Statements on Europe Day and European Commission Work Programme

It is very important that we mark Europe Day on Saturday. The challenge for all of us will be whether we are willing to discuss Europe with those around us because we all have a responsibility and a role in that discussion. I thank the Leader, Senator Cummins, who has been very good at facilitating and encouraging us to get more involved and active on the issue of the EU and its importance in our lives and those of the people we represent. I thank him also for organising a recent briefing with the European Commission representation in Ireland, with Barbara Nolan and Jonathan Claridge. It was an excellent briefing and it is a pity more Senators did not turn up. I hope next time we can encourage more to come along.

It is good to see sentiment is rising, according to the latest Eurobarometer polls, in November 2014. Trust is rising, which is positive. The EU has taken some very positive measures to deal with youth unemployment. We have seen, across Europe but particularly in Ireland how young people are disproportionately impacted by a recession through losing jobs and having to emigrate. What statistics are available to demonstrate the success or failure of the youth employment initiative? We hail big flagship projects but how do we, as Senators and parliamentarians, demonstrate to the public that it is worth this investment, the initiatives are working and we are able to use the experience? I appreciate what the Commission Vice-President Timmermans is doing in trying to reduce the number of initiatives. It is very positive but part of me wonders what the Parliament will do with all the extra time it will have without the Commission producing initiatives. We may have to move to implementation. That will be very tough for member states because we will have to stop coming up with lots of new ideas and get down to the gritty work of implementing what is happening at an EU level.

In respect of the work that will happen to lighten the regulatory burden it is very important that we hear from small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs, and civil society organisations across the sector. We can all say how important it is to lighten the regulatory burden but how we do it is also important.

Ireland has to play a very active role in respect of the possible UK in-out referendum. I am very encouraged by the fact that the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and all other players in the Government have taken on a role in that referendum. Ireland will not stay silent on an issue of such importance to the EU and to our closest neighbours, the UK. It most definitely will have ramifications for us, mostly negative.

The lack of an EU immigration policy is an issue. We can say what we want about the United States, US, but it has very clear immigration rules and one can apply to go there. The EU cannot get its head around it. In certain member states there is rising sentiment, stimulated by the lack of EU leadership on the issue. We think that if we just put up the borders people will not come. If I have a choice between certain death and probable death I will take probable death. That is why people are getting on boats. We have to wake up. Being part of the EU is part of our values. We sing about the respect for human dignity, liberty, equality or human rights but when it comes to people who are not EU citizens do we, all of a sudden, throw the values into the Mediterranean as well? Member states have to take this issue more seriously. We should not call them migrants, they are individuals just like any of us and if I was in their situation I would get on that boat. We all have to know we would do that if we were facing certain death in the situations they are fleeing. The EU has a responsibility and a role on the world stage.

The digital single market and the fact that we could create up to €340 billion of additional growth in Europe over the next ten years is very exciting. I hope Ireland will maximise its slice of that pie. It is well-placed in respect of that market. I am also very heartened to see that within the development of that policy the EU is considering child protection issues. An issue on which I wrote a report and had great support from Members on all sides of the House is child abuse material. I was heartened to read on the Commission’s website that it is considering having a system of filtering child abuse material in the absence of us not having an effective system to remove child abuse images. It will look at doing that at a European Union level. It is happening in the United Kingdom. In Ireland, UPC and the mobile phone operators have brought in such a system, but it is voluntary rather than us saying these images should be blocked. There are very good reasons we need to do that. Twenty-seven per cent of women in the EU, not in Africa or some other country, have experienced some form of physical violence before the age of 15. We must step up what we are doing on the issue of child protection and children’s rights.

We know that approximately 16% of the victims of trafficking registered by EU member states are children. We know that violence is still relatively hidden and under-reported, with 90% of all abuse undetected, according to the World Health Organisation. That ranges from issues such as child sexual abuse and exploitation to bullying and cyberbullying.

In terms of these statements, I know we look at the area from a business and jobs perspective but we must ensure that we also use the children’s rights lens when we are looking at those issues.

I refer to an excellent reflection paper the EU produced yesterday on the 9th European Forum on the Rights of the Child – co-ordination and co-operation in integrated child protection systems. I am disheartened to see that 25 EU member states are parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland are the only three countries in the EU that have not signed up to that convention. It is something we need to examine. I believe the capacity legislation may be the blocking mechanism for us. We always say that Ireland plays our role in that regard but when we look at the implementation issues, we are not as good. We need to focus on that issue and consider how we are implementing and upholding our responsibilities as EU citizens, whether here in Ireland, within the European borders or on the world stage.

