Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.
I met the US ambassador, Mr. Ed Crawford, at Government Buildings on 21 September. The meeting was a courtesy call requested by the US embassy to mark my appointment as Taoiseach and to discuss matters of mutual interest to Ireland and to the United States. We discussed the Irish and American responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and its ongoing impact in each country. The ambassador and I discussed the Brexit negotiations and the importance of full implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. The ambassador affirmed the solid support for the provisions of the agreement across the US political landscape. As part of our conversation on Northern Ireland, I also detailed my aims for the new shared island unit in the Department of the Taoiseach, a key commitment in the programme for Government and that is now up and running and opening up dialogues across these islands.
Deputies will be aware that the ambassador is a proud Irish-American whose parents emigrated from Cork in the 1920s. He is also a life-long businessman and we exchanged views on trade and entrepreneurship as part of a broader discussion on the Irish-American relationship, of which bilateral trade is a vital part.
On 28 September, I met with President Trump's special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, who was accompanied on that occasion by Mr. Crawford. We had a very productive discussion on the Good Friday Agreement, Covid-19 and Brexit. I outlined the importance of full implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol and the need for mutual trust between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Of course, since then, elections took place in the US last Tuesday. Yesterday, I spoke to President-elect Joe Biden and offered my congratulations to him and to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Joe Biden has been a true friend of Ireland throughout his life, and especially during his 50 years of public service. Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman and woman of colour to take the office of US Vice President. I look forward to working with them both in the years ahead to deepen Irish-American relations, safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, strengthen EU-US relations and support the many Irish people who have made a home in the United States.
In his call with President-elect Biden yesterday, did the Taoiseach discuss corporate tax avoidance? Last year, it was reported that, if elected, Mr. Joe Biden was planning to impose sanctions on the State because the Government facilitated "illegal corporate tax avoidance and [engages] in harmful tax competition". In the Biden plans, Ireland was listed alongside the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Does the Taoiseach agree that the State has been operating as a tax haven for big businesses as part of a chain of global tax avoidance and that this must stop? Not only is it deeply immoral, given the robbery of hundreds of billions of euro from some of the poorest countries in the world as well as from workers in this country, it is unsustainable, as illustrated by Mr. Biden's declared plans during the election and the fact that Ireland is not the only country that can engage in a race to the bottom in terms of corporation tax rates. Ireland can be beaten in that race by others. The only victor will be the corporations, which have seen the amount of corporation tax they pay halved over the past 20 years or so.
Is it not time to stand up to the tax dodgers, tax their massive profits and use that wealth to invest in a socialist green new deal that creates decent, sustainable jobs and to rebuild our society and economy in a socialist direction?
The sacking of Mr. Donald Trump by the American people and the rejection of the majority of Americans of his hate-filled, toxic, racist and divisive agenda is a cause for celebration for people across the world. It is a major blow against the forces of the political far right who were emboldened by his toxic agenda, including small but growing forces of the far right in this country.
Although Mr. Trump and the far right are down, they will not be out unless we challenge the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism and the growth of the far right. In Ireland, I am involved in a new group that will be launched in December with support from Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, trade unions, artists and so on. It is called Le Chéile - Diversity Not Division and, as the name suggests, is an attempt to promote a movement of social diversity, pluralism and unity against the hate-filled agenda of the far right. A key point that Le Chéile - Diversity Not Division wants to make, and one that we need to be aware of in terms of what has happened in America, is that, unless we address issues like poverty and inequality in society, the housing crisis and the fact that large numbers of people across the world are disenfranchised by a grossly unfair system, the politics of the far right will have soil to grow in and come back. That must be the lesson.
While what has happened is a cause for celebration, unless governments like the Taoiseach's recognise the gross inequalities in society, the gap between the rich and poor and the failure to provide basic elements such as secure and affordable roofs over our citizens' heads, we will still have the conditions in which the far right can grow. That is the challenge if we are to ensure that Mr. Trump and his like stay on the political margins.
I would just say first of all to Deputy Paul Murphy that I do not accept the definition or description of Ireland as a "tax haven". We work with the OECD and with other countries on good and sound taxation global policy. We have continued to work on that basis, and also within the European Union framework, in terms of taxation strategy and taxation policy.
We have for more than 50 years operated a very successful and effective foreign direct investment strategy, which has created thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs in this country, which have in their own turn created and facilitated the growth of Irish-owned companies, which supply a lot of goods and services into those companies. I think the ideology the Deputy comes from and that he legitimately holds would run counter to that strategy in its entirety. I think Deputy Boyd Barrett is in a similar strand, in my sense. I am not clear about their alternative economic strategy. As a small open economy having to survive within the global world-----
-----the sense I get from them is a set of strategies and policies that would undermine jobs and create thousands and thousands of vacancies or redundancies in our system. I do not think they have this well thought through in terms of how the global environment operates and in terms of competition out there.
The foreign direct investment here has not been just about tax. Ireland invested, from the 1960s onwards, dramatically in education. It will never get acknowledged by the far left. There is a very significant degree of state intervention in Ireland. The free second level education was a huge advance in Irish society that Donogh O'Malley and Fianna Fail brought in. The expansion of third level education and the dramatic investment from the late 1990s that I initiated in higher education research have had a profound impact in terms of our performance as a country. In particular, the numbers in terms of OECD levels of school completion and in terms of progression on to third level education have all been progressive policies pursued by my party while in power at different times over those 50 or 60 years, and by other parties as well I have to acknowledge.
We have also invested on the social front. I do not believe we can compare European states generally or indeed the Irish State to the United States, for example, in terms of the level of state intervention in poverty programmes or social programmes or interventions.
We did not discuss this issue yesterday with US President-elect Biden. We discussed climate change. I was impressed with the degree to which he was clear that he wanted to re-engage with the Paris accord and in terms of re-joining the World Health Organization. In the context of Covid-19 this is good news. It is good news for the world, especially for the poorer regions of the world, to have the heft and support of America available for the World Health Organization as it deals with the pandemic.