Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach if he has had any contact with politicians in the United States of America in relation to a full public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12195/12]
Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach if he highlighted the need for an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane during his recent visit to the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12196/12]
Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the meetings he attended in Chicago, USA; the groups that he met; the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16197/12]
Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach if he had meetings with those who attended the New York Stock Exchange with him on 19 March 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16198/12]
Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach the issues he raised with the US President at their recent meeting; the responses he received from the President; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16432/12]
Question 9: To ask the Taoiseach if he will give details of his main achievements on his recent visit to the US and meetings with the US President and others during the visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16433/12]
Question 10: To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the Eurozone crisis and the slow down in growth in the European economy with the US President at their recent meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16434/12]
Question 11: To ask the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the recent massacre by US troops of 16 Afghan civilians during his recent meeting with President Obama; and if so, the response he received from the President on this matter. [16435/12]
Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach the other Irish businessmen and individuals that were also present during his recent visit to the US stock exchange; the basis on which they were selected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16437/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 17, inclusive, together.
I visited the United States from 15 to 21 March for the annual St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Chicago, New York and Washington DC. As the Deputy is aware, I made two previous visits to the United States in February of this year, the first to participate in the Invest in Ireland Roundtable event hosted by President Clinton in New York and the second again to New York when I also visited Boston. These visits were aimed at getting the message across to corporate America and its business leaders that now is the right time to invest in Ireland's recovery.
The importance of these visits, in terms of our economic recovery and the delivery of foreign direct investment to Ireland over the coming period from US companies already located here that are considering further investment and companies considering investing in Ireland for the first time, cannot be over-estimated. I used the opportunity of my visit to Washington DC to meet with President Obama in the White House and to also make further contacts with key business figures and other political leaders in the United States, reinforcing the message that now is an excellent time to invest in Ireland.
I began my visit in Chicago where I attended events organised by the Irish-American Partnership, the Chicago Council on World Affairs and the World Business Chicago Roundtable. I also held a number of meetings at the headquarters of companies with established operations in Ireland. On Saint Patrick's Day, I met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and joined him in leading the Chicago St. Patrick's Day parade. During my relatively short time in Chicago, I also met with political representatives, business leaders and members of the Irish American community. I also travelled to South Bend, Indiana where I visited the University of Notre Dame. Deputies may be aware that the Navy and Notre Dame teams will visit Dublin in September to play a game of American Football. This will be a big attraction for US visitors, with thousands expected to travel and will be a great boost to our tourism sector as well as being an opportunity to promote The Gathering for 2013. An Irish passport was presented to Fr. Ted Hesburgh during the course of the visit. Fr. Hesburgh served as President of Notre Dame University for 35 years.
In New York, my programme included a meeting with the chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE, Duncan Niederauer. While at the Stock Exchange I also gave an address at a breakfast event at the opening of Ireland Day at the NYSE organised by the Irish American Business Association, following which I was invited to ring the opening bell on the floor of the Stock Exchange. I also had a short meeting with Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I travelled from New York to Washington DC where I made the traditional presentation of a bowl of shamrock to President Obama. During our meeting in the White House we discussed a number of issues of mutual interest, including Irish-US economic relations, developments in the European Union, immigration, the Middle East Peace Process and events in Syria and Iran and Ireland's co-chairmanship of the OSCE. We also discussed current developments in Northern Ireland, during which I raised the matter of the Pat Finucane and my belief that a Public Inquiry should be held in this case. The President recalled the warmth of the reception that he and the First Lady received when they visited Ireland last year and he indicated his wish for a return visit. Naturally, I told the President that the Irish people would again warmly welcome him and his wife to our shores, if that be appropriate. He spoke very encouragingly of the measures we are taking to rebuild our economy and to attract investment and to create and retain jobs.
During my time in Washington, I attended the annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast hosted by Vice President Biden and the Friends of Ireland lunch hosted by Speaker Boehner. While on Capitol Hill I met a number of political representatives, including Senators Leahy, Brown and Schumer to discuss issues of particular interest to Ireland. My programme in Washington DC also involved a number of business engagements, including addressing an Enterprise Ireland business leaders' event where I met a number of their client companies; attending a seminar involving a number of companies in the energy and utilities sector; and an event organised by Science Foundation Ireland.
