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Neasa Hourigan says efforts to push CETA deal through are 'extraordinary' and 'cynical'

Hourigan told TheJournal.ie that the current environment in the Green Party is “unpleasant”.

Green Party Finance Spokesperson Neasa Hourigan and party leader Eamon Ryan speaking at the launch of the Green Party manifesto in Dublin in January 2020.
Green Party Finance Spokesperson Neasa Hourigan and party leader Eamon Ryan speaking at the launch of the Green Party manifesto in Dublin in January 2020.
Image: Sam Boal//RollingNews.ie

GREEN PARTY TD Neasa Hourigan has said efforts to push through government approval of outstanding elements of the controversial EU-Canada CETA trade agreement are “extraordinary” and “cynical”.

A vote on the deal was due to take place in the Dáil yesterday but was postponed until next month after a number of TDs raised concerns about it.

A split in the Green Party has emerged over the deal with Hourigan and her colleague Patrick Costello both saying they won’t back the full ratification of the trade deal.

Hourigan told TheJournal.ie the current environment in the party is “unpleasant”.

“A senior staff member told the parliamentary party that my position on CETA was delusional this week. So it is quite an aggressive and unpleasant work environment.”

Hourigan, the party’s finance spokesperson, said this kind of commentary is “not helpful” and “not respectful”.

Most of the provisions in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which will remove the vast majority of trade barriers between Canada and the European Union, are already in operation.

Once ratified, CETA will, among other things, allow corporations to sue the Irish State through a new ‘Investor Court System’ over regulatory decisions that negatively impact their profits.

Concerns have been raised about the impact this could have on implementing legislation in areas such as climate change, health and housing.

Hourigan said there is “absolutely no time pressure” for Ireland to ratify the deal and we should wait to see the outcomes of debates in other European countries.

“It’s an extraordinary position to take, considering there’s absolutely no time pressure on the CETA decision. There’s a constitutional challenge in Germany. Cyprus has challenged it also, and the Dutch Greens have recently blocked it.

“It seems a strange decision to try and push this through in the way that they have, particularly since we did discuss it during the government negotiations and it doesn’t appear in the Programme for Government.”

The government says the deal — which came into force on a provisional basis in 2017 pending full ratification by member states — gives Irish and European producers, manufacturers and exporters unprecedented access to the Canadian market.

The deal has been ratified by 14 EU member states so far but countries such as Germany and Italy are yet to do so.

The agreement has been met with stiff opposition here from environmental campaigners, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and opposition parties.

Ratifying CETA does not appear in the Programme for Government (PfG) but the document does commit to supporting “new and existing EU trade deals”, as some in government have pointed out this week.

Hourigan, who helped negotiate the PfG, said many of the trade elements of the deal are already in place, and she and others worked hard to make sure the CETA deal was not specifically named in the programme.

“Most of the CETA deal is already in place. And so the implementation of the Investment Court System has absolutely no impact on whether we have access to those markets or not.”

‘No concerns raised’

However, Hourigan’s party colleague Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman told TheJournal.ie that an upcoming vote on CETA was flagged within the parliamentary party in early November. 

“In two briefing notes it was noted that the issue around CETA was coming up and the week before Cabinet it was verbally raised at our parliamentary party meeting, and at no stage from 6 November up until last Thursday, when it was suddenly raised, was this raised by any member of the parliamentary party,” said O’Gorman. 

“I think there’s a narrative out there that this was sprung on the parliamentary party, that’s not correct. 

“When members of the parliamentary party did raise concerns that they felt this was being decided too quickly, at advisor level we reached out to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and indicated there were some concerns,” said O’Gorman. 

“We got many things into the Programme for Government, stopping CETA wasn’t one of those.”

The Greens’ parlimentary party was told last month the party understood “that there is no risk that the ICS (Investor Court System — the controversial dispute settlement process) could overrule Irish courts or overturn any legislation passed by the Oireachtas”.

However, Hourigan said she wasn’t aware that a vote on the motion would take place until last Friday.

“The fact remains that this is directly contrary to Green Party policy and not in the programme for government,” she said.

Party u-turn

Hourigan said she has asked party leader Eamon Ryan and others in Cabinet why they backed a Dáil vote on the deal. At the time of publication, she had not received a response.

“I asked why it was being rushed through the week before Christmas with a 55-minute debate and I got no answer.”

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Ryan met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Monday evening to discuss the vote.

Afterwards a spokesperson said the leaders met and “reiterated their support for ratification”.

“However, they agreed to reschedule it for January as this will allow for a longer and more considered debate.”

Ryan previously campaigned against CETA, prior to entering government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

At its National Convention in 2016 the Green Party passed a motion, proposed by the Brussels Greens, which stated the party “believes that the practice of granting investors exclusive rights outside of the normal courts system to sue countries for changes in legislation that impact profits is an affront to democracy”.

The motion went on to state that the party would “work for the rejection of CETA by Ireland and the European Parliament“.

Hourigan said party leadership “are entitled to discuss with our coalition partners, as they see fit, make agreements as they see fit” but “ultimately the party though has a very clear policy on this issue and a very clear history of activism on this issue”.

“There isn’t a mechanism to unilaterally overturn that, we would require a special convention to do that.”

‘Incredibly cynical’

Hourigan said efforts by some members of government, including some of her colleagues in the Green Party, to link ratify the deal with a post-Brexit recovery are “incredibly cynical”.

“No matter what we do in the next few months with CETA, it has a long road to go because all the countries have to ratify it before that aspect [the court system] kicks into place. And that will take some time.

“Linking it somehow to recovery from Brexit is incredibly cynical, it has nothing to do with Brexit. It doesn’t open any new markets to us, 80% of CETA is already in place.

“So to use that fear to push something through without proper oversight and without hearing the domestic debates in other countries is extraordinary.”

With reporting by Cónal Thomas 

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Órla Ryan

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