1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the new Cabinet committee which is overseeing the Government response to Brexit has met. [31698/16]
Vol. 926 No. 2
1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the new Cabinet committee which is overseeing the Government response to Brexit has met. [31698/16]
2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there have been specific steps taken to allow negotiations between Ireland and Britain on Brexit. [32049/16]
3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the status of the invitations, format and schedule for the civic dialogue forum on 2 November 2016. [32051/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on Brexit has met twice to date, on 8 September and 19 October, for an in-depth discussion of the issues arising from the UK decision to leave the European Union. The committee will oversee the overall Government response, including both the economic impact and the negotiations at EU level and with the administrations in London and Belfast. It will continue to meet on a regular basis to deal with Brexit-related issues. Brexit has been a matter of regular and detailed consideration by the Government for some time, both in advance of the UK EU referendum and since. Since 23 June, seven memoranda have been submitted to the Government on the matter.
Most recently, the Government discussed the action taken to date to prepare for Brexit, including, in particular, priority concerns for this country: the economy and trade; the peace process and Northern Ireland; the common travel area; and the future of the European Union. The Government also approved a range of further actions to ensure Ireland would be fully prepared for the difficult negotiations ahead.
There is ongoing close political and official engagement, including with the British Government, Northern Ireland and EU member states and institutions, on issues arising from Brexit.
The Government has engaged in extensive contacts with our EU partners. In the aftermath of the referendum, I have had meetings with the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, in London; the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin; the French President, Francois Hollande, in Dublin and the European Council President, Mr. Donald Tusk, in Dublin. Most recently, on 12 October, I welcomed the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Mr. Michel Barnier, to Government Buildings, where we discussed Brexit in detail. Mr. Barnier, together with senior team members, also had meetings with the Tánaiste, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs and senior officials.
I have also taken the opportunity, on the margins of recent EU summits, to raise our concerns with the President of the European Council, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, and other EU leaders.
Other Ministers, including, of course, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, are continually raising and explaining our concerns to our partners.
The annual summit of Secretaries General with UK permanent secretaries took place in London on 5 and 6 October. This well established annual forum served as a valuable vehicle for discussion and exploration of the implications of Brexit, in addition to providing for consideration of the broad areas of co-operation under the joint work programme.
The Government also continues to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive and the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, including, in particular, through the North-South Ministerial Council, which will meet in Armagh on 18 November.
The invitations to attend the conference on 2 November launching the all-island civic dialogue issued last week. Invitations have been extended to a broad range of civic society groups, trade unions, business groups, non-governmental organisations and representatives from political parties. The event will also be streamed live on the Internet. Further information will be sent to attendees in the coming days.
One of the things about which I am a bit discommoded is that the Government says all the time, "We have to wait to see what the British are doing," or, "We are not sure what the British Government's negotiating position may be." I acknowledge that the Taoiseach was very active during the Brexit campaign and that he has been in contact with our partners within the European Union. However, as I said, what we have to do is get our own house in order. I am concerned that we may restrain ourselves in thinking within the context of what is happening in this State.
Given the age of the State and the length of time for which the parties have been in power, that is a very understandable position to take. Partitionism is writ large among the policy-makers and others within the establishment.
This is an opportunity to think island-wide and not just talk about the matter. We have an opportunity to do something concrete about it for all our sakes, not just in pursuit of Irish unity but also because it is proper to protect and defend all interests across the island of Ireland. This is particularly so because the people of the North voted to remain in the European Union. Those in the North with whom I have been in contact, MLAs, MPs and the MEP Martina Anderson, are all in contact with people who are constitutionally for the Union and are really concerned about the economic and other consequences of the Brexit strategy.
There are also major concerns about the continued provision of EU funding for cross-Border projects. The European Union stopped the funding projects. The British Government has given assurances on funding only for the period up to 2017. As the Taoiseach knows, there are 17 ready-to-go projects in Border counties, worth approximately €120 million. These are issues that need to be raised. Has he raised them within the European Union or with the British Government?
I finally got an answer to a certain question, for which I thank the Taoiseach. The question was on whether there was an agreement between the British and Irish Governments to have British immigration controls at Irish ports and airports. The British Government claims there is such an agreement, while the Taoiseach has said there is not. Has this been an issue for discussion? Is there a putative agreement being discussed at official level that has yet to receive political consideration or approval?
There is an argument for co-operation between all of the parties here on these matters. The Taoiseach may not want to disclose his hand in an open forum like this, but surely, in meetings with the other leaders, he could indicate in detail the substance of the discussions taking place between officials from his office and the British Government. Was this issue covered? There is a complete contradiction between what the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Brokenshire, said and what the Taoiseach has now said.
