Tuesday, 3 November 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
1. To ask the Taoiseach the position regarding Europe's response to dealing with immigrants who illegally cross the sea from Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19220/15]
2. To ask the Taoiseach if he has been in contact with, or if he has met with, the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr Alexis Tsipras, recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19222/15]
3. To ask the Taoiseach if he has recently spoken to the Chancellor of Germany, Ms Angela Merkel, regarding Greece, and other matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19227/15]
4. To ask the Taoiseach if there was any discussion at European Union Council level to increase European Union funding to Greece and to assist with youth unemployment in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28224/15]
5. To ask the Taoiseach his views regarding the increasing anti-European Union sentiment across Europe and here; if he has discussed actions to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28225/15]
8. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on recent discussions at European Union summits in respect of the crisis in the Mediterranean and the plight of refugees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31699/15]
9. To ask the Taoiseach the efforts his Department is making to address the current European Union migrant crisis at an international level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31711/15]
10. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the meetings he has had or discussions he has had with other European Union leaders in respect of the current refugee crisis and the response required from the European Union and its member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31765/15]
18. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on conversations he has had since the commencement of the Dáil summer recess with European Union leaders and officials to discuss the refugee crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32917/15]
20. To ask the Taoiseach if he had bilateral meetings with any other European Union leaders when he attended the European Union Council meeting in September 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33919/15]
24. To ask the Taoiseach the position of the Government in respect of the refugee crisis in Europe and its commitments under the European Union agreement reached at the leaders' emergency summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33933/15]
26. To ask the Taoiseach the position regarding the agenda at the European Union Council meeting on 23 September 2015; the items that were discussed; the conclusions that were reached; the contributions that he made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33969/15]
27. To ask the Taoiseach if the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report published on 5 October 2015 was discussed at the October 2015 European Union Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35264/15]
28. To ask the Taoiseach if the increased violence and bombings in Turkey will be discussed at the European Union Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36873/15]
29. To ask the Taoiseach if the overall increase in violence in the Middle East was discussed at the European Union Council meeting; the actions that will be taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36874/15]
30. To ask the Taoiseach if the European Union is co-operating enough to tackle the increased violence in the Middle East and Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36875/15]
32. To ask the Taoiseach if the recent European Union Council meeting discussed the deteriorating situation and heightened conflict in the Palestinian territories; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37840/15]
33. To ask the Taoiseach if he has discussed the economic and political situation in Greece with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipiras; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37842/15]
34. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed Ireland's growing homelessness crisis at the recent European Union Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37843/15]
I propose take Questions 1 to 34, inclusive, together. For some time but certainly over the past four months, the European agenda has been dominated first by the negotiations over Greece's financial situation and now by the migration crisis which has seen such dreadful human suffering as people flee war and insecurity in search of a better life. It is no surprise that these two themes were the main focus of the European Council meetings in June, September and October. The Greek issue also necessitated three European summits - one in June and two in July. Of course, the European Council also discussed other issues on which I have reported to the House and which I will recall in this answer.
Going back to the first of those European Councils, I recall that I reported to the House on 1 July in some detail on the outcome of the European Council of 25 and 26 June. At that meeting Heads of State and Government had urged Prime Minister Tsipras to make every effort to conclude an agreement and put an end to the instability which was having such a detrimental effect on the Greek economy and people. At the time negotiations were being taken forward with the institutions and by Finance Ministers through the Eurogroup. However, following the breaking off of negotiations by the Greek Government, the holding of a referendum on 5 July and the radical deterioration of Greece’s financial position, it was felt the situation in Greece required a special European Summit meeting on 7 July.
It was agreed that the Greek Government would on Thursday, 9 July at the latest present proposals for a comprehensive and specific reform agenda for assessment by the three institutions and presentation to the Eurogroup. The Eurogroup considered these proposals at meetings on 11 and 12 July prior to the European Summit. I attended the special meetings on 7 July and 12 and 13 July. After lengthy and difficult discussions the European Summit reached agreement on a series of measures that enabled negotiations on a third programme of assistance to begin between Greece and the institutions. Satisfactory progress in these negotiations and the implementation by Greece of a number of very demanding conditions allowed for political agreement to be reached at Eurogroup level on 14 August and for a first disbursement of additional support on 20 August.
