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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 5 Jul 2016

Vol. 916 No. 2

Priority Questions

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Darragh O'Brien


21. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he will take to safeguard Irish trade interests in view of the United Kingdom referendum result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19759/16]

In light of the UK referendum, what steps is the Minister taking to safeguard Irish trade interests? The ESRI and others have published reports warning that there is a potential reduction in trade between the two countries of up to 20%. The UK is a very important trading partner for us but the beginning of our approach has bordered on shambolic. I am very disappointed about the collapse of an all-Ireland forum before it even began and I hope that can be addressed. We are at an early stage but what plans is the Minister putting in place to safeguard Irish trade interests between the two states?

As I said in the House last week during the important discussion on the implications of the outcome of the UK referendum, I believe there is a collective determination across the Government and Opposition benches to meet the challenges and uncertainties of the period ahead. Our work together over the next months and years must serve Irish national interests as we construct a new environment in which to maintain the strongest possible relations with our EU partners and with the United Kingdom, not least in so far as our trading relationships are concerned.

There will be no greater priority for Government than the effective handling of the process following the UK electorate's vote to exit from the European Union.

As to the shape of the negotiations at EU level, both in terms of withdrawal and the UK's future relationship with the EU, this was a matter of some discussion at last week's European Council in Brussels which the Taoiseach attended. In his post-European Council statement to the House today, the Taoiseach made two important points very clear: Article 50 provides a legal framework for the withdrawal negotiations, and the European Council, that is, the EU Heads of State and Government, will direct the process. We await further clarification on this from the British side when the new Prime Minister is in place. The new UK Prime Minister will also have to clarify what kind of future relationship it intends to seek with the EU. The Irish people expect nothing less than a comprehensive, proactive, constructive and calm response to the challenges presented by these circumstances. As a Government, we will use every resource available to us.

The North-South dimension is also critical. At the plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council yesterday, the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive had a detailed discussion on the potential impact of the UK referendum result to leave the EU. To optimise joint planning and engagement on key issues arising following the referendum result, we agreed to take actions in a number of priority areas.

While we continue to rely heavily on a number of traditional markets, Ireland has been working to deepen its market penetration and its market diversification. For example, while growing in volume terms, the percentage of UK exports as a percentage of total global exports has declined over the period 2005 to 2015. This reflects Enterprise Ireland's strategy of supporting clients to win more business in the UK while at the same time diversifying the overall export base through targeting other existing markets and the emerging high growth markets.

I understand why the Minister has given a general response because it is early days. Already, though, there is a threat to our export market as a result of the severe weakening in sterling and I would expect that, through the trade element of the Minister's portfolio, we would assist our exporters. While our dependency on the British market is less than it was 20 years ago, it is still significant, with more than €1.2 billion per week in trade between Ireland and Britain. Has Government or the Minister deployed further resources within the Department and with other Departments to support the many businesses that export into the UK in the short term while this uncertainty is in place? From the perspective of Tourism Ireland, how will the result affect visitor numbers and everything that flows from that?

I agree with the Deputy on the importance of the points at issue. We have been engaged in a review of our personnel and have put into effect something of a redeployment, but this involves much more than the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, has a particular role to play. However, my Department will support Enterprise Ireland's international trade mission, scheduled for the rest of this year, which will include missions to northern Europe, the USA, China, India and other high growth markets. IDA Ireland is liaising directly with its more than 1,200 client companies and potential investors to work with them on the implications of the vote. New opportunities may arise for Ireland in some sectors, many of which already form part of the IDA’s marketing strategy. Our embassies will, of course, continue to support and co-ordinate work on the ground with local market teams. In the period leading up to the referendum, I consulted the export trade council on a number of occasions and, following the result, I have now convened a further meeting of the council, which will shortly bring together Ministries, State agencies and interested parties, including private sector representatives, to co-ordinate our efforts and intensify our work on this important issue.

There may be opportunities for Irish companies post-Brexit and I understand that IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and others, through the Minister's Department and others, will try to seize upon those opportunities. It is not in our interest that the process be allowed to run into the next year or two. I agree that we should not force Britain to submit the Article 50 letter, but there is uncertainty in the markets which means uncertainty for jobs and people's standard of living. I am sure many companies have been in contact with the Minister in the area of agriculture and horticulture, with particular reference to export companies, and it is of grave concern that companies are already looking at cutting back, a mere two weeks after the referendum result. I am glad to hear there is redeployment and that a cross-departmental approach is being taken. Will the Minister keep us updated in this regard?

