Thursday, 7 December 2017
On behalf of those on this side of the House, I would like to wish the serving member of An Garda Síochána who was injured in the line of duty last night a very speedy recovery and good health.
I wish to raise with the Tánaiste an issue of job creation and inward investment. It is an issue we have raised previously in the House and it has been discussed at the Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Committee of Public Accounts. The Tánaiste will be aware the Succeed in Ireland initiative was a concept which flowed from the Global Economic Forum, the think thank which developed after the economic crash. The concept was to connect with and harness the Irish diaspora right around the world, with a view to creating inward investment and job creation in Ireland. One thing that flowed from that was a contract which was being managed by the IDA and contracted out to a contractor known as ConnectIreland. Interestingly, as the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the former Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, will know, the cost of every job created under this scheme was in region of €4,000 whereas the cost of an IDA job is in the region of €10,000. That contract ran out in 2017. Prior to that, there was notification of a tender process which was then rowed back on. Since March 2017, which is almost eight and a half months ago, we have been promised a review of that initiative. It is important to note that the Succeed in Ireland initiative brought into this country 95 new-name start-up enterprises, equating to in excess of 2,500 jobs. To be fair, the IDA will dispute the level of jobs but there is a verification process in regard to that.
Last week, in the absence of a Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and while the Taoiseach was acting in that capacity, ConnectIreland, which was the contractor and which is in dispute in this regard, wrote to the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and pointed out a number of issues in regard to it. The correspondence states:
In the course of our attempts to vindicate those diaspora, we have uncovered the most egregious, systematic and deliberate misconduct by the IDA in pursuit of its own self-interest, conduct that has laid waste to potentially thousands of new jobs and billions of euro of investment in Ireland. Despite our efforts to have these issues addressed, nothing has been done. We are constantly deflected by the mantra that our issues are nothing but a contractual dispute over the number of jobs created in the initiative. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we have been trying to expose misconduct which is of public and national importance and goes far beyond our disagreements over job numbers. However, our efforts have been met with a campaign of misinformation, concealment and attempts to silence us, our stakeholders and the diaspora through interferences in the democratic process.
What we have is a disagreement, on the one hand, but, on the other, we have the Succeed in Ireland initiative which has huge merit in terms of linking with our diaspora from around the country, and which has delivered jobs and investment to this country.
Does the Tánaiste agree the Succeed in Ireland initiative has delivered jobs and investment into Ireland, which is of benefit, and that it has done so in a value for money fashion? Does he agree the Succeed in Ireland initiative should continue in some shape or form to deliver and to work in compliment with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland?
Last March, almost eight months ago, we were promised a review. When will it be completed and when can we expect to receive it? We have raised the issue a number of times. Will the Tánaiste note from the correspondence the Taoiseach has been given that the connectors are seeking a formal public investigation into why we have reached this juncture?
I thank the Deputy for raising these issues. He will appreciate that I will not be able to give detailed answers to all of his questions, but I will ensure the line Minister will contact him about them.
I am familiar with the Succeed in Ireland initiative and have been involved in a number of promotional events with ConnectIreland at different times. Undoubtedly, ConnectIreland has reached out to the diaspora and others in an effort to bring jobs to Ireland at a time when they are badly needed. It was an example of new thinking in putting in place new structures and new ways of reaching out to the diaspora, something the Government supports, but any initiative that uses public funding needs to be reviewed and tested to ensure we are getting full value for money and that it is working in a complementary manner with the other arms of the State that are doing similar work. My understanding is this is the process ConnectIreland has had to go through. I will ask the Minister to update the Deputy on the review to which he referred. The Government constantly assesses ways of reaching out in a more effective manner to the diaspora generally but with a particular view towards returning investment to Ireland. The record of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in recent years is strong. There has been a strong pipeline of increased investment in Ireland in the past two or three years, not just in Dublin but also across the country. Any organisation or initiative needs to be open to independent and robust scrutiny to ensure it is the best model for achieving what we are trying to achieve. ConnectIreland cannot be an exception. If some of the issues the Deputy raised are of real concern, we will try to get answers for him. If there is a dispute between ConnectIreland and other State organisations, we must ensure there will be an independent assessment to establish the facts.
