Ireland and the Negotiations on the UK's Withdrawal from the EU: Statements (Resumed)

I welcome the draft guidelines published by the European Commission last week. These reflect Ireland's position and take on board some additional concerns and issues that have been identified in the Government's document, which is currently under discussion. As I have emphasised over the last year, the positions that are adopted by the UK in negotiations with the EU will be critical to achieving solutions to the issues that are raised on the island of Ireland and indeed between these islands.

Ireland and our EU partners have explicitly prioritised these issues - the Border; the rights of Irish and, therefore, EU citizens in Northern Ireland; the gains of the peace process underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement; and the common travel area - and the UK must do the same. I have also consistently stressed that the responsibility for political leadership in dealing with the challenges that Brexit raises for the island of Ireland is a shared one North and South. While the talks process in Belfast has had to pause during the UK general election campaign, I remain available to engage bilaterally with the parties in the weeks ahead, particularly in respect of the unfolding Brexit negotiations. I look forward to participating in the resumed talks process at Stormont after 8 June to support and facilitate the political parties there to reach agreement on a new power-sharing Executive. I strongly urge all political parties to pursue through a new power-sharing Executive Northern Ireland's fundamental interest in dealing with the challenges posed by the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The importance of this for people's daily lives and for the future prospects in Northern Ireland cannot and must not be understated.

My focus at EU level and that of my Government colleagues will now be on working as part of the EU-27 team to advance our common goals within the complex and dynamic process of negotiation that lies ahead. We have now reached a point where both the EU and the UK have set out their political objectives for the forthcoming Brexit process. There are, of course, some differences of approach, which are inevitably receiving increased exposure against the backdrop of the election campaign in the UK, but I do not believe they are insurmountable. I fully support the phased approach set out in the EU's guidelines, which will see an initial focus on the key withdrawal issues with a view to opening discussions on the future relationship when sufficient progress has been made. This is fully in line with the Government's long-standing approach.

On the question of the rights of citizens, it is fair to say that the political will is clearly there on both the part of the UK and of the EU to provide clarity and legal certainty for the four million citizens concerned. As set out in the comprehensive policy document, I believe that an agreement on the rights of citizens should be wide, ambitious and comprehensive. Full account will also have to be taken of the fact that Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens.

I acknowledge that this will be complicated. However, early agreement on the principle is achievable.

In the context of the UK's financial liabilities, I have consistently stressed that this is not about punishing the UK or issuing a bill for leaving. Naturally, the European Union should expect the UK to honour any financial commitments into which it has already entered.

We have a long and difficult road ahead of us. The European Union has a positive and unified platform on which to advance its interests in the coming negotiations. The Government has established a clear and strategic approach that will enable it to pursue Ireland's goals and objectives as part of the EU team. The European Union has agreed its position, the UK has set out its objectives and the Government has outlined its approach. This is only the beginning of a long and difficult process, one in respect of which the Government is determined that the interests of Ireland and its people will be protected and advanced.

This debate concerns the Government’s Brexit strategy, which was published a few days ago. Brexit is widely acknowledged as the greatest economic threat Ireland has faced in decades. The Taoiseach has said that the negotiations will be the most important in our history as an independent State. Nearly half of exports from Irish-owned firms go to the UK. Representatives from international airlines told us yesterday that without a transition agreement - the future conclusion of which is uncertain - planes in the UK could be grounded from March 2019 onwards. That would in turn ground planes in Ireland because much of our air transport goes through the UK. The Department of Finance and the Central Bank estimate that a hard Brexit, which we are now firmly in the throes of, could reduce trade to the UK by one third and result in 40,000 fewer jobs in Ireland. Brexit threatens jobs in many sectors here, including retail, tourism and manufacturing. It has the potential to wipe out Ireland’s fishery sector and several parts of the agrifood sector.

In his address yesterday, the Taoiseach stated that the Government has been planning for Brexit planning for two years. Almost a year has passed since the Brexit vote. Given that amount of time and the severity of the threat Brexit poses to Ireland, the Government’s new Brexit strategy needed to be comprehensive, ambitious and strategic. It is none of those things. It contains no budgets, targets or timelines. There is nothing tangible in it for the people throughout Ireland who are trying to figure out how they and their companies can prepare for Brexit. It is a document bereft of political leadership, political direction or ambition in respect of how Ireland can and must respond to Brexit. It is a well-written document created by the Civil Service, which is doing what it can in the vacuum created by Fine Gael’s internal political considerations. The first third of the document explains what Brexit is. The second third lays out the Government’s negotiating positions, which are already known. The final third lists already published information and a speech the Taoiseach made in the Mansion House three months ago. The document describes itself in its introduction as a position paper. Irish businesses and farmers need a plan, not a position paper. They need to know that the Government has their back, they need to know how it is going to help them and they need to know when that will happen.

