Tuesday, 20 September 2022
Address to Seanad Éireann by Members of the European Parliament
I welcome the MEPs to this important debate and engagement with Members of the European Parliament. Frances Fitzgerald, MEP, is no stranger to this House. I thank her and Ciarán Cuffe, MEP, and Barry Andrews, MEP, very much for coming here today to engage with Senators who are coming in and will ask questions. As the MEPs well know, as legislators, people have other committee work but they will be coming in as the session proceeds.
I also thank former President, Mary Robinson, for her call to action: for the Seanad to be a leading voice in climate action and climate justice. We have engaged with MEPs over the past year and a bit, and one of the things we heard back from them is that they want to have themes and to focus on various areas. It is very appropriate, given Mary Robinson's call to action as a challenge to Seanad Éireann at the launch of Seanad 100, that we would look at that particular area. Our MEPs and Europe are taking a leading role in that very important topic. She wants it to be an everyday topic because it is affecting us every day of the week. It is affecting countries across the entire world. People are dying at this very moment because of climate change. We in Europe - in Ireland in particular - must see what we can do to address the issue. I came across a quote in regard to it to the effect that people want climate action and climate justice but they do not necessarily want to take action themselves in a way that would change the outcome that we are heading towards if we do not take the action. The quote: "The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood". In the same way, we all have a role to play when it comes to climate change. I thank the MEPs for being here.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is our man in Europe. He takes a leading role in regard to this particular engagement. I thank all concerned. The opening address will be by Barry Andrews, MEP. He has eight minutes.
Mr. Barry Andrews:
I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members of the Seanad. It is a great honour to be here today. It is a great exercise for us to do this. This is the second occasion on which the Seanad has invited us here. We will, over the next hour and a half, be able to share with Senators some of the work we are doing on the European framework to try to tackle climate change, but particularly climate justice. It is apt that the Cathaoirleach mentioned the former President, Mary Robinson, who set up the Climate Justice Fund, which had its headquarters just around the corner from here, and who is a global figure in this space. Even today, there is in article in The Irish Timesin which she expresses her continued frustration at the lack of global action on climate justice. In that context, it is apt that we are having this conversation.
With the energy crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is natural that climate action has taken something of a back seat from a policy point of view if a person only reads the newspapers. If that is true, then climate justice has taken an even further back seat than climate action.
I work on the International Development Committee of the European Parliament. We are briefed almost on a weekly basis on the consequences of climate injustice. This week, for example, I heard about the pastoralists who live in the area of Turkana, which is on the Kenya and South Sudan border. Of course, they move their livestock around. They seek pasture and places of water for their livestock but the rains have failed on four successive occasions. The strong possibility is that the September-October rains are also going to fail, which is an unprecedented fourth failure. The areas of pasture and areas of water availability are shrinking and the pastoralists are gathering in ever greater numbers in ever smaller concentrations. This is naturally leading to conflict. Many of these communities are armed. There is also a huge increase in disease as a result of these concentrations. Diseases spread from animals to other herds of animals that are being moved around. This is the reality. We read today in Mary Robinson's article that a person dies of hunger every 48 seconds in Africa. This means that 100 people will die while we have this conversation. It is not that we want to diminish the concerns we have about how the energy crisis is affecting us and our constituents. It is not an either-or situation. What we must be able to do is strive to deal with both at the same time. I am afraid to say the European Union from time to time forgets about these key issues and about the principles of global solidarity that should be at the heart of the European project. That is where we are right now.
I want to make a few references to the European Green Deal and Fit for 55 package. This is the flagship legislative programme the European Union has announced. It has created some conflict between the Oireachtas and the European Parliament and the European Commission, particularly the extension of the emissions trading system, which was announced a year ago. A reasoned opinion was provided by the Joint Committee on Climate Action, as it was then called, of which some Senators may be members, to complain that the emissions trading system, as proposed by the European Commission and supported by the European Parliament and European Council, is a source of serious concern for this Oireachtas because it breaches the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Ireland is already taking major steps around carbon tax and ring-fencing the proceeds of carbon tax for climate action. The argument is that the European Commission is diminishing the overall impact of that and this is an offence against the principle of subsidiarity. It is an interesting debate. The Oireachtas has a point to make here, and it will be interesting to see how the matter is dealt with.
I will refer to two things I am dealing with that have an impact on climate action and climate justice. I am the rapporteur on the International Trade Committee for a legislative file known as the directive on corporate sustainability and due diligence. Due diligence is the idea that every company that is caught by the proposal will have to check its supply chains and value chains to make sure that it is not offending against human rights concerns and against environmental damage in the operation of those chains. In other words, those companies must ensure that they are not getting products from places where child labour is in use or that diminish water resources for indigenous populations. The companies in question have to perform an X-ray on their supply chains, satisfy themselves and their boards as to the position and report on it. That is the due diligence aspect. There is also an enforcement aspect whereby any company that fails to carry this exercise out properly could be subject to civil liability.
This directive that is coming from the European Union is very interesting. It will apply to all companies that are caught by it. A company must have at least 500 employees to fall within the ambit of the directive. I am arguing as the rapporteur that it should be wider than that. I am arguing also that the types of environmental damage that should be caught by the legislation should be wider than is currently proposed. It will be an interesting exercise to carry out. However, I am also very concerned that the due diligence legislation does not imperil existing supply chains with developing companies. If I am on a board of directors, for instance, I might just take a risk-averse decision and decide to close off any supply chains I have to developing countries where there are low levels of governance, compliance and respect for human rights. I might close off all of those supply chains and look for products in other countries that are a little bit less developed. That is damaging for the developing world. We do not want to do that. We want to take every step to avoid that.
The other area I wish to talk about very briefly is that of the sustainable development goals, SDGs. We set up an organisation in the European Parliament last year called the SDG Alliance. There are 25 MEPs from all different groups in the European Parliament who are members of the SDG Alliance. We are trying to underline the importance of implementing the SDGs. On one hand, we have climate action, and that is correct. That is SDG 13. All the rest of the SDGs give us climate justice and a just transition. All the areas around poverty, hunger, education and gender equality that are in the SDGs give us a roadmap to a just transition. We start with climate action in all the legislative packages we have right now, and the way to get there and to avoid the negative social consequences of climate action are the SDGs. It is an off-the-shelf roadmap to get to that change we need.
Unfortunately, however, the SDGs, like many other very interesting international frameworks, have slid down the agenda because of Brexit, the pandemic and the Russian war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis. During the summer, we managed to get through the European Parliament an own-initiative report that attracted great support. However, I would like to see Ireland play a much more prominent role in the EU and internationally on the SDGs, for example, by putting pressure on the United States. It is extraordinary to think that only five countries in the world have not done a voluntary national review under the SDGs, namely, Yemen, South Sudan, Haiti, Myanmar and the United States of America, where the UN is located. We need to use our good offices to put pressure on the Unites States to take seriously the SDGs and multilateralism.