While in Washington, I was the guest speaker at this year's American Ireland Fund gala dinner attended by over 800 guests. I also addressed an event organised by Tourism Ireland and United Airlines to mark the opening of the new direct air route from Washington DC to Dublin, which commenced last Friday, where I underlined its importance in terms of boosting tourism to Ireland from the mid-Atlantic US region and facilitating wider economic links.
The grouping contains 17 questions covering anything which may or may not have been raised during the Taoiseach's St. Patrick's day visit to the United States of America. This is a wide range of questions with no real link to each other, which is very unsatisfactory and stems from the fact the Taoiseach is very determined to reduce the amount of time he must spend answering questions in the House. We had questions on two days but this has been reduced to one and it needs to be revisited because as a consequence many of the questions have become way out of date since the time they were tabled.
The Taoiseach has regularly come to the House and stated he wants to see something done about the murder of Pat Finucane but I do not get any sense of resolve about it. There is a complete lack of resolve when it comes to dealing with key leaders. It is not enough to raise it in general ways. We must insist that any failure to deal with the issue is a blight on the British Government's commitment to justice. It may be argued that Sinn Féin has little credibility in demanding justice for past murders but the Irish Government does. It has signed a deal and it is part of an international agreement that there would be a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. The British Government's failure to address this issue is a blight on its record, and on behalf of everybody the Irish Government must up a gear in respect of its approach to the issue in international fora and when it meets US leaders in particular. Photo opportunities and fine speeches are easy but substantive work must be done on this.
With regard to the New York visit, in his reply the Taoiseach mentioned he attended the second annual Ireland day at the New York Stock Exchange on 19 March 2012. There was much debate after this item on the itinerary about the presence of certain individuals on the platform. With regard to these individuals, and the Taoiseach knows about whom I speak, he was asked a number of questions afterwards and he dismissed suggestions he was aware of who was going to turn up on the day. He told The Irish Times on Monday, 2 April he had no idea who would be there and that he was not in a position as Taoiseach to vet the list of attendees at any particular function he attends. On 7 March the Taoiseach's Department received a background note outlining in three paragraphs the event itself, organised by the Irish American Business Association, the format of the conference and the list of speakers. It stated the complete guest list was not available but did list the key individuals who were going to attend. Therefore, the Taoiseach was very well aware of who would attend the conference. Does the Taoiseach wish to correct the record of the House or was it a case that he did not read the background note? Did he mislead people at the time with regard to the presence of people at the function in The Irish Times interview and comments made in the House? This is with regard to the Denis O'Brien issue. I would like to hear the Taoiseach's view on this. Did he read the background note? He must have known who was going to turn up-----
-----and hence should explain his subsequent comments.
Did the Taoiseach raise with President Obama the intervention of the Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, and his complete opposition to the burning of bank bondholders? The Taoiseach's election commitment was to burn bank bondholders. It is reported that Mr. Geithner steadfastly, strongly and robustly opposed it. Did the Taoiseach raise this issue with President Obama? There seems to be genuine reluctance on the part of the Irish Government to raise it with the US governmental authorities. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has not raised it. He has repeatedly refused to raise the matter with Mr. Geithner. Will the Taoiseach outline with whom he raised this issue during the US visit?
Every time we take a number of questions together Deputy Martin raises it as an issue. All of the questions refer to the US President or the US visit. I am not sure whether Deputy Martin wants the questions taken individually. It does not matter to me, but taking 17 questions together might be better than taking them individually as otherwise we might be here for a much longer period.
When I went to Belfast to present an award to Geraldine Finucane and her family I met the family in private and undertook to raise the question of a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane when I had the opportunity to travel to the United States. Subsequently I answered questions in the House from a number of Deputies on this. When I met President Obama I took the opportunity to raise it with him at the highest level. President Obama is aware of the situation in so far as this was an international agreement in which both governments indicated they would act on the recommendation given by Judge Cory. The Irish Government responded in accordance with this international agreement and established the Smithwick tribunal into the deaths of Buchanan and others. The British Government took a different view and appointed a Queens Counsel, Mr. de Silva, to examine all of the papers relevant to Pat Finucane on the assumption this might deal with their end of the agreement. It does not and will not. From this point of view I have raised the matter with the British Prime Minister on a number of occasions. On every opportunity I have had to do so I have raised it. Subsequently I spoke to Mrs. Finucane in the United States and she was grateful that I raised it with the US President. I will continue to do so. As Deputy Martin is aware, there is an all-party motion from a number of years ago in my name that there should be a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane and I stand by this very strongly. I was asked to raise it and I did so with the President directly.