With regard to the specific dialogue taking place, we urged the Government initially to ensure it embraced all sectors and parts of the island. That is why I was and remain keen to see the invitation list which we still have not received. We actually made a written submission - I do not know whether other parties did so - to the Government and said the scope of the dialogue should be twofold. First, it should be to facilitate an inclusive process of open policy debate and inform the Government's medium-term political and policy response to the British Government's Brexit plans. We said this should form the basis of a Government Green Paper for wider public consultation. Second, we proposed that the authorities should agree on a policy framework that would shape the future strategic direction of the Government. We should set out a practical vision and an implementation plan that could form the basis of a Government White Paper. Does the Taoiseach agree with this approach? He accepts that Irish society as a whole will be affected by Brexit. Therefore, there needs to be an inclusive approach. It must include the education sector, students' representatives, the business sector, the churches, trade unions, farming organisations, people living in rural areas, sports bodies, human rights bodies, victims' groups and the various migrant organisations. I firmly believe we are not focusing enough on the possibilities and the necessity of having an all-island approach. One would be surprised by how welcome such an a process would be within the Unionist community in the North.
My question was on whether specific steps had been taken to allow negotiations between Ireland and Britain on Brexit. As the Taoiseach knows, this is complex enough. In essence, when Article 50 is triggered, there will be a process of exiting the European Union. Mr. Michel Barnier, in representing the European Commission, seems to believe that is the first part. The question of the replacement, or the subsequent relationship between Britain and the European Union, follows after that. In the meantime, there is contact between Dublin and London. There is an urgent need for a genuine framing of the issues pertaining to the British-Irish relationship and the North-South relationship, as it applies to people, goods and services. It is of considerable concern that we are not really much more beyond public statements on all sides, with Brussels and London talking up a hard Brexit. A hard Brexit would have very significant, serious and damaging repercussions for Ireland.
We are facing a deep economic and social threat. I read the reports and analysis of the Department of Finance on sectoral and economic exposure to Brexit. I refer to the effect on the pharmachemical and traditional manufacturing sectors, for example. It is concluded that the impact on the traditional manufacturing sector, SMEs in particular, will be worse felt in rural areas, or outside Dublin. I am not talking about the fall in the value of sterling. This phenomenon is separate from the devaluation of sterling. The impact on jobs will be particularly severe outside Dublin, particularly for SMEs. It is extremely serious, which is why I believe provision, even a contingency provision, should have been made for Brexit in the budget. In every budget from now on there should be contingency funding put aside in order that we would have some resources and reserves in place. It would be the cautious and wise thing to do and I am surprised it was not done in the budget for next year.
The Department of Finance's analysis which has been available to the Government for quite some time is downbeat about what will happen if there is a hard Brexit. We could be doing more to support our footprint overseas in order to create more markets and diversify market strengths in areas outside Britain. Our embassies should be strengthened and we should consider where we can open additional offices for Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. We are very stretched across the entire process. When Britain leaves the European Union, our membership will be much different and that means a different diplomatic focus. It means that we will have to consider new alliances and develop stronger relationships with other countries across the European Union. Our diplomatic footprint, therefore, needs to be strengthened.
I welcome the civic dialogue forum. I suggested it when the group of party leaders met originally. It should be a listening exercise. We should listen as much as possible, as opposed to having a series of set-piece speeches. We can all make speeches, but it would be very useful if we were to listen to what community and business groups, employers, etc., had to say and their concerns and potential solutions, North and South. We could also hear about the cross-Border economic piece.
Will the number of meetings in the North-South structures increase? The First Minister, Ms Arlene Foster, said Brexit would be discussed only through the existing North-South structures. One would imagine, therefore, that there would have to be more North-South Ministerial Council meetings.
Will there be an increase in the number of these meetings? Has the Taoiseach established a dedicated group to work purely on the North-South dimension of the Brexit negotiations?
I am sorry, but the Taoiseach has just a minute left to respond because we must keep to the allocated time.
First, the civic forum, from the political point of view, should be a listening exercise. It is not about grandstanding by political parties across the entire island. That is why, in an all-island sense, people will have their opportunities to come along and say their piece. However, it is not just a one-day event. There will be a follow-through with sectoral areas both North and South so that we get that true voice to which Deputy Martin referred.
