Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the developments in the Israel/Gaza region with Secretary of State Clinton when they met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55440/12]
To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the developments in Syria with Secretary of State Clinton at their recent meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55441/12]
To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the possibility of a statutory inquiry into the Finucane murder with Secretary of State Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55442/12]
To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the Boston papers with Secretary of State Clinton when they met recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55443/12]
To ask the Taoiseach if he has written to Secretary of State Clinton prior to her departure from her present post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2313/13]
To ask the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the need for an inquiry into the murder of human rights solicitor Pat Finucane during his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Government Buildings on the 6 December. [2335/13]
To ask the Taoiseach if he has had bilateral meetings planned for his visit to Washington, USA, in respect of St Patrick's Day celebrations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6831/13]
To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the issue of Marian Price's internment at his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12838/13]
To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the humanitarian crisis in Gaza at his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12839/13]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 17, inclusive, together.
I met the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, on 6 December 2012 when she was in Dublin to attend the OSCE ministerial conference. It was a great pleasure for me to welcome the Secretary of State back to Dublin. I took the opportunity to thank her in person, on behalf of the Irish people, for her long-standing commitment to and friendship with this country. Since I met her in Dublin, Mrs. Clinton has stepped down from her role as Secretary of State. I have written to her on behalf of the Irish Government to formally thank her for her sustained and invaluable contribution to the process of building peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland, convey the abiding regard that the Irish people hold for her and wish her well in whatever her future holds.
When we met in December, we had very useful and wide-ranging discussions. I updated her on the measures being undertaken by the Government to lead Ireland's economy to a sustainable recovery. As our meeting took place on the day after the budget, it was a good opportunity to discuss the Government's emphasis on jobs and growth. I also discussed the importance of Ireland's bilateral economic relationship with the US. I reiterated that stronger trade and investment ties are a major strategic goal of our transatlantic alliance. I highlighted the welcome conclusion of an agreement between Ireland and the US on the foreign account tax compliance Act, FATCA. The FATCA agreement is important in demonstrating Ireland's commitment to tax co-operation and international exchange of tax information. Mrs. Clinton commented specifically on the recent progress that has been made under the US-Ireland research and development partnership. I agreed this was a worthwhile programme and expressed my support for its future development.
We discussed the ongoing challenges facing the global economy and, in particular, the need for the EU to continue to work to resolve its economic and financial difficulties. I also briefed her on our plans and priorities for our Presidency of the Council of the European Union, including our hope to make real progress in advancing an EU-US free trade agreement. She expressed hope that significant progress would be made towards the free trade agreement during the Irish Presidency, as this would be a very important and positive development for the international economy. There has been significant progress in recent weeks on this agenda and we can now look forward to what I hope will be focused and successful negotiations on a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I look forward to Ireland's playing a key role in instigating negotiations in the context of our Presidency.
The Secretary of State and I discussed our countries' respective election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We reaffirmed our ongoing commitment to working together on a range of issues in the international arena, including global hunger, and further deepening and strengthening the US-Ireland relationship.
We also discussed recent developments in Northern Ireland. I welcomed her planned visit to Belfast the following day and thanked her for her swift condemnation of the murder of the Northern Ireland prison officer David Black in November. I expressed the Government's appreciation for her unwavering support for the process of building peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. We agreed that while we have seen significant progress in recent years, we could not allow complacency to take hold. We did not specifically discuss the cases of Marian Price, Pat Finucane or the Boston papers. I reiterated that international support has played a key role in what has been achieved so far in Northern Ireland and emphasised that we greatly value the sustained and continuing US interest in both parts of the island. For her part, she reiterated her strong support for the peace process and said that she was very much looking forward to her visit to Belfast.
I also referred to the positive developments in the Ireland-UK relationship represented by the joint statement signed by myself and the UK Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, last March, and the very positive announcement by the Prime Minister that the G8 meeting in June would be held in County Fermanagh. At our bilateral meeting in London yesterday, the Prime Minister and I agreed that we would use our respective roles in the Presidency and the G8 chairmanship to press for the launch of negotiations on an EU-US free trade agreement this June.
I commended the Secretary of State on her efforts to end the violence in Syria and the conflict in Gaza. I also expressed solidarity with the victims of Hurricane Sandy and referred to the letters of support I had sent to the US on behalf of the Irish people. I expect to meet families from some of the areas affected next week. Finally, I thanked her for her extraordinary contribution to the peoples of this island and extended my best wishes to her for the future, in whatever path she chooses.