Throughout all of the European Council and European Summit negotiations I expressed Ireland’s understanding and empathy with the difficult situation faced by the Greek people. I highlighted our willingness to negotiate a way forward and achieve a sustainable solution that would take account of the realities of the situation in Greece, while also respecting existing commitments. I stressed our determination to ensure Greece could continue as a member of the euro area. At both of the European Summits in July I intervened along these lines and participated in the summit’s negotiations on the texts of the conclusions. The negotiations were, undoubtedly, very difficult and Greece remains in a very challenging situation. However, if the agreed measures continue to be taken forward swiftly in accordance with the commitments made, there is a real basis for Greece, with the support of partners, to return to stability and growth within the euro area. That is the objective towards which all countries have worked and will continue to work.
The issue of youth unemployment was not specifically discussed at the European Summits. However, the importance of supporting growth and job creation in Greece as part of an overall agreement was fully recognised and is reflected, in particular, in the final paragraph of the 12 July European Summit conclusions which deals with the funding of investment in Greece, in drawing on up to €35 billion from the EU budget.
I have had no scheduled bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Tsipras. I did, of course, see and speak to him at the European Summit meetings and the European Council meetings and sent a letter of congratulations following his re-election on 20 September.
The extraordinary European Council meeting on 23 September was entirely dedicated to the issue of migration. The meeting of the European Council on 15 October dealt with several issues of importance to the Union but the discussion focused, above all, on migration. Over the course of both European Council meetings Heads of State and Government agreed to take a number of further steps as part of the European Union's comprehensive response to the crisis. These focused on co-operation with countries of origin and transit, particularly Turkey, strengthening the European Union’s external borders, managing the influx of refugees to Europe and addressing root causes, including through seeking to resolve the conflicts in Syria and Libya.
There were also short discussions at the October European Council on the five Presidents’ report on completing economic and monetary union and on the UK proposals for EU reform, with an understanding the European Council would return to both issues in December. President Hollande made a presentation in advance of the Global Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, which will open in November in Paris, and the European Council also noted the publication of the international and independent report on the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine. I delivered a comprehensive statement on the October European Council to the House on 20 October.
To turn again to the issue of migration, people have been shocked and saddened by the human consequences of the deepening crisis. The European Council has worked hard to meet the political and organisational challenges it poses. The Irish response to the migration crisis has been prompt and active and we continue to be engaged across a number of fronts. We have consistently emphasised the need for a compassionate, practical and comprehensive approach to tackling the crisis, aimed at achieving a Iong-term and sustainable solution. I set out the details in my recent statement on the October European Council. There is broad agreement that a comprehensive approach is required to this complex issue, one which addresses immediate humanitarian needs and the various factors which contribute to the huge flows of people. Progress is being made on many of the measures agreed at the June, September and October meetings, including in reinforcing internal solidarity within the Union, reviewing practical measures that can be applied to strengthen the European Union’s external borders developing "hotspots", that is, specific locations for the processing of asylum appeals and increasing co-operation with, or support for, those countries from which most migrants originate or through which they pass.
As ever, Ireland stands ready to play an appropriate part in the collective EU response to the crisis. Although we are not a participant in some areas such as Frontex operations which consider the external borders, we will complement these efforts with our own national initiatives consistent with our common travel area with the United Kingdom and our non-membership of the Schengen area. For example, Ireland intends to provide six liaison officers to work on the issue of relocation from within the European Union.
The question of a possible future European border guard system was discussed at the emergency meeting of Heads of State and Government in September and again at the October Europe Council. This is, of course, for Schengen member states to consider in the first instance. It is clear, however, that much more remains to be done. The situation on the ground remains extremely challenging.
Follow-up work on the decisions already taken and the commitments made is being taken forward by Justice Ministers, in particular. There will be a further special meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 9 November. In addition, in Brussels on 25 October there was an emergency meeting convened by President Juncker of leaders from the countries, EU and non-EU, particularly affected by migration through the western Balkans route.
One of the central components of the European Council discussions was co-operating with third countries. Turkey is paramount in this regard. The October European Council in its formal conclusions expressed its condolences to the people of Turkey following the Ankara bomb attack and pledged its support to fight terrorism. The Commission has accelerated co-operation in recent weeks and on the eve of the October European Council negotiated an action plan aimed at supporting Turkey in its current challenge of hosting over 2 million refugees from Syria and enlisting its assistance in reducing the migration flow. The European Council gave its support to the Commission by welcoming the action plan and signalled its openness, in return, to helping Turkey to work within existing frameworks towards visa liberalisation and a range of enhanced political and economic co-operation measures. It was recognised that the accession process needed to be re-energised in accordance with the negotiating structures and relevant Council conclusions which set out the procedures and criteria which had to be respected.
The European Council underscored that this comprehensive co-operation agenda had to be based on shared responsibility, mutual commitments and delivery on both sides. No one is under any Illusion about how challenging it will be to achieve the substantive step-up in relations now envisaged. At the same time, Turkey plays a geographically and politically central role in its region and as an EU neighbour and candidate country, it is hard to imagine solutions to the current crisis which do not involve it very substantially. Therefore, we hope rapid progress can be made in the coming period on the issues set out in the action plan.
