Corporate Tax Avoidance and EU Country By Country Reporting
On the issue of tax, I return to the exchanges from my Leaders’ Question and the Taoiseach’s agreement that there would be a space for voices advocating for tax justice at the high-level EU meeting, rather than just the representatives of the status quo. We had a very good Brexit conference and I would like to see something similar. We are all concerned about Ireland’s reputation and the good name we had in terms of our untied aid. We are trusted in the developing world. So much of that stems from the work of our missionaries over 100 years. Ireland is a country that countries in Africa and other places want to do business with and, therefore, we have a responsibility to be a leader on tax justice here and at EU level. There is a policy process going on at the moment in Brussels to introduce public country by country reporting. I understand we are not opposed to it in principle, but we are not vocal and strong enough in support of it. We need to be more proactive.
Syria & Europe’s weak voice at the UN
When it comes to Syria, language fails to describe what is happening there. I do not think we have the language that could convey the depth of the suffering, devastation and anguish of Syrian people. In a way, it is a war that has nothing to do with the ordinary people of Syria. The way in which it has developed has left ordinary people behind. Many years ago, I too had the opportunity to visit Damascus, which is a very rich, cultural and diverse city. When we think about the history of Syria, it is considered the cradle of civilisation. Again, there is a richness of culture and diversity. When we see what has happened in Syria, it is as though it has been taken over by politics and a power play between a number of forces backing one side or another, whether it is Shi’ite, Sunni or some other force.
There are many powers, such Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, the United States and countries in Europe, that are involved in this civil war. It has come a very long way from that initial very peaceful protest in the name of democracy. It is obvious that there has been no interest in a political solution. A military solution was on the agenda to see who could bomb who out quicker. We think particularly of the trauma endured by children. All the countries involved sit at the United Nations. It raises very serious questions around the efficiency and effectiveness of the UN. Europe is also at the UN. However, it is as though we have now come to accept the unacceptable. I believe that Europe’s voice at the UN must be stronger in its relationships with those countries with whom it has business and diplomatic relations. At the very least, there must be a strong voice for the protection of civilians and combatants, for the respecting of the rules of war, for safe passage, and for free and safe access to all areas for UN staff.
Cuban Relations And Banking
I acknowledge our Government’s opening political dialogue with Cuba. If we have not done so already, Ireland is about to sign the EU-Cuba political dialogue and co-operation agreement. I believe it is positive for both Ireland and Cuba. We have a special relationship with Cuba, its society and its economy. Hopefully, we will have more positive trade relations between the EU and Cuba, including Ireland. EU support is vital in order that the progress made by President Obama and President Raúl Castro, with a major role played by Pope Francis, is not undermined or undone. I believe that the EU’s voice was not strong enough on the banking issues of Cuba.
Catalonia & Lack Of Democracy
I share the concerns of the speaker of the parliament of Catalonia, Ms Carme Forcadell, who was summoned to court this Friday for allegedly disobeying and perverting the course of justice by allowing the pro-independence roadmap to be put to a vote last July. This is a serious undermining of democracy. At EU level, I ask that Ireland express concerns over the prosecution of Ms Forcadell.
Guatemala & The Murder Of Jeremy Barrios Lima
The EU and EU countries that have diplomatic relations with countries that are not respectful of human rights or in which there are human rights abuses should use all avenues in their power to address these issues. I refer in particular to the murder on 12 November last of an environmental and human rights defender, Mr. Jeremy Barrios Lima, in Guatemala City. He had worked with Trócaire’s partner organisation, CALAS. It is a very dangerous environment in these countries to be a human rights defender and to look after and try to protect the indigenous people and their right to land. Some of these land grabs are being carried out by corporations and multi-nationals who have bases in Europe. Europe could be a stronger voice in promoting human rights.