There has been much debate this evening on Northern Ireland and its strategic importance and rightly so. The issue has been addressed by the Government and my colleagues. I will focus on jobs and trade. The Government position paper states that adaptive sectoral Brexit response plans will be developed by all Departments under the direction of the Department of the Taoiseach to mitigate emerging sectoral challenges. It states that work is under way to develop options for improving the level of business planning advice available to SMEs. For Irish businesses trading with the UK, Brexit is not something that is going to be agreed in March 2019, it is already happening and they need support now.

How seriously is the Government taking Brexit in terms of supporting industry and protecting jobs? The numbers tell a very interesting story. The 2017 Action Plan for Jobs tells us that in order to mitigate against the impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU we have allocated additional resources in a number of areas, including an additional €3 million to Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Bord Bia got €1.6 million. That is €4.6 million for three of the most important State agencies helping react and respond to Brexit. In 2016, the Dáil voted through Supplementary Estimates for health care. This was money which no one had anticipated would be spent on health care until the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, said he needed it. Almost €800 million was voted through. The Government allocated 171 times more money to health care than it has to the three agencies tasked mainly with dealing with Brexit and it tells us with a straight face that it is taking Brexit seriously.

Irish companies, farmers and food processors need support now. They need to know how to hedge currency, expand into new markets and create new products and services for those markets. Brexit may result in risks to their supply chains, access to credit, cost of credit, the enforceability of contracts and the rights of employees. They need to know how to address these risks and start planning for them today.

The most recent data strongly suggests that while some Irish companies know what to do, many do not. Last week, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation published a report on how Irish SMEs are reacting to Brexit. One thousand SMEs were surveyed. Fifteen out of every 20 Irish SMEs believe they will be harmed by Brexit. However, only five companies in 20 intend taking action and only three companies in 20 have done so to date. This suggests that half of Irish SMEs believe they will be damaged by Brexit but do not intend to do anything about that. Why is that? Many do not know what to do or they do not know how to do it. For example, even if they know they should be hedging currency, they have no idea how to do so. Some companies do not have the contacts, experience or resources to act. The State needs to tell Irish companies that there is much they can and should do and that the State will help them do it. While companies may need to consider reducing their exposure to Brexit, they might also be able to turn it into an opportunity.

A Wicklow company in the building sector used to trade in the UK and Ireland. It experienced rapid growth and was very successful. After the Brexit referendum, its orders from the UK fell as builders there started to source UK-based products. The company carried out a feasibility study of various EU member states. It discovered that its product fit perfectly into the market in the Netherlands. The company worked with Enterprise Ireland, went to the Netherlands and conducted marketing there. It is now selling its product in the Netherlands. Due to this success, it has revised its growth projections upwards beyond what they would have been if there had been no Brexit.

Companies are sourcing new supply chains and beginning to work with Enterprise Ireland. They are learning how to hedge sterling and are revising their UK pricing strategies. However, many more companies need to take such action.

I recently met diplomats from several EU member states, a number of whom told me the same thing, namely, that to date there has been little direct trade between Ireland and their countries, they have struggled to get high-level access to Ireland’s State agencies and much of the trade between Ireland and their countries has been facilitated by UK companies. However, their governments and industrial sectors are open for business and looking for trading partners. They want to do business with Ireland. We must use Brexit as the push it seems we need to forge these new alliances.

We must remember that Brexit is not the only material threat to Irish jobs and trade. There is also the erosion of our tax competitiveness. President Macron of France has indicated that he will push for tax harmonisation among eurozone states. The common consolidated corporate tax base, which could wipe billions off Ireland’s corporate tax receipts, was being pushed by the European Commission within 48 hours of last year’s Brexit referendum.