Traditional manufacturing and small and medium enterprises here are a real focus of where the Government must be. To that extent, the budget contained a number of measures in respect of Enterprise Ireland, extra staff, extra facilities and a capacity to consider where new markets can apply because that is what will have to happen here. There are programmes, as the Deputy is aware, such as the Lean programmes, market diversification, innovation and management development and so on, and there are so many very bright young people who are well able to make a break into new markets for different products and firms here. Clearly, this is a major priority for Government, our citizens, our economy, our jobs and our links with Northern Ireland, the UK and beyond to Europe.
Deputy Martin is quite right that while the challenges ahead are unknown, at least if we knew at this stage what Britain's ask will be, we could focus on that. It seems as if the Prime Minister has made it clear that the UK does not seek any kind of Norwegian system or a Swiss system, but a bespoke British requirement. In the update she gave to the other leaders at the European Council meeting, she said she would like to see the exit process be professional and well managed and said that would be of benefit to both Europe and to Britain. Obviously, there will be discussions and negotiation about that. I will arrange for a briefing for Deputies Martin and Adams and anybody else by the senior officials here, who will give the Deputies the details of what they have been discussing with permanent secretaries across the water. They cannot get into too much detail because the Government has not made its decision. As the weeks go on, arising from the civic dialogue and the North-South Ministerial Council, we will have a wealth of information on which we can begin to focus. However, really and truly, until the Prime Minister moves and triggers Article 50, we will not be in a position to say what the definitive position is of the British Government. President Juncker, President Tusk and everybody else have made it clear that there will not be any formal negotiation until that happens. Michel Barnier will be around to everybody in the meantime. The Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, has been meeting all his counterparts. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, has the same requirement as all Ministers at a European level to make direct contact so that people understand in the first instance from a European perspective the importance of the peace process, the connections between Ireland and Britain and so on. I will see that Deputies Martin and Adams are briefed at the-----
All party leaders would be good.
That is what the Taoiseach said: "anybody else."
Of course Deputy Ryan is also fully entitled to a briefing on the issues that have been discussed at permanent secretary level so that the range can be there for everybody to see. Gabh mo leithscéal, Deputy Ryan.
5. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when the next meeting is to take place. [31825/16]
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action that have been held in 2016. [32052/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 6 together.
The Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action was reconstituted in June and held its first meeting in July. It met again yesterday, 25 October.
This committee plays a central role in ensuring a whole-of-Government approach to addressing climate change and the development of critical infrastructure.
I thank the Taoiseach for accepting a delegation of the environmental movement yesterday - Trócaire, Environmental Pillar, the Jesuits, Friends of the Earth and the Climate Gathering - and allowing it to make a presentation last night on the national dialogue on climate change. I hope I am not speaking out of class here, but the Taoiseach's comments in that meeting in which he recognised that we need to create a national movement were exactly right. If we are to achieve the scale of change to which we are due to sign up later this week - I hope, on Thursday - regarding the Paris Agreement, the scale of the change we need to make is so immense that we really need first and foremost to get our people to understand and get behind it. We need to do this as set out in the partnership document for Government by engaging in a completely different way with the people by putting the question to them as to how they can help and get involved.
Further to that meeting last night, there was one item that was not discussed, which I want to have the chance to reiterate. It is very important, and I would be interested to hear the Taoiseach's views on it. I refer to the carrying out of what is set out in the programme for Government document when it states that part of this dialogue must involve the media not just reporting on the events, but also using new, innovative, online and other creative techniques to be part of the debate so that they too start to get a different and better understanding as to how the story we will tell to create this national movement for action on climate change will take place. I am interested to hear the Taoiseach's views as to whether he thinks it makes sense to engage not just as a reporter, but also as a participant in a way, in the variety of different dialogues I believe need to take place as part of a national climate dialogue.
I think the understanding coming from the environmental movement that presented last night is that it needs a special steering group at the centre of government, not just one involving Government, but also possibly the NESC secretariat, the climate expert group and the people involved in the national planning framework and in the review of the capital plan. Does the Taoiseach agree that such an approach, which does not rely on just one Department that may not have the resources either in budget or staff terms to manage the scale of the dialogue we need to take place, is needed? I am interested to hear his thoughts, further to the presentations made last night, as to how such an organisational structure needs to be got right first, with a view to living out - which is a good articulation in the programme for a partnership Government - how a different sort of national conversation needs to take place on these sorts of critical long-term strategic issues for the State.
