Tuesday, 21 June 2022
Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements
Beidh cruinniú Comhairle na hEorpa ar siúl an tseachtain seo, ar an 23 agus 24 Meitheamh agus beidh cruinniú an euro summit ann ag an am céanna. An t-ábhar is tábhachtaí ná an t-iarratas ón Úcráin chun a bheith mar bhall den Aontas Eorpach. Tá gach aon dealramh ar an scéal anois go dtarlóidh sé sin ag an gcruinniú roimh dheireadh na seachtaine. Tá gach éinne aontaithe faoin aidhm sin, sé sin, go mbeadh treo dearfach ag an Úcráin chun a bheith mar bhall den Aontas Eorpach.
The European Council will meet Brussels later this week on 23 and 24 June. That meeting is expected to be followed by a meeting of the Euro Summit. An EU-Western Balkans meeting will also take place on 23 June. Before turning to these meetings, I will briefly update the House on the special meeting of the European Council which I attended on 30 and 31 May. I also take the opportunity to update the House on my recent visit to Strasbourg and address at the European Parliament. At the special meeting of the European Council on 30 and 31 May, we discussed the situation in Ukraine, including international justice, humanitarian, financial, political and economic support, and the impact on neighbouring countries.
We also discussed energy defence and food security. On the first day of the summit, we were joined by video conference by President Zelenskyy for the opening of our discussion on Ukraine. We expressed our unwavering commitment to support Ukraine in exercising its right to self-defence against ongoing Russian aggression. We called on Russia to immediately withdraw from the internationally recognised territory of Ukraine. We also called on Russia to allow humanitarian access and the safe return of people forcibly removed to Russia.
We welcomed efforts to gather evidence and investigate war crimes and indicated our support for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in that respect. Ireland has joined 40 countries in referring what is happening in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. Our objective is that Russia, Belarus and all those responsible are held to account for their actions in accordance with international law.
We discussed the need to cut Russia's oil and gas revenue and agreed a significant new sixth package of sanctions. We reaffirmed our intention to continue to support Ukraine in addressing humanitarian liquidity and reconstruction needs, including through new macro-financial assistance of up to €9 billion in 2022.
We concluded that the European Union is also prepared to play a key role in the reconstruction of Ukraine along with international partners. European Union support for reconstruction will be linked to the implementation of reforms which will additionally support Ukraine's progress on its European path. I will return to this topic further in my remarks.
Leaders also welcomed recent agreement to increase military support to Ukraine under the European Peace Facility. Ireland will again contribute towards non-lethal elements bringing our support to a total of €44 million of the overall €2 billion in support provided under the four packages. Furthermore, we welcomed the adoption of the decision to suspend import duties on all Ukrainian exports to the European Union for one year. We reiterated our call for an end to repression in Belarus and the democratic right of the Belarusian people to new, free and fair elections.
The sanctions package which we agreed includes a prohibition on imports of Russian crude oil and certain petroleum products by sea on a phased basis.
A temporary exemption is in place for imports by pipeline. The bulk of Russian oil is expected to be banned from the EU by the end of the year.
Other restrictive measures in the package include listings of a further 65 individuals and 18 entities, the removal of four banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, SWIFT, a prohibition on the provision of accountancy, consultancy, public relations and cloud services, additional export controls and prohibitions on three Russian broadcasters. It also targets additional Russian and Belarusian banks and Russia state-owned broadcasters responsible for Russian state propaganda. The sale and transfer of European property to residents of Russia are now prohibited.
Ireland had frozen more than €1.72 billion of Russian assets by 17 June. We will continue to use our membership of the United Nations Security Council to hold Russia accountable and to urge Russia to end its war in Ukraine immediately. Some €20 million in humanitarian aid provided by the Government is being disbursed through United Nations and non-governmental organisation, NGO, partners in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries. Ireland has also provided medical assistance and supplies, including ambulances valued at more than €3 million, in a partnership between Departments, the HSE and other agencies working with private sector and civil society partners. A total of 13 medical evacuations of patients from Ukraine to Ireland have been completed to date, including some whose ongoing care in Ukraine has been interrupted by the crisis and some war-wounded with trauma-related injuries. Two containerised water treatment plants, valued at €460,000, have been shipped by Irish Water to Ukraine, which will supply 6,200 people in Ukraine with clean water.
On the second day of the summit, we discussed energy, defence and food security. With the war in Ukraine, we have reached the watershed moment. Europe is now acting decisively to make a fundamental break with Russian fossil fuels.
When we met last month, EU leaders had an initial discussion of the Commission's REPowerEU plan and how to fast-forward the transition to renewables, including reducing energy usage, producing clean energy, reducing delays in permit processes for clean energy and diversifying our energy supplies. The best medium- to long-term approach to insulate consumers from volatility on international wholesale energy markets is to increase investment in energy efficiency and renewables, enhance electricity interconnection and deepen the internal energy market. We also discussed food security and were joined in our discussions by Macky Sall, President of Senegal and Chairperson of the African Union.
It is clear that with his targeted destruction of agricultural production and his blockade on Ukrainian ports, Putin is deliberately trying to force and further aggravate a food crisis. Impacts are already being felt in parts of Africa and the Middle East, where some countries are particularly exposed to Russian and Ukrainian exports, and have lower food security.
EU leaders called for effective and swift international co-ordination, including through the United Nations, to keep global trade in food free of unjustified trade barriers and to enhance solidarity towards the most vulnerable countries so as to avert hunger. We also returned to our discussion on security and defence in follow up to the publication of the strategic compass strategy. We discussed the analysis of defence investment gaps within the EU published by the European Commission on 18 May which covers expenditure, industrial gaps and capability gaps, with all agreed on the need for more and better investments. We reaffirmed our support for the global, rules-based order with the United Nations at its core.
I visited Strasbourg on 7 and 8 June. I met with representatives of the Council of Europe to mark Ireland's six-month presidency of the body and paid a visit to the European Court of Human Rights. At the European Parliament, I unveiled a bust to honour the life and career of the late John Hume.
On Wednesday, 8 June, I had the honour to address the plenary session of the European Parliament, reflecting on the 50 years since Ireland voted to join what is now the EU. In my remarks, I set out the impact EU membership has had on Ireland and the positive contribution we make to the EU as a community of shared values. I had a welcome opportunity to thank President Metsola in person for the European Parliament's support and solidarity throughout the Brexit process.
I will now turn to this week's upcoming meetings. An EU-western Balkans leaders' meeting will take place on the morning of 23 June. EU leaders will meet with our counterparts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia. The meeting will be an opportunity to take stock of progress on key investments under the economic and investment plan for the western Balkans, to discuss geostrategic issues, to explore ways to foster people-to-people contacts and from the EU's perspective, to promote greater alignment with democratic values and the EU's common foreign and security policy across the countries in the region.
The economic and investment plan launched by the European Commission in February aims to spur long-term recovery, accelerate a green and digital transition and foster regional co-operation. It will help attract public and private investments, backed by the western Balkan guarantee facility, which has a potential to mobilise up to €20 billion.
I have long been an advocate for improving and accelerating the EU enlargement process, including for countries of the western Balkans. I believe that more needs to be done to positively encourage the reform commitment and aspirations of those seeking to join the EU. Greater use should be made of the provisions for accelerated integration within the existing methodology. I would like in particular to see the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia without delay. The French presidency has been very active in seeking to secure a compromise under which Bulgaria would lift its current block on negotiations with North Macedonia. While there is limited time left ahead of the meeting, it would be very welcome if progress could be made.
I welcome the agreement reached by political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 12 June. This agreement underlined the importance of the implementation of reforms that advance Bosnia and Herzegovina's European integration in areas, including democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights and public administration reform. Granting Bosnia and Herzegovina candidate status when the time is right would mean that all five western Balkans countries that have formally applied for membership would have candidate status.
Our partners in the western Balkans have been heavily impacted by Russia's war on Ukraine, in particular those who have demonstrated strong solidarity with Ukraine and are closely aligned with the EU's position, including with regard to sanctions. This week we will have an opportunity to discuss how the EU can continue to support those countries in the face of the ongoing war.
The agenda for June's European Council covers wider Europe; Ukraine; the membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia; economic issues; and the Conference on the Future of Europe. We may also touch on some foreign policy issues, including in respect of Turkey. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, will address the Conference on the Future of Europe in his remarks later as well as the prospects and possible agenda for a meeting of the euro summit this week.