With regard to the background note mentioned by Deputy Martin, I believe I attended 34 functions during the course of the few days I was in the United States. Paragraph three of the background note stated the complete guest list for the event was not yet available but according to www.ireland-day.com the event would involve more than 300 executives from leading international firms including Fortune 500 companies, venture capital firms, entrepreneurial start-ups and financial and life sciences organisations from the US, Ireland and throughout the world. It also listed a number of these people. I did not see the background note myself
I suppose as would be normal practice there was contact between officials in Departments, but I did not see the note and I did not have access to it. The media comments referred to the bell ringing ceremony and they have been around for some time whereas the background note related to the parallel event which was the business breakfast, at which I believe I spoke for three or three and a half minutes before proceeding to the podium to ring the bell in the stock exchange.
With regard to the Pat Finucane inquiry, the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government, is party to an international agreement. He represents all of us with regard to the fulfilment and delivery of this agreement.
As the Taoiseach is aware there is no sense of any breakthrough on getting the inquiry to which all sides have signed up. Does he see any light at the end of that tunnel? Have his officials given consideration to how a breakthrough could be engineered? Time is not on our side in finding the facts of this case. It is a central issue and it stands out as a significant blight in terms of the British Government's commitment to justice and bringing closure to many issues of this kind. The death of Pat Finucane has an iconic status at this stage in what his murder represented. For the broader purposes of reconciliation it is important that that issue be pursued. It is not satisfactory to say that we are raising it here and there. Can any breakthrough be engineered at any point?
I also raised the meetings at the New York Stock Exchange. He said he had no idea who was going to be there. He has now said he did not read the background note or did not get access to it for some reason or another. That clarifies that point - although I would have thought a background note was intended for him. Details of the event listed who would be on the panel and in attendance.
The Taoiseach did not answer the third question to do with the bank debt and bank bondholders. Strangely the Government has avoided giving us straight answers on this issue. Why is there reluctance to raise the issue of burning bank bondholders with the American Government? Have we ever ascertained whether United States Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Geithner, was resolutely opposed to that and stopped it at the famous G8 meeting when he made a crucial intervention to prevent any burning of any bondholders? The Government was elected on the pledge of burning bank bondholders. Both parties made solemn and ringing declarations such as "not another red cent" yet a strange silence has come over both parties with a desire to move away from that agenda completely. The Taoiseach did not answer that. Did he ask President Obama for his views on the burning of senior bank bondholders? In order to get resolution of the eurozone crisis, can we get any answers on the bank debt issue which is continuing to engulf us?
I made this point. Clearly the British Government's decision to appoint a Queen's counsel is not satisfactory. It is not satisfactory to us because it is a breach of an international agreement. It is not satisfactory to the Finucane family which feels completely let down. I have no idea what is in the papers or when the Queen's counsel may make a response or a finding. The Deputy will also be aware of the court decision in this matter. If the British Government has made the decision to appoint a Queen's counsel to investigate this, I cannot direct it to terminate that now and start a public inquiry. However, I asked the Prime Minister what would happen in the event that the Queen's counsel is unable to make a new finding or reach a new conclusion. I understand there are 1 million pieces of paper on this.
Our perspective is the same as that of everybody in the House. Judge Cory undertook to issue a report. There was an agreement that whatever recommendations the judge made would be followed through by both Governments. That has not been followed through by the British Government and in that sense it is a breach of that agreement. I have said that very strongly to the British Prime Minister on more than one occasion. I presume the process now is to see what arises from the decision and from findings, if any, that Sir Desmond de Silva comes up with. I have made this very clear in Northern Ireland when I have been pressurised about other public inquiries. This is a case where there was a very clear international agreement. The judge made a recommendation that a public inquiry should be held into those two cases. This State went about its business and set up the Smithwick tribunal - the British Government chose not to do so. There we have a breach of that agreement and I have said that directly to the British Prime Minister.
I do not know what the British Government's attitude will be when Sir Desmond de Silva makes a recommendation or a finding. Presumably given the strength of the objection from the Finucane family and from Geraldine Finucane that this is very far short of what the recommendation was, clearly I do not think it will be acceptable without prejudicing whatever the finding might be. That goes back to the fundamental issue. There was a clear agreement internationally - a clear recommendation and that should be followed through. Regardless of what might be said about all the other cases, about which I hear there should be further public inquiries, this is one that is the subject of an international agreement that I feel should be honoured. I will raise that at every opportunity I have.