Directive of European Parliament on Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children: Statements

Thursday, 19th September 2013

I too welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his comprehensive presentation on the EU directive. I could say a lot on issues related to the directive, but I intend to focus on article 25 which relates to child abuse material online. I welcome the commitments the Minister has given this morning. Among the wide-ranging provisions relating to criminal offences and sanctions in the area of sexual abuse and exploitation of children, the directive requires all member states to take the necessary measures to ensure the prompt removal of any web pages containing or disseminating child abuse material hosted on servers within their jurisdiction. It also asks member states to make appropriate safeguards to block access for Internet users within their territory of web pages containing or disseminating child abuse material hosted on servers outside of their jurisdiction.

I do not know whether the Minister’s comprehensive presentation is a sign of things to come, but I feel the Seanad’s role has been airbrushed out of it. In February 2012 we had an Independent group motion on the EU directive and the need for Ireland to block sites. At the time, I was delighted my colleagues, among them Senators Mary Ann O’Brien, Fiach Mac Conghail, Katherine Zappone, Marie-Louise O’Donnell and probably every Senator in the House, supported the motion calling for a blocking of sites. We took the Minister’s word that he would consider that, even though we knew at the time the ISPs and some officials did not agree with us on the need to block them. I welcome the moves being made now, but I wish to acknowledge the role of the Seanad in calling for this.

I have produced a report on effective strategies to tackle online child abuse material which is published today and I will be happy to present the Minister with a copy of it. Often we are told that blocking does not really work, that we will not get rid of it all and that we should not be naive. Would the Minister say the same to drug traffickers or suggest that we should just remove customs and borders because drugs get into the country anyway? We must put a deterrent in place to block this material. I am not living in some naive world where I believe that implementing the directive will solve the issue, but implementing it will act as a deterrent and will ensure that average citizens will not come across such material accidentally, as they do currently.

I welcome the commitment given, but I would like to see greater urgency attached to it. I was disappointed to see in the legislative programme that the criminal law (sexual offences) Bill is still under section C, which means that publication is not expected until 2014. The Minister for Justice and Equality will know that I have a long list of issues he has promised the Bill will cover and other colleagues have other issues. However, there is a problem with regard to the proliferation of child abuse material on the Internet and this is a stain on our moral conscience. I am very concerned by this and that is the reason I commissioned the report I did, in which I go through the options for Ireland and what needs to be done.

We need to think about the victim profile. Many Members attended an extraordinary briefing we received in 2012, before we moved our group motion in the Seanad. Pat McKenna of ChildWatch and Michael Moran, assistant director of Interpol’s directorate dealing with trafficking of human beings briefed us at that meeting and provided us with startling figures. When they examined some of the images in question, some 74% of the victims appeared to be ten years of age or younger. We heard of images of children with their umbilical cord still attached. The prevalence is moving towards children who cannot yet speak, because they cannot articulate what is happening to them. The images and pictures we are talking about are horrendous. They are a crime scene.

Another problem is the offender profile. Some 70% of the offenders are aged between 21 and 50. Some 59% are likely to be married, 41% are likely to have children and 33% are physically abusive in other aspects of their lives. What we were told at the briefing stays with me. We were told that the average person who comes across this trade accidentally is horrified and walks away from the computer. However, within a week, many will go back to the computer and start looking for more images. These images are not traded in money, but in images, so what will one do when one wants to be king of the pack but create one’s own images. We must introduce a blocking system. This problem affects Irish children and children worldwide.

I have been very affected by some of the stories of children who have been abused. I cannot understand the reason behind many crimes, but I can nearly understand murder, although I do not condone it. However, I cannot understand child abuse. I cannot get my head around why people would do it. In the case of this kind of child abuse we have victims who find out that their images are proliferated across the world and that their own country will not block these images. We must ensure we have a blocking system in place.

The Minister mentioned a hotline. I call it the lesser known hotline. It is great to have it, but it is not much use if it is not publicised and people do not know about it. To be honest, I believe the existence of the hotline can be used as a cover or excuse by the ISPs who can point to its existence. This is a bit like the issue of drink awareness, where people can point to MEAS and drinkaware.ie. We need a much more independent system.

The countries that already have filtering in place are Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand, France, Malta, Australia and the UK, including Northern Ireland. All our mobile telephone providers across Europe have it. Therefore, I do not accept any arguments we hear about why we cannot do it.

I commend the Garda Síochána, Europol and Interpol, who are doing amazing work and I feel strongly that we need to support them.

Why is there not a greater urgency to transpose the directive? We should be doing so without delay. It is great that we have the EU directive. Let us put filtering in place. Self-regulation is not working. The Internet service providers, ISPs, are being dragged to the table.

A child abuse image is a crime scene. It is a digital record of some of the most monstrous crimes against children.