EU leaders acknowledged the European aspirations and European choice of Ukraine in our Versailles declaration on 11 March. Last Friday, following an assessment process, the European Commission recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status. This is an historic moment. If endorsed by the European Council, as I expect it will be, it will place Ukraine on a firm path towards EU membership, where it belongs. Every sovereign country has a right to determine its own future free from external pressure and duress. The people of Ukraine have chosen a future in the EU and they deserve our full support. I have long advocated for this outcome and I will be arguing strongly that it be endorsed at our meeting. It will provide a great boost to the people and Government of Ukraine who have stood firm in defence of our shared European values in the face of the most appalling Russian war. I hope that it will give them heart and courage in the weeks and months ahead. It is a message that Europe stands with them now, that we will continue to stand with them whatever lies ahead and that we will be with them as they work to rebuild their country.
The road to EU membership is complex and challenging. It requires considerable work on the part of the country looking to join. Ireland is ready to walk every step of that journey with Ukraine, providing whatever support and encouragement we can along the way.
I warmly welcome the recommendation that Moldova also be offered candidate status and that Georgia be offered a European perspective and candidate status once a number of priorities have been met.
As I said before, as we know from our own experience, membership of the EU is transformative. As we mark 50 years of our own membership, we hope that others will be able to benefit from the same peace, prosperity and opportunity.
Leaders will also discuss the sanctions we have put in place against Russia, including looking at how to close any loopholes and block off any route to circumvention. We will also look to make explicit that food and agricultural products are exempt from sanctions.
In the face of a global food crisis, this is the right approach, as is the European Union's close co-operation with the UN and others to act now to stem worsening food security and growing global hunger.
On economic issues, leaders are expected to endorse the country-specific recommendations for this year's European semester and look forward to Croatia adopting the euro from the beginning of 2023. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the introduction of euro bank notes and coins and it is positive to see the number of countries using the euro growing to 20 from next year. I expect that leaders will also meet in European summit format and hear from the President of the European Central Bank, ECB, Ms Christine Lagarde, and the President of the Eurogroup, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on economic prospects in Europe in the period ahead. Leaders across the Union are very focused on the impact of rising inflation, energy prices and interest rates, not least on our citizens. With many predicting that the war in Ukraine may be long, it is important that we come together to discuss collective strategies on how to manage this difficult and evolving situation. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, will speak to these issues in more detail later.
We will also have an initial discussion on the issue of wider Europe. President Macron has some proposals on the concept of a European political community. We are, without doubt, at an inflection point in European history and these discussions will help us frame our wider regional political engagement. As we come to the end of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union at the end of June, I would like to take this opportunity to commend and express my appreciation to President Macron and the wider French Presidency team for their successful stewardship of the work of the council during this period of acute risk and difficulty with Russia's brutal war in Ukraine. The French Presidency laid the groundwork for the EU to act with unity of purpose and clear focus over recent months. I also wish to take this opportunity to wish the incoming Czech Presidency, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Fiala, every success and to express my ongoing support for a proactive, strong and strategic European Council agenda as we look into the next half of the year.
I look forward to the opportunity this week of engaging collectively and bilaterally with my EU counterparts as well as western Balkan partners on a broad range of pressing economic, political and security issues. I will report to the House on our discussions after the meeting.
I too would like to welcome the decision to grant Ukraine EU candidate status. I hope that matter is ratified as outlined by the Taoiseach.
The meeting of the European Council this week occurs against the backdrop of the British Government's full frontal attack on the Irish protocol and the Good Friday Agreement. Boris Johnson's reckless decision to push ahead with legislation to override the protocol is an intentional breach of European and international law. It is an affront to an agreement that the British Government not only signed up to but also helped to design and it is right that the EU now restarts legal action in response. Johnson's agenda is driven by a need to appease the hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group, ERG, and the Tory party so that he can cling on to power at any cost. For Mr. Johnson, Ireland's economic prosperity, peace and political stability is to be collateral damage in a self-serving power play.
The behaviour of the Tory Government is devoid of any integrity and the unified message from this Oireachtas is clear. The days of the British Government being allowed to bully Ireland and to ride roughshod over Ireland's interests are gone and they are not coming back. Mr. Johnson says that his legislation is about fixing the protocol for trade but the problem for the British Prime Minister is simple. No matter how hard he tries, Mr. Johnson cannot spin a lie. The undeniable truth is that the protocol is working but the facts do not suit Boris Johnson's threadbare narrative. The protocol gives businesses in the North access to both the British market and the EU Single Market of over 500 million people. The North's economy is outperforming the English economy. Business is growing and jobs are being created. Cross-border trade has increased significantly and the all-island economy is thriving. Now, because the Tory government in London cares very little for Ireland, it will happily take a wrecking ball to this progress. The impact on Ireland's economy would be colossal. It would have devastating consequences for agriculture in particular and put thousands of jobs at risk. This cannot be allowed to happen. The Irish Government, together with our European and international partners, cannot blink in the face of this Tory belligerence.
We also see that the protocol is being used as a Trojan horse by political unionism to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. This is because unionists cannot come to terms with the new political reality in the North, echoed in May's Assembly election. Mr. Johnson allows this to happen because it serves his self-interests. He allows the DUP to block the formation of an Executive in Belfast and uses political deadlock as an excuse to break international law in turn. The result is that the people of the North are left without a government as they deal with the most serious cost of living crisis in a generation.
Boris Johnson should be under no illusion. Ireland, Europe and the world can see what he is at. If this is his negotiating tactic, it is an extremely bad one. The British Government now risks a trade war that nobody wants and which would have catastrophic outcomes for everyone on both islands. Last week, I said that we need a unified Oireachtas approach in response to this assault on Ireland's interests. Mr.Johnson must hear from all of us, loudly and clearly, that our economic prosperity, our political stability, our peace and our Good Friday Agreement are not on the table. The future of our people is not a bargaining chip he gets to play with each and every time his grip on power slips.
Ireland is not alone. We are joined by our European partners against this threat. Mr. Maroš Šefčovič's confirmation that the EU will not renegotiate the protocol is very welcome and gives us confidence for what lies ahead. Ireland will not be the collateral damage in the Tory Brexit nightmare. Together with those throughout the world who care deeply about Ireland, we will face Boris Johnson down. The Taoiseach must use this meeting on the European Council to marshal that diplomatic focus towards this crucial goal.
The role of the EU in addressing Boris Johnson's government's shameful and opportunistic exploitation of the issues surrounding the protocol remains critical. The British Government, along with its allies in the DUP, is using the protocol to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. The British Government cannot and must not be allowed to play free and easy with an international agreement which has brought about peace on this island.
I welcome the criticism by the Council of Europe of the Tory government's plans to introduce legislation to protect members of the British army guilty of crimes against the Irish people by offering them immunity from prosecution. This is another attempt by the British to deny the families of victims here in Ireland truth and justice.
I join my party leader Deputy McDonald in reiterating Sinn Féin's support for Ukraine's application to join the EU. Ireland must continue to play its role as a militarily neutral, non-aligned State within the EU. I also reiterate my support for sanctions against Russia and the efforts being made to offer aid to the Ukrainian people. As an act of solidarity, like many other EU countries have done, we must open the Irish Embassy in Kyiv as a matter of urgency.
Yesterday was World Refugee Day. We can be proud of Ireland's record in offering a haven to those who have been forced to flee the conflict in Ukraine. However, there is still no clarity on the pledge by the Government to accept 500 vulnerable Ukrainian refugees who are in Moldova. I ask the Taoiseach to address that issue and provide some clarity on the commitment the Government made in March.
One of the consequences of the Russian invasion is the food shortage, which has impacted in Africa and parts of the Middle East. In many areas that have already been ravaged by climate change and regional conflict, shortages of wheat and grain are set to lead to humanitarian catastrophe. This will lead to mass migration as millions will seek to flee famine and war. The EU must act to prevent this human tragedy from unfolding further.
The response of the EU to the war in Ukraine has largely been laudable and it foregrounds the importance of territorial integrity, the need for states to operate within the parameters of the international rules-based system, and the need for international law to be universally applied. Unfortunately, the recent gas deal between the EU and Israel falls short of the moral and legal obligations of the EU and Ireland towards the Palestinian people. This deal runs contrary to long-standing EU and Irish policy, which requires that "all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967".This deal contravenes UN policy as set out in the UN Security Council Resolution 2334. States have a moral and legal obligation "to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967".
