Dáil Éireann - Volume 651 - 09 April, 2008

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Official Engagements.

[538] Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his visit to eastern Europe. [8732/08]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his visit to Poland and his discussions with political leaders there. [8733/08]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his visit to Slovenia and his discussions with political leaders there. [8734/08]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his visit to Austria and his discussions with political leaders there. [8735/08]

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Slovenia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9105/08]

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Austria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9106/08]

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Poland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9107/08]

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the spring 2008 meeting of the European Council in Brussels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10740/08]

Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he held on the margins of the recent European Council meeting in Brussels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10741/08]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the spring EU Summit on 13/14 March 2008. [10893/08]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the details of meetings he had with other EU leaders on the margins of the spring EU summit on 13 and 14 March 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10894/08]

Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting on 10 March 2008 with the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen Tan Dun. [11396/08]

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his participation in the European Council meeting in Brussels. [11532/08]

  The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, together.

I travelled to three European capitals between 26 and 28 February. On 26 February, I travelled to Ljubljana for a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Jana. Slovenia currently holds the European Presidency. During our discussions, we covered a wide range of issues including bilateral relations between our two countries, Slovenia’s preparations for the spring European [539] Council and the reform treaty. We also discussed developments following Kosovo’s declaration of independence on 17 February and the wider issue of stability in the western Balkans, as well as deployment of the UN mandated EU peacekeeping force in the Republic of Chad to which both Ireland and Slovenia are troop contributors. While in Ljubljana, I paid a call on President Türk. Developments in Kosovo were the main topic of our conversation.

On 27 February, I travelled to Austria to meet Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. Our discussions concentrated on EU issues including the ratification of the reform treaty and developments following Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Chancellor Gusenbauer and I also discussed the UN mandated EU peacekeeping mission to Chad, in which Austria is also participating. I called on President Fischer and our discussions again centred on key EU issues.

Separately while in Vienna, I addressed the Permanent Council of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In my address, I recalled the OSCE’s significant achievements and the positive changes in European security to date. I signalled Ireland’s strong desire that the OSCE should continue to be an important actor in the areas of security, conflict prevention and resolution, democracy and human rights.

On 28 February, I travelled to Poland for a meeting with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. This was my first bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Tusk since his election and it provided us with an opportunity to review recent and rapid developments in bilateral relations between Ireland and Poland. We also discussed a range of current EU economic and foreign policy issues including the reform treaty and Kosovo. We exchanged views on the peacekeeping operation in Chad, to which Poland is contributing significantly. While in Warsaw, I paid a call on President Lech Kaczynski and our discussions centred on foreign policy issues. I also attended a reception at the Irish Embassy for the local Irish-Polish business community, where I heard first-hand of the growing links and the potential for further development of the relationship between Irish and Polish businesses.

Overall, my meetings in the three countries proved very useful both in terms of bilateral relations and in deepening contacts within the EU.

On 13 March, I travelled to Brussels for the spring European Council. I was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. As I will make a statement to the House on the Council later today, I will at this stage merely give a summary account of its proceedings. The spring European Council focused on the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth and provided Heads of States and Governments with their first opportunity to discuss the European Commission’s package of draft legislative proposals on climate and energy, which was published last January. The Council reaffirmed its commitment to the targets agreed last year. Financial market stability was also discussed. At the Council, I indicated that Ireland remains fully committed to working with the other member states on an ambitious programme to address climate change and on seeking to persuade the wider international community to take action. I had no bilateral meetings in the margins of the Council.

On 10 March, I met with Prime Minister Dung of Vietnam. During our meeting, a memorandum of understanding on development assistance and an agreement on double taxation were signed between our two countries. The double taxation agreement should significantly assist future Irish business and investment in Vietnam and help to facilitate trade between the two countries. During our meeting, we also discussed UN reform, Irish Aid’s programme in Vietnam, human rights, the cluster munitions conference to be held in Dublin later this year and the EU-Vietnam partnership co-operation agreement.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In the course of the Taoiseach’s engagements, did he at any time raise or discuss the continued expansion of NATO into eastern Europe? Does he have [540] concerns about the expansion of a nuclear armed alliance such as NATO across the continent of Europe? Did he outline to those whom he met the Government’s opposition to nuclear armaments? Did he avail of the opportunity to explain what Irish neutrality has traditionally stood for and the Irish people’s understanding of what it represents? Did he encourage consideration of the importance of addressing defence and security matters through the United Nations as a first course rather than by means of NATO?

