Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

4:15 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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18. To ask the Taoiseach his views on his recent engagements at the World Economic Forum. [27389/22]

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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19. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [27628/22]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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20. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the World Economic Forum. [29327/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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21. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos. [29332/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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22. To ask the Taoiseach his views on his recent engagements at the World Economic Forum. [30715/22]

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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23. To ask the Taoiseach the actions that he has taken to raise and highlight the ongoing record energy and food prices which are further compounding the tragic inequalities caused by the pandemic in view of his attendance at the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos [30981/22]

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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24. To ask the Taoiseach if he is satisfied that he attended the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos. [30983/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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25. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [34039/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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26. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [34042/22]

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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27. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his trip to the World Economic Forum. [35581/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 to 27, inclusive, together.

I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 May. During my visit, I participated in a panel discussion, attended a lunch hosted by The Washington Post, had a number of political and economic meetings, and attended a dinner hosted by IDA Ireland. The panel discussion I participated in was on the theme of European unity in a disordered world, and was chaired by Børge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum. Fellow panellists included the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, Eduard Heger, and President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde. Russia's war on Ukraine was a major theme in our discussions, with a focus on the response by the European Union. Speakers observed that despite Putin's attempts to divide, the EU had shown great unity and strength. I raised the question of food security, which Russia is deliberately undermining, and stressed the impact this was likely to have on already vulnerable countries. The panel also considered the question of enlargement of the Union, including Ukraine's wish to join, and the implications that would have for the effective functioning of the Union. I expressed my view that much reform was possible within the framework of the existing treaties, but that I was open to considering treaty change if it proved necessary for what we are aiming to achieve together. I also took the opportunity to set out Ireland's distinct experience through our 50 years as a member state.

I attended a lunchtime event hosted by The Washington Postwhere I had the opportunity to meet and engage with a wide range of other leaders, including the Prime Minister of Moldova and my colleagues at the European Council, the Prime Ministers of Greece and Croatia and the Chancellor of Austria, as well as a number of other European, Middle East, African and Latin American leaders.

I had a bilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, who briefed me on the conduct of the war, in particular the devastation being visited on the eastern part of the country. I conveyed Ireland's support for Ukraine's application for EU membership and undertook to advocate for the granting of candidate status with my EU colleagues. I also met briefly with the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko.

At his request, I had a bilateral meeting with the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog. At our meeting, we recalled the president's family connections to Ireland and we agreed our shared interest in deepening bilateral relations. I underlined that the occupation remains a priority for me, the Government and the people of Ireland. Recent events have demonstrated the urgent need to maintain a political horizon for peace. I expressed my deep concern at continued expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, including recent announcements, as well as evictions and demolitions. I also expressed my concern that these actions and policies would only escalate further an already tense situation.

I raised the shocking death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the appalling scenes in Jerusalem during her funeral procession.

I had meetings with senior executives of a number of multinational firms with operations in Ireland and addressed a dinner hosted by IDA Ireland that was attended by representatives of 30 multinational companies with significant operations or interests in Ireland. These meetings are typically an opportunity for company executives to update me on progress with their operations in Ireland and their future development plans. For my part, it was an opportunity to emphasise again Ireland's foreign direct investment proposition and our core competitive strengths, namely, talent, stability and a proven track record.

4:25 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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As was recognised at the World Economic Forum, the world is facing an unprecedented energy crisis. In reality, we have yet to experience the full impact of Russia's entrenched aggression against Ukraine on Europe's energy supply. Collectively, we face a massive challenge to counter climate change, forge a new path in energy production and secure a cleaner future for our island. The cornerstones of our strategy can and must be energy independence, security and affordability. The State has to be the driver of the strategy, but that is not where we are today. Earlier this year, the wind energy sector told the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, that it has absolutely no confidence in key State agencies' ability to deliver major infrastructural projects. Planning decisions are taking anything up to 12 or 24 months and not the 18 weeks provided for in law. Restoring confidence in the board will not only require significant investment in skilled personnel and restructuring. We need to see the organisation's profound cultural and governance issues addressed in full. The board's failures have major implications for major projects throughout the country. I include in that Hammerson's disastrous plan for Moore Street that the Taoiseach has championed. Will the Government publish the independent senior counsel report on receipt and set out the actions it will take to address the systemic problems at An Bord Pleanála?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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As we know, Davos is the world's most exclusive lobbying forum. Yesterday, The Irish Times published a series of extraordinary articles about how Uber apparently went about trying to tear up regulations covering the taxi sector in Ireland and did not disclose contact with the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, at Davos 2016 in its own lobbying returns. Will the Taoiseach tell us what companies were lobbying him at Davos this year?