The Government was recently briefed by the UN special rapporteur on the situation with human rights in the Palestine occupied territories since 1967. Professor Michael Lynk has stated that Palestinians in the occupied territories are living under a "system of apartheid". Neither Ireland nor the EU can bypass their own values, the UN and international law for the sake of what is a dodgy deal. Israel has been exploiting occupied Palestinian territories for decades now. This includes the mineral wealth on Palestinian land and in its waters. The colonial settlement expansion programme in the occupied territories is a grave breach of international law. Last year we took a unanimous decision in Dáil Éireann that Israel has illegally annexed Palestinian land. We cannot now about-turn and support a deal that not only undermines the decisions of this Dáil, but also directly contravenes international law, even if a Minister believes it convenient to do so. International law is not a pick and mix. It must be applied equally and in all instances. All lawbreakers must be held to account and not rewarded.
The barbaric imperial war of conquest against Ukraine by Putin's Russia is a challenge to which the EU is responding. The Taoiseach has given us a comprehensive update on the recent meeting of the European Council on 30 and 31 May. The Taoiseach has also spoken to us about the meeting of the European Council in Brussels later this week. I believe, and we in the Labour Party believe, that we need to see more and stronger actions being taken against Russia by the EU at this point. It is clear that we must continue to work hard to achieve a stronger set of sanctions against Russia. We have seen quite a number of different sanction packages but these have clearly not been enough to see an end to this brutal war. We must see stronger support for Ukraine both politically and financially. I very much welcome the Taoiseach's comments that Ukraine is now on a firm path to EU membership and that Ireland is supporting that path.
We must also see stronger supports for those countries surrounding Ukraine, which are currently carrying the burden of the crisis caused by the Russian invasion, which is the crisis of refugees fleeing war and the brutality of the Russian invasion. We need to see more done at a political and diplomatic level. In this House and in protests outside the Russian Embassy I have consistently called for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador to Ireland. Let us see why we continue to have diplomatic relations with a country like Russia at all, a country that shows no remorse for its actions. It has engaged in a series of gruesome human rights abuses and a war of blatant territorial conquest.
There are many unanswered questions about the size of the Russian diplomatic presence here in Ireland and its real purpose. Last week, the Netherlands uncovered a Russian spy trying to infiltrate the International Criminal Court, which is rightly investigating war crimes in Ukraine by Russia. The undercover back story, which we have seen in the newspapers here, of the GRU agent known as Victor Ferreira, involved four years of undergraduate study at Trinity College Dublin. If Ireland is being used as a training ground for Russian GRU agents then we need fuller disclosure. We need to know more about what the Government here knows about Russian activities in Ireland.
We also need to see more action taken against Russian assets. Russian assets frozen in the International Financial Services Centre, IFSC, should be committed to rebuilding Ukraine after its wanton destruction by the Russian army. My colleague, Deputy Howlin, has brought forward legislation in this House, the Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill 2020, or the Magnitsky Bill, which passed Second Stage last December and which today is on Committee Stage. This legislation would empower our Government to take stronger action against Russian oligarchs and against those Russians guilty of war crimes. Mr. Bill Browder, the inspiration for this legislation, asked this morning in the Irish media, where was the speed and urgency for the progress into law of the Magnitsky Bill. I urge the Minister to fast-track its passage into law. We, as members of the UN Security Council, should be showing leadership in the international community in ensuring that the assets of those responsible for this brutal war may be seized in any jurisdiction in which they are held, including in Ireland.
I very much welcome that the Government is supporting so strongly the candidate status for EU membership for Ukraine, but that will not be enough. We need to see stronger pledges of humanitarian and financial support for the people of Ukraine. I was glad to bring into this House members of the Ukrainian community in recent weeks, and in the past ten days to meet the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland to hear directly from those most severely affected as to what is needed. Last week a survey of the Ukrainian community in Ireland was published as to the supports needed here around housing, childcare and after-school care. That is here in Ireland but we also need to see greater emphasis at EU level on the tariffs on Russian oil and gas to limit the financial benefit to Russia from rising prices of fuel internationally. I welcome what the EU has already done on Russian fossil fuels, but we also need to see stronger action taken and more urgently. This would also raise revenue for the EU to use in support of Ukraine.
Of course, we know that the Russian action in this brutal war has been a major factor in the rise in inflation rates. These are causing major stress, trauma and pain to households in Ireland and across the EU, as we see stark rises in the cost of living and stark rises in fuel prices and food prices. Again, we see Russia using and weaponising grain and food produced in Ukraine in an attempt to destabilise European countries and countries worldwide. We are all very conscious of the impact this is having particularly across the developing world.
What can we do? Since last November we have called on the Government to secure key derogations on VAT rules on heating to try to ameliorate the really terrible impact that rising fuel prices are having here in Ireland. We also need to see, and we need to ensure, that stronger action is taken at EU level to secure an embargo on Russian oil and gas. That is crucial in order to see an end to this brutal war.
The response to the war in Ukraine dominates the agenda of this European Council, and rightly so. We would fully expect that. I have just emerged from a Dóchas briefing in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, where it was spelled out in real and very stark terms how the impact of the conflict in Ukraine extends far beyond just European borders. The UN Secretary General António Guterres has said that the war goes far beyond Ukraine and "a sword of Damocles hangs over the global economy - especially in the developing world".
It is that crisis unfolding across the developing world, across Africa, and the Horn of Africa in particular, that I want to address. We are aware that Ukraine, Belarus and Russia play a critical role in global food markets. They are major producers of wheat, grain, barley, sunflower seeds and oil, potash and fertiliser. Together, those three countries produce 12% of the world's traded food calories, which is almost one eighth. It is an amazing figure.
In March 2020, Russia announced a temporary ban on exports of grains and fertilisers, which has led to supply scarcity and further market destabilisation. In addition, Russia has attacked Ukraine’s transport infrastructure and instituted a de factoblockade in the Black Sea ports from which 90% of Ukraine’s agricultural products are normally exported. Damage to Ukraine’s crops, food warehouses and agricultural machinery caused by Russian forces is going to affect grain production for months to come. Even though Ukraine harvested a record 84 million clean weight tonnes of grain in 2021, more than 20 million tonnes of that have been trapped in silos since Russia invaded Ukraine and subsequently blocked its ports. That has knock-on implications. In countries like Kenya, the price of flour has trebled. Worldwide, 95 million people could fall into poverty as a result of the conflict according to the World Bank and 47 million could fall into acute hunger.
If we look at this through the prism of our sustainable development goals, there is massive retrenchment in our progress. Goals 1 and 2, for example, are no poverty and zero hunger. We have travelled so far back in such a short space of time. This will also affect goal 5, gender equality, because as is always the case in conflict and crisis, women and girls disproportionately bear the brunt. The chief executive of Dóchas says 23 million people are at risk with crisis hunger levels in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, the area referred to as the Horn of Africa. Jane-Ann McKenna said Russia’s war in Ukraine has exacerbated the crisis in east Africa because it imports 90% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia. The UN tells us that one person is likely to die from hunger every 48 seconds in the region. Around 5.7 million people are acutely malnourished, which has long-lasting developmental implications. Some 350,000 children could die by the end of the summer. These numbers are so big and so mind-boggling we become immune to them. We do not hear them. The situation was put to us in very real terms at the committee by Paul O’Brien, who humanised it. He said that in the Horn of Africa, there are parents making a decision about which of their children they are going to feed today. As a parent, I found that extremely difficult to hear.
We have to accept that, as the UN foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said, this is a real war crime. Food generation is being weaponised, maybe not in Europe but further afield, just as energy is being weaponised here in Europe. We have to take account of the fact that this is also a multiplying factor of climate change. At least, climate change and this conflict are working together to produce a crisis of unprecedented proportions across the developing world. We have to acknowledge that rich industrialised countries like ourselves have contributed about 95% of historical emissions, whereas Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, where this crisis is unfolding, produce less than one tenth of 1% of the global total. I will read out a long quote from NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. It is important because it is first-hand testimony from where the crisis is at its worst. He stated:
If you look at satellite data, this is the worst drought in 40 years. But if you look at the 120 years of records kept by Ethiopia, this is the worst drought ever recorded. Some places have already gone years without rain, and the U.N. is predicting that the next rainy season will also fail. And so they're warning that if the world doesn't do more, we could be looking at a situation like the one in Somalia in 2011, when 260,000 people, most of them children, died of hunger...