Before last Christmas, the UN panel of climate change experts concluded that humankind is to blame for global warming and warned that the planet will see increasingly extreme weather as events unfold, unless governments take strong action. In its report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world is ill-prepared for the risks arising from a changing climate. It also warned that many states could expect more frequent storms and flooding. That certainly has been the experience here. We are all very familiar with what happened particularly in the Shannon river catchment area, where homes were totally destroyed by floodwaters. The same thing happened in my constituency, in Louth, particularly in Dundalk. I have maintained contact with the families involved since, and they face a winter filled with dread. They are angry, they are concerned and they tell me that flood defences have not been constructed and that their homes and businesses have no more protection now than they had last year. I therefore ask the Taoiseach to outline the Government's proposal for this coming winter and winter 2017 and whether local authorities have been allocated additional interim funding to undertake preventative work until the CFRAM flood defences are complete. Many of these will not be complete - in fact, to my knowledge, very few of them will be complete - before mid-summer of next year.
This week the world entered a new era of climate change reality. We are told that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached a symbolic threshold of 400 parts per million across the globe. In this context it is imperative that the Paris Agreement, which commits countries to keeping temperature rises to well below 2° Celsius, enter into force.
The Minister, Deputy Naughten, has said he wants to secure Dáil ratification of the Paris Agreement before the next UN global summit on climate change to be held in November. How confident is the Taoiseach that can be achieved? Is the Government committed to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement?
It is. An additional €5.14 billion was announced in the summer economic statement to deal with transport, housing, broadband, health, education and flood defences. Some €4.6 billion will be allocated for capital expenditure next year.
Deputy Adams should have a conversation with the Minister of State, Deputy Canney. He is dealing extensively with the progress being made in respect of flood relief works and flood prevention across the entire country. As the Deputy will be aware, the previous Government put in place the CFRAM study and has allocated a serious amount of money in coming years to deal with Cork, Galway and many other places where flooding has occurred or is likely to occur.
We are also looking at a scheme to deal with the relocation of people from a small number of houses that have been flooded for the past number of years and where it is no longer possible to live. I believe this applied in the 1980s where a number of houses in south Galway were flooded badly because turloughs became blocked or whatever. If the Deputy engages with the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, he can give an update on the progress in respect of each of those.
I again thank Deputy Eamon Ryan for the contributions by the different members of the delegation who appeared before the Cabinet sub-committee yesterday. I found their contributions succinct, accurate, well delivered and very thoughtful. After the delegation left we discussed the question of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment dealing with his mitigation programme which he will launch reasonably soon. We also looked at the question the Deputy raised at the meeting in regard to having a structure to draw in agencies, organisations and individuals to deal with this. One system is the Cabinet sub-committee, itself, but I do not think I would have the opportunity to be available at all times to bring those different groups and organisations together. I will engage with the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to see what he is proposing. Perhaps the Cabinet sub-committee could be a conduit to assist in that work.
In respect of media coverage, the Deputy will be aware of allegations of the Government using the media as a tool for itself in promoting its own cause. There is a delicate balance in having interest from media in explaining to people what they can do in their communities, organisations and homes to build that national understanding the Deputy rightly spoke of. When people involve themselves in some of these activities, small as they may be, they feel they are playing an important part in what is now a global phenomenon.
Clearly, the extent of the diminution of the Arctic ice cap this year is further evidence of climate change on the move. One of the boats that sailed through the Northwest Passage did so in three months. Ten years ago it took the same boat two years to get through; so the change is remarkable.
This is obviously an issue for us. We have got a reasonably good deal from Commissioner Cañete. The challenges here between 2020 and 2030 will be exceptional even given the credits we will be allocated on various issues. We need to return to the matter on a pretty constant basis.
I assure the Deputies that the Ministers and their officials are working really well and strongly from a technical point of view in dealing with Brussels. We cannot get approval for our deal unless we get consent from others and that will not be easy.
The scale of the change we need to make is phenomenal. It was clear from the presentation given to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment yesterday that we are nowhere near doing what we need to do. We will not meet any of our renewables targets. We will be one of only two countries in Europe to fail to meet emissions reduction targets; we are heading in the other direction. There was an acknowledgement at yesterday's committee meeting that we are not even doing the additional measures that would slightly reduce that gap. I asked the officials at the meeting to outline the scale of those additional measures. It would be something like 50,000 additional electric vehicles in the next few years at a time when the existing owners of electric vehicles will say they cannot find a working plug-in station.