In the interim period while the negotiation process is being established, our new economic diplomacy strategy, which I launched earlier this year, offers an opportunity to build on the commercial capacity of our embassy network across the world, which supports Irish business and complements the work of the State agencies. In this regard, my Department has launched a pilot programme of commercial attachés and these will be locally hired commercial experts with short-term contracts of between one and three years, depending on the circumstances. We are focusing on placing them in emerging markets where we have opened new embassies and missions and where there is no agency presence, for example, in Brasilia, Bucharest, which also covers Bulgaria, Buenos Aires, which also covers Chile, Jakarta in Indonesia, and Mexico. These will work closely with our State agencies and the work will proceed while we prepare for the vital strategic negotiations on the matter of the UK withdrawal from the European Union.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire


22. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide a report on the meetings he had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, and with the Northern Ireland Executive, on 29 June 2016; if he is concerned that the democratic wishes of persons in Northern Ireland as outlined in the recent European Union membership referendum are not being respected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19797/16]

We all know how damaging Britain leaving the EU will be to Ireland, especially because we may now see a hard Border on the island. Tá a fhios agam go raibh an tAire i mBéal Feirste Dé Céadaoin agus gur chas sé leis an Rúnaí Stáit agus le comh-Airí na Céad-Aireachta. Tá a fhios agam freisin go raibh cruinniú den Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh-Theas ann inné. I know there was a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council and that the Minister was in Belfast on Wednesday for meetings with leaders of the parties and members of the Executive. Can he provide this House with a report on these discussions, particularly on the question of respecting and defending the decision of Northern citizens to stay in the EU?

Last Wednesday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I convened a quarterly review meeting of the Fresh Start and Stormont House agreements. The First and Deputy First Minister represented the Executive, as did the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice. As well as the review meeting, I held separate bilateral meetings with the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, the leader of the Alliance Party, David Ford, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

Naturally, the outcome of the UK referendum on the EU was a key element of each of these meetings. I took the opportunity to assure all those I met of the priority the Government attaches to the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the referendum.

I emphasised the necessity and importance of working together in the best interests of the people on this island. I reiterated the Government's commitment to work in support of stability, reconciliation and prosperity in Northern Ireland. In this regard, the Government will use its influence with our EU partners to seek to persuade them of the need for specific arrangements which protect the key gains of the peace process on this island, a process to which the EU has already made a key contribution.

In addition, I outlined that the common travel area and cross-Border EU funding are key priorities for the Government in the period ahead.

I am very conscious of the deep concerns and anxiety that have arisen for many people across the community in Northern Ireland about the outcome of the referendum. The fact that the majority within Northern Ireland who voted to remain now face their preference being set aside as a result of the overall result across the United Kingdom raises profound and important issues.

In this regard, in my meeting with the Secretary of State, we agreed that the Good Friday Agreement would remain the foundation for the two Governments’ approach to Northern Ireland. The EU referendum result does not by any manner or means alter or diminish the centrality of the Good Friday Agreement or the requirement on both the British and Irish Governments to uphold it. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and succeeding agreements, the Irish Government remains determined that its institutions, values and principles, including the right to be British or Irish or both, will be fully protected.

The people of the North clearly voted to remain in the EU and that democratic vote must be respected. I know that my colleague the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, made it clear to the Minister and the Taoiseach that the Six Counties leaving the EU is not a done deal and should not be considered a forgone conclusion. Seasfaidh Sinn Féin an fód do chearta mhuintir an Tuaiscirt sa cheist seo.

I welcome that the Government, following a call from Sinn Féin, stated its intention to establish a national forum to discuss the impact of the EU referendum. It is unfortunate that the DUP leader, First Minister, Mrs. Arlene Foster, has stated that she does not believe such an important forum is necessary. I believe that, if needs be, the forum should still go ahead without that Unionist representation from the DUP if needs be. Ní dóigh liom gur chóir go mbeadh cead ag an DUP veto a bheith acu. The DUP should not have a veto on that. The Irish Government has a responsibility to think nationally, not only in terms of the Twenty-six Counties but for the island of Ireland. As a co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government has a responsibility, to which the Minister referred, and it must be robust in asserting that. It is not just Sinn Féin or other parties here saying that. A robust, well articulated argument was made by Fintan O'Toole on the serious responsibilities the Irish Government has in upholding the manner in which the people in the North voted.

Will the Minister indicate whether the Government is still committed to a national forum? Will he act on behalf of all citizens to ensure that one part of Ireland does not end up outside the EU while the rest remains inside?