We discussed Ireland's economic situation. We discussed foreign direct investment from the United States into Ireland, and also the challenges we face here because of the debt problem. I explained to the president our overall strategy that a break, and assistance and co-operation in respect of having a longer period and lower interest rates would be very beneficial to us. We did not discuss the detail of the comments made by the United States Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Geithner, because that was dealt with exhaustively by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan.
----- and by speaking to Mr. Geithner. It was not that there was reluctance to deal with the debt issue. The Deputy misquoted the programme for Government and he misquoted the parties before the election. What I said was "not another red cent beyond what was already committed".
In that sense we discussed the general state of the economy, the progress Ireland is making and how from his perspective he could still advise through his connections with Europe that Ireland continues to need assistance to get out of the debt problems, difficulties and challenges we face.
I am glad the Taoiseach raised the issue of Pat Finucane with leaders in the United States over the St. Patrick's Day period. He is of course quite correct to differentiate between on the one hand the very many instances that require public examination and closure for families - and there are many of them - and the case of Pat Finucane on the other. As he correctly said commitments were entered into knowingly and openly at Weston Park in respect of Pat Finucane. The curious thing is that at the time of the Weston Park meeting it was not just the instance that gave rise to the Smithwick tribunal and death of Pat Finucane, there were a number of other cases that Judge Cory considered and deemed appropriate for inquiries - the death of Rosemary Nelson being a case in point. Each and every one of those cases has been expedited in a manner appropriate and consistent with Weston Park with the exception of the case of Pat Finucane. We all understand the message that sends not just to broad Nationalists or republicans in Ireland but to the population on these shores and beyond. There is a strong suspicion - let me put it that way - that the British state is unwilling to proceed and will hinder any effort to have an inquiry into the very case that lays bare the phenomenon of British collusion in the war in Ireland.
The Taoiseach conceded that the Weston Park Agreement has been breached. That has been done quite brazenly and consistently by the British Administration. The Taoiseach says, and I accept his word, that he raised it with the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron. However, simply raising it is not enough. The Finucane family is deeply disappointed with the manner in which the British have turned their backs on the agreement and on them. When the family had the meeting with the Prime Minister at which he broke the news that there would not be an inquiry, the family left that meeting. To the best of my knowledge, that was an unprecedented act by the family in question. What we need is a sense from the Taoiseach of what he proposes to do to keep the British Government to commitments entered into at Weston Park. The Taoiseach is not the British Prime Minister so he cannot directly undo his actions. The Taoiseach said as much and that is a statement of fact. However, the Taoiseach is the second party to an international and binding agreement. What will he do to insist and ensure that the British Administration keeps to the agreement it made?
In the course of the visit to the US what level of support did the Taoiseach manage to garner for the Finucane family in respect of holding an inquiry? I accept that he raised and addressed the issue but what concrete commitments, if any, did he secure in the course of that visit? Our party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, wrote to the Taoiseach since the last time these issues were raised in the Dáil on 8 May. In his correspondence he advocated that the Government compile a comprehensive report on the Pat Finucane case as well as others, such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and Ballymurphy, and present it to the Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron. Has the Taoiseach taken that suggestion on board? If so, what is the current position? What does the Taoiseach intend to do to progress these issues?
I also wish to raise a different but related issue. We spoke with the Taoiseach last week about the constitutional convention that will be established in September. Did the Taoiseach mention this matter in the course of his trip to the United States? The Government has said the issue of voting rights for Irish emigrants in presidential elections will be on the agenda of the constitutional convention. That is very welcome. In the course of our economic crisis we have rediscovered the value and worth of the Irish diaspora in the global community. Many initiatives have been taken to bring together key players, not least from among Irish Americans. However, we believe there should be a level of reciprocation. On the one hand we sought the connection with our global community to assist us now and into the future, not least in terms of rebuilding the economy. On the other, there must be an element of giving from this side. It is our firm view that the global Irish community must have a concrete input into the political and democratic life of their native land and extending those voting rights is a way of making that a reality.
Did the Taoiseach raise the issue of the convention? Did he mention that these voting rights would be on the agenda and, if so, what response did he receive?