Northern Ireland is moving towards having a corporation tax rate of 12.5% next year. Britain is moving towards a rate of 17% and has signalled that it may move towards a lower one. President Trump has signalled that the United States is going to move towards a rate of 15%. In this ever-changing world Ireland’s exporters - farmers and businesses alike - must be adaptable. Some are, but others need help. The economist Dan O’Brien recently reported on the findings of a new ESRI study of Irish-owned companies. The study showed that of all the exports from Ireland, the percentage from Irish-owned companies was only 13%. It also suggested Irish companies tended to be sold rather than scaled and that the level of innovation capacity was not where it needed to be. Let us do something about that. Brexit is a national challenge which requires a national response. To date, the Government has not provided it and its new Brexit strategy does not pave the way for it. We must be much more ambitious for Irish companies. We must engage directly with them to help them to mitigate the risks and seize opportunities arising from Brexit. We need detailed contingency planning per sector. We must review existing strategic plans, including Food Wise 2025. We must also consider every opportunity to develop an all-island economy. In 1959, the Lemass Government adopted the White Paper on Economic Development led by Dr. T. K. Whitaker. It formed the basis for the first programme of economic expansion. The resulting expansion of trade benefited Ireland for nearly 60 years. While the level of international trade from Ireland grows, we must begin to look further afield than the Anglo-Saxon world. If we do, we will have a chance not only to limit the damage caused by Brexit, but to use its impetus to drive future economic growth to service Ireland for decades to come.

Bogfaimid ar aghaidh anois go dtí Sinn Féin. Labhróidh an Teachta Crowe i ndiaidh an Teachta Cullinane.

Tógfaimid cúig nóiméad an duine.

On 29 March, the British Government triggered Article 50 of the European Union treaty and began the formal process of withdrawal from the Union. Its intention to leave the Single Market and the customs union will have a detrimental impact on Ireland in replacing a hard border on this island. It is clear from the mood music that we are on a path towards a hard Brexit which will have a detrimental impact on the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of the peace process, as well as having devastating consequences for citizens and the economy across Ireland.

It is very welcome that at the last meeting of the European Council it agreed a provision to ensure the North would seamlessly resume full EU status following a successful referendum on Irish unity. That is, however, just the bare minimum of what we need and it was already assumed to be a given when we consider the precedent of German reunification and the Cypriot protocol on reunification. It is an agreed view of the Dáil that what is needed is special status for the North to remain in the European Union, or Brexit will have a profound negative effect on the economy and the people of Ireland. With a stronger, proactive approach the Government could have achieved far more. There is now a huge amount to be done in the forthcoming negotiations. We know that the European Union has shown itself to be flexible in dealing with different forms of integration and relationships for member states and non-member states. Following that logic, it is surely time to secure some flexibility for Ireland.

It is now crunch time. The British Government which, according to itself, has no strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland and little regard for the consequences of the decision for people on this island has triggered Article 50. It has now called a general election to supposedly strengthen its hand in the negotiations. Its plan or wish list for Brexit to date clearly shows that it is ignoring the views of the peoples of Northern Ireland and Scotland. The recent leak from Prime Minister Theresa May’s meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker which appeared in a German newspaper was illuminating. It was reported that during the talks Mrs. May had said she would not agree to pay an exit or divorce bill when leaving the European Union because there was nothing in the EU treaties on that type of settlement. Mr. Juncker reportedly told her that if Britain did not respect its financial obligations, it would not be possible to agree a future trade deal. After the meeting he is reported to have said: “I have the impression sometimes that our British friends... underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face." This is the mood music in the background. According to the report, he was so alarmed that he called the German Chancellor, Mrs. Angela Merkel, the next morning to say Mrs. May was “living in another galaxy” and deluding herself. Later that day Mrs. Merkel said in a speech that some in the British Government had “illusions” about the nature of the talks. Let us cut through all of the delusions; we need to be prepared for tough and difficult negotiations. The Government must act in the national interest and the interests of the whole island, not just this State. It should abide by the terms of the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion passed by the Dáil which calls on the Government to negotiate special status for the North in the European Union.

Sinn Féin has a mandate and a duty to defend the democratic wishes of the cross-community majority who have not consented to leave or be dragged out of the European Union by the British Government. We will not let the British Government use Brexit to unravel the progress made in the past 20 years. We call on the Government to play its part also. It must ensure, at all costs, that an external EU border is not placed on the island of Ireland. The best way to do this is through negotiating special status for the North within the European Union, no more and no less.

