Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

United Nations

4:10 pm

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United States of America and his attendance at the United Nations in New York. [48197/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United Nations in New York. [48308/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the United Nations in New York. [48309/21]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly. [48291/21]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent attendance at the United Nations General Assembly. [53056/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the most recent meeting of the United Nations Security Council. [53430/21]

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly. [54775/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 to 17, inclusive, together.

I travelled to the United States on 19 September for a five-day programme in New York centred around the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, and Ireland’s presidency of the UN Security Council. On 21 September, I attended the opening of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly where I met with a number of world leaders. I delivered Ireland’s national statement to the General Assembly on Friday, 24 September urging the assembly to heed the alarms sounding for conflict, Covid and climate, and to commit to immediate action.

I confirmed Ireland’s contribution to global vaccine sharing, with the donation this year of 1.3 million doses to low-income countries, mainly through COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, COVAX, with a further significant donation to be made in 2022. Ireland has contributed over €200 million in support to global health since the outbreak of the pandemic.

I chaired a debate in the United Nations Security Council on climate and security on Thursday, 23 September. Ireland is calling for the effects of climate change on peace and security to be taken into account in any analysis of the causes of conflict or approaches to peace-building.

I spoke at an event convened by the European Union and United Nations on women in conflicts and reaffirmed Ireland’s commitment to the protection of women and girls in conflict and the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in peace and security processes.

I also attended a European Union-Africa leaders' dinner, where I participated in a discussion on strengthening co-operation between the European Union and the African Union. I met bilaterally with many leaders while at the UN, including formal meetings with the President of Vietnam and the President of Colombia, discussing matters of shared interest, including Covid-19, economic recovery and conflict resolution. I also attended a Pacific Island Forum event, meeting the President of Palau and Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.

During my wider visit to New York, I met the new Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul. We discussed responses to Covid-19, the importance of connectivity between the United States and Ireland and the current state of Kerry football, among other issues.

I addressed the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, 22 September on Ireland-United States relations; Ireland’s tenure on the United Nations Security Council; our commitment to multilateralism through the European Union and the United Nations; and Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol. I also took part virtually in President Biden's global vaccine summit.

My programme also included economic, cultural and community events. I met representatives of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland client companies and visited NBC Universal to discuss current and future filming and production opportunities in Ireland. I attended a building dedication ceremony at the new Irish Arts Center in New York. I met representatives of the Ireland Funds and leaders of Irish community organisations who briefed me on their critical support of the Irish community in New York during the pandemic.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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The Taoiseach had a full-on visit to the United States. In delivering Ireland's national statement to the UN General Assembly in September, the Taoiseach rightly referred to the three Cs, namely, conflict, Covid and climate. These three issues disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations in least developed countries.

I ask the Taoiseach about climate and security and his chairing of the debate on this topic at the UN Security Council. I also believe that the effects of climate change on peace and security must be factored into any analysis of the causes of conflict or approaches to peace-building. We are talking here about the least developed countries and small island states as if these countries did not have enough to cope with already. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, at COP26 of €10 million in funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation for these countries. What progress has been made on the need to accept the link between climate and security? Are Russia, China and India opposing this concept? Will the Taoiseach outline the current position in this regard?

Climate change puts our collective security at risk. It exacerbates conflict and insecurity. It goes without saying that the recommendations of the COP26 summit need to be implemented and that we must redouble our efforts with regard to the sustainable development goals. Where are we with regard to linking the concepts of climate and security?