Yes, Ireland is one of the two parties to the international agreement made at Weston Park. What does one do where an agreement is not being honoured by one party? I raised it directly with the Prime Minister on more than one occasion and, as I undertook to the Finucane family to do, I raised it directly with the most powerful political office in the world, the American President. Clearly, the United States has a particular link with Ireland and it was important that I would do that in the interests of the collective understanding of how important it is that international agreements are honoured. I also raised it with Senators Leahy, Brown and Schumer, Congressmen Richard Neal and Peter King and a number of others whom I met. I raised it publicly at the gala event before 800 people and spoke personally to Geraldine Finucane about it. It has been my duty and responsibility to raise it at the highest levels open to me, and I will continue to do that. I would like to think that we could return to the simplicity, if that is the right word, of the first position, that is, whatever the judge would recommend would be honoured, and start from that point. I hope we can get back to that point and have a public inquiry into the Pat Finucane case.
I will have to revert to the Deputy in respect of the current position with the response to Deputy Adams.
I did not raise the question of the convention because my intention is to meet with the representatives of the other parties in the House to set out the process by which that convention will take shape and get up and running. However, I discussed the diaspora issue with the people I mentioned earlier. In particular, I had meetings with the Senators about the situation of the undocumented Irish. I also raised that with Congressman Neal and other political personalities. The reason I did not consider it appropriate to raise the convention is that, while voting rights is a matter that will be considered by the convention, I thought it important to have the structure agreed by the Members of the House first. That required a number of meetings with the opposition parties, to take on board what they said and, if possible, to accommodate that and move on with that structure. I hope we will deal with that in the House in the next few weeks and that the first meeting of the convention can take place in September.
As Deputy McDonald will be aware from our meeting last week, it will be open to members of the diaspora at meetings wherever they are abroad to connect directly with the convention with their views. Long before Deputy McDonald was elected to the House, I and a former Tánaiste, former Deputy Dick Spring, worked on a report on voting rights for people in England and other places. It became very complicated with regard to how far back one should go and to whom one should give an entitlement. However, I look forward to the convention, when it is up and running, considering these matters directly with the diaspora. When we encourage people to return here for The Gathering and ask them to get their companies to invest directly in Ireland under the Succeed in Ireland initiative, there is clearly a yearning to be able to do something. What one does about it is the complication. I hope there will be a full engagement when the process starts.
I take it from the Taoiseach's remarks that, whatever about not raising the issue on his last visit, like me he appreciates the necessity for that connectedness and space for the diaspora. It cannot all be one-way traffic. I believe we think the same on that.
To return to the issue of Pat Finucane, I am concerned that the Taoiseach appears to be taking the view that, despite having signed an international agreement, he can do little more than politely encourage the British Government to do the right thing. Past experience suggests that is not necessarily the best approach. Sometimes one must be rather more forceful in one's presentation. I note the Taoiseach posed the question as to what he can do, given the agreement has been entered into and the British Government clearly has broken that agreement and broken its word. Has the Taoiseach asked for advice within his Department in respect of what remedies, including legal remedies, might be available to him, leaving aside diplomacy and politics for a minute? Has the Taoiseach investigated this possibility, has he sought such advice and what has he been told?
It is not simply a case of stating we are party to an agreement and asking them to do the necessary. This is an international agreement which has been breached by one party to it. However, it is not as though the party which has breached the agreement has indicated it does not intend to do anything about it. It has made an appointment of a senior counsel to go through and examine all of the papers relative to the Finucane case, which I understand to be very extensive in number. The Finucane family was very disappointed by that decision and took a judicial review.
From a political perspective, the response must be to tell the British Prime Minister that there was an agreement which his Government has not honoured. In addition, because of our connections with other areas, the response must be to raise it directly with the President of the United States, as well as with Senators and Members of Congress who have an interest in this matter, in order that through their connections with their British counterparts or whatever else, they can remind the latter that they did not honour this agreement and can ask them to live up to it. They can tell the British it was agreed that this is what would happen in advance but that they have not followed through.
While the judicial review sought by the family is one case taken by them, I prefer to think a conclusion could be arrived at by a political route. Although persistence certainly is required, in that one must raise such matters more than once, the Deputy should believe my assertion that this is an issue of which I do not wish to and will not let go. It is a serious matter that two sovereign Governments would make an arrangement and agreement to honour whatever was recommended by the person appointed. There is a trust and responsibility to live up to this commitment and I note this State honoured its share of that agreement. I hope we can arrive at a position at which the British Government will do the same thing. Obviously, I do not speak for it and cannot direct that it reverses its decision about the Queen's counsel but I would like to think that the agreement in place will be honoured in full.
