Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 2 and 3 together.
On Monday, 11 June, the Vatican announced the programme for the Pope's visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families from Saturday 25 to Sunday 26 August 2018. While the main impetus for the visit is the World Meeting of Families, it will also have a number of official and public events, including engagements with the President and myself on Saturday, 25 August, a visit to Knock Shrine and a public mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday 26 August. Also included in the programme are visits to St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, the Day Centre of the Capuchin Fathers, the Festival of Families event in Croke Park and a meeting with the bishops.
Preparations for the visit are ongoing and involve the civil authorities and various agencies. As is the norm for an official visit by a Head of State, staff in the protocol division of my Department, together with protocol staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the event management unit at the Office of Public Works are involved in co-ordination and organisation, in the main concerning protocol, security and logistics around the visit.
I thank the Taoiseach for those details. With regard to the reception in Dublin Castle where the President, the Taoiseach and the diplomatic corps will attend a visit by Pope Francis where he will give a speech, is it expected that leaders of party groups here will be invited to the event? What is the mechanism if someone is interested in going? Obviously, space will be limited but I am keen that there is representation from the Oireachtas there and I am keen for the Taoiseach to outline his plans in this regard.
It is regrettable that the Pope will not visit the North during his stay in this country. I have raised this with the Taoiseach before and I know it is not our remit to set an agenda for the Pontiff. That is a matter for himself and the Vatican. There is a huge level of disappointment. Very many people, and not only Catholics, would have welcomed a visit by Pope Francis.
Has there been discussion or is there scope for the Pontiff to meet delegations or people from the North who might travel for such meetings? I do not know if the Taoiseach can answer that but I will put it to him. Will he give some sense of the kinds of interactions he will have with the Pope and what events he will attend? Will he be at Knock or in the Phoenix Park? What will be the extent of the Taoiseach's engagement?
Outside of theology, what discussions will the Taoiseach have with the Pope and what matters does he intend to raise with him? Does he propose to raise the mother and baby homes, the Magdalen laundries and all of those experiences? Does he intend to raise the fact that so many victims and survivors feel very let down by church authorities? I raise these matters very conscious of the fact that we are legislators and we operate in the secular sphere. It is not for us to issue instructions to the church but certainly where church actions encroach on the public space and where damage has been done, it would only be right and proper that the Taoiseach would raise such cases with the Pope. Does he intend doing that?
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He has told us the events management unit of the Office of Public Works, OPW, will manage the Phoenix Park event, which will be the biggest, with 500,000 people. I know from my time in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that in advance of the visits of Heads of State, including Queen Elizabeth II and US President Obama, there was a comprehensive estimate of costs, including Garda overtime costs. They were approved in advance. Has such an estimate been carried out for this and what is the indicative cost for Garda overtime and from the OPW for management, transport, looking after the park, corralling and all the other required elements? The event on 26 August involves engagement with civic groups. It is a long event, from noon to 3 p.m., and it will involve a speech by Pope Francis. The Taoiseach has the programme but he does not control it. Will there be formal engagement between the groups and the Pontiff? Will there be an exchange of views or do we have any idea as to how that will be structured?
Any fair assessment would conclude there is a warm public response to the Pope's visit in August. He is coming here in exactly the spirit we would hope for from the leader of the world's largest organised religion and faith on this island. This is an important opportunity for our society to demonstrate that it respects the faith and sincerity of people at a time when significant progress on important matters has occurred. I hope reports of people trying to get hold of hundreds of tickets to block people from going to the main events are untrue. If such actions occurred, they would be petty, intolerant and certainly the opposite of progressive.
An area in which Pope Francis has demonstrated exceptional personal leadership is his advocacy for the rights and humanity of migrants. He is doing this at a time when people claiming to represent Europe's Christian heritage are promoting a deep intolerance. We can look at what is happening in Hungary and the commentary from political leaders in some European Union member states, which is a cause for real concern. Ireland's representatives did not attend the weekend's mini-summit but this week's European Council will address the matter of migration in detail. Will the Taoiseach assure us that Ireland will speak up in support of the brave stance of Chancellor Merkel in welcoming large numbers of migrants and remain committed to showing solidarity, irrespective of whether the resettlement system is maintained? We have not fulfilled the commitments we have given thus far with respect to refugees. At a moment when some leaders are queuing to try to exploit and increase fears of migrants, Ireland has a duty to speak up against them. What does the Taoiseach propose to say on the matter in the next two days?
The visit of the Pope will be an important event for those of the Catholic faith in this country and they have every right to celebrate his visit and the occasions around it. I acknowledge Deputy Micheál Martin's comments that Pope Francis has spoken in a very progressive manner on migration against a frightening background of a rise in far right xenophobic and anti-migrant political forces in Europe. That is positive. The Pope has also spoken positively about the need to address global poverty and on behalf of the people of Palestine. We should be respectful of the visit and the celebration of those who are of that faith. However, it is also important that this would not prevent us from asking important questions of the Vatican. The questions that matter most to people who felt they have been hurt by the church and its role in the likes of the adoption scandals and particularly in clerical abuse relate to the Vatican files on what it knew, when it knew and what it did about reports of clerical sex abuse. That is terribly important. The survivors and victims of clerical sex abuse deserve that and we must ask those hard questions. There have been reports and tribunals here but those questions must be asked of the Vatican itself.