This is a question of protecting children from abuse. We must take action. I plead for greater urgency. We can undertake it discreetly and efficiently, a suggestion that I examined in my report.

SI 325 of 2012 – European Union (Quality and Safety of Human Organs Intended for Transplantation) Regulations 2012: Motion

Tuesday, 20th August 2013

I welcome the Minister of State. Today we are being asked to annul SI 325 of 2012 which gives effect to the European Union directive on standards of quality and safety of human organs intended for transplantation. We all know that Ireland was legally obliged to legislate under EU law to ensure a common set of standards throughout the European Union and that is something we can all agree on.

I signed the motion for recall last year but I did not sign it this year. I signed the motion last year because a statutory instrument was being brought in without consultation or debate. However, since last year I have participated into two Oireachtas debates on organ donation as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. We have had two hearings in preparation for the forthcoming legislation, the human tissue Bill, and we will be continuing our work in this area in the autumn. On 18 April we heard personal experiences relating to organ donations and we heard from advocacy groups representing those affected by organ donations. On 25 April we heard from medical professionals working at the coal-face of organ donation and from representatives of hospitals throughout the country as well as from the legal community. I would have thought that was the ideal opportunity for Senator Daly to raise the issues, or, in his words, flaws, that bring us here today. At the hearing on 18 April I raised the issue of the absence of primary legislation in Ireland and I noted that we only had the statutory instrument to introduce the European directive requirements. Anyway, I have argued inside and outside the Chamber that too often Ireland gold-plates EU directives when we should be dealing with issues in primary legislation instead.

The EU directive deals with standards of quality and safety of human organs intended for transplantation. There is nothing in the EU directive to preclude Ireland from dealing with the issues raised in the lead-up to today and the other issues which have not yet been aired when we deal with the human tissue Bill. I have listened with interest to debate on this issue in the lead-up to today’s discussion and I believe we are conflating and confusing the issues. One can almost feel the stampede to the high moral ground on this issue, but the reality is that everyone in the Chamber is keen to improve our resourcing and the operational issues in respect of organ donation.

I was struck by the submission we received from the Irish Donor Network in advance of the debate. The submission of the network concluded by stating that people are dying on the waiting lists for transplantation in Ireland, but not because of the EU directive or its transposition into Irish law. The network further stated that to confuse the issue of EU regulation versus the issue of necessary infrastructure and national policy to improve transplant rates is to confuse the debate. Surely the human tissue Bill is the appropriate place for us to deal with the consent arrangements for transplantation and research? We need to deal with the establishment of a single body responsible for co-ordinating the drive to increase transplantation in the country, put in place organ donation co-ordinators in every hospital and ensure we put in place an effective awareness-raising campaign. These are some of the priorities I would set down.

The proposal today is to annul the statutory instrument without anything tabled as an alternative at this juncture. Is the legacy of today’s recall to amount to the Seanad leaving a legal vacuum with respect to the quality and safety of the donor and recipient processes which the statutory attachment provides for? The elements purported by Senator Daly to render the statutory instrument flawed – a premise I do not support – should have been raised during the committee hearings on organ donation in April and can be dealt with in the development of the human tissue Bill.

Members might not be aware that a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children is scheduled for 19 September to consider submissions on the introduction of an opt-out system of consent for organ donations. That will provide an opportunity to discuss the issue in detail.

I signed the motion for recall last year but not on this occasion. I have clearly outlined my reasons for taking that position. It is almost as if Senator Daly is trying to invoke the memory of Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower and forgetting the past year had happened.

Adjournment Motion – Revised EU data protection Legislation and the rights of citizens

Tuesday, 9th July 2013

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Minister of State to the House.

I am aware that an informal meeting of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs will be taking place at the end of next week in Vilnius and understand that the general data protection regulation is the agenda of that meeting.

I have been contacted by a number of people in the genealogical community who are concerned that the European Commission plans to unify data protection within the European Union with a single law, the general data protection regulation, which may have unintended consequences. I have specifically been contacted by Michael Merrigan, general secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland who, in turn, has been contacted by the Genealogical Society of Finland. I thank them for the information with which they have provided me.
I have a keen interest in researching my family history and have first-hand experience of accessing resources through my research. I realise the sensitivity of some data and so understand that we need to protect privacy. We have all welcomed the renewed focus on genealogy due to events surrounding The Gathering. In addition, the Government has proactively engaged in the provision of online access to genealogical resources through the national repositories and its genealogy web portal . I am also aware of the sheer dedication and work by genealogists such as Stuart Rosenblatt who has provided the State with an invaluable 16 volume archive spanning more than four centuries. He is a guiding example to us all.