As the six questions I had tabled cover three different aspects of the visit, I will ask about each of them. In recent weeks and months, President Obama has been strident and often damning of the failure of European leaders to deal with the deepening crisis in the eurozone. He has called consistently for more decisive and more concrete action to deal with the financial crisis in Europe. He stated recently:
If you are engaging in austerity too quickly, it makes it harder to pay off your debts. Markets respond ... if you are contracting, they bet you're not going to be able to pay off your debts.
He then added that after a bank bailout, a proper plan for growth is needed. I could not have put it better myself. This comment sums up months of criticism by President Obama of eurozone leaders and their failure to deal with this crisis, as it continues to worsen. Moreover, President Obama's words are borne out by what has now happened in Spain on foot of the move to recapitalise that country's banks in the face of the ECB's insistence, as was the case in this country, that ordinary people should guarantee the bailout of the banks. The result of this has been to plunge Spain now, just as was the case with Ireland previously, further into a debt spiral. It is not time the Taoiseach heeded President Obama's words? When the Taoiseach spoke to President Obama, did he make these views known to the Taoiseach? Did he make known his understanding, as he has stated in public, that the approach being taken by eurozone leaders was a failure and was not working but that a different strategy, which moved in the opposite direction to austerity, was needed? How did the Taoiseach respond to that? How does he respond to President Obama's critique of euro leaders in the context of the unravelling of the current bailout of the Spanish banks, just as, of course, the so-called bailout of this country has unravelled and failed to deliver on its promise?
In addition, I refer to the Taoiseach's engagement in the New York Stock Exchange. Serious concerns have been raised over the presence of Mr. Denis O'Brien on the same platform as the Taoiseach, given that Mr. O'Brien is someone against whom very serious findings were made in the Moriarty tribunal and about the circumstances in which he was awarded the second mobile telephone licence and the assistance that was given to him in that regard by a former Fine Gael Minister, to whom he also was known to have given payments. Moreover, I note Mr. O'Brien, a billionaire, is now a tax exile from this country.
I take the Ceann Comhairle's point. I simply am summarising what was in the Moriarty report. It made serious findings about the circumstances in which Mr. O'Brien received the aforementioned licence and about the role a former Fine Gael Minister had in helping him to secure that licence. The report also noted that significant payments were made by Mr. O'Brien to Deputy Lowry. Given this finding, does the Taoiseach consider it to have been appropriate for him to share the platform forum? This is not simply an historical question and the Taoiseach should clarify his relationship and that of his party to Mr. O'Brien. I ask him to so do particularly as a live issue faces us yet again in respect of Mr. O'Brien's recent acquisition of Siteserv plc and its facilitation by the writing down by Anglo Irish Bank of €110 million worth of debt to that company. This deal deserves considerable scrutiny and in the context of the controversial plans to introduce water metering and water charges, I note Siteserv provides contracting services to Bord Gáis, including the installation of water meters.
Finally, on foreign policy matters, did the Taoiseach raise the question of the recent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by United States troops in Afghanistan? Moreover, did the Taoiseach raise with President Obama the question as to the reason the western powers, led by the United States, continue to impose punitive sanctions on Iran, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency has made it absolutely clear it does not believe Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons programme? Did the Taoiseach ask him about the contrast between the treatment of Iran, which no one believes to have a weapons programme but on which sanctions are imposed, and the failure to impose sanctions on Israel, which everyone knows has a nuclear weapons arsenal but which does not have sanctions imposed on it and which in fact receives $3 billion in military aid each year from the United States? Did the Taoiseach ask the President about those double standards, given the very worrying sabre-rattling going on about possible further sanctions or even military action against Iran, something that would be disastrous for the entire region and possibly for the world?.
-----in Iran with President Obama. As to the Deputy's comments about what the President has stated about eurozone leaders, we discussed Europe, the eurozone and Ireland's position therein. I explained to the President the progress Ireland had made by being removed very much from the platform where we were placed with Greece last year, from where we are now heading in a very different direction. I referred to the fact that unit labour costs had decreased with competitiveness being enhanced as a consequence, and stated the Government had been able to renegotiate elements of the memorandum of understanding with the troika and that the challenge for Ireland lay in getting further assistance and concessions in respect of the scale of bank debt we face.