I will hand back to the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I thank Senators for the opportunity to speak.
I thank Mr. Andrews very much. There will be further opportunities as the evening progresses to develop some of those points. I thank Mr. Andrews for addressing the twin subjects of approaching climate change and the climate justice question. Those were very informative and interesting perspectives. We would not necessarily be aware of the various issues and opportunities he raised for which I thank him.
As per the rotation, our next speaker is Mr. Cuffe, a very distinguished member of and participant in the European Parliament. He has a passion in this particular area and has led out in it in the past. I look forward to hearing from him.
Mr. Ciar?n Cuffe:
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the invitation this House has offered to MEPs. I will preface my remarks by pointing out that some countries have very close links between their MEPs and national parliaments and in others, the link is not quite as strong. However, I think it reinforces our work and that of the Oireachtas to have an interaction where we can.
Climate change, and climate action, changes everything. It changes in Ireland the way we farm, the way we build, the way we travel and the energy that we consume.If we do this right it can be a good news story in each one of these sectors but if we prevaricate, postpone or kick the can down the road, we will have much tougher choices to make in the years to come.
The takeaway message is that early action will be easier than deferring. This theme came through the state of the Union address to the European Parliament earlier this week by the European Commission President, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, when she said very forcefully that there was a moment during the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s when, if we had made the change towards renewables, we would not be facing the kind of challenges that we have now. We have seen very clearly from Putin's murderous invasion of Ukraine that our dependency on fossil fuels is costing us dear and that our dependency on Russian gas in particular has led to real problems in homes and industries across the 27 member states of the European Union. It is clear that there is a fork in the road. We can choose the route of finding alternative fossil fuel supplies. Indeed, European Commission officials are out in Qatar and the Middle East, looking for alternative sources of oil and gas. While I accept that we do need supplies in the short term, we should be using this moment to choose the other turn in the road, to take the road towards more renewables, more linked-up electricity grids around Europe and more careful management of our energy supplies. If we do this right, it will be a good news story that will protect consumers and householders from the very high energy prices that we are seeing at the moment.
President von der Leyen saw this three years ago when she announced the European Green Deal. We are all in favour of green deals but it now comes down to the actual legislation, the Fit for 55 package, which is around 20 separate pieces of legislation which, if fully implemented, will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2030 by 55% - hence the name Fit for 55. We are all working on elements and aspects of this legislative package and every day of the week we face challenges and push-back from some of our peers in the European Parliament.
The package I am working on comprises two laws. The first one, for which I am the lead negotiator or rapporteur, is the revision of the energy performance of buildings directive. That is a bit of a mouthful but essentially it is about improving the energy performance of our building stock because 40% of the energy in Europe is used in buildings and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the existing building stock. We know where we want to be by 2050. We want every building to have an A energy rating. Of course, there are exceptions for buildings that are part of our patrimony, for protected structures here in Ireland like the building we are in today. We are probably not going to take out those windows and put in treble-glazed PVC windows because we have to respect that. What we need to do is start with those who are living in fuel or energy poverty. We need to bring those homes up to a much higher energy rating and in doing so we will save vulnerable people money on their fuel bills. I have seen it happen. Around the corner from where I live in Stoneybatter, and Senator Fitzpatrick knows this well, the older persons' housing scheme St. Bricin's Park has been brought up to an A energy rating and the transformation in the lives of the people who live there is incredible. We need to roll this out across local authority housing and social housing, while also encouraging those who own their own homes to make that change. I am pleased that here in Ireland the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, is doing a lot of that work.
Within the aforementioned legislation I want to see one-stop-shops all around Europe that give people impartial advice. We are assaulted with advertisements and radio announcements telling us to buy this or that and we need clear, impartial advice. We also need to rack up the minimum energy performance standards so that over the next 28 years, we get everything up to a really good energy standard. This is controversial. Some MEPs and political groupings are saying that the market will sort it out but I do not believe that. I do not believe that people living in wet, damp, hard-to-heat accommodation on the streets of Dublin or Dubrovnik can deal with these challenges alone. They need the European Union to help them and they need the legislation that we are working on within the European Parliament. That is one aspect of my work.
Another one of the 20 Fit for 55 files relates to greening aviation. We are introducing what we call sustainable aviation fuels. It is not easy to green this sector. We are looking at biofuels and we are also looking at synthetic fuels. We want to see higher targets for these synthetic fuels which are made using green hydrogen and carbon dioxide in a process called direct air capture. It is very much in the laboratory and we want to bring that into production. We are producing tens of thousands of litres of this fuel per year and we need to get this up to tens of millions of litres but we need the legislation that provides the direction of travel. If we provide the laws then the market will follow.
At this point, when we face both the climate and biodiversity crises that we have know about for years, and also the crisis of war on European soil and the crisis in energy prices that has resulted from that, there is a temptation to say "Not now, wait until things calm down a bit". However, what we have seen on our screens this summer, with drought all around Europe and record temperatures of 33.1oC here in Dublin and 10oC higher than that in many cities elsewhere in Europe, tells us that the climate is changing. We need to step up to the mark and we need to protect the vulnerable first.
There are challenges in this transition and there will be dead ends and technologies that do not deliver. We have a supply shortage of crucial raw materials, including precious metals, in Europe and we need to step up to the mark in terms of European production of these resources. We need to have European semi-conductors rather than being dependent on Taiwan for these products. The shocks through the system over the last two years have shown that we need to have more goods produced in Europe to meet European demand.
In the past, the road was about building bigger and doing more. Now we know we need to live within our means and this means we have to question a lot of what we do and move onto a greener path. If we focus on both a just transition and climate action, we can deliver a huge amount that will help the most vulnerable in our society.
Thank you very much for a very inspirational address. It is great that you are at the coalface in framing the directive related to buildings. Hopefully our Government will be assisted by your work on that directive. Our next speaker is one of our distinguished alumni from this House and a former Minister, Ms Frances Fitzgerald.
Ms Frances Fitzgerald:
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senators for the invitation to be here along with my MEP colleagues. It is a pleasure to meet up with old friends and see many new faces as well. We are all agreed that this is the defining issue of our time. There is no question about that. It has taken a while for everybody to come on board with that but it is definitely accepted now that we are at a particularly defining moment at present regarding climate change. In a way it becomes easier as we see more and more the impacts of climate change, not just in far distant islands and far distant continents, but here in Ireland and right across Europe. We have all seen the forest fires, the high temperatures, the flooding and the enormous challenges and that certainly brings it home.
