Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Report of Committee of Selection: Motion

European Council

4:40 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting held on 20 and 21 October 2022. [52773/22]

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide a report on the European Council in Brussels on 20 and 21 October 2022. [54587/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting held on 20 and 21 October 2022. [57446/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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18. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting held on 20 and 21 October 2022. [57449/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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19. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent attendance at the European Council; and if he will refer to the items under discussion and their order of importance. [57727/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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20. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting on 20 and 21 October 2022. [57730/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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21. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting held on 20 and 21 October 2022. [57749/22]

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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22. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting held on 20 and 21 October 2022. [57860/22]

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. 15 to 22, inclusive, together.

As I set out in my statement to the House on 16 November, I attended a meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 20 and 21 October. Issues discussed included developments in Russia's war on Ukraine and its wider impacts, supply and price challenges on energy, economic issues, and a number of external relations issues, including preparation of COP27 and the upcoming summit between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN.

On energy, we agreed steps to take forward work to tackle the price and supply crises urgently, including improving the functioning and stability of energy markets, addressing spikes in prices, saving energy and accelerating deployment of renewables. Given the extent to which the issue is having a negative impact on citizens and enterprises, it is important that the European Union and its member states continue to work collectively to create stability in the market.

We also discussed the latest developments in Russia's war on Ukraine, including its impact both in Ukraine and further afield. We condemned indiscriminate Russian missile and drone attacks on civilians and infrastructure, including the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as well as the illegal annexation by Russia of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. The EU will never recognise these illegal annexations. We stated our intention to continue to provide political, financial and other supports to Ukraine for as long as it takes, and reaffirmed our commitment to hold Russia to account for its war crimes.

The European Council condemned actions by Iran in support of Russia's war and we welcomed sanctions adopted on 20 October 2022 in this regard.

We also called on the Belarusian authorities to stop enabling the Russian war of aggression by permitting Russian armed forces to use Belarussian territory.

Through its tactic of weaponising food in its war against Ukraine, Russia is responsible for the global food security crisis. To counter this, the EU-Ukraine solidarity lanes have made the export of Ukrainian crops, agricultural products and fertilisers possible. Leaders expressed support for the call by the United Nations Secretary-General for the extension of the UN Black Sea grain initiative.

On Iran, we condemned the unacceptable use of force by Iranian authorities against peaceful protestors, in particular against women. Women in Iran are being denied their civil and political rights.

The meeting also held a strategic discussion on the EU's relationship with China, which is an important and complex one.

We looked ahead to the EU-ASEAN summit taking place on 14 December 2022, which will be an opportunity to deepen our regional partnership in south-east Asia, and to COP27 on climate change, which I attended earlier this month, and COP15 on biodiversity, upcoming in Montreal in December.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I wholeheartedly welcome the fact that the Government finally agreed to address the situation whereby gas sets the overall electricity prices, including renewable electricity. Capping renewables at €120 per MWh is welcome but when we consider that the average wholesale price of electricity in August was €388 - it has gone down to €137 per MWh for October - we see how artificially high prices have been for such a long time. The question is: why have people not seen the reduction reflected in their bills? I first raised the need for this action last November when households and businesses were facing into a winter where energy prices were very high. I am glad the EU and the Government have seen reason but it should never have taken this long. When will the measure come into effect? Can the Taoiseach commit to keeping it in place for as long as gas prices remain high?

The capping of the price of non-gas electricity, on which huge profits have already been made this year, is a step in the right direction. Will the Government also bring forward a windfall tax on the excess profits electricity companies made in 2022?

4:50 pm

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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European Heads of Government considered their approach to COP27 when they met in October. As it turned out, the EU played a crucial role at COP27. The Taoiseach addressed the conference on 8 November and outlined Ireland's position, which highlighted the importance of climate justice. As we know, COP27 has now concluded with a final agreement reached after prolonged negotiations. The agreement includes texts that finally recognise loss and damage caused by climate change. This is a breakthrough, although much work remains to be done in implementing the goal of setting up funding provisions. However, the final agreement, as we heard, contains nothing new as regards emissions targets or the phasing out of fossil fuels. The Taoiseach has already answered many questions on COP27 but does he agree that this latter point is disappointing? How does he view the outcome of COP27 generally? Does he agree that the EU Green Deal should continue to be central to our approach to these issues and that the block should be a leader globally in tackling them?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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For the record, when Bertie Ahern was shaking the hand of Vladimir Putin, some of us were protesting outside the Russian embassy about Putin's bloody and murderous invasion of Chechnya. I did not see the Taoiseach there. We are consistent. He is right when he says we are against illegal annexations in eastern Ukraine by Russia. Nobody should facilitate such things; he is right. Next Tuesday, 29 November, is UN day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Every single year, the UN General Assembly reaffirms its commitment to the Palestinian right to return of approximately 7 million to 8 million Palestinian refugees who are denied that right by the apartheid state of Israel. What sanctions will the Government take against Israel, or propose to the UN or the European Union, over their continued support to Israel, when it commits crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people and denies the vindication of their right to return under UN resolution?