I am not sure what the Deputy's question was about in regard to the Spanish bailout. The Spanish Government made a request for assistance which was answered with €100 billion from the EFSF for Spanish bank debt. This means that the sovereign Government of Spain underwrites that sum, pays back the loan at the same interest rate as anybody else and in respect of funding its own deficit it continues to borrow on the international markets at in excess of 6%. The Prime Minister has made many comments stating the country expects to be able to deal with that.
In regard to the Deputy's question about whether it is appropriate to share a platform with any individual, I do not invite participants to any event I attend. For all those who were in attendance at the function to which the Deputy referred and at the bell-ringing at the New York Stock Exchange, invitations were extended by the NYSE and the representatives of Ireland Inc.
In regard to the question about the Siteserv position, I point out to Deputy Boyd Barrett that the Competition Authority looked at that merger to see if there were any anti-competitive practices contained therein and it made its decision approving that merger independently, as is its function and responsibility.
I am not sure which part of the point I made about the Spanish banking crisis was not clear to the Taoiseach but surely it should be very clear that President Obama's criticism of the manner in which European leaders have dealt with the deepening financial crisis in Europe has gained renewed force from the unravelling of the so-called bailout programme for Spain's banks. The country has borrowed money to recapitalise its banks but far from that stabilising the situation, and because the money has been routed through the Spanish sovereign, Spain will now have difficulty in borrowing elsewhere. The markets look at the increased debt burden that has been forced onto the Spanish sovereign and its citizens, conclude that Spain will not be able to repay its debts and therefore do not wish to lend it money, with the result that bond yields go up, just as happened to us.
My point is that President Obama's criticism of the manner in which eurozone leaders are dealing with the crisis has now been further vindicated with the unravelling of the Spanish banking crisis. At what point do the Taoiseach and other European leaders begin to listen to what President Obama is saying, what a range of very mainstream and prominent economists are saying, what growing forces in Europe are beginning to say, namely, that continually bailing out the banks and making citizens of this country, or Spain, responsible for guaranteeing those borrowings and paying for it with austerity is a disastrous failure. That was the other point made by the US President, about contracting demand in the economy and worsening a situation already made bad by states taking on board the gambling debts of private financial institutions. Does the Taoiseach not believe the President Obama's criticism is correct and that we should start to listen to him in a way that, so far, European leaders have not done?
I find it surprising that the Taoiseach would not raise the situation of Iran. It is very serious, with very severe penalties involved and sabre-rattling about possible military assaults on Iran. I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware of this but I understand Iran has begun to denominate oil sales in the Chinese currency. It might be interesting for the Taoiseach to note that when the former Iraqi regime did the same thing it led to invasion by the United States, in the second Gulf war, as such a move could have very significant effects on the US and western economies. I find it surprising, given the seriousness of the situation in Iran and the threats and sabre-rattling surrounding that country, with Israel joining in, of course, and the contrast with how Israel is treated in respect of its nuclear arsenal, that the Taoiseach would not wish to raise those issues and concern himself with them in his conversations with President Obama.
It is not a case of not wanting to raise these issues. If I could rant on like the Deputy I would get a lot of things raised. I might not get too many answers but I would get them raised anyway.
Fair play to the Deputy. He is certainly not shy about spinning out the record. I note the comments of President Obama; they are what we have been saying for some time, namely, this is a European problem that requires a European answer, one that will have to come from political leaders. A political response is required.
As I observed to Deputy Ross, we support the principle of a banking union which is something that could be worked upon relatively quickly by European leaders in order to deal with the banking crisis. That is something I set out in my recent letter to all the other leaders, namely, this is an issue of European crisis and therefore requires a response from European leaders.
The Spanish Government made its case for assistance in the way it thought best for itself. Deputy Boyd Barrett is well aware that even President Obama would be unaware of consequences that have yet to happen in respect of the decision to be made by the Greek people, whatever it might be, and the follow-through election results in France, whatever they might be, and in respect of the scale of figures that will emerge from the final assessment of the liabilities of Spanish banks and also whether there will be further liabilities that may become apparent from the regional governments in Spain.
Prime Minister Rajoy made his call for assistance from the EFSF programme which initially brought a strong response, bringing about a sense of stability because there was a big buffer involved in regard to the amount being borrowed. Clearly, the Spanish Government must underwrite that and pay it at the interest rate that applies to all EU terms but it was content, stating it could deal with its deficit by continuing to borrow ten-year bonds on the international market. These are at higher interest rates but that is a decision for the Spanish Government and not one for me to interfere with in any way.