The recent IPCCC report is a reminder that we have limited time in which to take action to prevent the more devastating impacts of climate change. The report, based on climate science, reinforces and builds on existing evidence which links extreme weather events to climate change, if ever there was a doubt about it. We are facing a very difficult few months ahead with Putin's winter, the changes in the availability of energy and the associated costs. This is making it all the more urgent that we act in a whole variety of ways.We saw from Ursula von der Leyen in the state of the Union address the range of initiatives that we need to take, such as reducing demand, decoupling gas and electricity prices, caps on the energy companies etc. All of this will be needed. The Senators will know the goals that we have and I do not need to go over them here. They include no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth that is decoupled from resource use, which is an important point, and no person and no place left behind. The whole question of a just transition, which I will say a little more about, will be incredibly important and is something that we have to focus on.
Both of my colleagues have spoken about the range of change that is needed in every area. I am on three committees in the European Parliament, namely, the economic committee, development committee in the women's rights committee. In each of those, we speak about the impact of climate change and the action that needs to be taken from many perspectives, such as the development point of view, as Mr. Andrews has already spoken about, and the impact of climate change on some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. We know that climate change impacts on women and particularly on vulnerable women.
Economically, enormous demands are being made in every area, for example, financial services, the moves to taxonomy, being stricter and more careful about what we invest in and the enormous transport changes. We have big transport changes to make here in Ireland. The timeframes are quite challenging in the context of the pace of change that is needed in transport, if we really want people to move from their cars and to use public transport. That has to be the goal because it is such an important area.
The Fit for 55 package is the big area where we have proposals to revise key EU climate and energy legislation, in line with the new 2030 target. It is interesting to be involved in the discussions, because people vary. There is argument at present because of Ukraine, because of the energy prices and because the lack of affordable gas and electricity. Some say that perhaps some of the goals should be moved a bit further. People are nervous about doing anything like that, because it would mean that they are actually saying, “No, we do not want to achieve that”. However, I have heard many colleagues arguing in relation to that, which has been a point of discussion.
Energy poverty is something we will have to look at seriously, given the reliance that we have had on Russian gas imports, such as in Germany. Certainly, looking at it retrospectively, it seems incredibly short-sighted to have had that overreliance. My eastern European colleagues would all say this. Ursula von der Leyen said in her speech last week that we should have listened to our Eastern European colleagues, who were the ones who knew Putin, who knew what he was like and who said that we just cannot trust him. They were clear on that and they proved to be absolutely right.
I mentioned the just transition. I have been involved in a number of the files on the EU just transition fund, which is important legislation. It has a budget of €17.5 billion, which includes significant funding earmarked for the midlands here. There is also a public sector loan facility, which is part of local authorities being able to access funding for a just transition in their area. That is up to €30 billion in public investment to make sure that we have a just climate transition. As ever, the European Union is providing the funding, but the point will be to access that, to implement it and to make sure that the support is given to those who need it.
We also have the €750 billion recovery fund. What has been important about that - and I have been pleased to see it here in Ireland with the Government’s plans as well - is that at least 37% of the recovery fund must be devoted to climate and biodiversity spending and 20% of it to digitalisation. The important issues in the Seanad and in the Dáil when we have that recovery fund available to us will be to monitor the spending of that and to see how those criteria around using the money for environmental goals for climate and biodiversity play out over the next number of years. Just transition is a key point because all over Europe we have communities, particularly in eastern Europe, which are still dependent on fossil fuels. We will have to create alternative opportunities for people in employment in local towns and local villages. We will have to support the areas of retraining, the refitting of old buildings, the restoration of land and ecosystems, protecting biodiversity and restoring natural habitats. It is my understanding that there is now a just transition commissioner here in Ireland with the values of a just transition to a climate-neutral Ireland and overseeing that. That is extremely important.
These are some of my key points on climate change. There is an enormous educational public information campaign still to be done, particularly in terms of demand reduction coming into the winter, but also in relation to the challenges of climate change and how we need to work with the public to ensure that we are all working on this together.
I thank Ms Fitzgerald for that presentation and for the useful information that we need to disseminate to the local authorities and various bodies about the opportunities that are there for them. I appreciate that. I thank all the MEPs for their focus on climate justice. As they say, Putin has weaponised energy but that presents an opportunity as much as a challenge, and today is an important part of developing that. Today proves, beyond yea or nay, the importance of the link between this House and the European Parliament to have this vital information on these linkages.
We will now hear from the Members of this House, which is obviously a relevant part of the dialogue. We will have party political groups spokespersons who will speak for three minutes each. We must adhere to that rigidly. To speak on behalf of the Fianna Fáil grouping, I call Senator Horkan.
It is great to have three of MEPs here. It is a pity that all of the four of them could not be here, but we thank those who are here for being here. Ms Fitzgerald is a former Senator. Mr. Andrews is a former councillor in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and was a Deputy there, along with Mr. Cuffe, where I represented the local authority. It is great to see them all. I thank them for the work that they are doing on behalf of all of Dublin and indeed all of Ireland.
We as a country are so small in relation to the entire size of the European Union and we have much to learn from the things that are happening. There is no point in us trying to reinvent the wheel. I was in Hamburg recently, where I was looking at the energy consumption. They are much more affected by the gas being turned off than we are, because we do not get our gas directly from Russia, even though the markets have been affected.
I know that it is hard within eight minutes to bring up every issue, but I did not hear too much about the whole area of wind energy, both onshore and particularly offshore wind energy and developing it off our coast. We have a vast coast, much of which is relatively unpopulated and relatively empty and much of the time there are great wind speeds. We need not just to develop that as quickly as possible, but we also need also the infrastructure. We need to take the energy that is off the coast and bring it onto the coast, because we would explode the grid if we would try to bring that level of energy onto our current grid. We would have to have an energy superhighway to bring that energy right into Europe and we need the technology to keep that energy viable.
There has also been talk about producing hydrogen, batteries etc. It is all new technology, but 20 or 30 years ago none of us had thought that we would have computers in our pockets that were more powerful than the gigantic computers that were in the Central Bank and the large institutions. Technology will move on but equally, we need to bring all the people with us and to make sure that there are grants for issues like insulating attics, wall insulation and windows. Much of that is going on. We also need to find the labour and the tradespeople. Mr. Cuffe referred to how many advertisements come out and how there are many people but we do not know who we can trust. We and SEAI need to ramp up the involvement of production by reliable people. Maybe the SEAI needs to go into a whole town or a whole estate and say that it is going to go there and that anyone who wants to sign up will get attic insulation, cavity wall insulation, new doors and windows and be done in a programme. There will not just be a financial benefit to that, but there will be the benefit of living in a much warmer, less draughty, less damp house. This can transform people, particularly as they get older when they feel cold and when their mobility may not be that good.We touched on aviation. I am a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications. On sustainable aviation fuel and all the efficiencies, airlines are pretty good at looking at ways of doing things, but lots of efficiencies could be delivered in respect of idling, long taxiing, delays and parked aircraft and so on. Food and energy secruity has been mentioned by the three MEPs already. I thank the MEPs for all they are doing there. I think we need more of this type of engagement with the MEPs, not necessarily on a daily basis, as Mary Robinson said, but certainly even on a quarterly or a monthly basis. We should all talk about climate change much more often. It affects all of us every day.