The recent report published by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform with regard to its hearings in relation to the draft general scheme of the Freedom of Information Bill highlighted the need to seek the inclusion in the proposed legislation of the following as a guiding principle by which record holders, the State and State agencies, would give public access to records with a genealogical potential by the inclusion of a section that states that the legislation endorses and fully supports the principle of public ownership and right of access to our genealogical heritage. Doing it in this way will allow statutory instruments and departmental guidelines to take cognisance of the principle when assessing public accessibility to records with a genealogical potential.

I am cognisant that an EU regulation must be observed by all member states. The impact of the inclusion of civil registration records in the scope of the data protection directive, if that is what is proposed, would have a very detrimental impact on genealogical, biographical and historical research. While such a measure would have no impact on existing public access to genealogical resources held by the National Library and the National Archives, it could create an atmosphere of fear of litigation on the part of custodians of records of genealogical potential.

Can the Minister ensure that the revised EU data protection directive-regulation does not impair the right of the citizen to engage in bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research and that the principle of public ownership and right of access to our genealogical heritage will be enshrined as a guiding principle? I believe genealogy should be expressly mentioned in the regulation and hope that the Minister of State can give us assurances today.

On a specific point, Article 6, paragraph 2, of the regulation should be rewritten so that it makes an exception from the general principle for processing of personal data, namely, the data subject has given consent to the processing. As a result, it would not be necessary to request consent to processing of personal data when the purpose is historical research or genealogy.

I hope we can obtain assurances from the Minister of State that the access to genealogical, biographical or historical records will not be impaired and that we will be able to ensure public access for generations to come.

Minister John Perry:

I am here on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is unable to be present. I thank Senator van Turnhout for raising this important subject.

In the first instance, I will briefly set out the background to the European Commission’s proposals for reform of data protection law. The centrepiece of existing EU legislation on personal data protection is Directive 95/46/EC which seeks to reconcile the protection of personal data with the free flow of such data within the Internal Market and to countries outside the EU. It is widely recognised that the 1995 directive needs to be updated to take account of more recent developments such as increased use of the Internet, blogs and social networking sites and increasing globalisation of data transfers. In 2010, the Lisbon treaty introduced a new legal basis for strengthened data protection standards in the European Union, and Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU enshrines protection of personal data as a fundamental right.

In January 2012, following completion of an extensive consultation process, the European Commission tabled proposals for a radical shake-up of the current regulatory framework. These proposals are being discussed separately by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament at present. Adoption of the reform package is subject to co-decision between both institutions. Article 5 of the Commission proposal for a general data protection regulation, which sets out the principles relating to personal data processing, recognises that it may be necessary to retain personal data for historical, statistical or scientific purposes. Article 83 sets out specific provisions for the processing of personal data for historic, statistical and scientific research purposes. While the Minister has until now not been made aware of the specific concerns of the genealogical sector, he is aware that concerns have been raised that the provisions in the Commission proposal are not sufficient to accommodate the processing of personal data for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes. The Minister shares these concerns.

As the Senator may be aware, achieving progress on the European Commission’s proposals to update the Union’s data protection standards was a priority of the Irish Presidency and I am pleased to say that substantial progress was achieved on key aspects of the reform package. In June, the Minister submitted a progress report to the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which identified key aspects of Chapters I to IV of the draft regulation. In addition, a draft revised text of Chapters I to IV, which reflects the view of the Minister, as the then President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, of the state of play of negotiations at that stage, has been prepared. The Minister has arranged to have these documents laid before the Houses for the information of Deputies and Senators. The draft revised text includes a number of proposals, which have yet to be discussed in detail at expert level, to address concerns in respect of the implications of the draft regulation for the processing of personal data for historical, statistical or scientific purposes. I understand it is intended to discuss this issue at expert level shortly. The detailed discussions relating to these proposals will provide an opportunity to consider whether proposals to deal with the processing of personal data for historical, statistical or scientific research purposes are sufficient to cover archival purposes as well as bona fide genealogical and biographical research or whether specific provisions in this regard will be necessary.

The Minister believes that the concerns relating to the implications of the draft regulation for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes, including for bona fide genealogical and biographical purposes, must be examined further at expert level by the Council working party on data protection and exchange of information, DAPIX, and addressed, where necessary, by means of appropriate amendments to the regulation.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I would appreciate it if copies of the Minister of State’s script could be made available. Traditionally, such scripts are provided to Members. It would be useful if we were able to examine its contents.
I thank the Minister of State for the assurances he provided. I reiterate the importance of including a specific reference to genealogy to ensure there will be public access to these records when such access is for bona fide purposes. I will correspond with the Minister for Justice and Equality on this issue because it is important that it be viewed in conjunction with the general data protection regulation.