I stress again that the Government acknowledges the unique circumstance that is Northern Ireland and the unique circumstances that exist on the island of Ireland. These will remain our priorities in the context of our relationship with the United Kingdom as it prepares to withdraw from the European Union but, more particularly, our relationship with the European Union in the context of the forthcoming negotiations.

I did acknowledge this result and the majority vote in the context of my engagements with the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, and other political leaders. It is important that all stakeholders and all political leaders are involved in what will be a very exciting challenge, and the Government has a clear plan in place to deal with that.

The contingency framework maps the key issues that will be most important to Ireland in weeks, months and years ahead. We have already published a summary of key actions that will be taken to address the contingencies arising from the decision of the UK. I note the formation today of the European affairs committee and I was pleased to address a meeting of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence in the past two weeks. I note also the establishment of the committee on the Good Friday Agreement, which to my mind will have a specific task of ensuring that the issues on the island of Ireland are fully factored into the negotiated framework and process.

The Government could be more explicit in what it is saying regarding a forum on this matter and in terms of its exact position.

Since the vote, the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, has dismissed the democratic rights and mandate of the people of the North who voted to remain. Her first priority has largely been England's national interests, and the people of the North will always be a poor second. Will the Minister agree that, following the referendum, the Secretary of State has no legitimate claim to represent the best interests of the people in the North or to represent them in negotiations, and that her position is untenable?

In addition, is the Minister concerned that Michael Gove, on the basis of comments he has stood over about the Good Friday Agreement being a capitulation and his statement that the SAS and British Army undercover units should have been allowed to continue with shoot-to-kill policies in the North, represents a threat or potential damage to British-Irish relations and the status of the Good Friday Agreement?

At my meeting with the Secretary of State we agreed that, irrespective of the result or of any utterances that may have taken place in the course of the campaign by any political leader or otherwise, the Good Friday Agreement remains the foundation stone for the two Governments' approach to Northern Ireland. The result of the referendum does not in any way diminish the importance, centrality or legal basis of the Good Friday Agreement or the requirement on the part of both the British Government and the Irish Government to at all times uphold the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. I was there in my capacity as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and succeeding agreements and I wish to impress upon the House that the Irish Government is determined that the institutions, the principles, the letter, the spirit and the values of the Good Friday Agreement remain central to our approach to any negotiations with our EU partners on the future of the island of Ireland.

EU Funding

Darragh O'Brien


23. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the decision of Médecins Sans Frontières to no longer accept funds from European Union member states as a result of their opposition to the European Union-Turkey migration deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19760/16]

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire


24. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is aware that Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, has announced that it will no longer accept funding from the Governments of European Union member states and European Union institutions in opposition to their harmful European migration policies; that this therefore applies to all funding MSF receives from Irish Aid; and if he is aware of the fact that MSF and others working on the front line of this refugee and humanitarian crisis are clearly stating that the policies currently being implemented by the European Union are putting persons in danger and are in direct contradiction with humanitarian principles. [19798/16]

I ask the Minister for his views, and those of the Government, on the EU-Turkey migration deal in light of the fact that Médecins sans Frontières has decided it will no longer accept funds from European member states due to its opposition to the deal. There has been criticism also from Trócaire, Oxfam and others about the operation of the EU-Turkey migration deal. Furthermore, is the Minister satisfied that the money the Government has committed on behalf of the Irish taxpayer towards this deal is not being spent on the strengthening of borders and security but is being spent in the interests of those seeking refuge?

My understanding is that we are grouping two questions together in this reply, Nos. 23 and 24.

That is fine. The Minister can answer it. There can be only one introduction, but I will call both Members for supplementary questions.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 23 and 24 together.

MSF Ireland informed my Department on 15 June that the organisation globally had taken the decision that it would no longer accept European Union or member state funding for its humanitarian programmes. It explained that MSF opposed the EU-Turkey refugee facility agreed by the European Council and believes that EU asylum and migration policies have become increasingly more restrictive and inconsistent with the organisation’s humanitarian principles. While not sharing this analysis, I respect the right of the group to take that decision and I recognise its important, continuing humanitarian role.

MSF is funded mainly by private donations. Its global income amounts to some €1 billion. In recent years, about €50 million of that has been from the European Union and its member states. Through Irish Aid, we have provided a total of €5.6 million in humanitarian funding to MSF since 2013. It had applied for further funding this year and was due to receive some €1.6 million in humanitarian funding for programmes in Africa. In view of its decision not to accept it, this funding will be reprogrammed by Irish Aid.

