fundamental point is about jobs and growth. We have gone beyond this being simply part of other discussions. It will be a fixed issue for discussion at every European Council meeting.
The first half of that meeting's agenda was taken up with jobs and the growth of small and medium enterprises and that will continue.
The decision taken by the politicians in Greece and the ECOFIN Ministers demonstrates that although the situation is challenging Greece continues to be a worthy and important part of the European Union, which is as we want it.
Regarding Deputy Adams's final question, this is not a formal EU treaty but one made by 25 countries that have agreed a wording. The question being asked of the Attorney General is in respect of competencies, if there is a requirement in that regard and if there is a change in competency that warrants a change in our Constitution. The political process does not answer that because it requires the formal legal advice of the Attorney General. In that regard, the situation is very different to the one I raised with the Deputy about the A5, which I strongly support and made that decision at Government level. In that case it was not necessary to change our Constitution and have a referendum. In regard to European competencies, if it is necessary to change our Constitution there must be a referendum and that is why the Attorney General has been asked for her advice. Government will respond to that when it emerges. I do not expect it will be long before she gives that advice and when she does we will inform the House and the country.