Many people in the State are a little surprised that the Government is so ill-prepared for Brexit and has been for some time. I am not surprised, however, because it failed to see why people in Britain had voted for Brexit in the first place. It had failed to even contemplate that it was a possibility and that it could happen. Like on many other issues around the world and especially across Europe, the Government failed to see the impact austerity policies were having on ordinary working people and the part it had played in the eventual Brexit result. Of course, those who were advocating for Brexit were pointing to real problems, but they were not offering real solutions; they were only offering false solutions. Unfortunately, the people of Britain and people in this State now have to deal with the consequences. It is no surprise to me, therefore, that the Minister is ill-prepared.

It is also no surprise to me that the Government has absolutely failed in the case of the North. I cannot for the life of me understand how we have a Government that is not prepared to stand up for the majority in the North who voted to remain in the European Union. Perhaps the Minister might explain that to me. How have the majority in the North who want to remain in the European Union been so badly let down by the Government? They recognise that a hard or any kind of border would be bad for them. How is it that the Minister is not prepared to go to the European Union to argue for the type of arrangement Spain achieved for Gibraltar? How is it that the Minister is not prepared to argue for special status for the North within the European Union? It is because his party has always been partitionist. For his party, Ireland stops at the Border, but for many on the island it includes all of the Thirty-two Counties. The prospect of there being any kind of border will be a disaster for many counties, the entire island, cross-border trade, agriculture and so many other areas, yet the Government seems to be so ill-prepared and, at times, indifferent. It is no surprise to me, however, because the only time I hear the Government representatives talk about the North in the Dáil is when they criticise Sinn Féin. That has been their modus operandi.

I raise the issue of workers' rights which does not receive any real attention when we talk about Brexit, but it is real nonetheless. There is the prospect that a majority Tory Government in facing into Brexit will also want to dismantle many of the rights workers have such as trade union and collective bargaining rights, as well as many of the good conditions achieved for workers in the European Union. We know that many workers' rights in the North are currently much stronger than they are in Britain. For example, they have strong collective bargaining rights in the North, but what will happen after Brexit and what will the protections be? Will a Fine Gael-led Government be interested in any of these issues that will have a real impact on workers? I do not believe it will.

We have to look beyond Brexit and consider the prospect of a majority Tory Government. What impact will that have on the island of Ireland and in the North? We can only surmise that a strong Tory majority combined with Brexit will be an absolute disaster for Ireland.

As somebody from the south east who has engaged with the chamber of commerce and with many exporters and businesspeople, I can tell the Minister that they are concerned about the impact of Brexit on their businesses. They are concerned about exports, trade with Britain and access to markets. In Waterford, as the Minister may know, we have a strong food and meat processing sector. Many of those companies have already suffered because of currency fluctuations. What contingencies is the Government putting in place to support those sectors? We have put a lot of time into building up clusters of industries in different parts of the country. Food is one of the big strengths of the south east, yet it is one of those issues that will be clearly under threat if Brexit happens. When we go under the bonnet of what all of this means for Ireland, these are the issues we need to deal with. I have not seen a scintilla of evidence from the Minister or his Government that they are remotely prepared for any of these issues.

I will finish as I started, by asking if, maybe for the first time in his life, the Minister might recognise that Ireland does not stop at the Border. The Minister might take an active interest in what happens in the North. While a Tory Government in Britain is prepared to stand up for a minority of people in the North, he and his Government stand by and do nothing for the majority, who want to remain part of the European Union, who recognise that a hard Border or any kind of Border is not good, and who see the negative impacts the Tory Government and Brexit will have on them and their families. They receive indifference from the Irish Government. Maybe in his reply the Minister will explain why that is the case.

In a week in which Monsieur Macron became President-elect of France, the Oireachtas is due to receive an unusual visitor tomorrow - another Frenchman, Monsieur Barnier, who is the European Union's and therefore Ireland's principle negotiator in respect of Brexit. In France, Monsieur Macron seems to have slowed the populist march of the ultra right and the ultra left. At this very unsettled period in political history, there is a remarkable degree of similarity between the ultra right and the ultra left in that there is one thing upon which they agree vehemently, namely, that the EU is a bad thing. I do not know why this is so, except perhaps that with populism goes totalitarianism and totalitarianism probably does not like the idea of 28 countries coming together in a loose association with certain rules. Populism-totalitarianism might just prefer one ruler.