Later this week I will have the privilege of travelling to the United States for the annual St. Patrick's Day visit. This year, my visit will run from Friday, 15 March to Friday, 22 March. Relations between Ireland and the United States are based on a deep and long-standing bond of friendship between our two countries, but they are also based on deeply-rooted economic, social and cultural ties. Strengthening these ties is a key priority for the Government and we will continue to work on ensuring that Ireland's relations with the US remain vibrant. My upcoming visit to the US presents another opportunity to further strengthen these relations. My programme includes events in Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Seattle.
While in Washington I will meet with President Obama in the White House and also attend the traditional Speaker's lunch on Capitol Hill. My programme also includes a breakfast meeting with Vice President Biden as well as a number of meetings with political and business leaders and the Irish-American community. However, the Vice President may be in attendance in Rome if the conclave has elected a pope and the installation mass is on 19 March, the day scheduled for our proposed meeting. In New York I will meet with Mayor Bloomberg and visit the Rockaways area in Queens which was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
My west coast engagements will include a series of meetings with US companies as well as indigenous Irish companies operating in the US. My main focus throughout the trip will be to highlight the very significant progress made towards Ireland's economic recovery and to emphasise Ireland's strengths as a location for foreign direct investment and overseas visitors and to promote Irish companies as a source of high quality products and services. I will also use my visit to highlight the importance of an EU-US transatlantic trade and investment partnership and to advance our efforts to see formal negotiations launched during the Irish Presidency of the EU.
I also anticipate that recent events in Northern Ireland will feature in my discussions. I hope to meet the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Washington DC. Both Prime Minister Cameron and I agreed yesterday on the centrality of the values and principles of the Good Friday Agreement and the importance of the institutions that it created. We intend to continue working with the US Administration to consolidate and build on the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over many years.
We must reform how we are doing our work here because most of these questions relate to the visit of Secretary of State Clinton and were asked over three months ago. What are the Taoiseach's plans to meet with Secretary of State Clinton while in the US? One of the reasons we are only getting to these questions is that the Taoiseach decided to halve the time for questions to the Taoiseach when he came into office. In the previous Dáil, these questions were taken on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
With respect, it is a matter of Government diktat, not a matter for the Whips, because the Government dictates what happens in the House. It is a crazy situation that we are now only answering questions three months after they were asked. This is unsatisfactory.
I echo what the Taoiseach said and pay tribute to Secretary of State Clinton for her wonderful work during the past four years as Secretary of State. She was significant in terms of the US role as a partner in the multilateral search for peace between states and her work, particularly for human rights and equality, will stand the test of time. I had the privilege of working with her in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs. She was an unstinting friend of Ireland and continues to be so.
On the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation now is probably at its worst level since the Oslo Accords. For millions of people the situation is fast becoming hopeless. In terms of raising this issue with Secretary of State Clinton, was the Taoiseach in a position to brief her on the European response to the issue? Israel acts with impunity in terms of continued settlements and ignores international agreements and the consensus at the United Nations. The US has a cental role to play in the region. Indeed, President Obama was publicly rebuffed in his first peace effort via George Mitchell. In the Taoiseach's discussion with the Secretary of State, was there any sense of a potential breakthrough in the crisis or any sense of a breakthrough in terms of the policy with regard to the blockade or the issue of the acceleration of settlements whose purpose seem to be to deny and make unviable a two-state solution? I would appreciate hearing the Taoiseach's view and perspective on that with regard to the talks he had with her.
I am surprised the issue of the papers from the Boston College project was not raised. Those who conducted the interviews with those involved in violence in Northern Ireland over the past 30-odd years - I recommend the excellent documentary Voices from the Grave which documents the background to many of the atrocities and killings carried out - are fearful for their own lives because of the decision by the British authorities to seek the papers to help them in the pursuit of those involved in various cases, in particular the case of the murder of Jean McConville. This is a project that has shed light on many of the atrocities that occurred, but more is required. I am surprised the Taoiseach did not raise this issue and seek the American perspective on it. What is his own perspective on it and on the content of the Boston College papers and the degree to which that project can shed further light on many of the appalling things that happened over the past 30 years?
Did the Taoiseach raise the issue of the Finucane case with Secretary of State Clinton and did he endeavour to enlist her support for a statutory inquiry into the Finucane murder? This is part of an international and solemn agreement between Ireland and Great Britain, but Britain is resiling from that agreement in an unacceptable way and in violation of the agreement. Did the Taoiseach enlist the support of the Secretary of State in bringing pressure to bear on the British Government to relent in this case and to fulfil the agreement it signed up to in good faith with the Irish Government?