It's all about climate change. Ten years ago, this was an area full of cows and green pasture. People here are nomadic herders. And now this place looks like a desert. It's sand and rocks. And in some places, the acacia trees, which are these thorny trees, have dropped all of their leaves. The people we've talked to say that over the past seven years or so, they have slowly lost their livestock. Some people who had hundreds of goats and cows say they've all died. And as we've been driving, we've seen very few cows. The ones that we have seen look skinny and sick. And sometimes in the middle of these dusty fields, we've seen the carcasses of cows and sheep who just couldn't get enough to eat.
We've been to small villages that are now totally abandoned. People have been living without water for years, and now that their livestock are dead, they've been left with no choice but to go to the bigger towns to find a job or some help. And the context is really important here. Remember that livestock is the wealth and life in this region. Many people don't farm, so the cows and goats and camels are the food. So the animals represent not just their savings, but everything that was carefully built by their ancestors. So when someone here tells you that they've lost all their animals, what they're telling you is that they have lost their home, their wealth and their livelihood, that they have lost everything.
What should we do about this, as a small actor on an international stage? What should we be thinking about as we go out to the Council of Europe? Dóchas has told us we should be able to lead at international level, call for radical mobilisation of aid and use our voice at the table to demand action. That is not just the table in Europe but also the UN Security Council. We need to act now. The crisis is unfolding before our eyes. As we hold the pen on the conflict and hunger file at the UN Security Council, we should leverage that. We should draw attention to it. We should be making sure our response to the Ukraine crisis does not subsume all else and all our other ODA budgets. Irish Aid has a proud track record but it is one built on consistency and long-term delivery. We need to continue that consistency to build capacity within our partner countries so they become more resilient to shocks of this kind which, unfortunately, will become more common in the future. We should be looking to promote the principle of loss and damage internationally ahead of COP27, which will take place on the continent of Africa. We should be giving clear commitments and clear parameters on climate finance, because a just transition cannot be something we just talk about in Ireland for Irish citizens. It has to go beyond our shores and must encompass everybody.
Regarding the World Food Programme and food supply chains, Germany and other countries are working on enabling grain export via land routes, or so-called solidarity lanes. This needs to be discussed at the Council meeting. It would release at least some of the crops that are sitting in silos in Ukraine, blockaded from its ports. At home, we can vindicate the programme for Government commitment to commit 0.7% of our gross national income to ODA by 2030.
I may have strayed far beyond the shores of Europe but we are all connected. Crisis and instability in one part of the world affects everywhere else. We have seen this over and again. The crisis of refugees in the Mediterranean is one clear example. This is something I would like the Minister of State to bring to Europe, to make sure the eyes of Europe are not solely on itself but also on people within the developing world who are bearing the brunt of this crisis.
Three weeks ago, a delegation of fishermen from all around the coast of Ireland went to Brussels and met with the director-general of the European Commission that deals with fisheries, Charlina Vitcheva. That delegation included representatives from six national fishing organisations and two co-ops, one based in Greencastle in north Donegal and the Galway and Aran co-op. We had representatives from right around the coast. It was a powerful delegation and they made the case for our fair share of the fish in Irish waters. At that meeting, we also engaged with the director-general around what supports could be given to the industry to help it deal with the fuel crisis that is going on right now. The fishermen we speak to all around the coast are struggling to go out to water with the increase in fuel costs and the impact that is having on them. They are struggling to make a living as it is because we do not get a fair share of the fish in our waters and now they are struggling with the impact of Brexit due to the loss of even more fish and quota. That is the context in which those fishermen come into this crisis.
I am sorry to say to the Minister of State that even though in the likes of France and Spain there have been significant interventions to support the fishing industries there and considerable supports have been given to them, nothing additional has been given to our fishing community in Ireland. There is the Brexit adjustment reserve, BAR, fund, which comprises money given to Ireland to compensate for the further decommissioning of our fleet. We can park that money aside because it comes from the European Union to compensate our fishing communities for the loss of €43 million every year, or €250 million and even more when we add on the knock-on impacts. The real issue is there has been no central Exchequer funding to support our fishing communities, who are on their knees all along the coast, while the French Government and the Spanish Government, and no doubt other governments if we check this further, have given significant supports.
The director-general of the European Commission who deals with fisheries, Charlina Vitcheva, has reported that the Commission is waiting on Ireland’s proposals. Nothing has come from Ireland to support our fishing communities. When the Taoiseach attends the Council meeting, will he put forward proposals to help our fishing communities cope with this crisis?
I am going to step outside the consensus as the Taoiseach outlined it in his nine-page contribution regarding Europe and everybody being on side. I am horrified that over the nine pages, there is not a single word about bringing the war to an end or about the way in which we have used our voice in Europe and on the UN Security Council. What are we doing, as a proud, neutral country, to stop this horrific war? I did not hear anything about that in his contribution. I heard that we have time to look at new candidate countries to enlarge the EU and time to talk about different matters that arise at various other meetings, but no sense of urgency in respect of the absolutely illegal Ukrainian war perpetrated by Russia. Up to 19 June, there had been 4,569 civilian deaths, of whom 304 were children, while a further 5,699 people had been reported as injured, with the real figure, of course, reaching much higher.
Nevertheless, the Taoiseach referred in his contribution to “many predicting that the war in Ukraine may be long”. What is his opinion on that? What are we saying as a country? Are we saying it is okay to have a long war, with the devastating consequences of even just the figures I outlined, not to mention what Deputy Ó Cathasaigh referred to in the context of the consequences for other countries, not least those in Africa, and for the millions of people who are under threat of starvation at the moment? At what stage will we take courage in our hands, recognise that as a small, neutral country we have a role in promoting peace and realise that the consequences of this war are far greater than those relating only to Ukraine or its neighbouring countries? This has the most serious consequences for the world, including the prospects of a third world war and a catastrophe of climate change. The Minister of State knows that, as does the Taoiseach, yet over nine pages, the latter’s contribution did not even mention it.
It did not address any of the hypocrisy in regard to how we treat some countries and some refugees completely differently from other countries and other refugees. I acknowledge we have to react and I fully support the effort to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people who are here, but one must at some stage begin to look at the hypocrisy in our policy, which is determined by the bigger boys in Europe and not by our voice, a voice that should have a moral component given our experience and our history. We are here today parsing a contribution that, conveniently, omitted any reference to what Ursula von der Leyen stated last week, namely, “Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective.” Does that not encapsulate the emptiness of the language regarding what is happening?
What does it mean to say Ukrainians are willing to die for the European perspective? What does “the European perspective” mean? We give additional money, and rightly so, in order that the International Criminal Court can function more effectively, but is that the sole purpose of the money we have given? We have gone from giving a couple of hundred thousand euro, I understand, to giving a couple of million euro. Is that to make that instrument more effective? If so, I welcome that. Is it to deal simply with Ukraine and with Russia’s crimes against humanity or will we look at other countries that have already been referred to the International Criminal Court, such as Israel’s behaviour and what it has done to Palestine?
Where is the answer from Europe and where is this on the agenda in the context of the Amnesty International report that has been with the Government for months on end, which has described as apartheid the system operated by Israel when it comes to Gaza, Palestine and what is happening there? Where is the reference to that? How will we keep our integrity as a neutral country if we use our voice only with some conflicts and not with others? Where is our voice on the deal being done with Israel for the importation of oil? There is this misuse of language and a failure to deal with the catastrophic consequences of what we are allowing to happen, and all the while we talk about enlarging and expanding a European project without using our voice to say we should halt for a moment and should remind ourselves that the most important thing is to use every diplomatic sinew in our body to stop this war.
I am sharing time with Deputy Christopher O’Sullivan.
I welcome the debate. I might begin by addressing Deputy Connolly’s concluding point. She indicated we should stop what we are doing, but I am not sure whether she was suggesting we should stop the expansion of the European project. I think that if she spoke to the citizens of Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova, whose very existence is currently threatened, she would find they certainly would not appreciate us calling for a stop. In that regard, I welcome the fact those three countries have achieved candidate status for accession to the European Union.
There has been considerable talk about the potential for or likelihood of global food shortages in the coming months and years because of the war, although I will not go into that given my party colleague Deputy Ó Cathasaigh did so in great detail. I support Deputy Bacik’s call for the fast-tracking of a Magnitsky Bill, something that has been referred to in this House a number of times. If we wish to get to the core of the Russian money that is financing the war, we should seek to fast-track that Bill.
One item on the agenda of the European Council over the coming days will concern the outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe. In many respects, as I read through the 49 proposals and 48 recommendations in the document, I felt it was almost as though the Green Party had had a strong hand in writing it, given it goes very much into the core areas of food, transport and energy. In many ways, what the Conference on the Future of Europe has come up with aligns closely with what the Government is trying to do and, indeed, what the Green Party has been expressing for a long time, notwithstanding that there are gaps and blind spots in this country.