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has said that moving away from the triple lock on Irish neutrality would be "a sensible change". He and Fine Gael claim this is in response to Putin's disgusting invasion of Ukraine. The truth is that Fine Gael has been pushing for this for decades. In 2003, it produced a policy document, Beyond Neutrality, that supported moving towards participation in a common EU defence policy and abandoning the triple lock, which it described as a political straitjacket. Fine Gael has been trying to erode what is left of neutrality for decades and is opportunistically using Putin's invasion of Ukraine to do so. In fairness, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has at least stated that his position is the triple lock should remain. What is the Taoiseach's position? He did not answer the earlier question. He made a vague reference to the UN General Assembly but it is the UN Security Council that agrees on the deployment of peacekeeping missions. Does he support the retention of the triple lock or not? If he does not, will he at least give us a referendum on it?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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From the Taoiseach's observations at the EU Council and COP27 meetings, does he detect an urgency on providing alternative energy in such a way as to make it possible in the short term rather than way off into the future? Has he observed whether there is a cohesive approach in the European Union to the aggression of Russia and the possibility that it might spread elsewhere? What action is likely to follow?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Putin's bombing of Ukraine is despicable. A little desperation is beginning to creep in. As we know, Putin is on the defensive against Ukrainian advances, in addition to the home front, which is an issue that is underreported. In recent weeks, many ordinary Russians have defied conscription, relatives of conscripts have held protests in at least six cities, some troops have refused to leave barracks and some soldiers have fragged, or killed, their officers. In these circumstances, the role of NATO is counterproductive. The larger the NATO shadow looms, the more Putin can point to foreign threat in an attempt to rally the population and cut across the anti-war revolt. Will the Taoiseach agree that this State needs to keep real distance from NATO and that this State has made a mistake under his leadership in being represented at NATO's Ukraine defence contact group over these last six months?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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On Deputy Conway-Walsh's question, the Government took a decision on the solidarity tax today, which applies domestically, particularly in respect of the Corrib field. It is designed to make sure there will be no windfall profits arising out of the increased prices that have occurred. The Government has adopted the correct overall policy in respect of the cost-of-living package in that we did not go for what was proposed by the Deputy's party, namely, a cap to pre-2021 levels. We saw what happened in the United Kingdom fiscally and from a market point of view when that proposal was implemented by the UK Government; it had fairly devastating consequences for the UK economy. That is why the Irish Government did not go down that route in respect of the measures we took. On the issue of the wider windfall tax, that will come later as part of the European measures. The broader European measures will fall due to be completed but the EU energy market is very complex. We import most of our gas from the UK and Norway supplies the UK. It is not a uniform gas market but we welcome the decisions taken to try to decouple gas from electricity price increases.

Deputy Haughey raised the issue of climate justice and COP27 generally. One of the key takeaways from COP has been the fact that climate change is now here in terms of worldwide devastation. The presentation by the Prime Minister of Pakistan was one of two events I attended. One third of all crops or arable land has been destroyed by floods in that country. Significant levels of disease are coming from stagnant water throughout Pakistan and hundreds of thousands of pregnant women, just over 600,000, are without homes and shelter. There is huge economic damage amounting to €30 billion in reconstruction costs. The presentations by Somalia, Sri Lanka and all the small island states of the Pacific indicated they are facing real danger. If there is some message for this country, it is that we have to do more on adaptation. We also have to do more, not just to get emissions down, but to prepare for coastal erosion. We have to prepare a whole range of measures to deal with that.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am afraid we are out of time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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On Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, it has to be said that no one has done more than the EU and Ireland to support Palestine through the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, UNRRA, and a whole range of humanitarian supports. That is rarely said.

I dealt with the issue of the triple lock. It is not in the programme for Government to remove the triple lock. I do not believe in removing it. I believe we should have a citizens' assembly to discuss all these issues in a more informed way, which I have said. I understand the rationale put forward by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in light of the Russian invasion and Russia's behaviour. It is now a problem that Russia is such a significant member of the Security Council. That the likes of Russia can veto any Security Council proposal, such as the one Ireland put forward on climate and security, is very retrograde. There is a problem there. We cannot put our heads on the sand.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We need to wrap up.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have dealt with some of the issues raised by Deputy Durkan. There is a cohesive approach to Ukraine by Europe. We would like COP to be better and stronger but it is the only game in town, so to speak. It brings leaders together and we need to keep that momentum going.

On Deputy Barry's question, Ireland is not a member of NATO. We are not a member of a military alliance. That is the definition of our military neutrality, which has been consistent and remains the position.