My final question relates to the Taoiseach's forthcoming meetings with President Obama. The International Monetary Fund is undertaking some significant reforms, but America has held up those reforms despite the fact it initiated them originally. Congress is holding them up. We asked previously whether the Taoiseach could shed some light on the role that Secretary of the Treasury Geithner played in insisting at an IMF meeting that no bondholders would be burned, particularly with regard to the Irish context. We know the ECB position on that. It has been consistent from the beginning that no bondholder would be burned. However, it is alleged that the intervention of the Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, was crucial in ensuring that position held. We have never got a satisfactory response on this. Will the Taoiseach commit to asking President Obama whether that was the case?
With regard to the questions raised in the House, it is perfectly in order for any Deputy to ask on the Order of Business, arising from legislation, whether it is intended to meet a Secretary of State about immigration legislation into the States or wherever else. I am not responsible for the number of questions put down here. In previous times, many questions were lumped together. Everything to do with Europe, the United States and anywhere else around the world, up to 50 questions, could have been put together. However, I have tried, following representations made by Deputies to split the questions into groups. These questions are about the United States and about the Secretary of State and her visit here. If the questions are three months out of date, perhaps we should give a briefer response. However, if these questions have been asked, it is legitimate for us to respond to those put by each Deputy.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, we need to look at further reforms of the way we go about our business in here and consider the amount of time we devote to legitimate questions from Deputies and issues they might want to raise, vociferously or otherwise.
The Tánaiste is monitoring the question of Gaza very closely. It is a welcome reprieve that with one exception, there has not been any rocket fire into Israel from Gaza in the past month. I suppose the calm that is there for the moment is an advance. Some of the measures enacted by Israel to relax aspects of the blockade after last November's ceasefire are to be welcomed. They need to go much further and much faster, especially in light of the absence of any rocket fire. There may well be a rare opportunity to convert this pause into a durable cessation of violence in both directions. I think that would be of interest to everybody. I join the Tánaiste in encouraging both sides, and anybody else who can influence the situation, to work to this end. The people of Gaza and southern Israel, some of whom I have met, deserve to live in a normal situation.
The Government has made it very clear that the blockade of Gaza, as currently enforced, has no justification and must be ended. While Israel is quite entitled to defend itself and to block the supply of military materials to Gaza, the measures enforced since 2006 have gone much further than anything that could be justified strictly on the basis of security need. We have consistently drawn the international attention of others to this matter. We have supported the EU in its repeated calls for the full opening of crossing points into Gaza to allow for the normal movement of goods and people. There have been some relaxations of the blockade in recent years, most notably in November following the ceasefire. Clearly, this needs to be accelerated. In the meantime, Ireland has maintained its provision of substantial humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza through the UNRWA and other agencies. As I have said, the Tánaiste is keeping a close eye on this issue.
I do not have any further information on the allegation about former US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. I have not raised it with Christine Lagarde, whom I met last week. There are much more immediate challenges and obstacles to be dealt with. I do not know whether any further information about the allegation, which we have discussed in this House on a number of occasions, has become available.
As the Deputy knows, a motion on the Pat Finucane case was unanimously agreed without dissent in this House. I have disagreed publicly with the British Prime Minister about the fact that both Governments committed at Weston Park to follow through on the recommendations made by Judge Cory. We stand by that. I will raise this with the US authorities when I meet them next week.
Deputy Martin also referred to the Boston College papers. I hope to have an opportunity during my visit to the United States to cover a wide range of issues, including developments in Northern Ireland. We keep a watching brief on the Boston College research. The college has a long history of academic engagement in the field of Irish studies. It has played an important part in the recording of the history of Northern Ireland and the peace process. That will obviously be of value to historians, those who study conflict resolution and people in general. As Deputy Martin knows, the British Government on behalf of the PSNI initiated proceedings with the US Department of Justice under the mutual legal assistance treaty between the UK and the US to seek the release of archive records and interviews held in Boston College. The records, which were deposited in the Burns Library of Boston College, are part of the Belfast project, which is an oral history of republican and loyalist paramilitaries and paramilitary activities. Some of those whose testimonies are included in the project have since died, including Dolours Price, who passed away in recent months.
This entire issue is subject to legal proceedings. Legal challenges were launched by Boston College and separately by the researchers to prevent the release of the material. In December 2011, the US District Court dismissed those challenges. Further legal efforts were made on appeal, but the US Federal Court of Appeal turned them down on 6 July 2012. The court ruling means, in effect, that the archive material must be handed over by Boston College to the US authorities to be sent on to their British counterparts. I understand the lead project researchers are considering a motion for rehearing of the case. They are continuing to keep their legal options open in the Belfast courts. I assure Deputy Martin that the Irish Embassy in Washington and the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to monitor the matter closely.