I have a question on vaccine inequity. As we know, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. We have heard that said often in this House. It is a moral issue too. There is a crucial need for universal, equitable access to safe, effective and affordable vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. There have been calls for a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver for Covid-19 vaccine technology and a waiver on intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines. The EU is not convinced that this is the right approach to take. We support the COVAX mechanism and have contributed substantial funding to it. Are we doing enough to address vaccine inequity for the countries affected in Ireland and at European Union and United Nations level?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The United Nations conference at Rio de Janeiro, among other things, developed a set of principles known as the forest principles, which relate to how important forestry is in combating climate change and biodiversity destruction. The Taoiseach and others attended the UN-convened COP26 and the Taoiseach was at an environmental session in New York where he discussed the issue of climate. Forestry is key in this, as has been said on a number of occasions. Last week, I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of the public forestry company, Coillte, selling 39 acres of forestry in a public amenity area in Enniskerry, which features Bronze Age stone pits, a right of way for the Dublin Mountains Way, important geological landscapes and so on. The Taoiseach, quite insultingly, tried to cast aspersions on the veracity of what I said but then said he would look into the matter. What I showed the Taoiseach was an advertisement from an estate agent's website, advertising the sale of this land for €250,000, an extraordinary price.

The public forestry body was selling off a public amenity forest in the context of COP26, protecting biodiversity, the forest principles of the United Nations and so on. It subsequently confirmed to me in a letter that the sale was going ahead. I went up to the forest where I saw "For Sale" signs all over the place. I am glad to say that I got a call from Coillte this morning stating that it had decided, although the sale was at an advanced stage, to abandon it. That is a victory. It also subsequently suggested that it was not really going to sell this forestry, even though there were "For Sale" signs everywhere and, as of this morning, it was advertised on the website of an estate agent. Why did members of the public or the Opposition have to point the Government to the fact that the State forestry company was selling off a public amenity forest? Why was there no proper oversight?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Deputy is over time.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Has the Taoiseach looked into the matter? Does he believe there needs to be a role for greater oversight of the sale of public forest land by the State forestry company?

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I see the Minister, Deputy Ryan, had an article in The Irish Timeslast weekend in which he approvingly quoted Greta Thunberg saying, "No more blah, blah, blah." It is supremely ironic. How else can the words and actions of this Government on climate be described but as "more blah, blah, blah"? To take the example of transport, last week the Government announced a target of up to a 50% reduction in emissions in transport in the climate action plan. This week, we heard that a key investment in public transport infrastructure is to be postponed by another decade, and presumably beyond that. Second, there is a commitment to reduce by between 22% and 30% emissions in agriculture, the highest emitting sector in this country. This is completely inadequate. The Government refuses to tell the truth about the necessity to shift to a different model of farming and away from intensive beef and dairy farming, as well as how small farmers can be supported and do better with the model of regenerative farming.

4 o’clock

Furthermore, the Government today announced a €70 million fund going to processors involved in that intensified, unsustainable production. The Taoiseach asked me two weeks ago who I meant when I referred to big agribusiness. Look at the list of the companies getting the €70 million. It includes Glanbia, Dawn Meats and Liffey Meats. The Taoiseach can read the list for himself.

4:20 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Last month, the Israeli Government designated six prominent Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations. In an attempt to justify the unjustifiable, Israel circulated a secret dossier, which does not contain a shred of evidence to back up its outrageous claims. Did the Israeli Government or the ambassador to Ireland provide the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, with a copy of this dossier? The Oireachtas Friends of Palestine group hosted a briefing yesterday with three of the human rights organisations affected, two of whom are funded by Irish Aid. All of the groups are now effectively deemed illegal organisations by Israel, which means their offices can be closed, their assets seized and their staff arrested and imprisoned. This is outrageous.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch published a damning report that further exposed the human rights abuses of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli authorities and called out their crimes of apartheid and persecution. Let us be clear that designating these human rights organisations as terrorist brings Israel in line with the worst days of South Africa's apartheid regime. What engagement has the Taoiseach had with European and international leaders on the matter? What concrete action will the Government take to demonstrate in full its condemnation of Israel's latest attack on the Palestinian people's human rights and those who advocate for them?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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COP26 is a United Nations climate change summit but there are more than just nations represented there. More than 500 accredited people at the COP have links to the fossil fuel industry. More than 100 fossil fuel companies have representatives in attendance at the conference. There are more fossil fuel company representatives at COP than in the largest national delegation there, namely, the Brazilian delegation. The number of accredited persons with links to the fossil fuel industry is greater than the combined number in the delegations from the eight countries most affected by climate change over the past 20 years. Fossil fuel lobbyists outnumber the official indigenous constituency there by 2:1. Fossil fuel representatives are members of the official delegations from 27 nations, including Canada and Russia. Does the COP represent the nations of the world or the fossil fuel corporations of the world? Will the Taoiseach join me in saying fossil fuel corporations should be shut out of the conference and future conferences on the grounds that they are part of the problem and not part of the solution?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Haughey raised the issue of conflict, Covid and climate. I pay tribute to our ambassador at the UN, Geraldine Byrne Nason, and her team. They have performed excellently on behalf of the country in advancing our agenda, particularly during the presidency of the Security Council.