During the course of his visit to eastern Europe, was the issue of labour affairs addressed at any time? In particular, was the exploitation of eastern European workers in the more developed economies of western Europe raised with him or did he seek to have the issue addressed with those whom he met? In the context of the inferior pay and conditions to which many workers from eastern Europe are subjected in western European economies through the collaborative efforts of employment agencies and unscrupulous employers, of whom examples exist in this jurisdiction, has the Taoiseach concerns about the Laval case, in which the European Court of Justice has ruled that collective actions by unions to push for equal pay and conditions for migrant and indigenous workers in member states could amount to an obstacle to free movement of services and, therefore, be unlawful? Where does the Government stand in regard to that ruling and what actions have been taken or considered to address this serious development, which clearly has the potential to undermine indigenous agreements negotiated within the respective independent economies within the EU? Issues in that regard were raised in this Chamber in the recent past by several Deputies, including this representative. Does he agree that action to address this ruling is required on an EU basis if we are to restore the position that existed heretofore?

  The Taoiseach: I raised many of the issues to which Deputy Ó Caoláin referred, although not all of them. The Deputy asked a large number of questions.

Regarding the first general group and the review, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has continually pressed and prepared for the review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is due in two years time. Our position has been strongly opposed to these issues and we continue to argue this vehemently within the European Union. I never discuss NATO issues because it is well known that our position is that we are not part of it nor do we wish to be. Our positions on the use of and co-operation with the UN and involving ourselves in humanitarian and crisis management issues and the Petersberg Tasks are well known and our discussions are always held on that basis rather than dealing with NATO or the NATO alliance, of which we are not part and to which we are opposed. All our involvements, and given that we are working in Chad with some of the countries I visited, are based on full and comprehensive co-operation on providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees who are in a serious plight and have moved from Darfur. The Minister has visited that region and has maintained contact with it over the past number of years. I hope our troops will have a positive and active engagement with the region. I met the force commander, Lieutenant General Nash, last week and I met the troops on two recent occasions as they prepare to take up their positions shortly.

On the issue of employment, in all of these countries there is great thanks and praise for Irish people, business and industry for giving so many of their people employment. The jobs are seen as being hugely important to them, and the welcome they get here and the conditions they work under are all matters for which we are thanked everywhere, without exception. This has been the case for the past four years since we opened up our borders to what were then the new member states and are now a large part of the bloc of 27 member states of the European Union.

[541] On the issue of domestic legislation, as part of Towards 2016 we have worked with the trade union movement to bring forward the legislation which is now before the House, which will ensure that this country is not abused in any way and that there are strong labour powers and labour laws to deal with this issue. This has already been developed on a non-statutory basis for the past few years, with an additional office and staff and the additional examination of company records. Wherever reports are made by the trade unions, they are diligently followed up. The trade union movement is happy with these arrangements and, obviously, it wants to see the Bill enacted, which will hopefully happen in the current session.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Taoiseach says the trade union movement is happy. In terms of many of his responses over the years, everybody is happy as far as he is concerned — here we are again today. Does the Taoiseach not recognise there is great concern that there is a continual effort to undermine hard fought for and long negotiated workers’ rights in this jurisdiction and elsewhere, and that the advent of the European Court of Justice ruling in the Laval case spells real difficulties for the pay and many of the conditions and protections that Irish workers currently enjoy? Does the Taoiseach accept there is a clear onslaught on trade union representation rights, collective bargaining and minimum wages that needs to be faced up to domestically and collectively? It was in regard to the latter that I asked specifically whether the Taoiseach was prepared to have this matter addressed at European Union level, where it is imperative. Will the Taoiseach clarify this point?

We must recognise that much of what I have just described is in keeping with the Lisbon strategy, which puts competitiveness before people — there can be no question or doubt about that. I can in part anticipate the Taoiseach’s response in terms of the upcoming referendum on the Lisbon treaty. However, leaving aside his preference for one particular outcome, and mine, what is his position on the call by the European Trade Union Confederation that in the event that the Lisbon treaty falls and a renegotiation must take place, a social progress clause should be negotiated into any new agreement?