Discussions also touched on the upcoming Valletta Summit. This summit will aim at finding agreement with African partners in a fair and balanced manner on tackling the root causes and supporting development, as well as on an effective return and readmission and dismantling the criminal networks that are exploiting the situation and putting lives in danger.
The European Council discussions in September and October touched on the wider Middle East region, where seeking to end the conflict in Syria and creating conditions to allow for those in exile to return home obviously remain fundamental. The shared view of the Council that the Assad regime bears the greatest responsibility for the more than 250,000 deaths from the conflict and the millions of displaced people was clear. It was also made clear that the only path towards a solution will come through a political process on the basis of the Geneva communiqué of 2012.
There were no formal items on other specific countries of the Middle East on the agenda of the European Council meetings in June, September or October. However, the situations in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as those in Israel and Palestine, in particular, were briefly mentioned. This was the case in June when there was a progress report on the development of the new European security strategy for the future and again in September when the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, briefed Heads of State and Government on his visit to countries of the region. From Ireland’s perspective, the deteriorating situation in Israel and Palestine, in particular in East Jerusalem, is a matter of very great concern. Violence will not bring a solution to the long-standing challenges facing the Israeli and Palestinian people. I deplore any resort to violent attacks on civilians and urge all sides to refrain from any provocative actions.
The October European Council did not discuss the OECD base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, report, but Ireland participated fully in the BEPS process and is committed to implementing those aspects which are classified as minimum standards. These relate to country-by-country reporting, tax treaty changes and transfer pricing. Budget 2016 already began making provision in line with some of the BEPS minimum standards and Ireland has now joined the working group tasked with designing the multilateral instrument which will give effect to many of the measures.
The European Council did not discuss homelessness in Ireland. I had no scheduled bilateral meetings in the margins of the euro summit meetings or in the margins of the European Council meetings in June, September or October. However, I did speak with several counterparts, including Chancellor Merkel, at those meetings. I met separately with the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, in Rome on 10 July. During that meeting we reviewed a range of issues on the EU agenda, including the situation in Greece and the migration crisis. We also discussed proposals to enhance our bilateral co-operation. I also discussed a range of important issues with President Hollande during our bilateral meeting in Paris on 3 September. These included the migration crisis, climate change and energy and development relating to Greece, as well as bilateral issues. I met with the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, in London on 18 June. Our discussion focused on migration and bilateral co-operation. Of course, we also discussed the UK-EU relationship.
There is no doubt that the continuing effects of the economic and fiscal crisis combined with the ongoing challenges of globalisation and demographic change have had consequences for public confidence in EU institutions, as is also the case for national institutions in many countries. However, I believe that a large majority of Europe's citizens still look to the EU as indispensable in ensuring that Europeans can work together to face common challenges. We should also recognise that the current migration crisis has arisen in part because of the EU's success. The EU has evolved to become a beacon of security, stability and prosperity, so much so that people are prepared to risk their lives to seek sanctuary here. The European Council, the Commission and the Parliament have recognised that we must focus relentlessly on the key issues which affect citizens' lives and their futures and I believe that this is reflected in the policy and legislative priorities the institutions have set for themselves, most recently in the Commission's annual work programme which was published on 28 October. I am sorry for the long reply.
The length of the Taoiseach's reply reflects the difficulty in answering 34 questions in one go. Such a number of questions creates logistical issues and many of these questions were tabled as long as three or four months ago, perhaps even six months ago in some cases. Question No. 1 on immigrants from Africa and the whole migration crisis was tabled when that issue was at its peak and families were travelling across the Mediterranean to seek refuge from war on European soil. Since then, Europe has witnessed the appalling vista of families leaving war-torn Syria, with enormous consequences for instability across the Middle East and creating huge issues for Europe.
I pay tribute to the members of the Irish Navy for their outstanding work, their bravery and their courage in saving hundreds and hundreds of lives. They have spent many months away from their families on behalf of the State and they have done us proud. Can the Taoiseach confirm whether the Irish Navy's time on that mission will be extended? Will additional allowances for members of the Navy on those expeditions now be paid out? The Government has been very quick to bask in the significant afterglow of their achievements but people would like to see a concrete manifestation of that in terms of the claims that have gone in.