In regard to Turkey, I believe it appropriate at this point to place on record the deepest sympathy of the Government and the people of Ireland with the victims and families of the appalling terrorist attack on Atatürk Airport in Istanbul on 28 June. We believe that Turkey has a key role to play in tackling the migration crisis and the unprecedented level of humanitarian need caused by the Syrian crisis. The EU and Turkey have engaged deeply on developing joint approaches to the crisis, which have been discussed at meetings of the European Council, most recently in March and June.

The discussions in March were framed by the set of principles agreed at the previous EU meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister on 7 March.

In the interim, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, had advanced work on a potential agreement, to ensure that partners’ concerns were addressed and that the proposed deal was compatible with EU and international law. The June European Council noted that the legislation recently adopted by Turkey on the treatment of Syrians and other nationalities allows for the return of migrants to Turkey in full respect of the provisions of the asylum procedures directive.

The EU has initially agreed to provide a financial package of an additional €3 billion, with the establishment of a refugee facility for Turkey to co-ordinate and streamline actions financed by this package. The facility provides a co-ordination mechanism for actions financed by the EU and member states. It is designed to ensure that the needs of refugees and host communities are addressed effectively and comprehensively. Ireland’s contribution over four years will be just under €23 million, starting with €5 million this year. Ireland is participating in the facility’s steering committee, which meets in Brussels.

The EU is also committed to deciding on further financial assistance for refugees in Turkey. It has also put in place humanitarian aid to assist with the provision for asylum seekers and refugees in neighbouring Greece.

Would the Minister not agree that the decision of Médecins sans Frontières to no longer accept funds underscores a major problem with this arrangement? From the very outset, Fianna Fáil expressed its reservations about the arrangement. I am particularly concerned about the treatment of those who are fleeing war and persecution and the fact that Turkey has been designated a safe country for refugees, even in light of its record on human rights - consider the recent shut down of media and the arrests of journalists. Médecins sans Frontières has argued that the European response - I would agree with it to some degree - has focused on deterrents rather than providing people with assistance and protection they need.

By way of a supplementary question, I ask the Minister to consider the issue of unaccompanied minors as part of this deal, or the issue of Ireland's funding. How sure are we that the funding, pledged by the Minister at the London pledging conference, is actually going to where we want it to go? Is that funding going to strengthen hard borders within Europe to stop migrants, who are being persecuted in Syria and Iraq, from fleeing in to Europe?

While I am speaking on the subject of migration policy, I want to clarify a matter. During statements on migration and the refugee crisis on 28 April, I reacted to remarks made in the House by Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly by making a rather flippant remark about Deputy Wallace's visit to Dunkirk and Calais. I subsequently apologised to Deputy Wallace outside the House but I now wish to apologise formally to Deputy Wallace on the record of the House.

With regard to Deputy O'Brien's points, Turkey remains an essential partner in attempts to manage the current migration crisis. The European Union and Turkey have engaged deeply on developing joint approaches to the migration crisis. I take seriously the Deputy's point and I have conveyed the concerns at the highest level. EU Heads of State and the Government in Turkey reached an agreement at the March European Council. The EU refugee facility for Turkey is a direct follow-on from that agreement and provides the financial support of €3 billion to underpin the deal. Some €2 billion of this funding will be from member state contributions assessed on a GNP basis by the Commission. Ireland's assessed contributions to the facility over a four year period will be almost €23 million, including €5 million this year. I am conscious that these moneys will go solely towards the relief in the form of humanitarian response.

The EU's current policies are shameful, very damaging and dangerous. It is appalling to see the EU pride itself on human rights while systematically pushing people away from its shores and leaving them to suffer in overcrowded camps on Mediterranean islands. The EU-Turkey deal has placed in danger the very concept of refugees and the protection it offers. Tá ceisteanna ann, fiú, faoi bhunús dlíthiúil an pholasaí seo, ach anois tá an Coimisiún ag iarraidh é seo a leathnú amach go 16 tír eile.

For months Médecins sans Frontières has detailed how the EU and third countries deals to expel asylum seekers are having dire humanitarian consequences. As a State we have prided ourselves on our aid role in the world. In that context, will the Minister explain why he and his Department are not listening to the concerns expressed? Why is he not standing up for the human rights for some of the most vulnerable people in the world? These new deals would impose trade and development aid cuts on countries that do not stem migration or facilitate forcible returns while rewarding those countries that do. It disincentivises fair treatment of refugees.