I am not advocating on behalf of ConnectIreland which is happy to take its chances in competing in an open tender process to manage the scheme; rather, I am saying the Succeed in Ireland initiative was a success. The Tánaiste and I agree that the initiative taps into our the diaspora in creating inward investment and jobs. Unfortunately, for the past eight and a half months there has been nothing but drift. The scheme was brought to an end prematurely having previously been extended. There was no reason not to extend the scheme in parallel with the review. Unfortunately, we have not seen the terms of reference for the review or the establishment of a review panel. When we raised this matter at a committee meeting yesterday, we received a dead man's answer. Granted, the new Minister has only been in office for a number of days, but the point must be impressed on the Government which must acknowledge its seriousness. There is a significant resource of people around the world who want to create jobs and invest in Ireland. We are not taking this as an opportunity to bash IDA Ireland. Like the Tánaiste, we acknowledge that it has played a considerable and successful role, but it is not above questioning either.
We must challenge IDA Ireland and the Department. Unfortunately, life is being choked out of the initiative. We are asking for a degree of urgency in the process and that the initiative move again nine months on.
I will raise the issue with the new Minister in the Department, but it is important to point out that ConnectIreland's original business model did not provide a viable return for the operator and subsequently needed to be altered. A contracting arrangement was put in place and financial support provided. We need to assess what happened with the business model, whether it was returning what was expected of it under the contractual arrangements in place and whether it is the best way of spending public money to get the return the Deputy and I both want, namely, more Irish people coming home and bringing jobs and ideas with them. There is no dispute on that issue. The only issue concerns the need for a robust, independent assessment of the story of ConnectIreland and the Succeed in Ireland initiative and to learn lessons from it. If the initiative has a role to play in the future, I would be comfortable with it. If it does not, so be it. We must ensure there are other ways to do what we wanted to do with the initiative, but that question should be the subject of the independent assessment that is under way.
The European Council at its meeting scheduled for next Thursday will decide whether sufficient progress has been achieved in the Brexit talks to allow movement to the next phase. I hope the Tánaiste and I agree that this cannot and will not happen unless the matters of concern to Ireland, North and South, are addressed and solutions agreed that defend the national interest. I hope we agree that any agreement must ensure the North will remain within the customs union and the Single Market and that the legal and political infrastructure of the Good Friday Agreement will be hardwired into any deal. It also means that we must have certainty on the issues of citizens' rights and access to the European Court of Justice and other European institutions for citizens living in the North. Anything short of this will guarantee a Brexit border between the North and the South and the ensuing economic and political chaos.
According to the Taoiseach on Monday, there was an agreement between the British Government and the European union but the DUP then pulled the rug from under the Tories' feet and it all collapsed. In the midst of this, there was a great deal of talk about but little meaning in there being no regulatory divergence and continued regulatory alignment. Despite this lack of clarity and not having seen the text, we gave the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach our qualified support on the basis that they would seek and achieve an agreement that would defend the national interest in the way I have outlined.
When the agreement collapsed, the Taoiseach stated he would not accept anything other than the deal he believed he had had on Monday. He was holding firm. Today, however, we hear new and worrying language from the Government. We hear that it will consider any new text from the Tory Government in London. We also hear about a fudge on the Government's much vaunted regulatory alignment. The British Prime Minister continues to play a game of make-believe that the North can be forced out of the customs union and the Single Market and that a hard border can be avoided. The Irish Government cannot be sucked into this delusion. If the Tories want to sail off into the sunset from the European Union, that is their business, but what happens in the North of Ireland is our business and that of the Government. The Government has a strong hand to play and democracy firmly on its side, given that the people of the North have not consented to leaving the Single Market or the customs union. They voted to remain and it falls to the Government to defend that vote. It should be sure we will stand shoulder to shoulder with it, if it does so. As it cannot afford a fudge, it needs to make the right call. As the Tánaiste stated, there is no room for creative ambiguity. Will he state clearly and with certainty that the Government will not agree to any deal that would drag the North from the customs union and the Single Market?
The Government has acted in a way that has been consistent for months and we do not intend to move away from that position. We regard the responsibility of the Government in the Brexit negotiations as being hugely important in the context of the national interest on the island of Ireland as a whole. That is why we have tried to listen to all views from political parties in government and opposition and from all of the political parties in Northern Ireland on the genuine concerns people have.
It is as a result of this that we have negotiated for some time, through very clear structures and an EU task force led by Michel Barnier, with our counterparts in the UK who are negotiating on behalf of the British Government.
At the start of the week, we had agreement on a text which was subsequently not confirmed. We are now in a position whereby we need to find a way forward. Let me be clear. The core issues on which Ireland got agreement at the start of the week are not changing and, as I said, are in the interests of the island and the relationships on it North and South, east and west and between different communities and political parties. We have maintained and will continue to maintain that position.