  The Taoiseach: On the last question, Deputy Ó Caoláin would acknowledge that I fought very hard to make sure the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is the main benchmark for probably the next 20 or 30 years, was part of the constitution treaty and by extension is now part of the arrangements for the reform treaty. This gives the protections for the future that are key to everybody’s rights, workers included.

On the Deputy’s particular question, we have brought an enormous number of people to work in this country in the past few years. A decade ago, the non-Irish, or the new Irish as I would rather say, made up 1.5% of the workforce. The figure is now just a whisker short of 15% at 14.8% on the latest CSO figures. There are tens and hundreds of thousands of workers but there have been very few reports from workers, the trade unions or anybody else. It is recognised both outside and inside the country that the abuses are less common than in other countries. Does this mean there are no abuses? Of course not. There are abuses, some of which happen in the likely areas where there would be abuse even if it were not of migrant workers. There will always be those who try to take short cuts.

To be fair to the trade union movement, it has been vigilant in putting forward a coherent argument that the existing legislation in these areas needed to be significantly updated and that we needed a new agency to do this. This has been done. The National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, is now in place on a non-statutory basis and the legislation in that regard will soon be passed by this House. Perhaps not every last line of that legislation is liked by the trade union movement but the broad thrust of what was agreed in Towards 2016 is being implemented in it. It is necessary so that anybody who thinks about abusing can be dealt with. The old legislation was not good enough because we are dealing with a very different situation [542] whereby 15% and rising of the workforce are new Irish, which brings new challenges. It is also necessary to protect Irish workers who would be abused by the selfsame employers given half a chance. There would be nobody stronger than I in ensuring the conditions that have been set out in the various legislative measures or directives from Europe are dealt with.

On the question of negotiating these issues in European law, many of our rights have been part of what was negotiated in Europe and then brought into the directives. I am not suggesting Europe will continue to debate the directives. However, our voluntary system of collective negotiations has worked very well since 1946, and the involvement of a very active and vigilant trade union movement in the direct negotiations between employers, unions and the Government, as employers, has worked very well.

Whatever happens in Europe will happen and we will have to implement whatever directives are passed. This country has a good record with regard to implementing directives — it is one of the best of the 27 member states. However, the direct negotiations should take place between our own people. I would like to think that social partnership or, if not that, another form of negotiation — it was not always social partnership — should happen and the collective negotiations between the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the employers and the Government of the day should continue. That is what has happened in this instance.

On the Lisbon strategy, while I know Deputy Ó Caoláin did not mean to say it, to correct him, it is not about competitiveness at the price of people.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I absolutely did mean to say that.

  The Taoiseach: I know the Deputy does not believe that. The reality is that the continued progress on growth and jobs in the European Union is the issue, which is very welcome. That is what the Lisbon strategy has been about, particularly at a time when much of the globe is experiencing financial uncertainty. The key objective of the new cycle that we agreed at the Council meeting in March is to build on what has been achieved, maintain the key priority areas, as we did in the 2007 spring Council, and further implement what is proving to be very successful. The reality of the whole Lisbon strategy is that it is an employment strategy to foster good and sustainable employment for the people of Europe. For that reason I support it.

  Deputy Joan Burton: I am pleased to hear the Taoiseach defend the rights of workers in an EU context. It is something he has done with distinction throughout his political career.

In regard to the sets of rights of another group of people, there is no direct reference to Tibet in the conclusions but there are indications that during the meeting there was a discussion on Tibet. Does the Taoiseach agree it is important for the European Union to have a strong position on human rights? The Taoiseach referred to the rights of workers and offered to vindicate them, as he has done throughout his career. I refer, however, to the rights of the people of Tibet in the context of the events that have happened recently and the implications for the Government and our participation in a European Union which is committed to the defence of human rights, and which believes that human rights should be upheld no matter where in the world and that they cannot be completely subordinated to the interests of trade.