After years of an unprecedented financial and economic crisis, this is without question the largest humanitarian crisis faced by the European Union since it was formed. Can the Taoiseach outline the number of migrants Ireland will now accommodate from war-torn areas? There has been a lot of hype and publicity and people have spoken in terms of thousands of migrants. Germany received up to 1 million migrants during the summer. Ireland received approximately 100 at the beginning of the year and we are to take in a further 100 by the end of December. Comparing those figures with the headlines makes a mockery of all the hype we have heard over the past number of months. We need a realistic framework and some degree of certainty as to what will actually happen in the next 12 months. Are we really only talking about 200 migrants next year in addition to the 200 this year, or is there a schedule to help people fleeing war-torn areas, specifically the horrors of the Syrian conflict? I commend the efforts that have been made to broker a peace agreement in Syria but we must never forget what Assad has done to his own people, particularly in the most recent bombing campaigns which were quite horrific.
In the context of Question No. 2, the Greek leader, Alex Tsipras, was elected and the Taoiseach extended his congratulations to him. He said he was looking forward to working with him but I hope the Taoiseach took the opportunity to apologise for publicly lecturing him and telling him we did not have to increase taxes or VAT to bring down our deficit. That was clearly not true and was one of the Taoiseach's fables, one of the many stories he makes up from time to time. Many economists were surprised and tweeted accordingly when the Taoiseach gave Mr. Tsipras his advice so I hope the Taoiseach put his comments in context when he spoke to Mr. Tsipras. Has the Taoiseach met Mr. Tsipras since his election?
Youth unemployment is still very high in Greece, as it is in Ireland where 20.6% of 15 to 25 year olds are without jobs, according to the September CSO figures. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report on youth unemployment in Ireland, published today, does not make for pleasant reading either. PricewaterhouseCoopers found that Ireland was still in the bottom rankings of the OECD in how we are tackling youth unemployment. Was youth unemployment dealt with at European Council level and in the meetings covered by this series of questions? Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the EU, on a pan-European basis, is doing enough to deal with youth unemployment? It is still very high in Ireland, Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom. We compare very badly indeed with Germany, Switzerland and Austria within the OECD framework.
In Question No. 31, I asked whether the Taoiseach had been speaking with the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, recently and if he would make a statement on the matter. He was very supportive of the Chancellor in her attacks on Greece and in German intransigence towards Greece.
Did the Taoiseach speak to her about his claim that the Army would be needed to guard Ireland's ATMs in 2011? If he met her recently, I presume he met her at the European People's Party meeting. At that meeting he spoke to a European audience and said:
The Governor told me, it looks like this weekend, a few years ago, you’ll have to put the Army around the banks and around the ATM machines [he used his hands and everything to graphically illustrate what was going to happen] and introduce capital controls like they had in Cyprus. So we’ve pulled back from that brink.
The Taoiseach was subsequently interviewed and was asked when it happened. He said, "shortly after coming into office", which was in 2011. It is not the euro crisis of 2012 which was about Italy having difficulties or the bigger countries being an issue and Europe not being in a position to backstop any implosion or difficulties in terms of the bigger European Union countries.
The Taoiseach made those remarks very much in an exclusively Irish context and he spoke about a very specific meeting with the Governor where he said the Army would be needed. He came in on a Wednesday and he said, "You know, by Friday you might need the Army." I think the Taoiseach let the Irish people down when he said that to a European audience. The Irish people never needed an army to restrain them at any stage of the financial crisis. An army is not needed to guard ATMs; they only need to be switched off.
The bank guarantee had been agreed prior to that, as had the troika deal which guaranteed moneys for three years to the Exchequer and to the banks. That is why many people have been scratching their heads over the Taoiseach's remarks. The banks and the sovereign were funded in 2011 - all that had been agreed. When the Government came into office, the troika deal was done and dusted. The guarantee was in place and the Government carried on with the guarantee, bondholders were not burned and so on.
There is no context for this alleged specific conversation between the Governor of the Central Bank in 2011 or in an exclusively Irish context, which is how the Taoiseach pitched it to his audience. He pitched it very much in an Irish context. Subsequently, I believe the story has been reinvented and to get the Taoiseach off the hook, people are now talking about the euro crisis of 2012, as if that was the context for his remarks.
When he was interviewed afterwards, he said, I think, that there was no specific conversation between him and the Governor on this issue. He can correct me if I am wrong in that. I read afterwards that there were denials that there was any specific briefing to the Taoiseach by the Governor regarding the Army.
Sources in the Department of Defence and the Central Bank are puzzled by the Taoiseach's remarks. I do not know about the audience in Europe. I do not know if the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, believed him. Did she say she believed him when he said that to the audience? Did she actually believe that in 2011, the Army would be called in that weekend? Did he alert her at the time when the Governor told him that we would need to call in the Army that weekend? Did he telephone her colleagues in Europe to advise that we were facing a crisis?