When it comes to flood prevention, the scale of change we need to make involves taking hundreds of thousands of acres of Coillte forest land and turning it into a flood protection zone and a carbon sink rather than a lumber forest development, which is viable, or changing completely not just all these big and very expensive engineering measures we are considering along the Shannon and other rivers, but actually considering soft land use measures such as using our bogs in a completely different way, which would also have the advantage of carbon storage.
To win over the people for the scale of the change I believe is necessary if we are serious about implementing the Paris Agreement, we cannot use the old consultation way of coming with top-down solutions. We need to flip it and ask people for help and try to engender the understanding that I hold to be central and true that it is a better economic model when we work with nature. When we go in this low carbon direction, it is the best possible future for our country.
I mentioned the media's involvement because it was referred to in the Government's documents on the nature of this new engagement and consultation process. I cite the example of the commemoration of the centenary of the foundation of the State in 1916 where media partners played a part, not just as being involved as reporters, but also in helping events happen and bringing new online techniques to allow people to engage. As we said last night, this has to be a very big creative process.
It also needs to involve the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Agriculture, Food and the Marine and others as well as the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I agree that one might think that the Cabinet sub-committee is an obvious place. However, I suggest that it might be a sub-committee to that committee. If the process is important in how people are engaged, it has to start with some sort of steering group that also brings in some outside people who would not typically be at a Cabinet sub-committee. By all means it can report to that Cabinet sub-committee, but it should be set up as a separate entity to do that. It should be given an adequate budget and real freedom to be innovative and creative to win our people over to the sense that we will have a better future with lower carbon.
Of course, I will communicate with the Minister of State, Deputy Canney. However, I met the people in Cloonlara, County Clare, last year and that village does not have defences in place. Teachta Quinlivan just reminded me that the banks of the Shannon in Limerick city got two rows of breeze blocks. Homes in Mount Hamilton in Dundalk were destroyed. I met representatives of the local authority this week and was advised that no defences will be put in place this year. The residents are living in dread, as are people living along the Flurry River in Ballymascanlon. The Taoiseach was there and saw the damage and the corrosive, awful debilitating stress caused by the floods.
I ask the Taoiseach to confirm if local authorities have been allocated additional interim funding to undertake preventative work until CFRAM flood defences are complete, which will not happen before impending flooding this year.
I will consider Deputy Eamon Ryan's suggestion that a sub-committee might play a part. We have evidence, obviously, of people wanting to participate in improving the environmental situation here, farmers with carbon footprint in respect of dairy or beef or whatever. It is a case of people being well informed about the small measures they can take to help and of the changes communities and public buildings can make in terms of insulation, solar panels, wind energy, where appropriate, and so on.
Ireland really had four conditions.
The first condition was that our annual compliance targets from 2021 to 2030 be determined using a realistic starting point which would reflect the reality of the end point in 2020, and not based on the assumption that we have reached our minus 20% target. The second condition was an express recognition of our constrained investment capacity over a number of years. Given the state of the economy because of the collapse, it was not possible for Ireland to invest in the way that it should. That included the time that the troika was here and all of that. That meant that we could not meet our 2020 targets. The third condition was an express recognition of the low-mitigation potential of agriculture, which constitutes 40% of Ireland's non-emissions trading system emissions. We have a profile that is very similar to New Zealand's. Very few other countries have that kind of profile. Another condition is to be allowed to use the net afforestation for land use, land-use change, and forestry, LULUCF credits, which constitutes about 10% of annual emissions. It is important to note that that estimate for our forestation was based on the rules of directive 529, which apply up to 2020. These are areas that we are going to have to work very hard on to reach where we want to be between 2021 and 2030. We will have some saving grace starting off if we can start in 2021 instead of 2020.
Deputy Adams referred to flooding in particular locations around the country. Clearly these are physical requirement to be dealt with to try to hold back the force of nature when it happens. As the Deputy knows, when the Corrib, the Lee or the Shannon floods, it is virtually impossible to deal with it unless long-term preparations are made. They have proven to be a success in Clonmel, down in Fermoy and other locations, where despite very heavy rains and strong floods, the defences put in place have succeeded. These are things that have to be analysed. The engineering has to be gotten right. We have to have the resources to go and provide for the defences. Whether it is in small villages or towns, it applies right across the country. Last year, we set up a specific organisation dealing with the Shannon, which is now at chief executive level rather than just participation level. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, met with that group again recently. It has made significant headway on looking at what might be done given the very low level of descent of the Shannon over a very long distance, which is the principal cause of lateral flooding when lakes back up and the capacity is not there to take the water away in the way that people might imagine. These are points that are the focus of the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, at the moment. I suggest that Deputy Adams might have a conversation with him.