I heard the Minister for Foreign Affairs speak briefly on the media last night. It seemed he was almost shrugging his shoulders that because China is a great power and a great trading nation it should therefore have the freedom to not have to pay as much attention to human rights issues as perhaps other countries do and as we in Ireland always profess to do.

Why has the Government been so silent on the issue of Tibet and why has it not asked the Chinese Government if it could use its great power and influence in Africa to bring to an end [543] the genocidal conditions that now prevail in the Darfur area? As the Taoiseach is aware, those genocidal conditions apply in particular to women as one of the weapons of the conflict in Darfur is rape. Why is the Government so silent and why has the Taoiseach been able to talk at European Union summits to other European leaders about a collective approach? Nobody wants to see the athletes being deprived of the right to participate in the Olympic Games but, equally, do any of us in the Parliament have the right to stay silent while what is happening in Tibet appears on a daily basis on our television screens?

Is it the case that if the Government stays silent we are seen therefore to condone what is happening in Tibet? I do not think that is so. I hope the Government is concerned. Does the Taoiseach envisage a role for the Government in setting out a forthright position to the Chinese Government, with respect, bearing in mind that we are interested in carrying out trade with China and that there are trade and commercial considerations? As the Irish person at the EU table, does the Taoiseach anticipate urging his fellow EU Heads of State to negotiate with the Chinese to bring an end to what we have seen in Tibet and to ask the Chinese, with respect, to use its influence to bring an end to the genocide that is taking place currently in Darfur?

In the context of the EU referendum, was the Taoiseach surprised by the statement from the French Minister for Finance that in the context of the upcoming French Presidency, which starts in July, she intends to introduce aggressive proposals for changes in the common tax base of the European Union. In particular, I understand that Madame Lagarde proposes that we would change to a consolidated tax base which would include an element of sales by destination, in other words tax would flow to those European countries where the sales take place as opposed to those European countries where production or initiation of the tax transactions take place.

  An Ceann Comhairle: As I have often said in the past, Question Time is for asking questions, not for imparting information.

  Deputy Joan Burton: Does the Taoiseach feel this is helpful in the context of the forthcoming European referendum and has he had an opportunity to be briefed on these proposals by President Sarkozy? We have defended the Irish corporation tax rate as it gives us as an island some relative advantage in the context of mainland European Union states. Was the Taoiseach surprised by this development, coming as it does in the run-up to our referendum?

Regarding the discussions that took place on carbon emissions, has the Taoiseach got a costed indication of what are the implications for Ireland? The French representatives referred in particular to carbon leakage, whereby they are concerned about heavy industry moving from Europe to avoid carbon reduction regimes and perhaps to concentrate manufacturing and production, for example, of cement in countries which do not have the same approach to emissions reductions as the European Union.

  The Taoiseach: I thank the Deputy for her remarks about the employment laws and the issues with which I have been involved over the years. I appreciate her remarks. She asked me about four issues. Tibet was not discussed at the meeting of the Heads of State, it was discussed by the Foreign Ministers at the European Council. It was discussed also last weekend at a very lengthy and important informal Council meeting. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has been forthright in his views, not just in this period but also over a number of years when this issue did not receive as much prominence, that we should try to work towards an EU position; that we should engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and that we should fight and articulate the cause of proper human rights standards. In the European Council meeting which I attended the Minister was probably in a group of three or four Ministers who pressed this issue perhaps more than others and he continued that policy very strongly last weekend. He also spoke in [544] public many times but perhaps this issue does not get all the publicity it deserves. I have seen him speak on the issue several times in recent weeks.

I share the Deputy’s views. I do not think there is any dispute on this matter. China is a very important nation, it is a very important location and it is a very important place for business and investment, but that does not stop any of us from articulating our views about human rights, dealing with the Dalai Lama, having proper dialogue and negotiations and trying to make real progress on what is a real issue. There is continuous engagement between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his officials and the embassy, and that will continue.

I understand and have no difficulty with people making their points of view, protesting and using this opportunity to make this case a world issue at this time for the obvious reasons. Equally, I have always been opposed to sports people being used as a pawn in political arguments. I took that view 30 years ago when an Irish person was president of the worldwide Olympic movement. All that does is provide the next excuse for the next difficulty for the Olympic movement and the sporting movement. It does not solve anything in the end but obviously people want to highlight the issues.