I put it to the Taoiseach that it might be best to admit that no such conversation took place and that the Central Bank did not advise the Taoiseach that he would need the Army that weekend, that the Governor did not come in to him on a Wednesday and say that he would need the Army and the Garda to guard the ATMs by the weekend. The Taoiseach made it up, for whatever reasons. That specific conversation never took place. Will the Taoiseach confirm I am right in saying that he made it up? That might be the easiest way around it - that there was no specific conversation.
I thank the Deputy for his questions. Obviously, the situation around the table at the European Council meeting was one of great seriousness in respect of what has been happening here in recent years. When we saw the first evidence of people losing their lives because of illegal trafficking across the Mediterranean, the efforts made by Italy in particular under the Mare Nostrum programme to save so many people spoke for itself about the flight from Libya and other countries in Africa and from Syria.
I accept the Deputy's commendation of the Defence Forces. Three of our naval vessels have rescued several thousand people from the waters of the Mediterranean. I have often made the point that this is part of our own history, having lost thousands to the Atlantic off Grosse Île and Ellis Island. While Ireland is not part of the protocol, I welcomed the Government decision that we should send a Naval Service vessel to assist in this humanitarian relief work. The personnel on those vessels have performed heroically and professionally in the course of their duties.
It is the first time in many years that Iran has been involved in investigating the possibility of bringing some conclusion to the war in Syria. As has been pointed out on many occasions by the Carter Foundation in America, unless Russia and Iran are involved in whatever solution can be brokered, this will not end. With more than 1 million people having been assimilated into a small country in south Lebanon, which the Ceann Comhairle visited, more than 1.25 million in a major camp in Jordan and more than 2 million in Turkey, it speaks for itself of the extent of the flight from Syria.
I have spoken to the Prime Ministers of some of the smaller Balkan countries who pointed out that 150,000 people have passed through their borders in a very short period of time. Given that they are supposed to be part of the Dublin Convention and the Schengen Agreement, the resources available to many of the smaller countries just do not stand up. It is an horrendous problem that the European Union has not been able to address successfully and practically and it has taken a long time to try to catch up. That is why these so-called "hot-spots" for registration and assessment of people who are coming into Europe are of great importance.
If a similar situation were to apply in Ireland where exceptional numbers of people came here for that purpose, the Deputy can imagine the kind of difficulty it would cause here. Obviously, others are now stretched to the limit in terms of the incessant flow of people wanting to come to the European Union. The majority of those in the camps would like to return to their own countries but that will not happen given the continuing war there.
As I said in my response, all the meetings since the early part of the summer have been taken up with migration issues and reports from the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Mogherini, in regard to the situation in Syria and Libya and the very disturbing reports about the horrendous conditions in a number of camps in the Horn of Africa.
The issue of youth unemployment was not addressed directly but it is a follow-on from other meetings that have been held. I am glad to say that the employment figure is improving in a number of countries, including youth employment. The rate of unemployment is still too high, in particular among young people. In our country, we need a changing analysis at all times as to the circumstances ahead where opportunities, training, apprenticeships, upskilling and appropriate courses for young people might be concerned. That is why the Minister of State, Deputy English, has introduced, through the new apprenticeship council, new areas for apprenticeships, new methods of connecting with business and new communications systems for young people in secondary schools to advise of the ever-changing opportunities that exist in the digital world, the IT world or in any other area.
I have dealt with the question of talking to other Prime Ministers. I dealt with the question from Deputy Pearse Doherty about the crisis in the eurozone. I say to Deputy Gerry Adams that I am sorry, as I took his name in vain. I said he was on his way to America. I withdraw that remark. I did not know that he was around.
It is true to say the troika was here when the Government was appointed in 2011, but throughout that period and in 2012 there was a crisis of confidence in the eurozone; this country was blocked from entering capital markets-----
The Deputy should not get on his feet. The Taoiseach is in the middle of replying to a series of questions. Deputy Gerry Adams is present. He is one of the Deputies who asked a question and there are others involved.
I have made the point that in the context in which the discussions took place there were clearly warning signs about a possible break-up of the eurozone. It was right and proper for the Government to have the discussions. It would have been absolutely negligent and irresponsible of it not to put in place a strategy to deal with these things in the event of a break-up. The discussions took place with the involvement of the Central Bank, the NTMA, the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance. Work was carried out in a number of areas by specialists in logistics, security, the production and distribution of a possible new currency and the provision of all of the supplies in the normal running of a country. I have said I am glad that did not happen.
There is no need to be like that. I will resume my seat, but you need to be a little more flexible in dealing with this matter. The Taoiseach took half an hour to answer the first question.