I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks about the blockade of Gaza. We discussed this issue to some degree last week. I was pleased that the Taoiseach agreed to raise the EU heads of mission report on Jerusalem with our European partners. I hope the Government can use this State's term as holder of the EU Presidency as a vehicle to encourage people in the region to embrace a peace process.
I join the Taoiseach in commending the work done by Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State and before she held that position. I assume the Taoiseach will meet her successor, John Kerry, when he visits the United States. I welcome last week's statement by the Taoiseach that he intends to raise the plight of the undocumented Irish and the issue of E3 visas. I understand that approximately 50,000 Irish citizens are directly affected by all of this.
I may have misheard the Taoiseach when I thought he said he has not raised the cases of Pat Finucane, Marian Price and Martin Corey. If I heard him properly and that is the case, I think it is a mistake. These cases should be raised every single time the Government gets an opportunity to do so. I will be looking to the Taoiseach to raise them with his hosts when he visits the United States.
I am pleased the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister have reasserted the centrality and principles of the Good Friday Agreement. We have to go much further than that. When I spent the day in Belfast yesterday, I met many people, including people from the Unionist section of our community, who have deep concerns about where the peace process is at present. Some aspects of the Good Friday Agreement have yet to be implemented. Of course it is an international agreement. The structures and all the other protocols that arise from it are the business of people who are in the institutions. In addition, they are primarily the business of the two Governments. The Governments have to be guarantors of the rights of citizens during this transitional period.
The Orange marching season starts earlier this year. There is extreme anxiety in what are referred to as interface areas. That affects both sections of the community. Some people are actively trying to frazzle away, cut away or whittle away confidence in the peace process. I welcome every party, particularly in this Dáil, being heavily involved in the North. I think that is really important. I welcome that very much. However, it is important for us to tell it as it is. I listen to the leader of Fianna Fáil on his occasional visits talking about inertia and suggesting Sinn Féin and the DUP are not working properly.
He knows that is not the case. He knows that the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, is a leader above reproach in terms of his commitment to all of these matters. He knows, for understandable reasons, that Unionist leaders are less eager to embrace a process of change because they see this as a zero-sum game. There is a big job of work to be done by the Governments and the rest of us in re-injecting confidence, particularly in those neighbourhoods which were most affected by the conflict and which have not had any economic dividend.
I record a great debt of thanks to Sir George Quigley who died recently. He was a sterling ambassador for economic regeneration, equality and an all-island economic model.
To what does all of this come down? I emphasise the need to be vigilant on the outstanding issues in respect of the Good Friday Agreement but also on what can sometimes be the fragile state of the peace process which is valued by everyone on the island, particularly those who live in the North, and which has to be continuously nurtured and nourished.
I thank the Deputy for those comments. As I said, I have undertaken to raise the Jerusalem report and will do so at European level. Obviously, we will use our Presidency of the European Union which we will hold until the end of June to progress the peace process. The fact that there is a lull and a ceasefire at the moment, which is welcome, presents an opportunity to drive through on a number of issues. In so far as our membership of the European Union is concerned, we strongly support the position of the Union both in regard to the blockade and the issues that might lead to increased normalisation of life. The Tánaiste has met the Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, on two occasions. I am not sure whether I will have the opportunity to meet him next week. It is not scheduled as a bilateral meeting, although in the course of conducting business around the White House agenda, it may well happen. I will obviously mention the case of Pat Finucane and the situation in Northern Ireland to our counterparts in the United States. As I said, I did not raise the matter specifically with the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, as she had a very tight schedule when she was here. She left Government Buildings to cross the road to speak to Mr. Brahimi and Russian representatives about the situation in Syria which was dominating world headlines on those days and obviously still is.
We are all concerned about the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. I discussed the issue yesterday with the Prime Minister and we have agreed that a very high level group will meet almost immediately to discuss a number of matters. Clearly, there is a need for political leadership to grasp the issue and work through the many matters that can be worked through. From the point of view of the Government, we have been very anxious to pursue a range of issues through the North-South Ministerial Council. Colleagues on the benches here are fully engaged at that level. However, I would like to think that, arising from the difficulties before and after Christmas, we will focus on what it is going to take to progress the Good Friday Agreement, of which we are co-guarantors and to which we referred yesterday in Downing Street. That is why I have made the point repeatedly that, owing to the case made by so many, €150 million was included from the MFF budget for the Peace IV programme which can be very effective in the sensitive line areas. Obviously, it is our mandate as part of the Presidency to negotiate with the European Parliament to obtain consent or approval for the budget, as is required under the Lisbon treaty.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, is equally concerned that we make whatever political judgments and decisions we can to work with the Assembly and the Executive in order that political leadership is seen to be very clear in its direction, the normalisation of life and a calming of the serious disruptive influences, by dealing with the severe threat for some time from dissidents and paramilitaries and activities in that sphere. This will ensure the reputation and perception of Northern Ireland can continue to grow and that Northern Ireland can continue to become an attractive location for investment and jobs to be created. The high level group of officials from the British and Irish Governments will meet very quickly to consider a number of the issues that we discussed yesterday. I hope our engagement leading up to the G8 summit in Fermanagh in June will centre on a number of areas where we think some clear progress and opportunities can present. We will keep the House updated as these matters develop.
