Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 Feb 2017

Vol. 940 No. 1

Other Questions

Brexit Issues

James Browne


26. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the specific steps he is taking with the EU, the UK Government, the National Assembly for Wales and the French Government to minimise the economic impact of Brexit on County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8694/17]

I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the specific steps he is taking with the EU, the UK Government, the National Assembly for Wales and the French Government to minimise the economic impact of Brexit on County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important question. Minimising the impact on trade and the economy is a key priority for the Government in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. From our perspective this means, as the Taoiseach stated, that the best possible outcome in the negotiations is the closest possible economic and trading relationship between the European Union and the UK.

Every county in Ireland will be impacted by Brexit, including County Wexford which has significant trade and passenger traffic to the island of Great Britain and to continental Europe. Consequently, the Government's preparation for the forthcoming negotiations has been extensive. Responsibility for the strategic oversight of Brexit rests in the Department of the Taoiseach, and preparations for this next phase are co-ordinated through the dedicated Cabinet committee which the Taoiseach chairs and which has met six times since its formation. Within my Department, a team of experienced senior officials both in Dublin and abroad is preparing intensively for the complex negotiations.

Brexit is an all-of-Government issue and each Minister and Department has an important role to play. To date the Government's approach is to analyse on sector basis rather than county by county. However, as this process advances and in particular as work progresses on a future EU-UK relationship, county level analyses may be required to complement this sectoral work. In this regard, an analysis of County Wexford would be important.

That said, regional issues have fed in to the extensive analytical work undertaken to date, not least under the framework of the all-island civic dialogue process. Fourteen sectoral dialogues have been hosted by Ministers in a range of locations throughout the country. More than 1,100 industry and civic society representatives have participated in the events.

In addition, work by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has identified the maintenance of funding for INTERREG programmes as a priority issue. The Ireland-Wales INTERREG programme, which covers County Wexford among other parts of the country, is one of three EU-funded cross-Border programmes involving Ireland and the UK.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The programme has a total value of almost €100 million over the period 2014 to 2020.

As part of its contingency planning for Brexit, the risks to the cross-Border programmes, which are 85% funded by the EU, were identified by the Department. I am pleased, therefore, that following intensive discussions with the Welsh European Funding Office and the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland, agreement was reached at the end of October on a safeguard clause that has enabled funding agreements to be put in place and letters of offer to issue for these programmes.

The Government's strategy of outreach with EU partners and institutions in advance of the Brexit negotiations has included engagement with the French Government. Shortly after the referendum last year, the Taoiseach welcomed French President, François Hollande to Government Buildings for a bilateral meeting, and I travelled to Paris for discussions with my counterpart, the French foreign Minister, Mr. Ayrault, in December. Today, I welcomed Mr. Ayrault to Iveagh House where we had a further exchange which focused largely on Brexit. Since the referendum, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs has also twice met the French Europe Minister, Harlem Désir. Feedback to date from this comprehensive engagement has been very encouraging.

Maintenance of the common travel area, CTA, arrangements between Ireland and the UK is a priority for the Government. At their meeting in Dublin on 30 January, in which I participated, the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, reaffirmed their joint commitment to maintaining the CTA and to continuing the two Governments' work in this regard. I also discussed the impact of Brexit with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in my meeting with him last Tuesday, 14 February. Contacts are ongoing with the UK Government through our Embassy in London.

As we move towards the negotiation phase, I remain confident that, given the extensive work which has been undertaken to date, Ireland will be prepared and ready to protect and defend the best interests of all of Ireland and Irish citizens.

I appreciate that Brexit will affect the entire nation and we need an all-nation approach to it. However, Wexford effectively is a border county. It will be systemically affected throughout in tourism because most of our tourists are from the UK. In the industry sector, there are exports of concrete products and other fabrication-type products. In the agrifood sector nearly everything is exported to the UK. Rosslare Europort in County Wexford is a port that should be competing with Rotterdam and the top ports in Europe. It is the closest port to France and yet it is being allowed to silt up and the profits are being extracted from it to subvent other areas in the State. It is critical that Wexford is treated in the same way as Border counties. It is a border county with France, Wales and mainland UK, and it needs specific supports.

I acknowledge the importance of County Wexford to the Deputy given that he represents its people in Dáil Éireann. However, I caution against any move to have County Wexford included as a border county. It is essential we continue to advocate strongly on the matter of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland with particular reference to the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Any dilution of that message with specific reference to the Good Friday Agreement and North-South relations would not be the most helpful.