I have made the point that it was not appropriate then to speak about the contingency plans; it is not appropriate now to speak about the details of either and I do not intend to do so.
I am here and I am reassured that the Taoiseach recognises it. However, he did accuse me of being disrespectful to the Dáil in going to the United States and he did not withdraw that accusation. However, I will move on to more serious matters.
Most of my remarks will be about refugees. I have often discussed the difficulties in dealing with so many questions and such a range of subjects in such a time.
I refer to the work done by the crews of the LE Samuel Beckett, the LE Eithneand the LE Niamhwhich have rescued 8,000 people, the population of a town. It is a huge number of people. This year there have been at least 3,350 confirmed fatalities, which surpasses the entire death toll in 2014. The number of deaths off the Greek islands has surged with the advent of cold weather. Almost 500 men, women and children have died in the past three and a half weeks. The problem is that we have become fatigued by and numb to the number of deaths. We hear in passing that six children or a number of adults have drowned. The Taoiseach has referred to the millions of people fleeing from Syria and those living in horrendous conditions in refugee camps. He acknowledged there had been a drop in public confidence in EU institutions, which is important, but he then went on to say the success of these institutions had partly accounted for the numbers fleeing Syria. They are fleeing war and poverty. I am sure they would tell the Taoiseach, as would Irish people abroad, that they would rather be at home. Those whom I have heard interviewed have said this. In the past two months 250,000 human beings have made their way on foot through the Balkans into central Europe. It is one of the greatest mass movements of population in modern history on the European continent. I met Prime Minister Alex Tsipras in September and he told me about the significant difficulties his government had in facing up to the challenge, given the numbers of refugees arriving in Greece.
I offer my commendation to the Naval Service. Has the Taoiseach discussed an extension beyond December of the very worthwhile humanitarian mission? Second, has the issue of allowances for Naval Service personnel been resolved by the Government? I raised the matter at the time.
On the decrease in public confidence in EU institutions, the Slovenian Prime Minister warned that the European Union risked falling apart. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said the European Union risked disintegrating but failed to produce a comprehensive programme. On the very day she gave that warning, Austria announced its plans to build a fence in an effort to stop the flow of refugees and it did not inform the European Commission before it made its decision. There have been rising tensions over many of these matters and how individual states have responded to them.
A big issue was made of the decision to increase co-operation with what are referred to as “third countries”, in this case Turkey. An action plan was agreed with Turkey. It seeks to provide financial support for the Turkish Government in its efforts to cope with the 2 million refugees from Syria in camps along its border. It is to stop people from making the journey to Europe. In return, EU leaders agreed to discuss visa-free travel arrangements for Turkish citizens and to resume negotiations on Turkey’s EU membership bid. All of this ignores Turkey’s deplorable human rights record, especially against the Kurds, Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict, its illegal occupation of northern Cyprus and the recent decision of the Turkish Government to launch a military offensive against the Kurdistan Workers' Party. All of these issues must be judged in the round. In Turkey we see widespread attacks on journalists, while dozens of Kurdish media outlets have been gagged. Instead of building the peace process, in which some progress was being made until recently, the Turkish Government has put narrow political concerns first. I ask the Taoiseach to reflect on the carrot being offered to the Government of Turkey and the stick being offered to the refugees.
It strikes me this is not a morally sustainable position. As some media sources claim the agreement is stalled, can the Taoiseach shed light on this?
I am pleased the Taoiseach mentioned the question of the deteriorating situation in Palestine, to which I wish to return. The death toll in that region is rising and Israel continues to seal off neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem. When I was there recently, the local people showed me where this would develop in the future and they were right, as one can now see. I looked at a map on television the other evening and one can now see that Palestinian people are being evicted and are then being denied the right to travel in areas that are being placed under Israeli control. Moreover, there definitively is a shoot-to-kill policy on the part of the Israel Defence Forces. Some 61 Palestinians have been killed by these forces, whereas ten Israelis have been killed by Palestinians, mostly in stabbings, and the Palestinian Authority appears to be on the verge of collapse. While I was there, some older people who were long-standing community activists told me the younger people were no longer listening to them and again, unfortunately, that also has come to pass.
This Dáil passed a motion of support for the recognition of the Palestinian state on which the Government has failed to act. Were the Government to act on it, it would be a clear signal that we support, on a basis of equality, the rights of the people of Israel and the rights of the people of Palestine. I ask the Taoiseach to commit today to so doing.
