Seanad Committee on Brexit will focus on solutions (Opinion, TheJournal.ie)

Opinion piece by Senator Neale Richmond, Chair of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, which appeared on TheJournal.ie on 23 March 2017.

Since 2013, when then Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he intended to hold a referendum to ask the British people whether they should remain in the EU, Ireland has discussed at length the possible negative implications of Brexit. We are well-informed as to the problems; now is the time to focus on solutions. The Government has identified the impact on the economy, Northern Ireland and preserving the Common Travel Area as its priorities in the negotiations.

The Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is a newly established Seanad Committee, tasked with finding possible solutions to the challenges Brexit poses, in order to produce a report that will better inform negotiations. In terms of membership, the Committee represents a wide spectrum of Senators, all with differing opinions and experiences, but we are wholly united in our goal of contributing to trying to make Brexit as positive as possible for Ireland. The varied areas of expertise from which our Members are drawn will facilitate a more considered debate of the possible solutions to the uncertainty and challenges Brexit brings. Constructive, positive input from the Upper House can and will now play an important role in laying the groundwork for a solutions-based approach to the negotiations.

As Chairman of the Seanad Special Select Committee, I will ensure that we will not spend our months analysing the problems Brexit poses. Valuable work has already been done by numerous Joint Oireachtas Committees, who continue to produce reports on the potential impact that Brexit could have on jobs, trade, exports, investment, travel and the movement of people. My Committee will now set about building on that work by holding a series of hearings that will specifically focus on the solutions to the many problems identified.  To do this, we will invite experts and leading Brexit campaigners to come before the Committee.

 The Chairs of those Oireachtas Committees that have produced sectoral reports on Brexit will be invited to address the Seanad in plenary session, in order to facilitate substantial engagement on the recommendations contained within those reports.

The Seanad Special Select Committee will use the reports’ recommendations as the starting point for our work, taking an all-encompassing view of the sectoral issues. Our task is not to analyse once again the challenges posed by Brexit; the writing is on the wall and the UK will soon exit the EU. Our job is to find constructive potential solutions to the problems and work to safeguard Ireland’s strategic interests.

Our Committee will produce a report by the end of June 2017, which will form part of the overall negotiation strategy. This report will be sent to all government departments, all member state governments, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council. In February of this year, I was part of a cross-party delegation that travelled to Brussels for talks with EU Chief Negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier. The report published by the Committee in June will be in response to a direct request for solutions from Mr Barnier and it is the Committee’s hope that the report will further inform negotiations.

As the UK withdraws from the EU, economic opportunities will arise and Ireland must aggressively pursue those opportunities, so while we remain mindful of the risks Brexit poses and will continue to work to mitigate those risks, we also have to look for positives. In particular, we now need to look further East, beyond our traditional Anglo-Saxon markets, and assess the possibilities for Irish exports in the Asian markets and indeed, in other Member States. Ireland's future is tied to Europe, but our relationship with the UK will always be vital. Ireland has an economic, historical,   political,   social   and   cultural relationship with  the  UK  unlike  any  other  Member  State  of  the  EU; a relationship which literally spans centuries. 

The Irish and UK economies are highly   inter-dependent, notwithstanding our common access to the wider European Single Market. The Peace Process will undoubtedly be impacted by the UK departure; and the sizeable Irish community in the UK also have concerns about their status once the UK leaves the Union. For these reasons and others, it is vital that we now stop analysing the many challenges Brexit brings and focus instead on what our future relationship with the European Union is going to look like, as well as how we can mitigate the negative effects of the UK departure on the peoples of Ireland and Northern Ireland.