Minister John Perry:

I will be happy to supply the Senator with a copy of my script. The European Commission tabled proposals for a radical shake-up of the existing data protection framework. Those proposals undoubtedly comprise one of the most important reform packages being discussed at EU level at present. Data protection affects all of us, whether in a private capacity as individuals, in a business or professional capacity or as users of personal data. It is for this reason that the Minister for Justice and Equality launched a public consultation process in March 2012 to seek the view and inputs of interested bodies and individuals in order to inform the negotiations on the proposal. The Minister continues to welcome such views and inputs on the implications of the draft regulation, particularly as discussions on this detailed and complex proposal are ongoing at European level. He would welcome the views and inputs of the Senator and others on the specific concerns which may exist in respect of the implications of the draft regulation for bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research.

As stated, the protection of personal data is a fundamental right. However, the right to this protection coexists with other rights and this is recognised in the draft regulation. For example, Article 83 of the draft regulation sets out specific provisions for the processing of personal data for historic, statistical and scientific research purposes. The Minister is of the view that the draft regulation must be examined further to assess the implications of the proposals relating to the processing of personal data for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes. He would, therefore, welcome any specific amendments to the draft regulation which are considered necessary to accommodate bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research or which take account of the need to provide high levels of data protection to individuals.

On behalf of the Minister, I again thank Senator van Turnhout for raising this important issue.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister of State and I will communicate the information he has provided to the Genealogical Society of Ireland and the wider genealogical community.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Jim Higgins MEP

Thursday, 16th May 2013

I, too, join in welcoming Mr. Higgins to the House. He has history in this House and the Dáil. He recalled a fateful phone call, similar to one I received two years ago this Monday when I was in China. It was a great story. I will never forget the pride I felt when I got that phone call.

I acknowledge the roles which have not been highlighted and in which he played a significant part, namely, the EU suicide prevention and mental health treatment strategies, EU funding for the care of the elderly and the increased access to cross-border health care. He was also involved in children and youth issues, such as childhood obesity and child literacy. These issues are often not played out in Ireland, but are important in terms of the development of EU strategies which filter down to Ireland. His role as quaestor is also very important.

I note his role in introducing a cultural programme. I happened to be present in January when Mr. Higgins met Mr. John Banville. It was an excellent initiative.

As Mr. Higgins said, Ireland’s Presidency is very important and set a number of milestones. I would like to join the recognition of the roles played by Irish Ministers. We all have a sense of pride when we hear about the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on the news, delivering a deal people said would not be possible within this Presidency. We should not underestimate the deal which has been struck, and the officials who support that work

I want to raise the role of citizens in Europe. I have a concern that Europe has steered off its path slightly. We should return to its original path, where all voices, no matter how small, were heard equally, and where the understanding and promotion of diversity of culture and ideas were to the fore. Last week I had the opportunity while in Vienna to speak in the Austrian Chancellery on the Future of Europe Group report on striking a balance between unity and diversity. It has not received much publicity in Ireland, but 11 foreign Ministers from EU member states, not including Ireland, came together and wrote a paper on what they believe is the future of Europe. My difficulty with the report is that it progresses a very top-down approach. If one really reads into the report, one will find it looks at the common security policy and similar areas on which we could co-operate, rather than issues which directly affect citizens.

We need to be careful with our engagement on EU issues. I would welcome a debate in the House on the future of Europe. The report to which I referred is interesting. It comprises only seven pages but there is a lot of content. It is very interesting that although the foreign Ministers have all put their names to it, it is on only one official website, that of the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Westerwelle, for debate.

There is often a perception that popular sentiment towards the EU has turned sour because power has moved to the centre of Europe between France and Germany. It should be noted that the European Movement Ireland committee commissioned a RedC poll earlier this year which found 85% of respondents believed that Ireland should remain part of the EU and 83% of Irish adults believe that, on balance, Ireland has benefited from its membership of the EU. We should not underestimate those figures. We can have a serious and engaging debate with the citizens of Ireland. They see the benefits of the EU and we should examine how we can develop that further.

I would be interested to hear the opinions of Mr. Higgins on how, post the Irish Presidency which will be over soon enough, we can ensure the EU agenda focuses on the issues that most affect our citizens and how we can best generate engagement with and support for the EU with people. I refer to the “critical friend” approach, whereby a really good friend will tell one what he or she likes or does not like.

I have concerns about the multiannual financial framework. It is close to completion. We have a deal which will have to be discussed and rebalanced every year because we will not grasp the nettle. We will propose a budget but each year the Parliament will have to grapple with it. I would welcome Mr. Higgins’s thoughts on that.