Having said that, I recognise that in the context of the ultimate withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, County Wexford with its port in Rosslare will be pivotal having regard not only to the cross-channel engagement but also the port of Rosslare linking directly to the rest of the European Union through France.

If the landbridge through the UK is lost, there will potentially be customs at the ports going into Wales and then going out again when trying to get to Calais. The ferry going directly from Rosslare to France could become the only and certainly the main access route to mainland Europe. We have already seen a significant increase in ro-ro freight going through Rosslare Europort to the Continent in France. The trucking companies are getting ready for this but the Government does not seem to be getting ready for it. Rosslare Europort is silting up and is not getting the support it needs. We need to take action now. Rosslare Europort is critical, not for Wexford, but for mainland Ireland, to get to mainland Europe and to access the new markets that producers in Wexford and the rest of Ireland are being told to get ready to access.

I agree these are important issues which need to be included in the context of our post-Brexit future. I understand we will need to look at, for example, our capital investment programme. However, the Government is fully prepared for the start of the negotiations which have not yet commenced. In recent weeks there has been increased commentary in the media that the negotiations will commence shortly. It is fair to say that between now and the end of the spring we will see progress in this regard. EU Heads of State and Government will meet shortly after notice under Article 50 is served to adopt the guidelines that will define the framework for the negotiations. The General Affairs Council will then adopt the more detailed negotiating directives and will authorise the opening of negotiations. Our priorities for the negotiations have long since been set out and I am sure the House will have an opportunity to engage on this matter as it progresses.

EU Migration Crisis

Darragh O'Brien


27. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the proposed EU-Libya migration deal; his further views on the conditions in Libya and its ability to provide a secure and safe haven for refugees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8697/17]

As the Minister will know, I have been very critical of the EU-Turkey arrangement and the move towards further third party arrangements between the EU and other countries. With that in mind, I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the proposed EU-Libya migration deal. Does he have concerns about Libya's ability to provide a secure and safe haven for refugees?

Will the Minister tell us if our Government supports this further third-country arrangement with Libya, which has been described by human rights bodies as being in the midst of a human rights crisis?

Since mid-2015, the EU has responded to the migration crisis by adopting a range of measures, including engaging with countries of origin and transit to address the root causes of migration. The focus in recent months has been migration on the central Mediterranean route, with Libya representing the main country of departure.

Most recently, this was the subject of discussions at an informal European Council held in Malta on 3 February 2016 and at the Foreign Affairs Council on 6 February, where comprehensive conclusions were adopted. At the informal European Council meeting, a declaration was issued outlining the European Union’s commitment to assist Libya, including through capacity building. The declaration indicates that priority will be given to supporting the Libyan national coast guard; enhancing operational action on the route; supporting the development of local communities in Libya; ensuring adequate reception capacity and conditions for migrants; supporting the International Organization for Migration, IOM, in stepping up assisted voluntary return activities; and enhancing information campaigns and outreach addressed at migrants in Libya and other countries of origin and transit. Priority will also be given to reducing pressure on Libya’s land border, including through enhanced border management capacity; monitoring of alternative routes and possible diversion of smugglers’ activities; supporting initiatives by member states directly engaged with Libya; and deepening dialogue and co-operation with neighbouring countries.

At the Foreign Affairs Council on 6 February 2017, the EU committed to doing its utmost to assist the stabilisation process in Libya. We reaffirmed the commitment on the part of the European Union to an inclusive political settlement under the framework of the Libyan political agreement and we reaffirmed the support of the European Union to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, UNSMIL, and to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General, Mr. Martin Kobler. The EU is currently implementing a co-operation package worth €120 million, focused on civil society, governance, health, youth, education, migration, security and mediation. The EU has also increased its humanitarian aid worth €10.8 million in 2016.

Is there a proposed EU-Libya migration deal on the table? Are the measures that have been announced by way of the Malta declaration simply measures of stemming the tide or are they real measures of assistance? Médecins sans Frontières has stated:

With their "Malta Declaration" on the Central Mediterranean, the European Council is delusional about just how dangerous the situation in Libya really is ... This declaration is yet more evidence that the EU leaders' only aim is "stemming the flow".

Are we moving towards an arrangement that is a carbon copy of the EU-Turkey arrangement? We are not talking about forcibly sending refugees back in boats to Tripoli and Libya and housing them in camps in Libya. I take it we are not agreeing with that. Once I have clarification on that, it is fine. I have said before that our Government should not be supporting third-country arrangements. At the very least, we should be debating such arrangements in full in the Dáil before assent is given in respect of them.