I share Deputy Adams's view of the late Sir George Quigley, whom I met on a number of occasions when I was Minister of State with responsibility for trade. Even in the very difficult days of the late 1970s, early 1980s and afterwards, he always had a view about North-South business and trade. He used to say there was an opportunity for businesses in the Republic to test markets in Northern Ireland, small though they were, and vice versa. Even in the very dark times, that element of trade and business interaction continued and, of course, has flourished since. Sir George Quigley was a central element in keeping this going until better times returned.
During his visit to the United States will the Taoiseach raise with the Secretary of State and President Obama the ongoing appalling oppression of Palestinian people in Israeli prisons, in particular, the case of the 30 year old Palestinian, Arafat Jaradat, who died on 25 February having been in an interrogation centre of the Shin Bet, the secret police of Israel, for five days? The autopsy findings showed he had been subjected to extreme torture. Does it worry or concern the Taoiseach that he is going to celebrate with the leaders of the United States who endorse and give enormous support to a state with a regime such as this and which has 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, including 200 children, although it claims to be a Western democracy? Will the Taoiseach raise that issue and demand the release of Palestinian prisoners, as well as highlight the other critical issues that need to be addressed, including the right of Palestinians to have a state?
The Taoiseach has said he will be discussing bilateral economic relations and meeting many major companies, as well as the President and leading Administration figures in the United States. Does he plan to raise the issue of the taxation paid by United States multinationals in Ireland or elsewhere on the globe? Does he have plans to raise with President Obama, in particular, the gross abuse of tax avoidance loopholes whereby major companies use Irish tax laws and the tax laws of other countries to avoid paying the headline rate of taxation?
Will the Taoiseach raise the extreme example where one major Internet company recorded €9 billion in profits in Ireland but paid €3 million in corporation tax in 2011 through using tax avoidance measures in this State and other countries? Part of that money was made in the Middle East and Africa which desperately need these resources for their hard-pressed people, public services and communities but are cheated of income that should be paid in taxation. Does this worry the Taoiseach, particularly in an era when he is foisting the property tax on low and middle-income workers and the poor and when these resources are desperately needed by the poorest of the poor in other countries who are being robbed of them? Will he raise that issue with a view to changing as a matter of urgency this policy in the interests of justice, if nothing else?
I will not have the opportunity to raise every individual case referred to here with the US administration or the President individually. Clearly, time will not allow for all those things to be debated. However, it will be opportune, given our Presidency, to raise the issue of our concerns about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the issues surrounding that. From a European perspective, I will have the opportunity to articulate that on behalf of the Presidency.
The question of taxation is not confined to Ireland. I was glad the US administration clarified over a number of years allegations that Ireland was some kind of tax haven. Our corporation tax rate is very transparent and applies across the spectrum. I will have the opportunity to discuss with the President the imprimatur being given to negotiations and discussions on the EU-US free trade partnership agreement concept, which I strongly support and to which I have referred over many years in this House, not just from these benches. Deputy Higgins will understand that the process in the US requires that a 90-day notification be given to the authorities so that this could commence. That means that if we can organise it at an early stage now and get that platform and mandate, those negotiations and discussions will be able to commence after the Irish Presidency concludes but of which we will be very supportive. On his way back from Texas this week, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation met with his counterparts in Washington D.C. and reported to me that there was a very positive engagement and attitude towards dealing with that high level report and its consequences.
The Deputy is aware that 150,000 Irish jobs are supported by US companies here. I met with the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland recently and the indications are that the continued line of investment in Ireland remains very strong. As Deputy Higgins knows from his native county, things have changed and Irish companies supported by Enterprise Ireland now employ almost 100,000 Americans across 50 states, which is a very welcome trend that helps to boost our exports. I assume that the question of European tax systems and other countries' tax positions will be part of those negotiations and discussions.