We have seen some horrific changes in this area in the past couple of months, in particular. The fears following the war or as a consequence of the weaponising of energy from the war of Ukraine, and the effect of that on families, communities and disadvantaged communities, in particular, is something that I would like to hear about from the MEPs in the course of this session together. I am mindful of organisations contacting me about the issue. Indeed, one organisation contacted me today to say that the cost of its gas contract is 2.4 cent per unit and it expires on 22 September. Two weeks ago it was offered a new contract at 17 cent per unit. Yesterday, the price had gone up to 22 cent per unit, and today it is 27 cent per unit. This is an organisation that works in the community that supports disadvantaged families, delivers drug programmes, and helps the youth and young people who particularly need support after school, in building and ensuring they have just access in society. In this context, when we talk about having to have an immediate response to this sudden urgency caused by the war in Ukraine, I completely applaud the need for us to change our reliance on fossil fuels and change how we consider and use energy, and everything around it. In this beautiful room, there are lots of people using mobile phones that are charged. Twenty years ago, they were not there. We need to consider everything about how we use energy, as well as how we receive energy. There are sectors of our society that are facing into an appalling winter. Telling them not to use fossil fuels and not to burn turf is not going to be of any assistance to them. They need assistance in the here and now. A plan that may take five to ten years to bring to fruition will not give them the answers they need.
I would welcome hearing how the MEPs are working to protect ordinary citizens and households, and voluntary sector organisations in particular. How does the situation affect the green deal, in light of these escalating energy prices? I would be interested in hearing about the MEP's work to protect lone-parent families, in particular, which are headed up, in the main, by women. How do we keep a just society that keeps that equality in care in light of the current situation?
I welcome the MEPs. We are all talking about climate change today, and I would like to raise the issue of the energy charter treaty. I would like to hear the views of the three MEPs as to where they stand that issue, and whether or not they support the call for Ireland to leave the energy charter treaty now that we know that the modernisation process has failed and that the investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, mechanism will remain in the energy charter treaty. Some of the bad faith actors are using the excuse that intra-EU disputes will not be taken to the ISDS courts, but we know that the ISDS courts have actually rejected all of those appeals and are continuing to prosecute intra-EU disputes. I also note that last week, Poland drafted its own legislation to withdraw from the treaty. It is particularly relevant in light of the fact that we have heard a number of contributions on climate justice. Part of the modernisation process is to expand this treaty, which is a dinosaur of the past. It was put in place to protect the fossil fuel industry back in the 1990s when we were liberalising our energy sector. We are living the disastrous reality of that now when we cannot actually control prices in our own country because we liberalised energy. This treaty is from that time. It beggars belief to think that the EU is now pursuing the expansion of the treaty into the global south, which will leave those countries widely exposed to ISDS challenges or to chilling for any measures they try to take to tackle climate change. These are fossil fuel-rich countries and they will not be able to make choices about whether or not to use those fossil fuels, because they will be subject to the ISDS mechanism if they sign up to this treaty, which is being pursued. I would be most interested to hear the views of the MEPs on that treaty, and whether or not they will support that call for Ireland to withdraw from it. We know that Poland has drafted legislation to withdraw from the treaty. Italy has already withdrawn from it because it lost a case in the last few week, in which €2.4 billion was awarded to the Rockhopper oil company because Italy tried to prevent the exploitation of oil and gas off its coastline.
The other issue I would be interested to hear about, and again it is linked to the environment, concerns the undermining of the Aarhus Convention, and particularly the Irish Government's approach to the convention. There is a lot of talk about nimbyism and judicial reviews delaying important infrastructure and housing projects. I understand that the European Commission has very grave concerns about Ireland's approach to addressing this issue, and trying to prevent people from having access to justice and the right to participate. Nobody wants to delay any projects going ahead, particularly renewable energy projects. We need to fast-track them as much as possible, but we cannot sideline communities and prevent them having their say. I would be interested to hear if the MEPs are aware that the European Commission has raised these concerns with the Irish Government and, if not or if so, whether they are going to take them up with their relevant parties and outline their concerns that Ireland seems to be trying to undermine its Aarhus obligations.
I thank the MEPs for attending the Seanad today. Workers' rights is probably one of the areas where the EU has one of the proudest records and it has undoubtedly been a driving force in progressing workers' rights, particularly in this country. I want to start by acknowledging the very important work done on the directive on adequate minimum wages, particularly by the European Parliament. I do not believe that any of the three MEPs present is on the employment rights committee, but I know their vote was obviously crucial to passing it through the Parliament. We await the adoption, by the Council, of the directive at the end of this month. After that, we have two years, as member states, to transpose to it. My appeal to our guests, as three Government party MEPs, is to urge the Government to ensure that we transpose this vitally important and transformative directive into Irish law in as full a manner as possible. The record of success of a number of Irish Governments in transposing EU workers' rights legislation has not been great. That is my direct appeal to the MEPs.
Second, I wish to commend the work of the MEPs on the gender pay transparency directive and, in particular, I welcome the threshold of workplaces of 50 persons. It stands in contrast to the legislation put through here. I want to welcome the work done on that. I also want to raise concerns on the platform work directive, which effectively has stalled at the moment, because of the attitude of certain parties and certain persons in the Council.I understand that there is a reticence within the Parliament so we must ask the following question. Can we stand by a situation where platform workers, which is a growing and emerging form of work across the industrialised developed world, are in a sector which is unregulated or these people are not recognised for the most part as employees? Flexible platform work can offer wonderful opportunities to some people but we know for many others it is a route into exploitative employment and a form of bogus self-employment so we need the sector regulated. We need the EU to show leadership in regulating this sector because, as we have seen here, the current Government does not want to regulate here and we need the EU to take up that mantle.
Yesterday, the Commission published proposals for the Single Market emergency instrument and at first glance the instrument looks very welcome. However, by replacing Regulation No. 2679/98 on the functioning of the Internal Market for the free movement of goods it will inadvertently remove the right and freedom to strike. We must not let that happen and I appeal to the MEPs.
Lastly, the massive climate crisis that faces us now is on everybody's minds. I believe that it is only with the financial firepower of the EU that we will make a dent in our targets. I welcome the work that Ciaran Cuffe has done on the energy performance of buildings directive because it is only through improving the energy efficiency of houses that we can begin to improve the situation and narrow the inequality that exists between so many households across this country.