In terms of the motion and the theme we are moving, there were reservations from Russia, India and China to different degrees. That work is ongoing and the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and the Minister, Deputy Coveney are also working on that linking of climate with security as a core responsibility of the UN. It was well received on the day and much proactive work went into it in advance of the meeting and will continue. In the nature of UN politics it will progress and, in my view, ultimately be successful.

On vaccine inequity, I accept that no one is safe until everybody is safe. That is a basic mantra. The European Union is the largest exporter of Covid-19 vaccines to the world. It will continue efforts to increase global vaccine production capacity to meet global needs. Since last December, over 800 million doses have been exported to over 130 countries by the European Union. It is the only continent that had no export bans.

For Africa, what Europe is saying is that we will provide €1 billion in support of production within Africa of mRNA vaccines, which will give that continent long-term sustainable production capacity for vaccines and medicines that will be based on the mRNA platform. That is the most effective way to do this. We are working with other states in the WTO on flexibilities in the TRIPS Agreement but there was much sloganeering around that which would not have achieved one extra vaccine. I am interested in getting vaccines into the arms of people in low-cost countries. Europe is again leading the way in concrete measures.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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It is leading the way for the pharmaceutical companies. It is killing people. It is disgraceful.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Senegal and South Africa will be early beneficiaries of the idea to develop production capacity in those countries and the continent.

On Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, because I was in COP and so on I was not in a position to have an in-depth conversation with Coillte. I am not in favour of the sale of forests. There can be local circumstances from time to time, such as sports clubs or national bodies looking for facilitation, but overall I want to grow more trees and we need to do so, particularly native species. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has overall authority in respect of that. We will seek a meeting with the Minister and Coillte to get their up-to-date position in terms of broader policies. I see the role of Coillte and Bord na Móna as being to fulfil the climate change agenda of the Government.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised "blah blah blah", a phrase that was actually coined by the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, at the beginning of COP26. On the investment, I do not know whether the Deputy represents workers, but the workers of Charleville will welcome the investment in the plant there. The workers in Mallow will also welcome it. It is about going to higher end value, less commodity and diversifying to other markets, rather than relying on the British market.

On non-governmental organisations and Pegasus spyware, we support Palestinian human rights defenders as a Government and have consistently done so financially. We are a founding member of the Freedom Online Coalition. We believe the human rights people have offline must also be protected online and we must ensure that emerging technologies privilege freedom, transparency and an open and tolerant society. In terms of the NGOs listed, we support Al-Haq financially and Addameer. We maintain a high level of oversight of our NGO partners and have robust controls. We do not accept the actions that have occurred in this respect.

Deputy Barry raised fossil fuel companies. I did not meet any fossil fuel company in Glasgow. I met with other Heads of State, with the young students from UCC I mentioned and with a group from the Dingle Peninsula who were developing a coalition of interests in terms of alternative energy provision.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Should they be excluded from the COP?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I said to the Deputy earlier that gas will be a transitional fuel but he did not come back to me on it. Ultimately, fossil fuels have no role in the future of energy supply and we have taken legislative steps to deal with that, as the Deputy knows.