I thank Deputy Adams and did not wish to infer that he was in any way disrespectful to the Dáil. All Members can agree regarding the response of the naval personnel on the three naval vessels that have been deployed in the Mediterranean, one of which is still there, in which more than 8,000 people have been rescued. I have listened to the accounts of some naval personnel who rescued men, women and children and considering what has happened to those people, it has been an extraordinarily emotional engagement for them. One hears the High Representative indicate the trafficking of people in inferior boats, for which they are charged, simply means certain death in many cases. Would one overload a small rigid-inflatable boat, RIB, in Dún Laoghaire and state one was going to Holyhead in any kind of weather? One would not do that. In many cases, what happens when a large boat appears is the smaller RIB may be destroyed deliberately with the consequence that people end up in the water to either drown or be saved. This is going on between Turkey and within the proximity of the Grecian islands on a regular basis.
As for the pictures one sees of the flow of people, in many cases middle-class, well-educated people such as engineers and so on - coming from Syria but now mixed with economic migrants from some Balkan countries - who wish to make their way to Austria, Germany and Sweden, this has placed an unprecedented strain on the capacity of many small countries to process them and to deal with them as one would expect. Deputy Adams has raised the issue of lack of confidence in the institutions on the one hand while on the other hand, people wish to come to Europe in the first place because of confidence in the institutions. The latter is true in the sense that the perception and image of Europe as being a place of order, prosperity and opportunity has meant that in the case of civil war, conflict or destruction, people wish to leave. When one considers the extent of the numbers of people who have moved from Syria in an Irish context - a couple of million people simply upped and left - it is extraordinary and one tries to imagine, in a family sense, what this means when one sees such people carrying their children, babies, buggies and elderly people. The overwhelming weight of numbers has meant that smaller countries have been unable to process these in an acceptable way and that is why it has taken the Union quite a while to catch up. While the image of Europe is as a place of work, opportunity and prosperity, its success has been undermined, if one likes, by its inability to deal with the numbers that have turned up.
One either has the principle of freedom of movement within the European Union or one does not. If one has freedom of movement within the countries, one then must protect one's external borders. This has not happened in the past, which has meant there have been many opportunities for people to enter the European Union by various routes. As the principle of free movement is fundamental to the treaties, the question now of dealing with FRONTEX and external borders was taken to the limit by Hungary, which has erected a serious fence. There are also pressures from other countries further east in which economic migrants may mix with the numbers coming from Syria who are asylum or refugee seekers and this is causing great problems. However, the last couple of meetings at EU level have genuinely have tried to focus on what needs to be done in this regard. Progress is being made but with the onset of winter and the serious cold, snow and poor weather in eastern Europe that many people from Syria and north African countries have never experienced, there is a great urgency to provide suitable accommodation for people.
Ireland has taken the view that while it is not part of the protocol, it wishes to play its part in a compassionate and practical way, as well as seeking to deal with the root causes of all of this, which in this case is the war in Syria. Ireland has made an important contribution on a number of fronts. The Government agreed that Ireland would accept approximately 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees under the resettlement and relocation programme, that is, well in excess of any sort of notional quota that might be allocated by the European Commission. This includes 520 refugees the Government has offered to resettle from existing refugee camps in Greece and Italy. Some of these, who have already been assessed, have now started to arrive in Ireland. The implementation of the decisions to relocate 600 people from Italy and Greece under the initial Commission proposal and a further approximately 2,200 people under the subsequent Commission proposal is work in train.
Ireland is on course to take an initial tranche of 20 asylum seekers from Italy or Greece before Christmas. Initially, persons coming to Ireland on relocation will be from Syria and from Eritrea. The remaining approximately 680 people will be taken on resettlement or on relocation with the final breakdown between the two yet to be decided. I have already dealt with the question of theLE Eithne, theLE Niamhand now the LE Samuel Beckett, with 8,066 persons saved or rescued as of 28 October. I do not wish to comment on the question raised by the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA; this is a matter that is the subject of arbitration and work is under way in that regard.
In addition, the Government has provided from the Irish taxpayer financial supports to areas that are badly affected by instability, conflict and war. A total of €41 million will have been provided by the end of 2015 towards assisting those displaced as a result of the Syrian crisis, including through the regional development and protection programme in the Middle East, while €36 million has gone towards humanitarian funding in Somalia since 2008.
Furthermore, we recently committed to doubling, from €10 million to €20 million, our annual contribution to the World Food Programme over the next three years. All of these have been supported by a swift response from the Irish Government. The announcement on 10 September of the establishment of the Irish refugee protection programme and, particularly, the efforts of the interdepartmental task force, chaired by the Department of Justice and Equality, are important steps in the Government's contribution. The Irish Red Cross is working closely with the Government on this programme and is accepting offers of accommodation and other services through its website. Early in 2016 it is proposed to establish a series of emergency reception and orientation centres which will allow Ireland to receive approximately 100 migrants per month. It is worth noting that the number of people applying for protection through normal channels has also increased substantially. That figure, which was just under 1,000 in 2013, is estimated to increase to 3,600 in 2015.