I echo his congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Coveney for his role in common fisheries and CAP. I am not from an agricultural background, although having spent 12 years on the economic and social committee with farmers’ representatives I learned more about farming than I ever needed or wanted to know. It is tremendous that Ireland has played a role in bringing people together.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms. Marian Harkin MEP

Thursday, 2nd May 2013

I welcome Ms Harkin to the House and acknowledge her long-standing involvement in EU affairs. From her career in the European Parliament and the Lower House, one notes the diversity of policy areas in which she has made written declarations. She has an extremely strong record on human rights and equality issues which she demonstrated again today. I would single her out for her work on volunteerism and raising its profile both within Ireland and at European level. When she was rapporteur for the European Year of Volunteering, she singularly spearheaded the campaign to raise the issue of volunteerism. We both had the pleasure recently to attend the launch of the European Volunteer Centre’s employee-volunteering network. The centre stated that without the work done by Ms Harkin in laying the foundations for volunteerism, it would not have been able to launch its employee recognition programme.

I am concerned there is a perception that the deal has been done on the multi-annual financial framework. I understand the Parliament is not happy with this. This is all being played out behind the scenes. I am concerned that the framework agreed in the end will not be fit for purpose and will need to be amended each year. In fact, we are being disingenuous to the people. The EU is telling Ireland how to set budgets yet there is a significant issue for the EU as to how it sets its budgets.

Ms Harkin referred to the programme for social change and innovation which comes into effect in January next year to support employment and social policies. Is there a balance in this programme between employment enhancement measures and social inclusion and protection measures? One of the previous component parts of the programme was progress. It looked at the recognition and role of civil society and supported children’s rights networks to work in the area of child poverty. While jobs are important, I am concerned the programme maintains the right balance between that and social protection and inclusion.

I agree with Ms Harkin’s proposals on the role of the Seanad and welcome any prospect of closer co-operation between the Seanad and the European Parliament. Bicameralism is the most efficient form of democratic representation. In the case of this Oireachtas, however, the distribution of power between the Houses severely limits the contribution of the Seanad. Reforms in line with Ms Harkin’s proposals would make a contribution to filling a new equilibrium and provide the Seanad with a renewed energy, as well as a sense of purpose which would suit modern Ireland.

I am concerned that, despite the general consensus existing on this topic for several years, we have seen little progress being made to promote this mutually beneficial arrangement. I am very mindful of the fact that similar propositions were made almost a decade ago by the Committee on Procedure and Privilege’s Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform. Its report concluded:

The Seanad should be given a new role in EU affairs with responsibility for —
i Assessing legislative and other proposals going before EU Councils;
ii Reviewing draft EU legislation of major national policy importance;
iii Providing Irish MEPs with a domestic forum to discuss EU issues and account for their work;

While the engagement we are having with MEPs is a welcome development, how would Ms Harkin progress the other two goals? As she said, we need enhanced co-operation between the Seanad and the European Parliament. For that to work, we need to probe a little more into how such co-operation could take place. I welcome the engagement we are having with MEPs as it gives us an opportunity to engage with European issues which will impact later on Irish citizens. We must be mindful of this two-way process as seen in the multi-annual financial framework discussion.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Seán Kelly MEP

Tuesday, 30th April 2013

I welcome Mr. Seán Kelly, MEP. There are many aspects of his work that I would like to raise and commend him on. Perhaps I shall limit myself to crediting him for his work on the committee called Delegations for Relations with the United States. Senator Cummins mentioned the EU-US trade agreement and a number of Senators are following its progress. I also commend Mr. Kelly on his valuable contribution as rapporteur regarding the Commission’s proposals to reform the EU data protection rules and to examine how the continent can have uniformity and introduce one data protection law for one continent. I have read the proposals with great interest.

I was heartened to hear Mr. Kelly speak so passionately today, and earlier this year, about youth unemployment and the youth guarantee. As he will know, Ireland has the fourth highest rate of young people not in education, employment or training in the EU, also known as the NEET figure. He expressed the need to tackle the monumental toll that emigration is taking on young people today. I commend all that he has done to support the youth guarantee. I would be heartened to hear his opinion on the draft recommendations establishing the youth guarantee that were adopted by the Council last week. Does he feel that the measure goes far enough?

With regard to his work on the Industry, Research and Technology Committee and the Regional Committee on Data Protection in Europe, what role will the digital agenda play in Ireland’s recovery? I know that he has touched on the subject in some way.