8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of the Republic of Cyprus. [32050/16]
I had a meeting last Tuesday in Government Buildings with President Anastasiades of Cyprus during the course of his state visit to Ireland. He updated me on the current political situation in Cyprus and the progress in the talks with the leader of the Turkish community, Mr. Mustafa Akinci. There are hopes for a positive outcome by the end of the year.
I ask this question because there are a lot of similarities, although not exact, between the two countries. We are both island people, we are both partitioned and our nearest neighbours make claims on our sovereignty and so on. As I understand it, Cyprus has a special relationship with the EU. I wonder if the Taoiseach had the opportunity to tease any of that out. In our own situation, we have proposed that a special committee be established under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council to harmonise and maximise all-Ireland co-operation. We have also proposed the establishment of a Border economic development zone to harmonise trade and maximise returns for Border businesses. We have argued for additional investment in the A5 and the Narrow Water Bridge to be matched by the Northern Executive. I am looking to learn from the situation in Cyprus. Was the Taoiseach able to develop any dialogue with the president which would help us as we face into the challenges in the time ahead?
I have had occasion to meet President Anastasiades on many occasions at the EU Council meetings. I know him well. Sometimes the seating arrangements are such that I sit beside him at some of these meetings. I have discussed the question of northern Cyprus with him on many occasions. He is well-acquainted with the situation here in so far as the Border is concerned. We discussed last week what is going to happen in terms of his negotiations with Turkey in respect of northern Cyprus and the kind of situation that will arise in terms of borders, cross-border activity, movement of people and so on. Clearly, he has made good progress with his counterparts. They are hopeful that, after very many years, the situation in Cyprus could be regularised. However, it is too soon to confirm that.
As we are both members of the same political grouping within the European Parliament, I also have occasion to meet him in that regard. He is well aware of the assistance that Europe has been making available to Ireland in our peace process. I discussed that with him as well as the relevance and the value of European support for cross-border communities, particularly fragile communities that are, as the Deputy often points out, coming out of a conflict situation after many years and need to be able to continue in peace. My most recent conversation with him was in Áras an Uachtaráin when he called to see President Higgins and we had a brief discussion there about his hopes for the future discussions that he is having with the Turkish representatives on finally bringing the long-running divide of Cyprus to a conclusion. There are a number of similarities. He is interested in any progress that Ireland makes and we have an ongoing contact in that regard.
I am trying to think a wee bit outside the box. Is there space for more co-operation between society and Government here with other states such as Cyprus? Perhaps the Government here prefers to deal with the British Government. Is there space to build up co-operation or common cause with people in Scotland or Wales as we face up to the challenges ahead? Has the Government given any consideration to being part of an ad hoc arrangement as we face into the future?
Does the Deputy mean with Wales and Scotland?
I mean with Wales, Scotland, Cyprus or other European states as well.
As the Deputy knows, we have the British-Irish Council that meets on a six-monthly basis. It includes Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and so on. That is a useful forum for discussing some things. One of the issues that was raised at the last meeting was the fact that some of the islands' allegiance is not to Downing Street or the European Parliament, but to the crown. If one proceeds down that line, what is the right of any of the Channel Islands if they do not agree with an arrangement? I am not sure that there is either a constitutional or legal response to that. It is a useful forum and it is going to meet again fairly soon. As Brexit begins to proceed it will become a source of even more focus from all of those states. It is attended by the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, the First Minister from Scotland, the First Minister from Wales, myself and whoever can from the British Government. It gives that sort of north, south, east and west engagement at a political level. I find it to be a useful forum. If it was necessary, it could meet once a quarter during this period. That might be possible. It is a matter for the executive to decide whether it would be worthwhile doing that or not. I am all for co-operation. Clearly, Scotland is in a different position to Wales and Wales is in a different position to Northern Ireland in the way they voted on Brexit.
However, it is the totality of the vote that the British Government states is the decision. Given that Brexit is now irreversible we must deal with the consequences of the decision of the electorate. In this sense we are preparing all of these strategies and various contingencies. Until such time as we are clear what it is we must negotiate with the British Government we will get on with our business of looking after our citizens, our economy, our jobs, the issues of credit, new markets for our exporters abroad and greater assistance for Enterprise Ireland, which continues to be a strong advocate for investment in the country. Yesterday, the Government approved a process of competing for the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency to be located in Ireland. We have as good a chance as anybody else. These things are all there to be won, because they will make decisions to move and they want to know to where they will move. This collaboration is always important and we will continue it.