Wednesday, 25 January 2017
I thank the Cathaoirleach for accepting the commencement matter and I thank the Minister for coming to the House to take it. I have raised it previously and had a discussion with the Minister of State, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. I will not repeat the speech I made a number of months ago. I have tabled the matter to receive an update from the Minister, and I know it was raised yesterday on the Order of Business by Senators Burke and Feighan.
I would like feedback on the Minister's trip to London. I hope it was a success. What are the concerns the EU may raise? An issue I would like the Minister to address is that at a meeting I had with a Commissioner prior to Christmas in Brussels, he stated no official application had been received from the Irish Government. Will the Minister give us an update on whether an application has been submitted and what is in it? What is the make up and big pitch the Government is making to bring the European Medicines Agency, EMA, to Ireland?
A number of difficulties were identified by independent reports the previous time I spoke with regard to accommodation and education facilities. These have moved on and we have seen the Government's Rebuilding Ireland strategy. I am confident, as I hope is the Minister, that this could address any concerns about accommodation needs for the potential 900 employees who could move to Ireland. Concern about the lack of international education was also cited. Three schools in Dublin provide the international baccalaureate at various levels. A planning application was made in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown to build a large international school in Leopardstown for up to 800 pupils. This would cover the full range of four to 18 year olds in international education. These changes are happening rapidly in Dublin and Ireland and they will have a huge impact on any possible application. I appreciate the Minister coming to the House and I would appreciate any update he can give.
I thank Senator Richmond for raising the matter again, and I thank him for highlighting from an early stage in the House and in every possible forum his view that Ireland and Dublin would be an ideal location for the European Medicines Agency. I have had a number of conversations with Senator Richmond on this and I am very grateful to him for his support for the Government's bid for Ireland and Dublin to host the EMA.
The EMA plays a very important role in the protection and promotion of public health through the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines for human and veterinary use in the European Union. As a consequence of Brexit, a decision will have to be made on a new location for the European Medicines Agency. In view of its important public health remit, it is absolutely essential the relocation is managed in a way that ensures minimal impact on the vital work of the EMA during the transition period and beyond. I cannot stress this enough. While there is rightly a debate on the location, as a Minister for Health in the EU I strongly feel it is so important there is certainty as quickly as possible about the location, and the overriding criterion must be to minimise disruption of the vital work in the interests of patients in this country and patients throughout the EU. The Government believes the decision should be made quickly once Article 50 is triggered, and that it will be important to arrive at a solution that maximises retention of existing staff.
On 25 October 2016, the Government agreed to my request that Dublin should seek to be the new location of the EMA. The Government also approved the establishment of an interdepartmental and interagency working group, chaired at senior level by the Department of Health, to prepare a bid to support relocation of the agency to Dublin. This group consists of representatives from the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as well as the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, IDA Ireland, the Health Research Board, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland. The group will shortly undertake a consultation process with wider stakeholders, including importantly, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, business and patients.
Work on a bid for Dublin is well advanced. The group has identified a number of factors which would make Dublin the suitable, ideal and best location. These include the use of the English language, a city and country which are safe, stable pro-EU environments, proximity to London so staff can either move or commute here and proximity to the Irish medicines regulator, the HPRA. There is also the strong record the country has of regulating medicines to an exemplary standard.The country's growing economy means that the spouses of EMA staff would have strong employment opportunities here. There is excellent air connectivity with other EU capitals and internationally. There is a strong pharmaceutical and life sciences sector in Dublin. We have a depth and density of talent when it comes to available people. I met the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Mr. Vytenis Andriukaitis, in October 2016 to discuss Dublin’s suitability in the context of relocation of the EMA. Following the meeting, I wrote to him to set out formally some of the reasons Dublin would be a suitable location. As the Senator mentioned, I travelled to the headquarters of the EMA on Canary Wharf in London on Monday of this week to meet its executive director, Professor Guido Rasi. While the contents of the meeting are confidential, I can tell the House that it was a very useful information-sharing exercise. I had an opportunity to outline what Ireland was considering and explain why we believed Ireland would be a good location. I heard from the EMA about its preparedness for relocation.
The crucial point is that disruption must be minimised because of the vital nature of the EMA's work. There has been a wide range of informal contacts on this issue with individuals at home and abroad. I will visit Brussels on 6 February for a further meeting with the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety and a number of other representatives of the Commission, including Commissioner Hogan, a number of Irish MEPs, Irish diplomatic representatives in Brussels, and stakeholders and business people representing Irish interests. Work will continue in the coming weeks and months to prepare the country's bid to have the EMA relocated to Dublin. Officials will use every possible opportunity to present the case for Dublin at home and abroad. With my team, I had an opportunity last night to brief the Taoiseach on the matter. I am delighted that he is fully supportive of the bid. I look forward to his continued support as we work on it in the coming weeks. The relocation of the EMA to this city would be good for Ireland and Dublin. Most importantly from an EU perspective, it would be good for the workings of the EMA. I will certainly keep the Senator and the other Members of the House up to date as the bid progresses.
I am enthused and ecstatic and very grateful to the Minister. Anyone who has ever worked in sales knows the importance of a strong pitch and a strong bid. I could mention many positive factors in recommending Ireland as a location, but the Minister has covered them well. I have a supplementary question about the actual formal process of application. Are we at that stage? When will we submit the official bid? I appreciate that meetings have been and will be held. This is a good and formal process. The Minister can be assured that I will continue to contribute whatever little support I can in the context of my activity within the European People's Party. When will the actual application be submitted and when will we learn the outcome? What can civic society and the private sector in Ireland do to contribute to the bid process?
The Senator is right. We need everybody - Government personnel, officials of State agencies, diplomatic representatives and MEPs, regardless of their party affiliation - to get behind this great national challenge. It is in the interests of Ireland, Europe and certainly patient safety. We have a great track record. Ireland has an ability to be a wonderful home for the EMA.
I had meant to refer to the international school. I thank the Senator for pointing out that a number of schools in this city already provide the international curriculum. While I do not wish to get involved in planning matters, the development of a further international school, wherever it may be located, would be in the interests of Ireland as a modern European country and Dublin as an inclusive international capital city.
The Senator also asked about the process to be used in the relocation of the EMA. The formal process in this regard and in dealing with many other Brexit issues will not commence until the Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, triggers Article 50. It has already been outlined by Mr. Michel Barnier and a number of others that four baskets of issues need to be considered in the context of Brexit. The relocation of the two European agencies based in the United Kingdom - the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency - is included in one of the baskets. While the decision will be taken by Heads of State and Government at European Council level, I expect the European Commission to set out criteria. While the profession of politics in which we are all involved is very important, it is also very important that this decision be health-led and result in the EMA being relocated in such a way as to minimise disruption, best retain staff, enable the agency to get on with its job and provides certainty as quickly as possible. I hope the European Commission will provide criteria and guidance for the Council to consider. As far as I know, work is under way in the Commission with a view to being able to inform the Council at the appropriate time after Article 50 has been triggered.