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.