It is not for me to engage in the detail of the taxation issues surrounding US companies in countries outside the US. We are very clear on our tax position. Obviously, the impact of investment in the country is very substantial and supports a great number of jobs. I hope I have the opportunity to raise these matters with the US administration and the President. I also want to confirm that the reason we have this opportunity is because of the impact that Ireland has made over many years of connections with the US. The tradition of the St. Patrick's week engagement with the White House began very many years ago and is something we value greatly. It is something that would equally be valued by other countries, had they the opportunity to avail of it. Based on our ties of culture, tradition, literature, business, economics and politics, these are opportunities to review the progress being made in US-Irish relations and Irish-US relations. It allows us to raise the question of immigration and the undocumented Irish. The pressure is on in quite a number of areas. It also allows us to reflect on areas where we can work together. I believe that because of our particular connections with the US going back many years, holding the Presidency for these few months gives this Presidency on behalf of the EU a real opportunity to drive that agenda which, by conservative estimates, could result in over 2 million jobs over a period in Europe and raise the economies of the Union by between 2% to 3%, which would be a very welcome trend.
They are the general areas I hope to have the opportunity to discuss with the President and administration but by force of circumstance, I will not have the opportunity to get into the detail of all these issues although the issue of taxation in general will inevitably arise in those discussions when they commence.
President Obama has indicated grave concern about the manner in which US multinationals avoid paying tax, not least tax to the US, and has expressed concern about an international architecture of tax avoidance facilitated by various states around the world. Ireland is constantly cited in media and business analysis in the US and elsewhere as being part of this architecture which facilitates tax avoidance by enormously profitably multinationals which do not want to pay their fair share towards the economies and societies that host them and provide them with workers who generate those enormous profits for them.
The Taoiseach's answer that our corporate tax rate is transparent is patently nonsense. I have put questions in the past week or two to the Minister for Finance, which were part of a series of questions because I intend to keep at this issue, to ascertain what is the effective corporate tax rate. The Minister said he cannot tell me. How can the Taoiseach say our corporate tax rate is transparent when the Minister for Finance says he cannot tell us what the effective tax rate is? He cannot even tell us how much the corporations are paying in tax. Eurostat suggests that they are paying 6.8%, which is half of the headline rate.
The Taoiseach needs to examine this issue seriously. He needs to address it and discuss with the American Government how we can deal with the problem of multinationals which do not want to pay their taxes, as well as any role Ireland may be playing in facilitating them.
I have a question about Palestine. The Taoiseach expressed his concern and raised with the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, the issue of the ongoing blockade of Gaza. This is welcome, but we need to begin to match words with deeds. I refer to the UN report produced at the end of last year which considered the likely humanitarian situation in Gaza by 2020 if something was not done about the blockade. It suggests Gaza may be uninhabitable by that date. It states the humanitarian crisis arises directly from the blockade and the devastation wreaked on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. It is an issue which requires action as a matter of urgency rather than words. The Taoiseach says he raised it with the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, and that he is concerned about it. In that regard, I understand the Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence, having spent one day with Irish troops in southern Lebanon, is at the Herzliya conference in the Dan Accadia hotel in Israel where he will spend the next three days. He is attending a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy Strategy and co-sponsored by the US Embassy in Israel. The Herzliya conference is a gathering of neo-cons and Zionist supporters who, frankly, have never shown much interest in the plight of the Palestinians. Is the Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence attending the conference in an official capacity? Will he be saying at the conference that he believes the siege should be lifted? Are the Taoiseach's words of concern being matched by the Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence in attending this conference which is full of neo-cons and uncritical supporters of Israeli policy? Will the Minister challenge the brutal policy being inflicted by Israel on the people of Gaza?
I ask the Taoiseach about the case of Marian Price. I express extreme disappointment that he did not raise the issue. Is he aware that a parole hearing for Marian Price will be held this week? The Northern Ireland Office is arguing that she should be held indefinitely because of what it claims is so-called confidential information on her. This is confidential information to which even her lawyers do not have access. This is an Irish citizen who is being held indefinitely and whose rights are being trampled on. I ask the Taoiseach why he did not raise the matter with the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, somebody who regularly expressed concern about human rights and the situation in Ireland and who played a part in the Northern Ireland peace process. This is a flagrant abuse of the human rights of an Irish citizen who is being held without trial and, effectively, interned. Why is the Taoiseach not raising this issue as a matter of urgency when the woman concerned is sick and particularly this week when a parole hearing will decide whether she will be kept interned in prison or released, as she should be? She is no threat to anyone and there are no proper or justified reasons for keeping her in prison.