I think Deputy Burton will support, as I do, everything the Minister for Foreign Affairs has said in Darfur. He was the first Minister from Europe to travel to Darfur following the peace agreement to articulate what we were required to do and one of the first Ministers to visit Chad. As the Deputy correctly said, the unfortunate people of these regions include women who have been raped and tortured by the regimes. It is a difficult and costly mission to which we are committing substantial resources — €60 million is a lot of money to spend on a mission. Irish troops will play an active role in trying to protect people. The unfortunate people are spread out in villages, which makes it very difficult. Sometimes it appears from the press that the refugees, of whom there are 400,000 or 500,000, are all in one camp in one location. They are spread out over an area larger than Ireland. A mission of 3,750 troops will, therefore, be stretched but there is huge support for assisting their work and we will continue to be at the forefront of that argument.

On the carbon issue, there was a long debate at the European Council on the issue of climate change and the progress that has been made in this area. I indicated our support for the Commission’s proposals but in fairness to the industries involved I also put forward the concerns they are raising. In this country, these industries centre around the cement sector, including CRH and others, heavy industries in Limerick and a few other companies around the country. Aughinish Alumina and the cement industry have particular difficulties and I put forward their concerns. Both industries are investing heavily in capital requirements to try to improve their position. Their concern is that they will lose competitive advantage if plants move out of Europe and export their products into Europe, which would not be fair.

In the years up to 2011, when the negotiations have to conclude, the Commission must take account of the concerns of these industries and work with them to ensure fairness. They are following investment plans which is where the carbon leakage issues arise. I do not envisage any change in the broad thrust of the Commission proposals. The Commission has fixed its mind on where it is going on this issue and we must all subscribe to that and make the necessary plans and arrangements. However, we must also give these industries time to invest the huge resources required. Between them, those two companies will invest in the region of €500 million in the next few years. They are not in any way against the proposals but need time to be able to compete, reinvest and prepare themselves for the time ahead.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: The greatest migration in human history is under way as 400 million people in China move from rural areas into towns and cities. They do not want to continue to [545] eat only rice but want to eat meat and similar products. This development is having an extraordinary impact in other parts of the world, for example, in terms of cutting down rainforests and changing agricultural patterns. In view of its recognition of the issue of food security and significant increases in food prices, did the European Council have a view on this issue?

The Council noted there should not be any distortionary policies. In that context, what was its view in respect of the World Trade Organisation? As the Taoiseach will be aware, Mr. Mandelson handles the trade area, an issue of particular concern to Ireland. Obviously the agricultural lobby, particularly the farming community, does not want the concept of the family farm, which for so many years has determined the nature of our farming, to be distorted or destroyed. If implemented, the proposals to reduce tariffs by up to 70% would have a devastating effect on Ireland. Was any other decision taken in respect of food security arising from the migration phenomenon in China and food price inflation as a consequence therefrom? What is the Taoiseach’s view on the World Trade Organisation talks?

As a sporting man, does the Taoiseach have a view on whether the practice of carrying the Olympic torch through countries should cease? It is perfectly obvious that since the commencement of the run in Greece, the protests have been gathering considerable momentum. The Taoiseach is aware from extensive briefings over the years that to be associated with activities of this nature, all one needs is a video camera and access to the Internet. Whether they involve kidnapping at an event, engaging in a riot or other actions, all these activities can be associated with various movements. Does the Taoiseach have a view on the issue? As one who does not believe that sport and politics should mix, I believe matters will get worse.

I do not know if the Government has expressed an opinion as to whether Ireland should participate in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. For athletes who have trained in their respective disciplines over the years, it will be a lifetime achievement to be able to perform at the event. The Taoiseach will recall that in 1980, President Carter refused to allow US athletes to compete in Moscow. What is his view on this matter?

Deputy Timmins has introduced a Bill on cluster munitions. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Government supports the position that State funds should not be invested in firms or manufacturing outfits involved with components of munitions which might be used abroad? Having accepted the principle of Deputy Timmins’s Bill, what is the Government position on this issue?