Looking further at the Uber reports, it appears that what Uber wanted was a race to the bottom on the terms and conditions for drivers dressed up as a new economic model, and an extraordinary level of detailed lobbying went on across multiple Ministers, Departments and agencies. We know this because of the whistleblower, former EU lobbyist for Uber, Mark MacGann. We have learned that a former head of the Department of Finance was central to many of these engagements. Does the Taoiseach think it is appropriate for someone who is representing Ireland on a public board, or indeed on the European Investment Bank, to be involved also in lobbying officials on other issues at the same time? Is the Taoiseach aware of any other public appointees who are also engaged in separate lobbying activity? Will he bring forward new guidelines to address any conflict of interest that might arise as a result?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I asked him in the Chamber before he went there if he was he going and he told me he was not but he was there the day after. Sin scéal eile.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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What was that?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I asked the Taoiseach before he attended whether he would be attending and he said he did not intend to.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy asked if I would be attending what?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The World Economic Forum, which is what my question refers to. The Taoiseach explained to the House about all his meetings and engagements with multinationals. They are all fine and dandy, but did he mention to anyone that we have a proud record of neutrality in this country? Did he think that was worthwhile mentioning or has he abandoned that idea completely?

I expect and hope the Taoiseach raised the hardship our citizens are facing because of issues coming from the World Economic Forum, what it is deciding and its plans, which the Taoiseach seems gung-ho to sign up to rather than looking after our people who cannot put food on the table or fuel in their cars and cannot educate their children. I would hope the Taoiseach would have raised those issues when he was at that high-powered meeting.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The cost-of-living and inflation crises were key issues at Davos. Did the Taoiseach talk to any representatives from France when he was there? This morning, he pooh-poohed efforts to control rents. He has similarly pooh-poohed our proposal that we should control energy prices. It may be of note to the Taoiseach that the French Government has limited energy price increases to a maximum of 4%. The French Government can do that. It has also introduced a new regime of rent controls. It recently nationalised one of the major energy-producing companies to keep prices down. Those are all things the Taoiseach refuses to do as the cost-of-living crisis absolutely crushes people and will do even more extremely as we head into the winter months. Does the Taoiseach not think he might learn something from what the French are doing to control rents and energy prices and, indeed, take over energy companies to operate them on a not-for-profit basis?

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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There is no economy on a dead planet and yet the European Commission has proposed, and scandalously, the European Council and European Parliament have agreed to, simply labelling fossil gas and nuclear power as green, as if calling them green somehow makes them green. It is a consequence of extensive lobbying by the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries. Another example of that is the agreement between the European Commission and the US to import liquefied natural gas, that is, fracked gas, for the coming decades, thereby doubling down on fossil fuels. The consequence is more private investment into unsustainable fossil fuel infrastructure, potentially locking us in for decades.

The science is crystal clear. We cannot have any more investment in fossil fuel infrastructure. That is incompatible with civilised, sustainable human life on Earth. Does the Taoiseach agree with the decision? Why did the Government not object by yesterday's deadline?

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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As we have heard, those attending the World Economic Forum in Davos had a lot to discuss. Hunger and food shortages are just two of a number of challenges facing the world at this time. What are the Taoiseach's views on the famine currently being experienced in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya in the Horn of Africa? In these three countries, more than 23 million people are experiencing extreme hunger. They have now had their fourth successive dry rainy season. The United Nations has stated that €4.2 billion is needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the region. Dóchas has made a number of recommendations in this regard in its pre-budget 2023 submission, including the need for an increase in Irish aid. It is clear a global response is now needed. I call on the Taoiseach to give this issue serious consideration in the coming weeks with a view to Ireland taking the initiative and helping to co-ordinate an effective response in this regard.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies for raising these issues. I do not think Deputy McDonald raised any issue around the Davos meeting but instead raised an issue about An Bord Pleanála and the energy issues. Energy is a big issue at European Union level at the moment, as it is globally, across the board. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has initiated an inquiry into An Bord Pleanála. He has commissioned a senior counsel to look at those issues. The planning regulator is also doing a review of its processes. An Bord Pleanála itself has done an internal review. It is the Government's intention to hold An Bord Pleanála to account in respect of these issues, to get clarity and transparency without prejudice, and to act subsequently by introducing any legislative improvements that might be required and considering its approach to ensure An Bord Pleanála is fit for purpose.