The Taoiseach has said that we will of course consider any other proposals which the British Government may offer. Our position on the core meaning of the text on which we had agreement on Monday needs to remain intact. If other proposals need consideration we will give them consideration. The position of the Government on some of the key issues raised again today, including protecting the Good Friday Agreement, recognising and retracting the principle of consent, ensuring that we maintain the integrity of the EU Single Market and maintaining North-South co-operation on an all island economy basis ensures that regardless of how the negotiations go, if and when we move to phase 2 we can reassure people that there will not be a re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland. It will also mean that we will protect citizens' rights in Northern Ireland, the common travel area, which people take for granted in the context of Brexit, and peace funding commitments which have been made.
Many issues are subject to negotiation. We accept the British Government is trying to move this process forward in good faith. We want to work with it rather than against it on that, but Ireland has real concerns which are important to the country and its future, and to the island and in future. We have an obligation to ensure that we act accordingly.
I agree with the Tánaiste. The concerns are truly national and island-wide, North to South and east to west. We have consistently told the Tánaiste and Taoiseach that where they pursue and secure those national interests we will back them and applaud them for their efforts. That is why clarity is so important at this juncture. The Tánaiste has described the very scenario to which we subscribe, namely, the maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts, including citizens' rights, the purview of the European Court of Justice, access to the European courts and, critically, the North remaining within the customs union and Single Market.
At this juncture, the Dáil deserves a clear statement that the Government will not agree to anything which forces the North from the customs union and the Single Market. In the absence of that kind of clarity and a deal which secures that we are undoubtedly headed towards a border on the island of Ireland, the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement and everything else that might flow from that.
I am not questioning the bona fides of the Tánaiste the or the consistency of his public utterances, rather, I acknowledge them heartily. I ask for a statement of clarity, and a simple "Yes" or "No" will do. Can he confirm for the House that he will not agree to any deal which takes the North of Ireland out of the Single Market and the customs union?
I can confirm that the position of the Government has not changed. This week, Deputy McDonald heard the Taoiseach and I outline our position in regard to the negotiations. As the Taoiseach said yesterday, this is a sensitive negotiation at a very sensitive time. Deputy McDonald will not get statements from which will stoke up what is already a difficult relationship management exercise.
The Taoiseach and I intend to hold to what we said this week. Of course, we also want to be helpful in trying terms of trying to move this process on and provide reassurance for people on all sides that what the Government is advocating is good for everyone living on the island and can also be good for Britain. We will not support anything that, in our view, risks the re-emergence of a hard border on the island in the context of these negotiations.
We have an input into a negotiation which is formally continuing. Most people in the House will understand the sensitivities of that and the reasons why I should be somewhat cautious about what I say and how I say it. In that regard, let me reassure the Deputy that the statements we have made this week as a Government still stand and we will continue to act in the interests of the country as a whole.
This is the week in which President Donald Trump has declared war on the people of Palestine and the wider Arab and Muslim world by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an act which threatens to enflame conflict across the Middle East. Against that background of warmongering and increased militarism on the part of President Trump, it is more important than ever that Ireland holds onto its traditional position of military neutrality and opposition to warmongering and militarism. Yet, the Government has until this week quite successfully buried what is the biggest betrayal of Irish neutrality since the decision to allow US forces to use Shannon Airport to bomb Iraq back to the Dark Ages. The vote which will take place today on Ireland joining permanent structured co-operation on a new common defence project in the European Union is an absolute betrayal of Ireland's military neutrality. It is a step towards involvement in what is being explicitly touted by Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker, Emmanuel Macron and Federica Mogherini as a new European army and common defence pact.
The Government has buried this. It misled the Business Committee. We were briefed by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Paul Kehoe, who did not know much about it. Yesterday he informed us that the decision was taken on 21 November. It was not mentioned in the two subsequent meetings of the Business Committee that the Government planned to push the vote through this week. There is no doubt the Government has briefed the media that there is nothing to see here and that this is not relevant or significant, and that there are no legal implications.
The truth is that Ireland is joining a common defence pact which will require it to regularly increase defence budgets in real terms to meet the 2% of GDP benchmark. That would mean a quadrupling of Irish defence expenditure. These are binding common commitments. It will involve bringing our defence apparatus into line with other member states, establishing permanent interoperability with NATO and increasing expenditure on arms and weaponry in order to benefit the European military industrial complex.
Why has the Government misled the country and tried to bury this significant betrayal of Irish neutrality?