I will say, again, that Médecins sans Frontières is mainly funded by private donations. If it takes a view that it will no longer accept donations, that decision remains one for the charity. With regard to Turkey, it remains an essential partner in the very difficult and challenging attempts to manage the current migration crisis. The European Union and Turkey have engaged deeply on developing joint approaches to the crisis, including the deal agreed in March.

It is fair to point out that there has been a very significant decline in the number of people attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands since the agreement entered into force in March. While the EU-Turkey deal faces a number of challenges, it is clear that both sides understand the importance of working well together and we will continue to do so in our engagement with our EU partners on this issue.

I thank the Minister for his response. However, if one leaves Médecins sans Frontières out of the argument, then perhaps the Minister would consider Trócaire's concerns about this deal and the concerns of other charitable organisations. Trócaire has said that the EU-Turkey plan is not designed in the best interests of refugees and asylum seekers. As already referred to by Deputy Ó Laoghaire, member states are effectively being rewarded for repatriation of people who need our assistance.

What are Ireland's plans to expedite our refugee programme in Ireland? The Minister outlined figures earlier today, figures I had previously sought from the foreign affairs committee. While Ireland is not behind the European average, I believe that the European Union itself should hang its head in shame for the slow response to the human catastrophe happening right on our borders. As the crisis unfolded, there was a feeling within Ireland that we may take up to 5,000 refugees. As outlined by the Minister, we have had tens of Syrian refugees coming here. We should do a lot better and I would like to know what plans there are to expedite the refugee resettlement programme here in Ireland.

The Minister's response misses the point to some extent. This issue is not being raised in the context of the budgetary implications for Médecins sans Frontières. The point is how seriously it demonstrates its concern about this policy and the implications for very vulnerable people who are fleeing war-torn countries. Médecins sans Frontières has said: "Deterrence policies sold to the public as humanitarian solutions have only exacerbated the suffering of people in need. There is nothing remotely humanitarian about these policies." It is disgraceful that rather than maximising the number of people we can welcome and protect, Ireland is supporting the EU in its efforts to maximise the amount of people it can push back into dangerous and volatile situations or back to Turkey which has a very poor record on human rights violations.

Is the Minister aware that it is not only Médecins sans Frontières raising this matter and that 104 NGOs have also signed this statement which condemns these agreements? Some of the NGOs are based in Ireland. Perhaps the Minister will clarify if he has met or if he will meet Médecins sans Frontières or any of these organisations to discuss their concerns.

My officials are available at all times to meet any groups who may request a meeting and I am sure that includes the groups referred to by the Deputy if such a meeting is sought. It is important to remember that a key element of the intensified engagement with Turkey is to assist in alleviating the suffering of those most affected by the migration crisis who are those who have had to flee their homes. The moneys allocated to Turkey will be ring-fenced so that these finances are channelled exclusively to measures to support the refugee crisis.

This includes measures to enhance health services, access to clean water, housing, education resources and other measures. Our response to the migration crisis has to include the long-term solutions that address the root causes of such large scale movements and the EU member state development co-operation programmes continue to have a key role to play in that regard. At the same time, Ireland will continue to reaffirm the principle that decisions on aid allocation and in particular humanitarian assistance should be made on the basis of need and this principle must be retained as Europe responds to the migration and refugee pressures that it continues to face.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Brendan Howlin


25. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade how he envisages his strategy following a British withdrawal from the European Union will involve opposition parties; the formal arrangements he will put in place to facilitate this and to work with political groupings across the European Union including the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the Group of the European People’s Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19758/16]

In light of the scale and importance of the decision just made by the British people in respect of Brexit and its implications for the people of Ireland, what formal arrangements does the Minister intend to put in place to ensure that a co-ordinated response to all the issues he has outlined will be generated in this country using all the linkages of all the parties here across the Continent?

The Government’s clear priority in this context is to maintain the good functioning of the European Union in the current highly uncertain environment and to protect Irish interests, including in relation to Northern Ireland, the common travel area and trade. Our ongoing efforts will continue to involve engagement with a range of stakeholders, including the Oireachtas and its various committees. Most of the committees of the Houses as constituted will have a firm and direct engagement in this regard. The Government circulated an information note to Oireachtas Members in advance of the UK referendum and, on the day of the result, the Taoiseach met with Opposition leaders for a preliminary discussion of its implications. The Taoiseach intends to continue these sessions as the situation evolves. There have been valuable discussions in both Houses of the Oireachtas since the referendum result became known. I look forward to continuing to work with Opposition spokespersons in the time ahead and I greatly value the cross-party exchanges on this critical issue that have taken place to date.