Ireland's corporation tax rate of 12.5% has long been a cornerstone of the attraction of investment to this country. Taxation matters are for each individual country. It is not for me to change the taxation rate applied by any other country. One of the difficulties that has arisen from a European point of view is that corporation tax rates range over a number of rates. They are dependent on the criteria set down for particular industries and sectors and the location of such industries in different countries. Some countries have a rate of corporation tax which can be varied, depending on the location of the industry or the sector in which the industry is represented. In the case of Ireland, the rate is 12.5% and applies across the board.
As I said to Deputy Joe Higgins, these matters will be referred to in the discussions on free trade between the European Union and the United States covering all products and issues. I do not agree with the Deputy that it is blatant nonsense. Our rate has been fixed; it is unchanged and will not be changed, despite some recommendations to the contrary.
-----to present medals to those who have been awarded them for their excellent representation which has been carried out with integrity and competence during the years.
A number of years ago, when I was on the other side of the House, I brought the then spokesman on children with me to Israel and Gaza. We saw at first hand the devastation caused by the Israeli invasion some months earlier. We had long discussions with the authorities and heard graphic descriptions and analysis given by John Ging who at the time was in charge of elements of the provision of humanitarian and educational assistance for the people of Gaza. Anyone who visits Gaza will understand the difficulties surrounding this complex question. It is also fair to say the current ceasefire has ensured that, with one exception, no rockets have been fired by either side in the past month. This provides an opportunity to deal with a number of issues. We strongly support the European Union's policy. The Deputy will have the opportunity to hear from the Minister for Defence on his return about the areas he has visited and the issues he has dealt with on behalf of the Government.
I do not know the names of the people who are attending the conference. The Deputy attached particular classifications to them and categorised them. It is not for me to comment. I am sure the Minister will be happy to report to the House on the issue when he returns.
As I said in reply to Deputy Gerry Adams and, perhaps, Deputy Micheál Martin, I did not have the opportunity to discuss the details of individual cases with the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton. The date of her retirement as Secretary of State had been announced and she came here for a particular purpose. Her time was limited because she was on her way to a meeting with Mr. Brahimi and Russian representatives on the situation in Syria which was dominating world headlines during those few days. We thanked the then Secretary of State and her husband for the part they had played and their exceptional interest and actions on many issues relating to Northern Ireland for very many years. We could have discussed a number of issues such as the Parades Commission, the riots which had taken place during the Christmas period, Ms Price, the disappeared and the legacy of the past. We could have discussed my engagement with people from east Fermanagh, Kingsmills and Enniskillen or the fact that the Tánaiste had attended eemembrance day ceremonies in Belfast, while I had attended the ceremony in Enniskillen on the same day. We could have discussed the meeting held with the representatives from Ballymurphy.
In the light of the number of matters involved, one could not possibly discuss each individual case. However, I have an interest in the case of Marian Price.
I received a report from Deputies McHugh and Feighan, who met the families. I am aware that an all-party group visited Ms Price recently but I have not yet received an official report from it. I am focused on this issue.
I detect from the Taoiseach's reply that there is no fresh European initiative in respect of the situation in Gaza and the Middle East. In the context of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union, is he aware of or is he leading a new initiative to bring greater pressure to bear on the Israeli authorities in respect of the blockade and the acceleration in the process of constructing settlements? Ultimately, the latter undermine the potential for a two-state solution to emerge. With the exception of the odd articulation of opposition, this problem has been allowed to continue with the acquiescence of the global community. There is a need for a fresh initiative. Next week the Taoiseach will be meeting President Obama who will be visiting the region shortly and in the light of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union, he should initiate a discussion on this matter. What is happening is unacceptable. The population of Gaza has literally been imprisoned. The impact of the conflict is bad enough but the sense of imprisonment is perhaps worse. Young people cannot even go out and engage in what we would consider to be normal activity. Without the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, this sad and unacceptable situation would be catastrophic.
In the context of the Taoiseach's discussions with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and his forthcoming discussions with President Obama, it is important for Ireland to indicate where matters stand with regard to the operation of the institutions under the Good Friday Agreement. I do not share Deputy Adams's perspective on this matter. The Deputy had a cut at me in terms of my assessment of the position. As I articulated recently in Belfast, my views are shared across the board.
There is a sense that there is inertia at the heart of the Executive and in the legislative process. There is also a sense that the two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, are dividing the spoils in order to please their own electoral bases. There is a concern to the effect that everything is being based on electoral considerations for both parties and that this is being done to the exclusion of other parties and communities. The economic dividend has not happened for many communities on both sides of the traditional divide across the North. There is a need to call it as it is and the key players - the British, Irish and American Governments - must exert pressure in order to get normal politics back on the rails. Those who occupy the middle ground in the North are amazed that flags, emblems and symbols are still dominating the discourse of party politics there and that bread-and-butter issues do not appear to attract the same attention or priority.
