Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when a decision will be made on the appointment of Ireland’s next EU Commissioner. [7998/19] I put this question about the appointment of our next EU Commissioner earlier to the Taoiseach and he referred it to the Tánaiste. We heard that the current Commissioner, our former colleague, Mr. Hogan, has indicated that he is positively disposed to another five-year term, as of course he would be. What about the role of this House in the appointment? For example, is it a matter for the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil in this type of coalition Government or is it such a fundamental choice, for example, in agriculture or financial matters, in the post-Brexit era, that this House should be intimately involved?
Brexit is the overarching issue but we must also remember the European Union’s responsibility for the incredible mess that we are in now. It was the European Union which insisted on separate negotiations for the withdrawal, or divorce treaty, and the future relationship. In any divorce, the basic premise is that the future relationship will be at the forefront, but that is not what happened here, which people have often likened to The Eagles song “Hotel California” because “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. How the EU organised this is part of the problem, which is not only the responsibility of the horrendous Tory party and its crazy ideas, as my colleagues discussed earlier. We now have only 99 days to go. British Government ministers are buying fridges and are beginning to ramp up toward leaving at the end of March. It is profoundly affecting us. Even the timing of our general election has been affected by it. It is a great mess, but we should remember the European Union’s own responsibility for this.
The Minister told me a few weeks ago that the digital services tax would cost us at least €160 million per year, but the vibes coming from the ECOFIN meeting were very disturbing. Bruno Le Maire, for example, seemed to say we could bring in a digital services tax by the end of the year and then suspend it for two years and Olaf Scholz said something fairly similar. Is the support the Minister has had in Europe crumbling? Will he have to resort to a veto?
When I downloaded the 585 page draft agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU last Wednesday evening in my office, like many others, I turned very quickly to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland on page 302. On first reading, the protocol seemed to satisfy Ireland’s core and essential demand that there could not be a return to a hard border in Ireland. The preface to the protocol acknowledged, among other basic realities, the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, the importance of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement and the rights of Irish and EU citizens in Northern Ireland. The commitment to unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK and the UK being committed to protecting and supporting continued North-South and east-west co-operation also seemed to indicate that Michel Barnier, the EU 27 and the various UK negotiators had produced a reasonable compromise on avoiding a hard border and arranging the exit of the UK from the EU. On a number of occasions during visits to this House, several Deputies stressed to Mr. Barnier how much we depended on EU solidarity with the Irish Government in this whole endeavour.