By reading the document, one can see where those are. Proposal 1 refers to an objective to develop a climate-responsible agriculture system to safeguard the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems. I wonder whether we are doing that, especially with regard to the Common Agricultural Policy strategic plan, which is being proposed to the European Commission very shortly. It does not seem to me that we are aligning with this particular objective.
When I talk about agriculture, I talk about the carbon impact of agriculture. One aspect of the proposals of the Conference on the Future of Europe is quite interesting. There is a reference to animal welfare, which is something to which I have admittedly not paid much heed in the past. I was on a ferry to France recently, and approximately 20 of the trucks on board were full of week-old calves. While the trucks were shiny and well-maintained, one could not help but feel that the system whereby we have expanded dairy in this country in the past number of years in such a way that we have a huge number of male calves being produced cannot be seen as anything but mad. We are sending these low-value animals over to Europe, often in deplorable conditions, and to North Africa, where their fate is even worse.
It is really important, at the upcoming European Council meeting, that we discuss with our European counterparts how we approach how missile tests and military tests are carried out in all European waters, not just Irish waters. More urgent, however, is the issue with the French Navy and the fact that, as we speak, looking at data from maps, its ships are within the Irish exclusive economic zone, EEZ, at the moment. Even though the French Navy has stated that it has moved its exercises out of the EEZ, all indications are that part of these exercises will overlap with a part of the Irish EEZ. A number of weeks ago, we had discussions in the Dáil about the Russian exercises that were due to take place off the south-west coast of Ireland. The exercises being carried out by the French are no different from what the Russians were proposing to do. In fact, it could be argued that the intensity and scale of the exercises being engaged in by the French is bigger.
The Minister of State will remember that we spoke about the impact that loud noise, acoustic activity and sonar activity have on marine wildlife, particularly cetaceans, during the debate to which I refer. The French naval exercises, which are happening now and which will continue over the next few days, are occurring at one of the most well-known hotspots for whale and dolphin activity, namely, at the Porcupine Seabight and in and around the continental shelf. This is a well-known hotspot for species like sperm whales and pilot whales. These are deep-diving species that rely heavily on sonar and high-frequency clicks to hunt. Any acoustic activity has a serious detrimental impact on that. We saw where the British Navy had to concede that its activity off the west coast of Scotland and west coast of Ireland led to a mass stranding event involving whales and dolphins. This is an issue.
In the short term, we urgently need to reach out to those in the French Embassy to ask them to cease this activity or at the very least move the activity further out into deeper waters where we do not have the same frequency and number of cetaceans. As a country and at European level, we need to have discussion about these military exercises. They are proven and known to have an impact on sperm whales, pilot whales and other whale and dolphin species that are already under severe threat from other pressures. That point needs to be made.
It is not just wildlife that is impacted. Obviously, the fishing sector will be affected as well. Livelihoods are at risk because this high-volume acoustic activity is known to also displace fish stocks. That will have a detrimental effect on marine wildlife but also on people who earn their livelihoods from fishing. I will very briefly raise a final point similar to that on fishing. We need to go back to Europe and ask for a derogation in respect of some type of potential help and support for the those in the Irish fishing sector regarding the costs relating to fishing and cost of diesel and how these are impacting on their livelihoods.
Australia's new Prime Minister, Mr. Anthony Albanese, has rightly expressed genuine concern for Mr. Julian Assange. He is on the record on several occasions saying that he does not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr. Assange and, most importantly, that enough is enough. On Friday, in response to the British Home Secretary's decision to approve Mr. Assange's extradition, Australia’s Foreign Minister also echoed Prime Minister Albanese's words. Earlier that day, French MP, Mr. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, spoke out and said that if he had become Prime Minister, Mr. Assange would have been made a naturalised French citizen and requested he be sent to France.
Julian Assange's extradition would be a major blow to press freedom, freedom of speech and western liberal values. This man suffered appalling treatment for three years in Belmarsh prison, which the UN described as torture. Before that, he was confined to the Ecuadorian embassy because he correctly believed the US was trying to seize him. Not only was it planning this, it has been alleged that it had also considered assassinating him. Earlier this month, the Spanish National High Court summoned President Trump's former Secretary of State to explain the alleged assassination plot.
It is time this man was set free and allowed to live in peace. President Biden said something very important on World Press Freedom Day. He sated that we must "hold to account those that seek to silence voices essential to transparent, trustworthy, and responsive governance." Nobody has done more to promote these values than Julian Assange. He revealed major war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. His organisation, WikiLeaks, published more than 90,000 US military documents relating to the Afghan war and almost 350,000 relating to the Iraq war. Those two countries are still in a state of devastation following the wars in question. Major news outlets like the The Guardianand The New York Timesrelied heavily on his work. In 2011, The Guardian was awarded newspaper of the year at the press awards because of its partnership with WikiLeaks, which makes its relative silence on his ongoing persecution so disappointing. The US has charged him with hacking Government computers and espionage because of his publishing activities. He did not have computers or steal files, however. These documents were leaked to WikiLeaks by Ms Chelsea Manning and other brave whistle-blowers. Today, Chelsea Manning is a free woman. It is well past the time that Julian Assange became a free man.
New figures from EUROSTAT will confirm what people feel, which is that Ireland is now officially the most expensive country in Europe. Prices are 40% above the EU average. Part of that is down to the electricity prices we are paying, which are some of the highest in Europe. A unit of electricity here costs 26% more than the EU average and the electricity companies - every single one of them - are making a killing in terms of bumper profits. In other countries in Europe, governments have been forced, under pressure from below, to bring in windfall taxes on these super-profits. We should do the same. The 50% tax on these mega-profits would bring in €300 million, which could be used to rapidly roll out attic insulation and retrofitting to help people cut energy usage and energy bills.
I also want to raise the issue of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver. Last week, the EU and others blocked the calls for a meaningful TRIPS waiver to allow poorer countries to produce Covid-19 vaccines locally without paying massive money to the big pharmaceutical companies.
Shamefully, the Government and the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, have backed this very bad deal. Seven out of every eight people in low income countries are not fully vaccinated due to artificial scarcity caused by big pharmaceutical companies to protect their patents and profits. The WTO ministerial conference deal pays lip service to the idea of a TRIPS waiver, but fails to deliver even a suspension of the patents. As Oxfam says, it is a fudge aimed at saving reputations, not saving lives. It is shameful, and the Government's support for it is a disgrace. We should scrap the patents and speed up the global roll-out of vaccines to save lives and stop new variants.
I also wish to raise the scandalous and illegal treatment of refugees by the Greek Government. It is engaged consistently in what are illegal pushbacks of refugees who are fleeing from horrific situations, such as those coming from Syria. The UN Special Rapporteur on migrants has described pushbacks at land and sea borders as having become "a de facto general policy". In March, 30 Syrian asylum seekers, including two pregnant women and seven children, were confined on an islet in the Evros river for six days following an alleged pushback operation by the Greek authorities. The police arrested them on the Greek shore of the river, detained them for a day and handed them over to hooded men who took them by boat to the islet. Will the Irish Government support calls for an independent investigation and an end to these pushbacks?
Finally, I will mention the refugee camps. These camps, so-called migration centres funded by European money, are nothing short of prisons. A new report has found that one in five people in the camps have been in de facto detention for two months. The camps are exactly like a prison. They are extremely isolated and kept away from centres where people could integrate and so forth. There must be an end to the policy of fortress Europe. We should be welcoming refugees.
On 3 June, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, said:
A decision to join a European Defence can only be made by the Irish people in a referendum. I believe Ireland should be at the table so that we can influence and shape it and find a place for Ireland in shared security.
On 8 June, the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, said:
We need to reflect on military non-alignment in Ireland and our military neutrality. We are not politically neutral. We don't need a referendum to join NATO. That's a policy decision of government.
What does the third party leader in this Government have to say about all that? Does Deputy Eamon Ryan agree with the Tánaiste that we should be at the table so we can influence and shape a European defence? Does he agree with the Taoiseach that Ireland would not need a referendum to join NATO? We are continually told that we need a fact-based debate on these issues. It appears to be a fact now that the leader of the Green Party is avoiding participating in a debate on these issues. Has the cat got Deputy Eamon Ryan's tongue? Has the Deputy taken a vow of silence? I think we should be told.