I will deal with Teachta Martin's really misinformed and deliberate misrepresentation of what is happening in the North at some other time. I welcome the Taoiseach's efforts to refocus the British Government on the peace process and on what needs to be done in the North. I especially welcome the convening of a group of senior civil servants who will be charged with knuckling down and dealing with this matter. The group in question must work with the Executive and with all of the parties in order to ensure that there will be delivery in respect of certain matters. There are other matters which are very much the responsibility of the British Government and which have not been delivered upon. Regardless of the other pressing issues on the Government's agenda - I accept that these are difficult times - it is crucial that the peace process receive regular attention and be treated as a continuing priority. It is particularly important that the concerns of all sections of society in the North - not just those of republicans or Nationalists - in respect of identity, equality and symbols should be dealt with. Equality must be the foundation of what we do, across the island and, at this time, in the Six Counties in particular. Unionists and loyalists must, like the rest of us, be mindful of our abiding commitment to uphold their rights and entitlements on the basis of equality.
Teachta Ó Snodaigh also visited Marian Price and he furnished the Taoiseach with a written report relating thereto. Ms Price and Martin Corey should not be in prison. Sinn Féin made representations to the parole hearing and was informed that these two individuals would be a threat to the peace process if released. I wish to state on the record of the Dáil that they would not be a threat to the peace process if released. Their detention is actually the threat to the peace process. Ms Price and Mr. Corey are a threat to the peace process as a result of the circumstances in which they are illegally detained. I look to the Government to raise this issue in the United States and also with the British authorities before the review of their detention concludes. The last thing we want is a judgment handed down by a kangaroo court to the effect that Ms Price will be held in detention for ever and a day. She and Martin Corey need to be released.
Why did the Taoiseach not raise the Marian Price case, on a humanitarian basis, with Prime Minister Cameron? It would take 30 seconds to do so. When he visits the United States, will the Taoiseach deal with these issues in a concrete fashion? One of his predecessors, Bertie Ahern, informed us that he constantly raised matters with the President of the United States and others when he visited that country. However, he was tiptoeing around the issues and was particularly concerned about not offending his hosts. Will the Taoiseach raise with the US President the ending of the siege of Gaza, which is critical, the need to deal with the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails? Will he also deal in a concrete manner with the so-called free trade agreement, which will mainly benefit multinationals and increase their profits? He should be firm in respect of taxation. Google made $9.07 billion in operating profits in 2011 but it only paid $3 million in tax.
I am delighted the Minister for Justice and Equality met Irish troops in southern Lebanon. However, I asked the Taoiseach why the Minister spent one day with the troops and, as I understand it, then travelled to attend a conference of very strong supporters of Israeli policy in the luxury resort of Herzliya. Was the latter an official visit and was the Minister representing the Government at the conference in question? Why did he not travel 100 km further on and visit Gaza in order to express his solidarity with the people there who are living in the most squalid conditions as a result of the Israeli policy to impose a brutal blockade on them? Was it an official visit and was the Taoiseach aware of it? Was part of the purpose of the visit to allow the Minister to raise at the conference the Government's view that the blockade of Gaza should be lifted immediately?
I also add my voice to the urgent requests to the effect that the Taoiseach should raise with the British and American Governments the need for Marian Price to be released.
We will have the opportunity to raise the blockade of Gaza and the situation which obtains in the latter at the European Council's spring meeting on Thursday and Friday next in Brussels. I will take the opportunity to have discussions with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Catherine Ashton, who reports to the EU on matters of this nature. Ireland has been very strongly of the view that this blockade should be brought to an end and that some sense of normality should be restored. I share the views of Deputies Adams, Higgins and Boyd Barrett in respect of the situation in Gaza, which the Minister for Justice and Equality had the opportunity to witness at first hand.
On the question of the institutions of the Assembly in Northern Ireland, I raised those matters with the then Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and they have been raised by the Tánaiste with the Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry. Obviously, I intend to raise Northern Ireland issues directly with the President and we will be direct in our reporting back on that matter. Clearly, political leadership must be shown all around in respect of demonstrating that the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, of which both Governments are co-guarantors, will be seen to be implemented.
On the other matters raised by Deputies, namely, the EU trade talks and issues that arise from that in respect of taxation and so on, the programmes are laid out for every Minister who attends, on behalf of the Government and the country, St. Patrick's Day events in various locations throughout the world. Each Minister will be happy to respond to the House on the official elements of the business in which they have been involved.