Mr. Kelly raised the issue of data protection and talked about the importance of balancing rights. Therefore, I wish to raise a people protection issue. Perhaps it is more of a child protection issue but we have discussed it in the House. I refer to child abuse material on the Internet which is an issue of considerable concern to myself and several Senators. As a State we have an obligation to protect real children from real abuse in the real world. The Independent group tabled a motion on 29 February 2012 that called on the Government to block all child abuse material, irrespective of its jurisdiction or origin. At present we block material from within Ireland but it should be blocked, irrespective of jurisdiction. The Minster for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, said that he would consider the proposal in the context of the planned sexual offences Bill. However, there has been no urgency in bringing the Bill before us so I look to the EU to see what it can do. Several member states have introduced such blocking of the Internet.

I note and acknowledge the European Parliament’s written declaration on highlighting the global dimension of the fight against online child sexual abuse content. I thank Mr. Kelly for signing the declaration earlier this month. As noted in the declaration, the cross-border nature of most online child sexual abuse content shows that strong international co-operation is necessary. What does Mr. Kelly feel can be done to facilitate this co-operation to remove the content at source and address its online distribution networks? I believe that we should block it but some people will counter my belief by citing Internet freedom. However, each digital image is an image of a crime scene. We have a policy to block drugs entering the country. It does not solve the problem but acts as a deterrent. In the same way we should block all child abuse in Ireland as happens in several EU member states. I would welcome hearing Mr. Kelly’s opinions and I hope that he will support me on the issue.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms. Phil Prendergast MEP

Wednesday, 13th February 2013

I thank the Acting Chairman for facilitating me and allowing me to speak. I apologise that I had to leave the Chamber briefly because I had to attend the internal meeting that also detained Senator Cummins. However, I was present for Ms Prendergast’s intervention at the beginning. I welcome her.

I still feel relatively new here but the issues that I wish to mention today relate to the Single Market and the multi-annual financial framework. I want to question her specifically on those issues given her work on the Internal Market and her opening comments. As we know 2012 represented the 20th anniversary of the European Single Market. The development of the Single Market is a key priority and it is a key priority for the Irish Presidency. However, we are all very aware that it remains incomplete and Ms Prendergast mentioned where it is incomplete in her intervention. During the Single Market week held in October 2012 there was an opportunity for the private sector and citizens to engage, on a personal level, in the European policy area. I shall mention four of the areas that were raised then. Perhaps Ms Prendergast can enlighten us and share her opinions on the concerns raised. First, access to the market of a host country can be restricted by national certification or regulations that do not exist to the same extent in the home country. For me that goes against the principle of a Single Market and single area.

Second, cross-border procurement can be a problem. This is the age of electronic and online technology but many procurement procedures require a hard copy to be delivered rather than use electronic means.

Third, e-commerce is very popular at national level but it is more difficult at international level. We are very aware of the different regulations for areas such as consumer protection and data privacy and that makes things difficult. The playing field is uneven or unequal when it comes to e-commerce.

The fourth area related to European start-ups and that surprised me. On average, European start-ups are only entitled to half the amount of venture funding of their US counterparts. Is there a way to redress that imbalance? We must ensure that we have an even playing field between the US and the EU if we want to encourage start-ups. Ireland is extremely interested in promoting entrepreneurship.

Many of these issues will be addressed by the Single Market Act which is in its final stages of implementation. It always seems to be problematic to reach a completed option. The adoption of the Act should be expedited because it is a job-creating opportunity for Ireland, the Irish Presidency and the EU. I would welcome Ms Prendergast’s opinion on the Act.

As Ms Prendergast has informed us, the Commission recently introduced the Single Market Act II. To what extent does the second Act address the issues that were identified by the consultations, the four areas that I repeated here, during the Single Market week? To what extent does it fill the gaps left by the first Act? I would appreciate anything she has to share with us on that matter.

Last week was an interesting, exciting and challenging week for us all, both personally and stamina wise. For me the negotiations that took place in Brussels on the multi-annual financial framework at the European Council summit were extremely important and I am very aware of the Parliament’s role. I am also very aware that Ms Prendergast has previously stated that the budget must do more to stimulate growth in the European economy. I know that the Parliament will be looking at the multi-annual financial framework and the proposals on the budget. I want Ms Prendergast to tell us, as a preliminary opinion, whether she supports the proposals by the European Council. Does she think they go far enough? I thank the Acting Chairman and Ms Prendergast.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Gay Mitchell MEP

Thursday, 24th January 2013

I welcome Mr. Gay Mitchell, MEP, to the House. I ask my question in light of the fact that Mr. Mitchell has twice won the title of MEP of the year for development. I did not necessarily know that he was the leading figure who successfully negotiated the development co-operation instrument in 2006. While that may sound like nothing much, that co-operation instrument has a budget of €16.9 billion between 2007 and 2013 and ensures scrutiny by the Parliament in development work. I also point to his more recent report on establishing a financing instrument for development co-operation and the lessons learned from that.