Apart from everything else, is this not unconstitutional? Article 29.4.9° of our Constitution states: "The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State." That is our State and this is a common defence. It is explicit and anybody who doubts it should read the PESCO agreement. We are signing up to a common defence in defiance of our own Constitution. The Government has misled the public and the Dáil while playing fast and loose with the Business Committee.
I can agree with the Deputy on something, which is his concern about the recognition of Jerusalem yesterday by the United States and the instability to which that may possibly lead. I made contact with the US Embassy to express our concern when we heard reports that it might happen and we strongly made our view known that we did not think it was a good idea at this time. Jerusalem is one of the permanent status issues to be settled in a final Middle East peace agreement and it is closely interlinked with other permanent status issues. They should all be resolved together through negotiation in the context of a broader peace deal, of which Ireland wants to be very supportive. It is regrettable that the announcements yesterday evening will make the achievement of that agreement much more difficult.
I do not agree with the Deputy on the attempt in this House by him and others to paint Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, as something it is not. I am a former Minister for Defence and I have listened to many debates about this initiative. The truth is this is simply a structured initiative that allows member states to opt in and opt out of different projects, depending on what they are comfortable with. We have other non-aligned and neutral countries like Sweden, Austria and Finland that have already signed up. From an Irish perspective, this is an opportunity for us to essentially share resources and access other resources in areas where we are comfortable in co-operation. It is no more or no less than that and it will work on a case by case basis. I suspect we will want to use this in terms of counter-terrorism, peacekeeping and training, with other areas potentially including marine surveillance. This is so Ireland can be part of collective initiatives when it is appropriate in the context of the European Union.
As the Taoiseach stated yesterday, other countries will have a different view and they may want to get more involved in a more structured way in projects where we will not be involved. I ask the Deputy to call this what it is, as opposed to trying to create some kind of conspiracy that simply does not exist. This conversation has been happening since the Lisbon treaty and it is now something that is coming to finality following a long debate which has involved many countries, including neutral states, NATO members and others. Ireland, like others, insisted on language in setting up PESCO to ensure it is constitutional, that it does not undermine Irish neutrality and ensure the triple-lock still applies if we are to send troops to any other part of the world. From that perspective, we have tested this in the context of some of the questions asked by the Deputy. It does not undermine what is important to Irish people and to me, which is that Ireland remains non-aligned militarily and a neutral state.
That is the most cynical rubbish I have ever heard. I appeal to the public and press to simply read the document, Notification on Permanent Structured Cooperation. It refers to 20 binding commitments and there is no ambiguity about the language. One of these includes a "commitment to agree on common technical and operational standards of forces acknowledging that they need to ensure interoperability with NATO."
It is what we are talking about. We are committing to the integration of Irish Defence Forces with NATO. We still have not got answers on the fact that it commits us to real increases in defence budgets, or a "successive medium-term increase in defence investment" and "increasing the share of expenditure allocated to defence research and technology". That will be reviewed on an annual basis. There is to be a national implementation plan to meet these targets. This is the military equivalent on the fiscal treaty and we are signing up to it.
President Tusk has said the purpose of PESCO is to protect the bloc from the "effects of the migrant crisis and hostile bordering states". He is referring to the 35,000 people who have drowned in the Mediterranean, thanks to fortress Europe. These people want to militarise the wall that Donald Trump dreams of building to keep out those desperate people. This is what they are about. The Government has deceived the public. I have a simple request. Give us the legal advice that this does not run counter to Article 29 of our Constitution before we have to vote today. It would come from the Attorney General and say this does not run counter to Article 29 of the Constitution.
Any time peacekeepers are sent to any part of the world, they must work together. Is the Deputy seriously suggesting our peacekeepers should not be interoperable with other peacekeepers in parts of the world where they put their lives at risk?
My job is to ensure we reduce those risks by giving them the budgets and equipment to do the job properly. It is about ensuring there are enough personnel in the Defence Forces so they can be well equipped and trained. When we make a voluntary decision, confirmed by the triple-lock, to send troops to another part of the world, they should have trained and be interoperable in a professional sense with others with which they work.
I am glad the Tánaiste acknowledged the risks taken by members of our Defence Forces. Last week the State settled the first Lariam damages case by a member of the Defence Forces member. It is a very significant event in the Action Lariam campaign, which has been ongoing for several years. The plaintiff, Mr. Anthony Cole, stated he was delighted, giving an indication of the substantial damages that the State had to pay. This was a case where the State put up no defence of the indefensible, called no witnesses and adduced no evidence to defend the case. Instead, in an approach that would make the Garda Commissioner's legal team blush, the State launched a vicious attack on the plaintiff and his witnesses. His honesty was questioned and he was accused of perjury. The State's whole case was based on the argument that he was lying about the symptoms he suffered while in Chad. I know the Tánaiste knows from his time as Minister for Defence that some Defence Forces members who have taken Lariam have experienced very devastating consequences.