Recent comments from the EU Commission stating that the EU will move to importing natural gas from Israel to reduce the EU's dependency on Russian gas are demoralising. It has to be made clear at the next European Council meeting that one cannot replace dependency on one rogue state with dependency on another rogue state, the other rogue state being apartheid Israel. The Government is opposed to using gas from Russia because Russia annexes and occupies Ukrainian territory, but it wants us to replace it with gas from Israel, which annexes and occupies Palestinian territory. Where is the consistency in this? Again, Israel is getting a free hit.
During her recent trip to Israel, Ursula von der Leyen stated that the EU and Israel are bound to be friends and allies. Israel is a state that operates a cruel system of apartheid that is completely at odds with the values of the European Union. Israel should not be welcomed as a friend and ally. We must ensure that the EU stands up for freedom and justice and does not cosy up to apartheid states such as Israel. Ireland must lead the way on this. It must let its voice be heard. It must lean forward and take a risk. This gas comes from an apartheid, terror state that steals Palestinian land and executes journalists, women and children with impunity. That seems to be okay for this Irish Government. It will condemn, but there will be no consequences.
To follow up on the comments of my colleague, Deputy Mairéad Farrell, the British Government's decision to extradite Mr. Julian Assange to America to face the rest of his life in prison is disgraceful. Julian Assange is being extradited to the US not because he committed a crime, but because he exposed a crime. Nobody should be imprisoned for shining a light into dark corners. Julian Assange should be freed, not thrown to the wolves, which is what is happening now.
The Helms-Burton Act introduced by the United States has been causing hardship for Cubans for decades. It has had a crippling effect on how Ireland and the EU support trade and solidarity with Cuba. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has spoken out on the Irish position on the US embargo of Cuba. He said: "[Fundamentally,] Ireland believes that the [US] embargo [on Cuba] serves no constructive purpose and that its lifting would facilitate an opening of Cuba's economy, to the benefit of its people." These are important words, and I commend the Minister on calling it out as it is. However, we have to see continued pressure from the EU and the US to bring an easing and eventual end of this brutal embargo. I commend the members of the Cuba Solidarity Forum Ireland, who have been securing medical supplies and personally transporting them to hospitals in Cuba. In recent weeks, I read how the children's transplant waiting lists in Cuba were growing longer due to the Helms-Burton Act. The tactic of the US is one of the most cruel and inhumane possible. We must see an end to the blocking of sales of medical supplies from Ireland and EU member states to Cuba.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate in advance of the EU summit later this week. On Friday, it will be four months since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine so it is fitting and appropriate that the agenda of the EU summit is dominated by the Ukrainian crisis. That is as it should be.
First, I welcome that it now appears Ukraine and Moldova will officially be recognised as EU candidate countries once that is endorsed by the remaining member states. That is a good thing. Ireland, on balance, has benefitted enormously from our interaction with the European Union over the last 50 years, and the same opportunity should be extended to other countries as well. It has been a long-standing ambition for both Moldova and Ukraine to join the European Union and this is a great opportunity for them to do so. My big concern, of course, is that even if they get in, we are not sure how much of Moldova and Ukraine will be left after the Russian army is finished with them. We must remember that were it not for the determination of the Ukrainian people and the arms sent to them by the international community, most likely all of Ukraine would now be in Russian hands. I welcome that development and I look forward to an EU-wide endorsement of their candidacies thereafter.
On that basis as well, I strongly welcome the fact that significant commitments will be made, according to the agenda, regarding further support for Ukraine. It is very important that we do not have conflict fatigue regarding what is happening there. Ukraine needs continued political support, economic support, military support and humanitarian support. Having listened to the Taoiseach's comments earlier, I welcome the fact that Ireland's contribution to the European Peace Facility is being increased from €33 million to €44 million. That is a good thing in light of the less than ideal circumstances in Ukraine at present.
It is also appropriately on the agenda that we focus on the indirect consequences of the conflict in Ukraine. There are three crises running hand-in-hand - the cost-of-living crisis, the energy crisis and the food crisis superimposed on that. It is self-evident that the only way to tackle a cost-of-living crisis is to tackle the cost of living. There has been a great deal of back and forth in the Chamber in the last few months about the cost of fuel.
One side says the cost of fuel should be reduced while the other side says it is fixed at a European Union level and we cannot tamper with tax rates. Surely it is just a political decision to fix the tax rates. On that basis, it should be a political decision within the gift of politicians to change. If it needs to be changed at a European Union level, there should be an opportunity to do so.
We should also be able to reduce the cost of tolls in order to reduce the cost of living for heavily indebted commuters. We know the energy crisis is going to get worse as the northern hemisphere winter approaches. Putin knows that and it is part of his strategy. He wants to put the maximum squeeze coming up to the northern hemisphere winter. This is the longest day of the year, so every day between now and the year end it will get darker and colder. It is very important from that perspective that we emphasise the need to find different sources of fossil fuels outside of Russia and also that we try to accelerate the use of renewables, especially solar panels, to diversify our energy sources.
In terms of the global food crisis, we know that Putin is weaponising food. We know that there are some 20 million tonnes of grain in silos in Ukraine, which it is trying to export but it cannot. The European Union should do everything possible to facilitate the export of those food supplies by road, rail, air and even by sea. The Black Sea is currently sealed off by the Russians, but it is part of international waters and I see no reason an international naval force cannot go in there and secure a corridor from Odessa to Istanbul and allow merchant vessels to pick up the grain and move it back to the rest of the global community that is desperately in need of food in the coming months. I know there are risks associated with that, but there is a greater risk from doing nothing. There is an opportunity here given that the Black Sea is part of international waters, and the international community would be well within its rights to open up a corridor from Odessa to Istanbul, provided the Turks are agreeable to that, and get the food flowing to where it is needed most in poorer parts of the world.
We are all familiar with the fact that Russia threatened Lithuania in the past 24 hours because it sealed off its land border between Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. That is completely unacceptable. Ireland and the wider European Union should stand in solidarity with Lithuania as well. There is only a very small population there and Russia can still supply its enclave of Kaliningrad by air and by sea, unlike Ukraine. What Russia has done is completely unacceptable. In summary, I welcome the proposed agenda. I wish the diplomatic negotiating team well and I look forward to hearing of the decisions taken on its return.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate in an important week. There are only two points to which I would like to refer ahead of the European Council. The first is in relation to Russia's ongoing brutal war in Ukraine and the very welcome news that the European Commission has recommended candidate status not just for Ukraine but also for Moldova and Georgia. The Joint Committee on European Union Affairs is currently in Georgia, having previously visited Moldova a number of weeks ago under its Chairman, Deputy Joe McHugh. We must ask ourselves what candidate status, which the European Council will approve this week, entails.
We are very good at showing demonstrable signs of solidarity, understandably, with the Ukrainian people. Every night, the Houses of the Oireachtas are lit up brightly in the Ukrainian colours and we are flying their flag. We have contributed to Red Cross fundraisers. The European Union has responded with six packages of sanctions as well as providing financial and lethal aid. Although I state my regret that Ireland is not part of the complete EU support for Ukraine, this is a situation where we need to be practical about who our allies are because, to be absolutely clear, Ukraine is fighting for all of Europe at the moment. Unfortunately, there is a danger that too many people in the west are simply becoming tired of the war in Ukraine and they are not paying attention to the absolutely savage fighting and continuous atrocities that are still being committed by Russian troops in parts of Ukraine. Kyiv may no longer be under siege but parts of Ukraine are going through nine rounds of hell at the moment. We cannot take a backward step. Therefore, I will go back to my point about the tangible impact of candidate status for Ukraine. We know Ukraine's aspiration to join the EU is not a new step, and there have been roadblocks in the way in terms of the rule of law and governance issues but, crucially in terms of finances and also the important reconstruction of the country, what is being called at a European level a Marshall plan for Ukraine, is something on which we need to take action now rather than it being planned to happen in a couple of years' time. As the Secretary General of NATO said this week, unfortunately, this war is going to be with us for quite some time. If we look at the approximately €36 billion of Russian assets that have been frozen by European Union member states, including just under €1 billion in Ireland, these now need to be seized and ploughed back into Ukraine. The ill-gotten bounty of Russian corruption and warmongering needs to be taken from the Russian leadership and the oligarchs and stooges who surround Putin who tried to hide their money around the world and ploughed back into rebuilding Ukraine's roads, schools, livelihoods and homes that are being robbed from the innocent Ukrainian people.