Mr. Draghi from the European Central Bank has set out his view that there needs to be a clear vision on the part of European leaders, decided politically by them. This has been echoed on a number of occasions by Miss Lagarde from the IMF. I hope that will follow the decision to be made by the Greek and French peoples and the assessment in respect of Spain. It remains to be seen whether Cyprus will seek assistance. I have referred to the concerns and anxieties that have been expressed by Prime Minister Monti. All of these are complex and enormous problems. Political decisions will have to be made around the table in Brussels. I am sure people reflect and understand the views that have been expressed in the United States in this regard.
I would like to ask the Taoiseach about foreign policy issues that pertain to the United States. When the Taoiseach met President Obama, did they discuss the ongoing use of Shannon Airport by American war planes on their way to or from war zones? Did they discuss the fact that despite President Obama's alleged revulsion about secret renditions and the holding of people in detention centres without trial, he is continuing to implement such a policy? Was the Shannon issue raised in any way? Did the Taoiseach raise with President Obama the whole question of renditions, which has not been mentioned publicly for some time, and whether Shannon is still used in that regard?
I would also like to ask about a broader foreign policy issue. Did the Taoiseach have an opportunity to raise the use by the US of drones and Hellfire missiles against targeted individuals in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen? Did he mention the fact that civilians, including family members of the targeted individuals, are routinely massacred and killed during such operations? He could have referred to the brutal massacres by civilian-backed militias in Syria and to the unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against innocent Syrian people by its government. The United States contradicts itself by condemning such actions while endorsing the killing of innocent civilians as a result of its military tactics. I would be interested to know whether the Taoiseach had an opportunity to raise those issues from an international human rights perspective.
We do not support policies of rendition. The US President expressed thanks for the use of Shannon Airport for transit flights going through the airport. I visited Shannon Airport recently when Transaero announced a major expansion at the airport. As the Deputy is aware, the Government has decided to restructure Shannon Development. The establishment of a task force to examine the previous Shannon Development zone will present an opportunity for a new future for the entire region. I did not get around to discussing the use by the American military of Hellfire missiles or drones with President Obama.
The actions in Syria have been condemned by the Government here, the United Nations, the American Government and the Secretary of State. The tragedy in Syria is continuing to unfold. I listened to Kofi Annan the other day when he said his peace programme or plan is not working. He said that as this problem becomes even more critical, it will explode outside Syria. This is an issue of serious concern to the European Union, the United States, the Arab League and all the countries of that region. People continue to be slaughtered and wantonly murdered. We condemn those actions absolutely. This country will add its voice to those at EU and UN levels that are trying to ensure the regime that is carrying out these atrocities is brought to an end.
When the Chinese leadership was in Ireland, we rightly demanded to know if the Government had raised the issue of human rights with it. We spoke about the heavy hand of that regime within its own borders in China and the abuse of people and workers there. It is appropriate to ask the same questions with regard to the United States. Like every elected person, I strongly support future employment at Shannon Airport. Does the Taoiseach agree it would be preferable if that did not depend on American military operations? Such a dependence would be repugnant. Does the Taoiseach agree that the indiscriminate policy of routinely shooting from unmanned missiles rockets that kill innocent civilians should be a matter of major concern to the Government, which routinely claims to be an ally and close friend of US Governments? Does it not strike the Taoiseach that this is completely at odds with respect for the human rights of innocent people in the same way as the events in Syria?
When we spoke to Vice President Xi Jinping and also to Premier Wen Jiabao in China, we raised the question of human rights. He was the first to admit that China has to do more in respect of human rights.
He made the point that there are 800 million users of the Internet and 400 million bloggers in China. He clearly recognised that the question of human rights is central to his decade of power. He was very open about the fact that China can improve its human rights record.
It is clear that the number of US military personnel who pass through Shannon Airport has declined seriously since its peak a number of years ago, when the Iraq War was at its height. I believe the number will continue to decline, not only because of the withdrawal of American troops from that region but also because of the use of longer-range transport aircraft, which have the capacity to fly to other airports. Unfortunately, one does not have to go to other countries to find instances where death can occur. We even had a potential case in our own country on the day of the referendum, when there was a bomb scare after a device was placed under a car. I do not agree with any of this, but clearly there are people who do.
Written Answers follow Adjournment.