Pope Francis will be a very welcome visitor to Ireland, particularly for people of the Catholic faith and of Christian faiths in general. Will the Taoiseach give us details of the budget allocated in respect of the reinstatement of the Phoenix Park after the Pope's visit? There will be 600,000 people in the park and that will put enormous pressure on the ecosystem. We have seen recently what happened with two very successful events, the Ed Sheeran concerts and the Bloom festival, which involved fractions of the number of people going to see the Pope. Has a budget been tied down to reinstate the park?
Second, I refer to the Taoiseach's interaction with Pope Francis when he arrives. Will the Taoiseach raise the matters that have caused such grave scandal in Ireland generally and particularly in the Catholic Church relating to its treatment of different groups of people? Will the Taoiseach confirm that when the Pope visited Ireland previously, the visitors stayed in the nunciature at the Navan Road? Barely a stone's throw from that nunciature is St. Patrick's Home on the Navan Road, which was one of the largest mother and baby homes in Europe. It probably has a significant history connected to the adoption scandal Members have discussed in recent weeks. Between 2,000 and 2,500 babies in Glasnevin Cemetery died in that home, or at least they are the burials we know of. There are people who stand, week in and week out, at the gates of Leinster House. These are a number of women who were in St. Patrick's Home and still feel enormous hurt, as many do because of what happened to them in that home.
Will the Taoiseach raise this matter with the Pope? He could tell Catholic parishes all over the country to open up and welcome back people who may have been given up for adoption out of their parishes. He is a man who has sought to reach out to people in difficulty. He would welcome such an approach from the Taoiseach that would provide some level of both recognition and healing for many wrongs done to many different people. In particular, could the Pope lay a few flowers at St. Patrick's Home on the Navan Road? It would be very appropriate.
The event at Dublin Castle will of course be space-limited but it is intended to invite all officeholders and party group leaders from both the Dáil and Seanad. The Government would support a visit to Northern Ireland.
That would certainly be welcome, but we regret it is not possible on this occasion. Anyway, I am glad that the Pope will be getting out of Dublin and will be visiting the basilica at Knock and saying mass there.
I am not involved, nor is my office, in organising any delegations or deputations to meet Pope Francis. That would have to be done through the Papal Nuncio. My role will be very limited. I will be at the event in Dublin Castle to receive him and I intend to attend the mass in the Phoenix Park, which is in my constituency. I am unsure how long my meeting with the Pope will be. I am unsure whether it will be one-to-one or long or short. None of that has been worked out yet, but certainly I will use the opportunity to welcome him to Ireland on behalf of the people and I think he will be most welcome in Ireland. I will use the opportunity to raise issues of historical abuse against our citizens by church authorities. I think people would expect me to raise them at such a meeting.
We do not have a cost or budget yet either for the security or for the reinstatement of the park, but we estimate it will be in the same ballpark as Queen Elizabeth's visit. In other words, it will probably be more than €10 million and less than €20 million but that is only an estimate at this stage.
Deputy Martin mentioned the fact that some people have been applying for tickets that they do not intend to use as some sort of protest. I firmly believe that such actions, if they are happening, are wrong, petty and mean-spirited. Protest is legitimate and okay, but denying other people the opportunity to attend a mass or an event is not legitimate protest in my view and is most unfair. It should be condemned.
I was asked a question around migration. The position the Government takes is that migration is a classic example of why we need multilateralism and bodies like the European Union. No country on its own can deal with migration. Countries that act unilaterally simply pass the problems and difficulties on to the next country. We need a European approach. That involves co-operation with the source countries and transit countries to reduce the push factors. People are leaving countries because they are unsafe, because they are badly governed and because there are no economic opportunities there. Europe needs to do far more in the Middle East and Africa to bring about security, political freedom and economic opportunity so that fewer people feel forced to migrate.
Enhanced border security is important. We already have a role with Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean. Europe as a whole will need to do more to protect its seas and borders. Nation states are simply unable to do that anymore. We need to protect our external frontier.
Burden sharing is also important. We are committed to burden sharing and solidarity when it comes to the migration crisis. We are asking all the time for other European countries to demonstrate solidarity for us when it comes to Brexit. Therefore, when it comes to problems they face, such as mass migration or illegal migration, we have to assist them as well. That is why we took the decision yesterday, after a request from the Maltese Prime Minister, that we would take 25 migrants from MV Lifelineand we have agreed to do that. They will be part of the 4,000 that we have already committed to. Only approximately 2,000 of the 4,000 have so far arrived in Ireland. They have almost all come from Greece.
It may be at the end but it is not yet. We have only had 2,000 so far. The reason we have only had 2,000 thus far is we have been unable to seek agreement from the Italian authorities to have people interviewed by the Garda before they come into the country. Greece has agreed to that but Italy has not. It is something that I want to talk to the Italian Prime Minister about when I meet him tomorrow. If we can get progress on that, we can fulfil our commitment to take 4,000 migrants and then I think we can take more beyond that as well.