In terms of offshore wind energy, the maritime legislation that the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, piloted through the House last year was a major breakthrough. We now must establish the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, administratively, get it up and running as fast as we can, and get the necessary consents in place, because the key issue for the future of this country will be that we accelerate offshore wind energy and floating technology in particular. The European Union has made it clear that it wishes to create a new regulatory framework that would facilitate faster permitting of offshore wind developments.

It will create an overriding public interest clause, namely, climate change, as the basis to override other planning objections to offshore wind platforms and floating technology so that we can shorten the timeline between the conception of a wind energy project and completion. At the moment it is about eight years, but we do not have eight years to wait. We have to move faster.

I can anticipate what will happen, of course. That regulation will come and everyone will then come around it, scrum and say, “Actually, you should not be doing that. Can we go back to life as normal?” We have to have that debate, anyway.

Deputy Bacik described Davos as the most exclusive lobbying club around and asked what companies were lobbying me. I am fairly embarrassed to say we were doing the lobbying in terms of some of the companies. I attended a dinner, hosted by IDA Ireland, with 30 companies that are in Ireland and have interests in Ireland. We took the opportunity to suggest they could invest more in Ireland. We use those occasions to identify what they feel the needs are within Ireland and how best Ireland can progress. These are companies in life sciences, technology and other areas. It is a very useful occasion for Ireland to advance its cause to advocate for workers and jobs in our economy and society. Equally, then, there is a very strong political element to it as well.

Around the war in Ukraine, I met the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and the foreign minister. Again, one was struck by the enormous dedication of these officials and political representatives of Ukraine. They looked exhausted at that particular meeting that day, given the round of meetings they had to engage in on behalf their people. People can have a go at Davos, but when you see a country such as Ukraine that is under enormous pressure, Davos was extremely useful for them to be able to advocate for their people in terms of a whole range of issues. Their diplomacy was very impressive. It led actually as well to the European Union granting Ukraine candidate status for European Union membership.

I say to Deputy Boyd Barrett that we can learn from France. I know Deputy Murphy was anxious that Deputy Boyd Barrett might learn on the nuclear front as well because he suggested it. Nuclear energy is one the ways France is keeping its energy prices down. Is Deputy Boyd Barrett advocating that we go nuclear like France?

4:35 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am certainly not.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I see, but the Deputy does want me to learn from France in respect of issues.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That said, we have brought in many measures in terms of rent protection zones, including the 2% limit. We brought in six pieces of legislation to protect renters and we will have to continue to do more in that regard.

Deputy Murphy is probably one of the more anti-European Union Members of this House. He has a consistent negativity about Europe and the LNG coming in. They have no choice; Russia is cutting off the gas.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Renewables.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Russia has caused a crisis, and the Deputy ignored the fact the European Union has brought forward a timetable for renewables.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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It has called fossil and gas renewables. Are fossil and gas green? Is nuclear green?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The European Commission is driving on renewables. However, People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and others just constantly have to have a go at the European Union - always attacking.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We are actually over time, please.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Haughey raised a very important point and he is absolutely correct. There is a real crisis emerging in the Horn of Africa. Deputy Haughey highlighted that. We will take steps for working with the European Union to see what we can do. I am extremely worried about it. It is a combination of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis along with four successive years of drought. It is a very major problem that will occur.

I apologise sincerely to Deputy McGrath. The issues were economic or political. As I said, we did everything we could to point to multinational companies that we met that it would be worth their while to continue to invest in Ireland and even add to it.

That would be most of issues. Neutrality was not raised at all in Davos. We are not members of any military alliance and there are no plans in Government to propose that we will join any military alliance.