On behalf of Civil Engagement Group I welcome our colleagues from the European Parliament to the Chamber. This meeting is a really good initiative and is one of many needed to bring decision-making at an EU level closer to the people.
I would like to discuss the proposed EU corporate sustainability due diligence directive. The proposal greatly complements my emissions reporting Bill. Due diligence in respect of human rights and the environment along supply chains urgently requires a legislative footing but the proposed law would not apply to 99% of businesses that operate in the EU. Furthermore, the law contains dangerous loopholes such as only covering established business relationships. One major aspect that needs fixing is access to justice for affected communities. All communities who have suffered human rights violations need to be able to access an effective remedy without encountering significant financial barriers. I would appreciate hearing the opinions of the MEPs on this matter.
The second issue is the EU's migration policy. Over the previous years we have seen a hardening of borders and the creation of what many term as "fortress Europe". One of the most startling accounts of these policies can be found in a book that I read recently which is called My Fourth Time, We Drownedby Sally Hayden. I recommend that everyone reads the book if they have not already done so. The book details the human impact of the EU-Libyan migration deal. For context, over 82,000 people who sought refuge in Europe have been forcibly returned since the deal was signed. The men, women and children who are forcibly returned to Libya face arbitrary detention, torture, cruel and inhumane detention conditions, rape and sexual violence, extortion, forced labour and unlawful killings. Instead of addressing this human rights crisis the Libyan Government of National Unity, GNU, continues to facilitate further abuses and protect those using their power to abuse refugees and violate their human rights. We, as Europeans, bear a responsibility for what is happening there. This action is being done in our name yet we talk about the ideals of peace, justice and human rights underlying the European project in which we engage, which is gross hypocrisy. I would appreciate if the MEPs address how they engage on this issue in their work.
I echo the welcome of my fellow Senators for our MEPs and I shall make a number of short observations.
We are living in a time after emerging from Covid. Little did we foresee that we are living in a time of unprecedented crises and, to a certain extent, unprecedented existential crises in terms of what might or might not happen. The Zaporizhzhianuclear plant, which is the largest in Europe, is currently being shelled certainly by one side but possibly by both sides. We also have the ongoing threat, on the part of Vladimir Putin, of using so-called tactical nuclear weapons in his increasing frustration at the stalling of his campaign in Ukraine. The response by the European Union as Ukraine is a country within Europe has foregrounded our shared values not just our shared interests. Therefore, it is important that Ireland continues to give voice to its unique position as a neutral state. We should also continue to do so within the context of the European Union and all of the structures that are in play there.
One of the questions that was asked after Brexit and Britain's untimely exit from the European Union was what will happen to Britain now. That question has really been to the forefront of all of the discussion and our public discourse. I think that as time goes on the following question will be asked. What is going to happen to the European Union after Britain's exit? This is a European Union dominated by France and Germany, particularly in the context of the conflict in Ukraine and, hopefully, in its aftermath. Formerly, Ireland was a very important ally for Britain in the European Union and was often, despite what we might think, a very powerful voice for common sense within the European Union but that is gone now. They were also a very important linchpin in the transatlantic relationship between the United States and the European Union. While Britain is gone, and when we think about what direction the European Union will take, it is important that Ireland continues to have a very strong independent and neutral voice within the European Union.
I commend all of the MEPs on their work. I hope that in the working relationship between all of our MEPs there is collaboration and that we can advance Ireland's interests as the only English speaking member of the European Union in the period that is to come, which will continue to be a period of continued instability related to accelerated climate change, energy and food security issues. We need to keep that strong and neutral voice within the context of the European Union.
I thank Senator Clonan for his interesting geopolitical observations. We look forward to the response of the MEPs to the various issues raised and they will have three minutes each. I propose that this time MEPs speak in reverse order and we will start with Frances Fitzgerald on this occasion.
Ms Frances Fitzgerald:
I thank the Senators for their responses to our presentations, which show the very wide range of issues that impact on climate. Senator Horkan started off by discussing renewables and wind energy. Of course, the potential for renewables in Ireland is enormous. It is about getting the relevant legislation in place so that we can develop them and the investment, which is out there. Again, it is all about implementation and without question the opportunity is absolutely enormous. There is also the hydrogen area on which we do not have a national policy at this point yet last week a €3 billion hydrogen bank was announced by Ursula von der Leyen when she gave her state of the Union address. I think that the building blocks are all being put in place but it is about delivery.
Senator Seery Kearney has raised the issue that is on everybody's minds at the moment and that is how people are going to manage their energy bills, and how NGOs and organisations that provide vital services are going to cope with the scale of demand presented to them. The bottom line is going to be about the supports that we develop in the budget here in Ireland and the background funding that will be made available from Europe, but it is not going to be easy. It is about scaling up renewables as quickly as we possibly can and demand reduction.We have the list we need to do but, given the costs and what the Senator quoted in terms of the rates one organisation she is in touch with has to deal with, it will be very challenging. We will need to review what we are doing on an ongoing basis. I do not think a one-off will sort it for everybody. This is not a couple of months. It is a longer term crisis that will need ongoing review and response.
Many other areas have been mentioned. On the treaty, Ireland's position, as the Minister, Deputy Ryan, said, is that we want to support the Commission's efforts to negotiate meaningful reform of the treaty. If we cannot get to that point, we will withdraw in an orderly way. That is the official Government position.
Due diligence is important. We need to be ambitious on it and on the demands we make of companies, supply chains and so on. We do not think it is ambitious enough and want to make sure the requirements of the due diligence process are adaptable to size and resources, that we leverage the companies as much as we can and that we make opportunities for shareholders to have a voice, be involved and examine critically the supply chains companies use. It is a lively debate in the Parliament at present.
Mr. Barry Andrews:
You are keeping us on our toes. Senator Horkan referred to learning about the EU. I think Senators should come to the European Parliament and institution once a year. Some 70% of legislation affecting Ireland comes from the EU, while 90% of the drama comes from here. There is value to learning more about it.
Senator Seery Kearney asked what effect the energy crisis is having on the green deal. It is accelerating it. History might look back and thank Putin for what he has done because we are not going back. We are decarbonising and decoupling from Russian energy and we cannot go back. The social consequences are at the forefront of all our minds. Something like the gilets jaunes really influenced people's thinking There was a small, modest environmental levy and a massive public reaction. What happens when we start introducing an emissions trading system into road transport and start affecting people at the pump? That will trigger a massive reaction. We have to be careful.
Senator Boylan asked about the Energy Charter Treaty. The necessary reform is to end the protection of fossil fuel companies. That trigger, if it can be achieved, would take us out of the energy-----
Mr. Barry Andrews:
I know that, but that is the new way we should be dealing with cross-border disputes around investment in our international trade area.