In regard to the Deputy's question about what more can we do, we have consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to solidarity within the EU and externally. As already stated, we offered to take 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers and are advancing plans in that regard. The scale and complexity of the crisis is such that it cannot be addressed as quickly as member states would have liked. Ireland is one of the world's most generous donors of humanitarian aid on a per capitabasis and we have not been found wanting in respect of this particular situation.
In regard to the 2 million people in Turkey, the position, in terms of political bargaining, is that there will be an assessment of the opening of some pre-accession chapters for Turkey and a request of €3 billion in financial assistance from Turkey to the European Union. Most of the people in Turkey would prefer to return to Syria if the situation there can be dealt with. I will respond later to Deputy Adams's question on Palestine.
I have a couple of questions for the Taoiseach. He will be aware that across the world there is a growing chorus of voices outraged at the continuing persecution of the Palestinian people by Israel, including its continued seizure of Palestinian land, which is supposed to be designated for Palestinians as part of the so-called two-state solution, its demolition of Palestinian property in east Jerusalem, the three cruel assaults on Gaza over recent years, the siege and so on. The Taoiseach will be familiar with all of that. He will know also that those of us who believe this cannot go on are asking at what point will the European Union impose sanctions on a state that systematically and routinely violates the basic civil and human rights of the Palestinian people and has been accused, and is evidently guilty, of crimes against humanity. At what point will the European Union impose sanctions, say this is not acceptable and that it will not continue to treat Israel as a normal state? Is that possibility ever discussed at the European Council, particularly given the current escalation? In other words, is there any discussion at all about sanctions on Israel, including, for example, suspension of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement on trade or suspension of military trade sales with Israel? Is this ever discussed as a possibility given Israel's routine breaches of human rights, civil rights and war atrocities?
The Taoiseach may be aware that those of us who feel enough is enough believe that there should be a boycott of Israel. While he probably does not agree with that, I hope he and the European Union will agree that people should have the right to know where goods are coming from, such that they can choose whether they want to buy goods from states in which they believe routine and systematic human rights violations or war crimes are being committed. One such item, about which I feel the Irish public has a right to know, is diamonds. The largest export from Israel is diamonds. Will the Taoiseach raise this issue with the European Union as part of its involvement in what is known as the Kimberley Process, which relates to the regulation of the diamond industry around the world? At the recent World Diamond Council, it was proposed that the current definition of "conflict diamonds" be expanded to label as "blood diamonds" or "conflict diamonds" diamonds which originate in or - this is very important - were polished or processed in a state which was found guilty of human rights and civil rights violations. That proposal from the World Diamond Council was shot down by the Israeli representative on the council on the basis that it would be a disaster for Israel. I am sure Israel believes it would. Will the Taoiseach support, and raise with the European Union, the need for it to support, within the Kimberley Process in which it is involved, the expansion of the definition of "conflict diamonds" or "blood diamonds" to include diamonds from states guilty of civil and human rights violations and, similarly, the establishment of labelling for diamonds in this country such that people in this country purchasing diamonds would be able to determine not only where the diamonds originated but where they were polished and processed.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has taken up so much time over the years, and continues to do so. As pointed out by Deputy Boyd Barrett, there has been a spate of attacks over the past number of weeks, mostly by young Palestinians, particularly in Jerusalem but also elsewhere.
Eleven Israelis and 68 Palestinians were killed in clashes with the security forces. The Palestinian attacks appear to be unco-ordinated at this point. A major concern is that the attacks on the security response could spiral out of control. There is no visible prospect of a de-escalation. The current wave of violence was prompted by rising anger among young Palestinians in occupied east Jerusalem. There is a growing fear that the Israeli Government might support attempts by radical Jewish groups to overturn the long-standing practices governing prayer rights at the shared holy site of the Temple Mount, Haram al-Sharif. We all deplore and utterly condemn attacks, in any shape or form, on religious sites. This is an issue that the European Council will have to consider.
In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett's other question, I cannot recollect any discussion at the European Council on possible embargoes or restrictions on European trading links with Israel, although the issue may have been discussed at other Council meetings. I cannot recall any situation where it arose in the context mentioned by the Deputy.
I will consider the Deputy's question in relation to the diamond market, including whether it is an issue I should follow-up with the Minister concerned. I do not know whether there has been any discussion on that issue at Council meetings.