Political engagement at European level is also critically important. When attending meetings in Brussels and elsewhere, Ministers have highlighted our unique political, economic and social ties with the UK and our specific issues of concern. Of course, the European Council, Heads of State and Government will direct the EU-UK negotiations. However, the European Parliament and the Commission will also play important roles. In relation to engagement with the broader political groupings at European level, the Taoiseach, I and Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, in his role as Vice President of the European People's Party, EPP, have taken every opportunity to highlight Irish priority issues to our colleagues within the EPP. I know that Deputies with affiliations to other European groupings have undertaken similar engagements and I thank them for their efforts and urge them to continue with this work.

Through our permanent representation in Brussels, we keep a regular channel open with all Irish Members of the European Parliament, MEPs, to ensure that they are fully briefed on the latest developments. I directed my officials to offer a briefing to Irish MEPs shortly after the referendum result became known and there is an open invitation to Irish MEPs to engage with our permanent representation in Brussels.

I am a bit disconcerted by the Minister’s reply. It is almost as if Brexit is a normal European event. He speaks as if we are doing business as usual, saying he will send out an information note and that he will brief us. That is to miss the point. The idea is how, where there are such significant challenges on so many fronts as set out in the contingency framework document that the Taoiseach presented, we can co-ordinate our response. Deputy Micheál Martin met the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, including five prime ministers last week. I am meeting the socialist group this week but we are not acting in consort in terms of a clear strategy working together. Bluntly, the Minister or the Minister of State briefing their own family group is not what I am talking about. I am talking about a coherent strategy, not going to brief committees as if it was a normal European issue. This is a momentous event that needs a co-ordinated response using all our levers across Europe and I am not hearing that the Minister grasps that point.

I very much regret that Deputy Howlin takes that view. Of course there is an information note. It was an information note on the current crisis and the critical issues involved. I assure the House that there will be full and detailed engagement. I am very pleased that Deputy Howlin was in contact with the socialist group, as I am sure all Members are in contact with their own affiliate groups. I remain fully committed to my engagement with members of the EPP, and have made available our resource in Brussels, who are highly experienced and expert, to brief all the MEPs on any issue at any time and I do so in a spirit of openness and look on this issue in a way that is transparent and constructive. The Taoiseach indicated in the presence of Deputy Howlin at the briefing that he and the entire Government will not only keep the Deputies fully informed but will invite the Deputy's submissions and observations and elicit his help and support for what is a hugely challenging engagement. We look forward to the co-operation of Deputy Howlin and all colleagues over the critical period that lies ahead.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister’s words but since we met on the day of the result, I have heard nothing from the Taoiseach. I did not know he was going to take an initiative on an all-Ireland forum. I had communication from Sinn Féin about that. There is not a coherent, joined-up, national endeavour that seeks to involve us all but we can do that. Will the Minister consider having a much more structured formalised engagement with us all so that we will know day to day what the strategy is, who we should contact and what the objectives are so that it is not the Government briefing the Opposition but putting team Ireland in the field where we can make an impact and convince people of the vital interests of Ireland as the discussions for Brexit unfold?

Contingency planning is challenging because many of the impacts in Ireland depend on the new arrangements that can ultimately be agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Nevertheless, a substantial body of work has already been undertaken across Government to identify the key strategic and operational risks involved. This work is now being not only prioritised, but intensified across all Departments and agencies.

We are not involved.

Several existing structures will be strengthened as necessary. These include the Cabinet committee on EU affairs, the North-South Ministerial Council-----

None of which involve us.

-----the British-Irish Council at official level, the joint Ireland-UK secretaries, the group of secretaries general, the EU senior officials group, the interdepartmental group and the stakeholders group. Only today the Oireachtas agreed the setting up of the European affairs committee, which will have a very important role and I trust that Deputy Howlin’s party will be represented on the European affairs committee. I have already addressed the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on this issue. I undertake to do so again at an opportunity that is convenient to the committee. I mentioned the Good Friday Agreement earlier and I assure the House that I will continue to engage with party spokespersons and have already been in contact with the spokesperson for the Deputy’s party, who is not a Member of this House.

As Deputy Coppinger is not present, Question No. 26 will be replied to with Written Answers.

Question No. 26 replied to with Written Answers.