Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned of a "chilling effect" should Ireland be viewed as a country in which "the political consensus in favour of free trade starts to break down."

He said Ireland is a "laggard" on adopting a free trade deal, and failure to ratify it could deter investors.

He made the comment today at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs which is examining the EU-Canada trade deal, known as CETA.

The Tánaiste said he would "ideally" like to see the deal put to a Dáil vote "before the summer recess, but no later than this year".

The CETA deal was due to be voted on in the Dáil last December, however this triggered convulsions within the Green Party which ultimately led to the agreement being considered by Committee.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who has Cabinet responsibility for CETA as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, said today that Ireland should be a European leader on free trade.

He noted that 15 EU Member States have already ratified CETA and warned that any failure by Ireland to ratify it also could deter investors.

"The potential for Ireland is considerable", and we can "benefit the most" from the deal, he said.

This is due in part to cultural and language similarities with Canada.

The benefit of agreeing the deal would be up to €600m a year, which would mean about €200m a year to Revenue. This is "20% of the mental health budget - just to put it into context", he added.

Mr Varadkar defended the inclusion of a new disputes resolution mechanism in the deal.

It will encourage greater investment, he said.

"There are some EU countries, unfortunately, that do not uphold the kind of legal standards of independence of the courts as we do", Mr Varadkar added.

The risk of a case for unfair or inequitable case being taken against Ireland "is minimal to zero", he said.

However, Sinn Féin's Mairead Farrell objected to companies having access to a court "that ordinary people do not" and called for a risk assessment to be carried out.

The Tánaiste also told today's Oireachtas Committee meeting that the EU-Canada trade deal was not being rushed through.

CETA was eight years in negotiation and was agreed in 2016, he said.

"You get one shot at allaying concerns", Leo Varadkar added, and Ireland has already availed of those processes.

"I don't think we can go back again", he told the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs.

Mr Varadkar said it will be one of the most scrutinised treaties when it eventually comes to a vote.

"I do hope the members will allow the Dáil to have a democratic vote on this", he said.

Mr Varadkar also said the trade deal's dispute mechanism deal does not disadvantage SMEs.

CETA includes some elements which may "make it less costly" for SMEs than relying solely on national courts, he said.

He was responding to concerns raised by Senator Alice Mary Higgins.

The hearings continue.