We talk about the six rounds of sanctions. Let us be frank: they are simply not enough. If they were enough - at this stage we are more than 100 days since the outbreak of this latest iteration of the conflict - the Russian regime would be close to collapsing, but it is not because it has so many outs. We can see how Russian oligarchs have been able to move their money away from London, Paris, Dublin, Brussels and wherever else, to other outposts of the world that are simply not taking the same approach to Vladimir Putin and his despotic regime's invasion of Ukraine that right-thinking countries in the EU, the UK, the United States, Japan, Australia, Norway and elsewhere are taking. That is why it is absolutely crucial that, following the European Council, the European Union starts to apply pressure as a global leader. The European Union is a global leader when it comes to the economy, democracy, values and socially, but one could ask what we are looking for from our partners. The countries around the world which have very lucrative trade deals, partnerships and so much else with the European Union rely on this partnership in so many areas, yet they see no problem facilitating Vladimir Putin, his oligarchs and his regime's ability to get around European sanctions through their countries and banks. That is something on which the EU must start to show its teeth. We cannot simply rely on the United States to put in huge amounts of money if the EU, which has the power to do this, is not prepared to look at other countries, be it the United Arab Emirates, India and say their continuing ability to facilitate the Russian regime is simply not acceptable.
One issue that should be on the European Council agenda, but will probably only be referred to in the margin notes, as opposed to as a stand-alone issue, is the fact that once again we see the British Government acting deplorably when it comes to its international commitments and agreements, signed not very long ago with the European Union. The trade and co-operation agreement that is so important to Ireland economically in terms of ensuring that our exporters have continuing access to the UK, but equally that so many people can continue to bring in goods from the UK without the burden of tariffs or quotas, is under threat due to the United Kingdom's inability to meet its commitments in the protocol. When I say "meet its commitments" I am not talking about the rigorous implementation trope that is thrown back at European and Irish leaders by certain unionist commentators, I am talking about the ability of the British Government to not just meet its commitments but to do so in terms of the engagement with the joint implementation committee of the withdrawal agreement. The fact that the British Foreign Secretary has withdrawn from the implementation committee since 24 February tells a sorry tale. The European Union, through Vice President Šefčovič, has presented a comprehensive set of proposals to address the accepted difficulties in the operation of the protocol but we have not seen anything in return from the British Government. Rather than engaging in the process, we have seen the British Foreign Secretary putting her own political ambition first, upping stumps and simply disengaging from the process. Again, rather than coming back with a comprehensive plan of acceptable solutions and an ability to work through the obvious problems identified by business leaders in Northern Ireland the British Government has simply put the wrecking ball through an international agreement. It is the British Government's continuing recklessness that is causing instability in Northern Ireland. The problem is not the protocol; it is Brexit. We have a British Government that has decided the solution to all the problems it has created with its nonsensical Brexit is to act unilaterally and to threaten to break international law.
It is using Northern Ireland as some sort of bargaining chip in the internal power play of Conservative Party politics and as a British Government distraction technique for the next time there is an awkward partygate scandal, or a fuss about rendition flights for refugees to Rwanda, appointments, potential by-election defeats, rail strikes and everything else. It is such a retrograde step that, to be honest, after six years, I am sick of talking about Brexit. We need to move on. Europe and Ireland need to move on but, most important, the people of Northern Ireland need to be given the chance to move on and enjoy some element of stability this British Government is failing to deliver.
I too have questions about the Taoiseach's nine-page speech, in which he did not say much about his cheerleading last week for the European Council to agree to turn off all the Russian gas. Will our Government protect the hard-won freedoms and sovereignty of our people and our foreparents? Will it continue to hand away our freedoms to the EU and international globalists, namely, the World Economic Forum and the WHO? That is the question I have for the Taoiseach, who would not even stay in the Chamber for the debate. How can we as a nation protect our sovereignty and independence while, at the same time, we act as cheerleaders in the EU? We are not neutral any more, as far as this war is concerned, or anything like it. Members of the Government should not cod themselves by thinking we are. It is as if they think we are a mighty power. We are a small, independent state. We should be treated like that and respected as a neutral country, as we always were. We should not hand back the keys to our country to European globalists at every opportunity. It is nothing short of disgraceful.
Quite honestly, I get sick and tired of listening to Deputy Richmond every time he comes to the Chamber. He is a great cheerleader for Europe.
I ask that the clock be stopped. If Deputy Richmond has a point to make he can make it, but not in the manner he did. I ask him to resume his seat. I ask Deputy McGrath to avoid making personal comments.
I understand. Táim beagnach críochnaithe agus beidh beirt Teachta eile ann. These are my feelings about what is going on. It is a total sell-out and clean-out similar to when we were supposed to be bailed out by the European banks. We were cleaned out and robbed and we are now handing over the keys. The Taoiseach is proud to do that. He wants a big job in Europe. The sooner he goes there the better.
I commend the European Union on its overall social and financial support for Ukraine. The protection it offered to millions of refugees fleeing the war has made headlines all over the world. Ireland has been very supportive of the refugees. We have opened our doors to them and, if anything can be done in this country, we always wear our heart on our sleeve and we help everyone we can help. However, how will Europe look on the Government for not protecting the people or their economy? Will it ask questions about why Ireland did not avail of Europe's toolbox and ignored its recommendations on reducing VAT below 5%? Ireland is 100% reliant on oil and gas with no alternatives. The Government has single-handedly put Ireland at risk and has ignored concessions and recommendations from Europe. They are the facts.
Our first job in this country is to help and protect the people we asked to elect us to come to the House to protect each individual county. That is what we are here to do. We are the best in the world at helping everyone else but our Government has now shown it is the worst in the world for protecting our own. Those are the facts and it is sad to see.
While his intentions might be well-founded, we are a very small island nation and I question the sanity of the Taoiseach banging the table asking for the supply of fuel and gas from Russia to be cut off and saying we will be fine without it. It is not serving the best needs of the people of Ireland who are suffering at present from the high cost of fuel. If we have to suffer from the absence of fuel in future, maybe from September or October onwards, that will be devastating for people. It is worrying for their safety and incomes. The Taoiseach did not fully think out the implications of what he was wishing for.
Recently, a human rights activist from South Africa spoke about the two-tier system for people seeking international protection. He said:
Even when a country is at war, you don’t suspend any of your prohibitions on equality. [He added] Nigerian children wait weeks and months for documentation so they can attend school, whereas Ukrainian children get documentation promptly from [the] same institutions.
In the short term, there are tens of millions of people who need protection. Will the Taoiseach raise these concerns and statistics at the European Council summit? Will he and other EU leaders continue to turn a blind eye to what is happening on the ground in places such as South Africa? It is unfair to treat little children differently. We should treat them the same. I do not want to see a two-tier system for how we assist people who are seeking our help.
I thank him for the confirmation. I do not mean to be smart-alecky but there is increasingly a bit of a disconnect. The Taoiseach is making statements that are very much in tune with what Dr. Ursula von der Leyen is saying but I wonder how in tune she is with the masses of Europe. She comes from a particular background, as we all do, but the old aristocratic elite of Europe is reasserting itself. We see the expansionist tendencies of that aristocratic elite also reasserting themselves.
I will preface my comments by saying, because otherwise they will be intentionally or otherwise misinterpreted, I have the utmost sympathy for Ukraine as a state and the Ukrainian people. I have nothing but condemnation for the Russian aggression that is taking place. Nevertheless, it is taking place in response to a fear of EU and western expansionism and, in particular, a fear of western military expansionism around NATO. Although the Taoiseach has stopped short of making pronouncements on that, he has called for the EU to agree to Ukraine becoming an accession country as quickly as possible. Again, that plays to a particular elite in Europe and its expansionist ambitions, which have some part to play in the cause of this war. That is no different than Russia's expansionist ambitions but at least it is not pretending. It states it is not ashamed of what it has done. Russia may have much to be ashamed about, but it says it is not. At least, the fact it says it is not ashamed means there has been some minor degree of critical analysis on its part. I do not see any critical analysis from the European elite as it continues to advocate for EU expansion.
If we look at reports regarding countries that have not acceded to the EU, there are countries that have been accession countries for a long time, for example, Turkey. There is not a whole lot of movement on that. Serbia has accession status, as do Macedonia and Albania, but Bosnia and Herzegovina was refused that status a couple of years ago. I had a very quick look at the reasons before coming to the Chamber. One of them is the fight against corruption and organised crime in that country is hampered by a lack of harmonisation of legislation across the country. That is a key concern for the European Union. We should compare that to its treatment of Ukraine.