They include nightmares, anxiety, hallucinations, depression, mood swings, mania and psychosis. Their experience of such utterly devastating effects is a medical fact, yet, knowing this, the State's entire case was that this individual was lying. We had ten days of hearings over five months, involving two senior counsel and two junior counsel, which caused huge stress for the plaintiff and at enormous cost to the State. Despite the finding in this case and the vote that took place in this House, Defence Forces policy remains the same. Lariam is the first choice anti-malarial drug for members serving in sub-Saharan Africa, including Mali. Saying "No" to Lariam is saying "No" to overseas duty. Admitting that one has a mental health problem means an end to one's Defence Forces career. It is an absolute disgrace. As we have seen time and again, the State will adopt an adversarial approach in medical injuries cases, which has resulted in long and unnecessary court processes. By the end of 2016, outstanding liabilities on the State for damages in cases in the areas of health, justice and defence were €2 billion, a staggering figure. The winners in all of this are the lawyers, to whom €24 million was paid out last year by the State Claims Agency, together with €41 million in plaintiff fees. In view of the massive costs involved and the fact that the State did not even bother to defend itself during this case, I have two questions for the Tánaiste. First, will the Government heed the outcome of the case and the motion passed in this House last summer by immediately issuing instructions to the Defence Forces to cease all use of Lariam? Second, will the Government take urgent steps to establish a redress or compensation scheme for members of the Defence Forces who were harmed by the taking of this terrible neuro-toxic drug and, in so doing, save the State a fortune in unnecessary and costly legal challenges?
I remember having this debate with the Deputy when I was in the line Department. I said at the time that it was not for politicians to decide the medications prescribed in the Defence Forces or anywhere else because we were not qualified to do so. The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces have consistently sought to ensure responsible decisions are made, on the back of the best available medical advice, on the medication to be offered to personnel serving overseas. We have an obligation to protect members of the Defence Forces against malaria and ensure they are offered appropriate options. We have an obligation, too, to recognise that Lariam does have adverse effects on certain individuals. As such, it is important to have a clear screening process in place to identify individuals who may be adversely affected by the drug. These persons will be offered alternative medication or may choose not to participate in a mission to a part of the world where malaria is relevant. All of that is happening in the Defence Forces.
I am not familiar with the legal case to which the Deputy referred and, as such, it would be dangerous for me to comment on it. I will, of course, ask the Minister of State to come back to her on whether that case sets a precedent. As I do not know the circumstances surrounding it, it would be wrong to offer any advice in that regard. I have met several families who have a member affected by Lariam and feel very strongly about the drug. We must handle this issue responsibly. We cannot, however, make decisions that are contrary to the best medical advice available to us. There is no simple answer when it comes to protecting our troops against malaria. We must take appropriate decisions based on medical advice and that is what we will continue to do.
The best medical and practical advice the Government could take is to recognise that the State has just agreed to pay out substantial damages to a member of the Defence Forces who has been harmed by the use of Lariam. Against a backdrop where 42 members were prescribed the medication last year, why in God's name are we continuing to do this when there are other viable anti-malarial drugs on the market? It does not add up.
The Tánaiste spoke about responsible decision making. I do not expect him to know the details of the case to which I referred, but I assure him they are relevant to the 60 other Lariam damage cases in the pipeline, with the likelihood that many others will join that list in the light of the Cole case which concluded last week. When the Tánaiste has examined the case and concluded that it does affect a broader group, will he then consider it reasonable to abandon the policy of pursuing adversarial court proceedings and instead take responsibility in this matter by agreeing to establish a redress or compensation scheme? Such schemes are in place in Australia and the United Kingdom. While neither is perfect, they both go some way towards dealing with the damage done by Lariam. The Government must intervene with the Defence Forces to prevent more people from potentially joining the numbers who will have to seek redress in the future.
For many people who have used Lariam, including me, it has been very successful. There are individuals who are vulnerable to the drug, but not every case against the State is the same. The Department and the Defence Forces must make a decision on whether there is a precedent that needs to be adhered to following the settling of a particular case. It is unreasonable of the Deputy to ask me to comment on that case until I have seen the detail of it. In fairness to her, she has acknowledged this. It is a matter for the Minister for Defence to decide whether any particular action is necessary in this matter.