My question is in light of a Seanad debate in November on sexual violence in conflict and rape as a weapon of war. I spoke about Burma, Sudan’s Darfur region and, in particular, the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. I am very concerned about the escalating conflict in the DRC and the lack of attention it receives here. Given Mr. Mitchell’s role and experience as vice chairman of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, I would like his advice on the positive role we could play in highlighting what is happening. While we know the DRC has had many wars, the current war has claimed 3 million lives, both as a direct result of the conflict and as a result of disease and malnutrition. As Mr. Mitchell’s speech today showed, there is a clear link between conflict and poverty. What role can we play?

Recent Developments in Eurozone and European Council – Statements

16th December 2011

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and for her regular communications with us. She has been here before and, as a regular tweeter, her tweets have been keeping us informed, even during the European Council. She shows great initiative. I also wish to note the signing of the accession treaty with Croatia. It is a long time coming for the people of Croatia and is highly significant. I wish it had more coverage and debate. I also welcome the initiative on the blue flag for primary schools but I am sure we will hear more about that next year.

Looking at last week’s Council meeting, David Cameron told the British House of Commons he went to Brussels with only one intention, to defend British interests. That made me think about our common interests. Where were Europe’s interests and where were our European objectives, the drive to find solutions to overcome this crisis? Last week’s Council talks and decisions in the national debates that followed have revealed a number of fears that appear to be underpinning the approach of certain member states to EU governance. What are we actually afraid of losing by saving Europe?

The decision announced over the weekend did not represent any big surprise. Most of the measures were talked about or leaked or were consistent with events at European level, notably the so-called “European semester” based on enhanced Articles 121 and 148 of the treaty and many of the steps that have been implemented already, a number below the radar. It is very consistent with the German Government’s demands, expressed as early as May last year in a speech by Chancellor Merkel. The German Administration has kept its view consistently ever since, and the decision at the weekend is just the formalisation of this proposal. Some commentators call this deal a “super-Maastricht”. It is about monitoring countries more closely, enforcing fiscal consolidation more pre-emptively rather than waiting for a country to be in serious trouble before acting, and providing more credible enforcement mechanisms.

The idea of a “monetary Schengen” was actually proposed for the first time in 1995 by Stark, then Secretary of State, to complement the Maastricht treaty for the countries joining the euro. This is a provision of the Lisbon treaty, which took almost a decade to come about. It allows a group of countries to make advances on European integration. This is a provision that has provided the legal basis for the Schengen agreement, signed in 1985 between five of the ten members of the European Economic Community. The Schengen agreement now includes 25 countries and has been included in the European treaty. Another option would be to go for an intergovernmental agreement, a weak form of internal treaty. This would be another way to avoid the full change of the treaty that requires the approval of the 27 member states of the EU.

I welcome the news that the President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, plans to hold a summit at the end of January, although he says it is to discuss the text of an intergovernmental treaty designed to boost economic growth in the eurozone. I note, however, the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic and Hungary said as soon as yesterday that they would not join any treaty that includes tax harmonisation, a stance we would endorse. The Prime Ministers of Denmark and Sweden have said they must consult with their national parliaments. We are still in a period of flux when we hoped to be settled. I will wait to see the wording of the compact before I make any decision about the need for referendum. This House will have a role in scrutinising the wording, because this House has a role in scrutiny.

I want to note during this debate that a huge challenge for the EU today is the lack of confidence felt by its citizens, not just the markets. Restored consumer and investor confidence are essential for private and public-sector demand. To promote growth, Europe must break free of the austerity-growth deadlock. Job creation policies, especially for young people, must be the top political priority. Growth will only return if competitiveness and innovation can improve. SMEs and entrepreneurship, as well as social entrepreneurship and social innovation, for me, are the key drivers for a sustainable Europe.

Earlier this week the European Economic and Social Committee, of which I was a member for 12 years, held a conference on entrepreneurship. I was interested that in its findings; it called for the active support of the EU’s 20 million SMEs and for entrepreneurship in general. Its report said fewer than 10% of the 20 million businesses currently exploit the potential of the EU market. I wonder what the figure is for Ireland; we could perhaps exploit the market more. The president of the employer’s group in the European Economic and Social Committee, Mr. Henri Malosse, noted that with an extra 10% growth in the SME sector’s exploitation of this market, growth for the EU would increase by 1%.

I am disappointed there is not greater clarity. I will await the details of the compact but I am encouraged to see the active role Ireland is playing at an EU level. The Seanad has a role to play in scrutiny and in supporting Ireland’s role in the EU.