To Senator Sherlock, I cannot answer many of the questions. I am not on the EMPL committee but I agree that the financial firepower of the European Union is critical. That is what the EU is for. It is there to do the things we cannot do individually as member states.
Senator Ruane spoke about the corporate sustainability due diligence directive. I am not happy with the scope of the directive because most of the companies proposed to be caught by it are already subject to due diligence in things like the batteries directive or forestry directive. Many other companies are doing it anyway. When you take all of those out of the scope of the new directive, it is a very modest proposal. I will try, in drafting the opinion for the trade committee, to make sure the scope is wider.
In response to Senator Clonan, Ireland is one of the few EU member states to be a signatory and state party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, to our great credit. I have tried to put pressure on the European Commission at least to attend the meeting of the states parties. There was one in March in Vienna. Ireland has a proud record in that space, not just on prohibition but also on non-proliferation. The Senator talked about tactical nuclear weapons. The very idea is ridiculous, but the stigma against the use of nuclear weapons has been significantly eroded and people are nervous about it.
Mr. Ciar?n Cuffe:
At the coalface I was humming that tune that the answer is blowing in the wind. The future is renewables and energy efficiency. I meet with my colleagues from around the European Union. I have a frenemy from Romania who tells me I put 50,000 coal miners out of work. I say I do not think I did it, but many of those workers are working in meaningful, cleaner, greener jobs now. He agrees. This change is happening around Europe and is a positive story.
Senator Horkan mentioned offshore wind, which will be a huge part of Ireland's future. That is why my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, had seven energy ministers in Dún Laoghaire last Monday talking about ramping up ocean energy. It is happening. We need more interconnectors, not just the France-Ireland one. We need one to Spain or Portugal because the wind is always blowing somewhere in Europe. If we can get electricity from where wind is blowing to where it is needed, we are bringing up the amount of renewables. Long-distance interconnectors and the European super grid are helping us get to where we need to be. We need bidirectional charging in electric vehicles. I am working on that in the energy performance of buildings directive. The homes we live in will provide the power for our cars.
Senator Seery Kearney asked what was happening with the European Green Deal. It is still there, as Mr. Andrews said, and has been amplified because we now have the REPowerEU initiative, which is about getting alternatives to Russian gas in the short term from Qatar and places like that and, in the medium to long term, ramping up photovoltaics on our roofs, the use of heat pumps, which have become a household phrase which was not there before, and putting in place the social climate fund, which will protect the vulnerable in the months and years ahead.
Senator Boylan spoke on the Energy Charter Treaty. It is a dinosaur. We know that, and there is a meteor coming over the horizon called climate change. If the treaty does not respond to that, it will die like the dinosaurs. We need to tackle that. I have not looked at the minutiae of what is proposed. Many treaties governing the work we do in Europe are not fit for purpose when it comes to climate action and a just transition. Fossil fuels have had their day. If they had their way, they would burn the planet alive. We as legislators have to fight against the lobbying that occurs every day of the week from oil and gas interests active in the corridors of the European Union. During Covid, we had a blissful year and a half where the lobbyists were not allowed into the building. Now they are back and it is as bad as ever.
On Aarhus, we have to retain the right to information and to appeal.
To Senator Sherlock, the minimum wage directive passed the Parliament and is down to trilogues. It is hoped good things will happen.
Senator Ruane referred to migration. We need to reform Frontex. It is not fit for purpose, whatever about other instruments. The pushback and money going to the Libyan coastguard have to be considered.
To Senator Clonan, we have seen nuclear power being weaponised at a time of war, which raises serious questions about that technology.
We have covered the cost of energy a lot, and our response.
I must, however, raise the point that we have a Parliament to discuss this whereas in the North at the moment, there is no Assembly. They are looking at £400 million sitting there that they cannot access while there is no Assembly. I was lucky enough to be in Oxford for the British-Irish Association conference and I heard Commissioner Šefovi. I believe there is an appetite for a negotiated deal. Over the past years I have witnessed how the Good Friday Agreement is being abused to justify certain positions. The whole thing about the Good Friday Agreement is that it is based on generosity and that there are no winners or losers. Yet, we are currently dealing with actors who seem to want to win or for someone to lose. I am asking our MEPs where they feel we are realistically in relation to finding a settlement with the UK, which does seem to continue with this winner and loser narrative.
I thank the MEPs for coming to the House this evening. We talk about the sustainable development goals at a European Union level and I have heard a lot here this evening about poor people and poor communities. At a European Union level, what is being done to engage with the most vulnerable communities such as the Romanian communities, the Gypsy people, members of the Traveller community, and those of us who live in dire accommodation? One of the MEPs has said that maybe we should go over to Brussels. I invite our three MEPs, and many more MEPs, into a halting site in Dublin such as Labre Park to see the appalling living conditions in which people must live in our country today. This is not unique to Ireland. This is happening all over Europe for very poor communities. What is being done to engage with those people? Poor people are not even part of this conversation, unfortunately, and we have a hell of a long way to go. Where is the European Union on that?
I thank the three MEPs, who are very welcome. I thank them also for all of the work they do on behalf of the people of Dublin. I appreciate that they do it in the context of the European Union community but it is very important that we have strong representation within the European Parliament.
I want to make a particular reference to the pandemic. How quickly we all forget. It is great that we can, as humans, put those things behind us. The European Union provided very strong leadership throughout the pandemic. It was a very challenging time for us all individually, for our country, and for the European Union community generally. There was leadership around research developments, the vaccines, the medicines, and all the really important economic supports.
Now in Dublin today, as we all quickly forget about the trials, tribulations and restrictions of the pandemic, we are all acutely aware of the pressures of the climate crisis and the energy crisis. The energy crisis and the climate crisis threaten not just us as individuals, our homes, our families but also businesses, our economy and our society. We can talk about the European Green Deal and it is really encouraging to hear the MEPs saying how, if anything, the war in Ukraine is actually accelerating and increasing our ambition around the green deal and the European Union's green ambitions. It is hugely important the MEPs understand that from a Dublin perspective this is what the people of Dublin want to see. That is what they want to see delivered. They want to see strong leadership from the European Union on this. They want to see the EU really support Ireland in making its contribution. We have an ambitious climate action plan for our country. We have significant and challenging targets. There is enormous opportunity with offshore wind, which is untapped. We have passed the legislation here to establish the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA. The maritime area consent legislation will be in place. I would like to hear in the responses of the MEPs-----
I welcome three of our four MEPs. I am always heartened by the fact that 50% of the Dublin MEPs are former Dún Laoghaire Deputies. It shows the importance of that constituency in leading the debate in the European Union. I welcome Ms Frances Fitzgerald, a former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice. I am very proud of the fact that we send very high-calibre representatives to the European Union. I am, however, disappointed that the fourth MEP has, presumably, chosen not to be here. I believe this is very disappointing. There are definitely issues that I wanted to raise with Clare Daly, MEP.