In respect of Deputy Burton’s comments, clarification is required on Ireland’s right of veto in the area of tax harmonisation. I do not understand the timing of the French Minister’s intervention yesterday. President Barroso has clearly stated on a number of occasions that unanimity is required on this issue and there is no intention or proposal on the horizon in respect of the harmonisation of corporate tax rates. The Government needs to be clear on this matter. As a member state of the European Union, we have a right of veto on this issue and, as I pointed out to the French yesterday, tax harmonisation will not take place. When the EPP group meets in Dublin at the weekend, I will again make this point strongly.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: I will not repeat any of the questions. On the issue of the Olympics, I agree we should try to keep sport out of politics. Athletes should not have to do the work of politicians. Does the Government have plans to use the occasion of the Beijing Olympics to raise genuine human rights concerns about a series of human rights abuses in China?

Will the Taoiseach provide more detail on the discussions by European leaders of UN reform, specifically on the effectiveness of the new United Nations Human Rights Council and the way in which European countries are working the system, if one likes, to raise human rights concerns? Were these issues discussed because there are problems in these areas? What other [546] areas were discussed in the context of UN reform? Does the European Union plan any new initiatives in this area, in which the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been involved?

  The Taoiseach: Regarding UN reform, they should try to implement the work left over by Kofi Annan and the work done on a regional basis around the world before starting on any new initiative. Much effort has been put into this since 2000 up to the appointment of the new Secretary General. It is crucial these are implemented over the next few years.

On the Chinese situation and the protests over the Olympics, as I said recently, in line with the one China policy followed by the EU partners, on which all are agreed, we regard Tibet as part of China, as does the Dalai Lama. We have expressed strongly our concerns regarding human rights in China. We raised them, as I said at the weekend, at the informal European Council meeting. The European Council is raising them in bilateral contacts with the Chinese authorities, including at official level in Dublin and Beijing. During these discussions we will continue to raise our concerns about freedoms of religious practice and expression and the preservation of cultural identity in Tibet.

There will continue to be difficulties and problems for China, the Olympic flame procession and the games. It would seem far more sensible to have real engagement within the one China policy to deal with these issues. These are fundamental human rights issues. It does not take away from what the Chinese policy is about, which we all know. However, there will be no progress unless they engage with the Dalai Lama. This is the crucial issue.

The Cluster Munitions Bill, a Private Members’ Bill from Deputy Timmins, is before the House. The Government has outlined its support but there is broad acceptance that it would be best dealt with on the other side of the forthcoming Dublin conference. The Minister stated that after the conference we would be able to bring in a Bill in nine months.

I apologise to Deputy Burton that I did not raise the tax issue which Deputy Kenny raised again. Yesterday morning after it was raised, I had it checked immediately. I understand Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister, made an opening speech at a Brussels tax reform forum. The theme of her speech was taxation policy and enhancing competitiveness and growth in the EU. She also spoke about the themes for the forthcoming French EU Presidency which included environmental taxation and the savings directive as well as company taxation.

She admitted the common consolidated corporate tax base, the CCCTB, is a controversial issue and there may be no swift agreement on it. She said France supports the concept and she would like a debate on it. As Deputy Burton knows, I have been having a debate on the issue since 1992, so I have no problem with the French having one now.

Needless to say, we will use the opportunity, along with other member states, to give our clear position that our corporate tax regime is unambiguous and will remain protected in the EU context by the principle of unanimity in taxation matters. That principle is underpinned in the Lisbon reform treaty. The treaty will not undermine member states’ national discretion in this regard in any way. Our position on CCCTB, on which the House is united, is that we will continue to highlight the difficulties that such a proposal will cause for individual member states and for overall EU competitiveness.

Any presentation of this as Ireland against Europe is simply wrong. Based on my own meetings and understanding, the majority of member states are either against or highly sceptical of it. Deputy Kenny will have an opportunity to make that clear this week at his European Parliament group meeting.

Christine Lagarde is a good Minister and I wish her well in her forthcoming EU Presidency. I will not be there to tell her I think it is a load of nonsense. If I were, I would tell her to do [547] something more useful with her presidency with which she might have a chance of succeeding. CCCTB, in my view, will not get anywhere during the French EU Presidency or any after it.