According to Transparency International's 2021 corruption perceptions index, which is a scale of the least to most corrupt nations, Ukraine ranked 122nd out of 180, making it the second most corrupt country in Europe, with Russia being the most corrupt. Moldova, which has something in common with Ukraine in the form of the threat on its eastern border around the Transnistria area, was ranked 105th, making it one of the most corrupt countries on the face of the planet. Yet we want them to be made accession countries as fast as possible. It is as if we learned no lessons from the difficulties with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in particular, where combating corruption and organised crime became more difficult after their accession. Once they were granted accession status with Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and so on, the political impetus became unstoppable. Nothing was done to counter the corruption beforehand and it became very difficult to counter afterwards, yet we have not learned from that because we want to serve the expansionist ambition of a European elite. Our Taoiseach is very much on that elite's coat-tails. Sometimes, I listen to the man and wonder whether he has been promised a job. What is the story? He is saying everything and anything that comes from the technocratic and aristocratic elite in Brussels without any regard for its impact on his own State.
Like Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, I have no problem with the fact that Ukrainian children are getting services in Ireland quickly. However, I have a problem with the differentiation between peoples. We need to learn. We have a problem with the oligarchs in Russia, and rightly so, but what about the oligarchs in Ukraine? According to TheWashington Post, which is a fairly reputable newspaper, "Ukraine's oligarchs are united against Russia". It then explains why: "Ukrainian oligarchs engage in politics with one primary goal: defending their wealth and property." Are we going to bring them into the EU? Our Taoiseach wants us to. I do not.
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. The agenda for this week's meeting of the European Council is being discussed by EU affairs ministers at the General Affairs Council meeting today, at which the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, is representing Ireland. Hence, the reason I am in the Chamber.
The June European Council will return to economic issues. As the House will be acutely aware, the international economic outlook is serious. The uneven receding of the pandemic around the world has seen the emergence of inflationary pressures, a situation that has been exacerbated by the indefensible Russian invasion of Ukraine. The economic impacts are significant, including a sharp rise in energy and commodity prices. The most recent figures published on Friday show that euro area annual inflation was 8.1% in May and 8.8% across the EU. The European Central Bank has indicated that interest rates will begin to rise in a graduated way from July. While we do not know how matters will unfold in the global economy over the period ahead, clear risks are already apparent within the eurozone and across other developed economies.
This week's meeting will generally endorse the country-specific recommendations for this year's European semester process. The European semester is the annual cycle of economic and fiscal policy co-ordination among EU member states. It brings together the different strands of the EU's economic governance framework, whereby member states co-ordinate their economic policies to support growth and jobs.
In May, the European Commission published its analysis of relevant issues in each member state. This analysis provides the analytical underpinning for country-specific recommendations. The Commission's assessment is a broadly positive one, reflecting Ireland's strong economic performance prior to, and in the recovery phase from, Covid-19. The report noted that Ireland was the only EU country to avoid recession during the pandemic and that our labour market had emerged from the pandemic fairly unscathed. However, it also noted that challenges remained.
We are broadly happy with the four country-specific recommendations being agreed for Ireland this year. They are consistent with national policy orientations that have been firmly established already. The specific recommendations for Ireland cover, in broad terms, fiscal policy and investment; implementation of our national recovery and resilience plan; the circular economy; and reducing reliance on fossil fuels and accelerating the deployment of renewable energy. These were discussed by ministers at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 16 June, insofar as employment and social policies were concerned, and at the Economic and Financial Affairs Council on 17 June, insofar as macroeconomic and structural policies were concerned. Approval is expected at General Affairs Council meeting today of the integrated country-specific recommendations for transmission to this week's European Council. More generally, the House will recall that the Government welcomed the spring package when it was produced by the Commission on 23 May.
It is good to see the return of country reports and country-specific recommendations this year. These are key aspects of the European semester process and help to drive progress on structural reforms. Let me take this opportunity to thank the European Commission for its useful analysis in the country report for Ireland. It is undoubtedly an important input into our national dialogue, including yesterday's national economic dialogue in Dublin Castle. I particularly welcome the focus on energy policy and realising the potential of our vast renewable resources, which is in line with our national policy objectives.
I expect that this week's European Council will welcome the fulfilment by Croatia of all of the convergence criteria as set out in the treaty and endorse the Commission's proposal that Croatia adopt the euro on 1 January 2023, as recommended by finance ministers last week. As the House is aware, Ireland marks 20 years of using the euro this year. Croatia's adoption of it will be a further significant milestone in the history and evolution of the single currency area. Croatia will be the 20th EU member state to adopt the euro as its currency. It follows Lithuania, which joined the euro as its 19th member state in 2015. It is only within the last three decades that Croatia was embroiled in a terrible war. The fact that it is now set to join the single currency is positive for both the people of Croatia and the entire EU. It has our best wishes as it advances its preparations for the changeover from the kuna in the months ahead.
EU leaders will meet in euro summit format on Friday, 24 June. This will provide them with an opportunity to hear directly from the president of the European Central Bank, Ms Christine Lagarde, and the president of the Eurogroup, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on the latest assessment of the economic outlook. Last week, the Eurogroup issued a statement on the future of the banking union, with an agreed focus in the near term on strengthening the common framework for bank crisis management and national deposit guarantee schemes. The EU framework has been significantly reinforced over the past decade and the European Commission has been invited to make legislative proposals as a further step in strengthening the banking union.
The Conference on the Future of Europe has been an unprecedented experience of transnational deliberative or participative democracy, with many worthwhile recommendations emerging from the process. Steered by three co-chairs representing the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, it has been driven by an executive board consisting of an equal representation of the three institutions as well as observers from key stakeholders. Citizen engagement was supported by an innovative multilingual digital platform, where any European could share ideas, and by national and European citizens' panels. I was pleased that one of the four Europe-wide citizens' panels met in Dublin in February to finalise its input.
Inclusivity and listening to all perspectives was the core philosophy of Ireland's domestic engagement in the conference. This was led by the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, who worked closely with European Movement Ireland on Ireland's national programme. This included a number of sectoral and regional events and events with Irish people living in the EU. The Minister of State also held a series of consultations with young people, the LGBTQI community, new Irish or migrant communities, Travellers, islanders, Gaeltacht communities and community groups.
During the closing ceremony in Strasbourg on 9 May, President Emmanuel Macron, on behalf of the Council Presidency, the President of the European Commission, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Parliament, Ms Roberta Metsola, received the final report, which contained 49 proposals and more than 320 specific associated measures.
The proposals reflect nine broad topics, including a stronger economy, social justice and jobs, education, culture, youth and sport, digital transformation, European democracy, values and rights, rule of law, security, climate change, environment, health EU in the world; and migration. Each of the recommendations is presented in the final 336-page report, which also aims to provide an overview of the various activities undertaken in the context of the unique process that the Conference on the Future of Europe has been. Ministers will have a further political exchange on the conference at today's General Affairs Council and I expect that this will include ensuring high priority to showing citizens that the EU institutions are listening to them and will follow up on their recommendations. EU leaders are expected to take note of the proposals set out in the final report of the conference at this week's European Council meeting. This will include inviting effective follow-up by the three institutions, namely, the Council, the Commission and the Parliament, each within their own sphere of competence and in accordance with the treaties, and ensuring high levels of transparency for Europe's citizens.
We welcome the assessment carried out by the Council secretariat and the Commission, which showed that a large proportion of the recommendations can be implemented within the current treaty framework or through new or amended EU legislation. Other specific measures would require treaty change to be fully implemented, including issues relating to the balance of competence in fields such as health and education; broadening the use of qualified majority voting; and treaty-based institutional matters. It is clear that the recommendations of the conference therefore include suggestions that can be implemented quite quickly, as well as some that are more ambitious and wide-ranging.
As we embark on more detailed consideration of the recommendations, our guiding principle should be the question of how we can best prepare our Union to continue to meet the needs of its citizens into the future. This includes respecting important principles such as subsidiarity, while protecting and strengthening the commitment to our shared values. Ireland is ready for this debate. We will work to constructively shape our new future and are open to considering treaty change if this proves necessary. We should first, however, do what we can within the existing framework. Our focus for now will remain on the most immediately realisable actions that can clearly respond to the expectations of our citizens for better engagement on decisions directly impacting on their daily lives. I look forward to further discussion of the outcome of the conference over the period ahead. I wish to thank Members again for their active participation in this debate. The Taoiseach will report to the House following this week's European Council.