She did, okay. In that case, I acknowledge that. There are issues, however, that I wanted to raise with her that I tried to raise with her on the last occasion also.
With regard to the subject on today's Order Paper, again I welcome the comments that have been made. I would like to take up one issue with Mr. Cuffe, which is the dependence on semiconductors from Taiwan. I believe that the much greater issue is the dependence on semiconductors from China than those from Taiwan. We should have positive trading agreements with Taiwan. The difficulty is the control that China has over that market.
In the context of climate, there are other issues that are been raised around wind energy. What can the European Parliament do, not just to incentivise and encourage, but to compel Ireland to move faster to optimise offshore wind energy generation?
I welcome our MEPs. I take it that they represent Ireland as a nation when they are in Dublin, as well as the east. I am speaking from the Roscommon and Galway area from the west. My questions here are specifically for Ms Fitzgerald. Reference was made to just transition, which is of major interest to me because Shannonbridge is some ten miles away from Ballinasloe and Lanesborough is also in Roscommon. My questions are really about the Midlands and the west. Ms Fitzgerald mentioned €17.5 billion. Was there a phase 2 mentioned or something about that happening? A recent amount of funding came through that midlands regional transition team, MRTT, group, which Ms Fitzgerald is probably aware of. I have a quick question around that. Is there a phase 2? We are aware there have been a lot of challenges around the procurement and state aid. It has been a challenge for some of our community groups and some of the groups that did receive very good funding through that scheme.
Mention was also made of the €30 billion under the public loan scheme. Local authorities can apply for that. How is Ireland faring in that regard? I was not aware of that fund. Is it open at the moment or can local authorities such as Galway County Council or Roscommon County Council apply for those funds? I am also interested to know about when the recovery fund is opened, and the biodiversity fund.
Mr. Ciar?n Cuffe:
I am delighted to have seven minutes to address some of the questions.
Senator Currie spoke about the Good Friday Agreement. There are concerns there but I am very conscious that in politics, one campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. The rhetoric we saw from the Prime Minister, Ms Truss, will be tempered by the harsh reality of the office that she holds. I would be hopeful that the lines of communication will improve in the coming months. Looking at it from the Brussels-Strasbourg axis, a huge amount of our time is spent on accession countries such as Albania, Georgia and Moldova. These are countries that fervently see in the European Union democracy, freedom and help from their neighbours.The kinds of values the European Union has spoken about is what they cherish and long for. Many conversations that we have are about that. We want to continue to be good neighbours with the UK and I have no doubt that the Prime Minister, Liz Truss, will spend time on improving that relationship in the coming months. I hope that is the case.
Senator Flynn raised the impact on poorer communities. It is absolutely something that informs a huge amount of what we do. For instance, as part of the work on the energy performance of buildings directive, I am publishing an energy poverty handbook in ten days. That is produced by working with organisations that deal with poverty every day of the week. They are housing organisations and NGOs that know the reality of what high energy costs mean. There are practical solutions that can be rolled out this winter to those who are feeling the pain of high fuel bills. That work is extraordinarily important. I would happily take up the Senator's offer to come out to Labre Park. I was a member of the Traveller committee of Dublin City Council and have visited a lot of Traveller housing in the past. I would love to take her up on that again.
Senator Fitzpatrick spoke about what Europe can do to help. It is great to see the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, there. I find it hard to talk about MARA without referring to the other Mara that would be familiar to those in Fianna Fáil. There is very practical assistance such as European Investment Bank, EIB, funding. The EIB is now calling itself the climate bank. That is a radical change of direction. The biggest EIB funding Dublin received in recent years was for the third runway in Dublin Airport. I do not think the EIB would fund a project like that now. That is climate action on the ground. It is now funding retrofits in local authority housing in Dublin. There is a pivot happening there and it will continue. When it comes to funding, the EIB tends not to get out of bed for less than €50 million a day. I mean that metaphorically; it wants the big projects that are transformative. I see that across the board with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Central Bank. Even the discussion we had over the taxonomy was working out what is green and what is not. While I am unhappy with the result, there is clearly a direction of travel towards greater investment in renewables. Offshore energy is not cheap but the return is clear and continues over ten, 20 or 30 years. I have no doubt but that the money will flow there. I also want to see it flow to renovations of buildings. There was an attempt to set up an €80 billion fund that Commissioner Timmermans wanted but I think he was outvoted. I would like to see us revisit that because we need clear funds to deliver climate action whether it be offshore energy or renovations.
Senator Ward mentioned semiconductors. I met the high representative of Taiwan last week. We spoke in depth about the challenges that Taiwan faces. I think that the EU is a friend to Taiwan. We are obviously rethinking the geopolitics of our relationship with China and clearly our relationship with Russia. That work must continue in the years ahead.
Can we compel that investment in wind? Not directly but we are compelling the targets we set down in the energy efficiency directive and the renewable energy directive. That will push Ireland and other member states into more renewables. In Ireland's case that will be offshore wind. There will be more onshore wind, which is cheaper, but there is huge resistance to that and there are challenges there. For Ireland, the wind speeds that we have are the envy of Europe.
That more or less tackles the issues. I am sorry I do not have the information to hand to help Senator Dolan but perhaps my colleagues do.
Ms Frances Fitzgerald:
Senator Currie raised the impact of not having the Assembly in the North. That is a huge issue and concern for all of us. From a European perspective, and I am sure my colleagues will agree with me, we do see great ongoing support for Ireland for a proper outcome on the negotiations on the protocol. We have all been involved in various ways. Commissioner Šefovi is willing to be flexible. There is opportunity to resolve it if the political will is there. It is a question of having the political will, I believe. It is there from the EU side and it needs to be developed further from the UK perspective, I would say.
I recognise the points Senator Flynn makes on vulnerability and vulnerable countries, as well as vulnerable communities and individuals. That is a very much a focus from the EU perspective. Ultimately, it is about reaching out and understanding the particular difficulties that vulnerable communities are facing, whether it is from climate change or purely economics. The funding being made available should be made available to those communities in all our member states. We certainly have a lot of reports looking at various issues relating to poverty and tackling it, creating more employment in the EU and trying to keep innovation in the EU, which is a very big challenge now.
That brings me to Senator Ward's point on supply chains. We have huge dependence on China. We must work very hard to keep innovation in Europe and developing it in Europe. That applies to Ireland too. Too many of our innovative products are being exported very quickly and developed either in China or the west coast. The relationship with China is much more critical than it was previously. Obviously we try to co-operate where we can but increasingly, we also confront quite a lot, particularly on human rights issues and in relation to the Uyghurs. It is a changing relationship. It is one to watch in the coming years to see what exactly the dynamics will be as the EU tries to play a greater role in world politics. We are getting a more independent stance from America. While developing the relationship is very positive, equally the relationship with China is at a very difficult phase at present.
Senator Fitzpatrick spoke about the leadership we have seen on Covid and how we need to see it in other areas. She mentioned small business. Last week, in her state of the Union address, Ursula von der Leyen spoke about the late payments directive and how we need to change that. In the case of a quarter of all businesses that go into bankruptcy, it is because of late payments. There is an absolute need to update the legislation we have on that. She focused particularly on small business. I have said myself that in the coming period, small and medium-sized businesses will be very vulnerable with the increase in energy costs. There was a good model there with Covid. It is a different situation now but we have seen how we can reach out to individuals and businesses when we need to get them over a crisis. That will be needed in the next few weeks and months.
Senator Dolan asked some detailed questions. The Department of Finance might be the best place to get the detailed information on that. I will certainly come back to her on it. The funds are active but I do not have the information on how much has been drawn down at present. There is a great opportunity there in respect both of the fund for local authorities and the just transition fund for the midlands. I think €89.4 million available which is a substantial amount for getting through the just transition period. The two funds are worth keeping an eye on and following up on.
Those were the main questions asked. I thank everyone for their questions. We all have a lot of work to do. What I notice more than anything is an impatience to get on with implementation. The macro framework is there now and the macro funding is available. The challenge will be in the implementation and making sure that we get all the players together at national and European level to deliver what are very worthy and necessary goals.
Mr. Barry Andrews:
To start with Senator Currie, the Brexit situation is delicate at the moment as regards the withdrawal agreement. There was a very interesting comment today by Liz Truss, the Prime Minister of the UK, acknowledging there will not be a US-UK trade agreement in the short term. This changes things significantly because that was the excuse given as to why the UK wanted to diverge on agriculture and veterinary standards, because it wanted a trade deal with the US. Clearly, that is off the table. It is to be hoped the US will now play a slightly more active role in trying to resolve the dispute between the EU and the UK. I am slightly disappointed by the lack of US input into the resolution of these disagreements. The US has traditionally played an honest broker role in Northern Ireland and I am disappointed with the role it has played. The visit by the delegation of representatives from the US Congress lead by Richard Neal was a fiasco. It was completely chaotic and added nothing whatsoever. Taking the US-UK trade deal off the table is a very positive thing and it will force the US to take a much more proactive role.
Senator Flynn prefaced her remarks by talking about the sustainable development goals, SDGs, and asking whether we think about the Roma community and the Travelling community. The SDGs are built on the principle that we leave nobody behind and reach the furthest behind first. Like Mr. Cuffe, I would love to go back to Labre Park. I have been there before but it is a great idea to invite the Dublin MEPs. I note Ireland will carry out a voluntary national review on the SDGs in 2023. The country should summon together civil society, including the communities Senator Flynn represents, to make their contribution to the development and preparation of that voluntary review.
Senator Fitzpatrick talked about what was done by the European Union during the pandemic and it was very well said. However, whether it is measures such as the digital Covid certificate, the Next Generation EU fund borrowing on a mutual debt raised by the European Union, or the procurement of vaccines that protected member states, we have not seen that on the energy crisis yet. We have not seen that broad-scale, broad brush European approach to the energy crisis yet. There is a meeting of energy ministers on 30 September and we will see if the European Union can find its voice on this. I am thinking also in terms of joint procurement of energy, which is something that would really benefit smaller member states.
Senator Ward brought up the question of China and I will convey his remarks to Clare Daly, MEP.
Mr. Barry Andrews:
I am sure she is. I am on the trade committee so China looms large in our policy framework and the European Union has taken on all sorts of protective instruments. The EU is described as a vegetarian in a world of carnivores because everybody else is taking advantage of level playing fields, state-owned enterprises, technology transfer and all sorts of abuses. It could be said that China is at the centre of all of that. The European Union is not necessarily ending globalisation but it is reconfiguring it. President von der Leyen referred to trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, which are all in the pipeline. It is a reconfiguration and a fresh start for trade agreements with trade sustainability chapters being crucial.
Responding to Senator Dolan, there is an Irish Regions European Office based in Brussels. I repeat that Senators and Deputies come to Brussels at least once a year. I strongly recommend that Senator Dolan engages with the Irish Regions European Office in Brussels on the issues she has raised and hope she will be able to get some answers.
I thank Mr. Andrews for that summary. I will make a few general remarks by way of conclusion.
First, I thank each MEP for being in the Seanad today, for making the effort and for preparing contributions. We, above all audiences they will have, appreciate what their lifestyle is like. Even at that we do not know how difficult it is to travel all the time. We very much appreciate the fact they made the effort to be here, to prepare and to engage so fully. That is not taken for granted and should not be. It is important that is acknowledged because this process could not work if they ignored it. We appreciate it.
It has been remarked on by colleagues earlier, and I am not being patronising when I say, that we are extraordinarily blessed with the calibre of people we have representing us in Europe. The performance of the three MEPs today, the acknowledgement of minutiae within Europe and knowledge of the entire workings of the Parliament and potential areas in climate justice etc. is incredibly good. Dublin is very fortunate to be represented by MEPs of their calibre.
The Cathaoirleach and I, with the excellent administrative staff here in the House, have been trying over the past year or two to implement elements of Seanad reform. A very important element of that is engagement with the European Parliament and establishing that linkage. We look to scrutinising secondary legislation in the future, but the engagement with the MEPs is a very important part of it. There was a level of apprehension that we might not make a success of it on the basis the MEPs might not be fit to be here and we might not have adequate participation. The contrary has been the case. It has been an outstanding success. I really appreciate that. It is one important leg of Seanad reform. The merit and benefit of this is very clear. Even on a purely functional or practical level, a number of initiatives or matters raised by the MEPs in the discussion have been highly informative for public representatives in the House to bring back to local authorities, parliamentary parties and Departments. That information has been vital.
I agree with Mr. Andrews, who concluded by saying we should have a two-way process here. It is very important that Members of the Dáil and Seanad would visit Europe regularly; at least once a year if not twice. We need that level of engagement. If it cannot be funded by any public bodies, we should do it of our own initiative. I am certainly happy to do that and I think colleagues would be too. We need to inform ourselves, to have that linkage, and to know what the MEPs are doing and the potential in it for what we are doing. It is a very important linkage and that is very clearly established.
Today has been an unambiguous and unquestionable success and I am delighted with it, as I am with the inputs from the MEPs and the responses in the House.
Mar fhocal scoir, ba mhaith liom ár mbuíochas a ghabháil libh. Táimid an-buíoch daoibh as ucht na ráitis, an comhrá agus na freagraí iontacha, speisiúla agus eolasacha a bhí agaibh chomh maith.