Our own home-grown populists, some of whom are sitting in the Chamber tonight, are enthusiastic supporters of Brexit and have been since the debate began last year in the UK, according to everything I have heard. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of jobs North and South that are dependent on a good outcome for Ireland. Never mind the impact of Brexit on agriculture, tourism, or our general prosperity. Our Brexiteers across the Chamber favour, I think, some kind of post-colonial embrace with the UK outside of the EU. That is the only sense I can make of it. I have heard the various statements in the Dáil from time to time by their different spokespeople and must say they do not make a huge amount of sense. Being very populist, they must feel this stance has a lot of popular appeal. Of course, it lines them up side by side with the view of the American President, Mr. Trump.

Returning to Monsieur Barnier and his speech to the Oireachtas tomorrow, I wonder what it bodes for Ireland, and what kind of questions he is going to be asked and ought to answer. Yesterday, the Taoiseach was at pains to say that we are part of the 27 in terms of the negotiating structure, and of course we are. I do not have a problem with that. He said we have been consistent and clear that Ireland will be negotiating from a position of strength as part of the EU team of 27 member states. We need our own special strand, however, for the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland.

We have a model, as I have stated before, in the Belfast Agreement and in the structure of how parts of that agreement were advanced. Monsieur Barnier has implied that our situation will be at the forefront of his priorities. I accept that. He has made it clear in a number of statements and speeches. Ireland has had the framework of the Belfast Agreement accepted in the statements coming from the EU. The question we have to ask him is whether Ireland will be entirely subsumed into the other 27. Will it advance the precise outcomes upon which I think pretty much everybody, with the exception of our Brexiteers, has agreed? We need the common travel area and free movement between the two islands. For a variety of reasons both commercial and political, and in recognition of the Belfast Agreement, we do not want a hard Border.

We have debated all of this on a number of occasions. We do have to beware that the current Government does not land us in a "troika 2" situation, whereby because we sign up with the 27 we lose our autonomy in respect of those specific issues. As the site of the only land border between the UK and the EU and in terms of our historic linkages with the UK, we must beware of letting others negotiate on our behalf. Notwithstanding what I think will be an insistent, genuine concern about the interests of Ireland on the part of the EU negotiations leader, we need more. We should be clear and thoughtful. We want an orderly approach but there is a risk if we will not talk about the future relationship with the UK until we have signed off on the current one. That is what Monsieur Barnier's structure is implying to some degree. In that case, the EU may surrender to that section of opinion in which there is a strong, understandable desire to punish Britain by imposing on it a form of economic isolation.

That is why the constant response of the British Prime Minister has been that no Brexit is better than a hard Brexit. Negotiations are difficult enough if two people genuinely sit down to negotiate, never mind one party and 27 others, of which one has precise interests. We cannot go into negotiations if everyone around the table is likely to be a loser. We have to identify what will be a win in this case for people in the North and in the Republic as well as what can be a win for the UK. This will allow us to emerge from the negotiations with the minimum damage conceivable done to our common futures. If we allow that harsher Brexit vision to gain supremacy, then we will suffer even more economically and we will also suffer more in proportion to any other EU country.

This is the point those who will be speaking to Mr. Barnier tomorrow have to lay on the line: no other country from the 27, not even Gibraltar in the context of its relationship with Spain, has as much at stake as Ireland, North and South. We need to convey that clearly tomorrow.

I am unsure whether the dinner took place last week or beforehand but we saw the leaks last week of one of the most disastrous dinners in diplomatic history. Let us imagine if that happened on "Masterchef". Let us imagine by the end of it people were going for each other with verbal knives as opposed to tasting the soufflés and checking on the soups. What would we think? We saw a debacle in terms of the contact between a high-ranking EU official and the UK Prime Minister. We have to bend our thoughts to how to avoid that. I do not think Mr. Barnier is getting as much as a cup of tea or coffee tomorrow. He is probably getting that in Druid's Glen with the European People's Party. Anyway, I strongly suggest that we should focus collectively on how we get the best deal possible.

Deputy, you are way over time.

Without a doubt this is the most difficult issue that has faced this country for a long period.

Deputy Burton has thrown down the gauntlet with a disgraceful speech in which she attempted to compare the Deputies who stand in the tradition and carry on the tradition of James Connolly and James Larkin with the extreme right supporters of Marine Le Pen in France. Let us deal with some of the slurs thrown our way.

Who has helped to create the social conditions? Who has helped to create the level of discontent and alienation within French society? Unfortunately, these have pushed millions of people into the arms of the extreme right, whose policies we are completely opposed to. Of course, it was the sister party of Deputy Burton's Labour Party, the Parti Socialiste, led by François Hollande. It is the equivalent of the Labour Party and its sister organisation in France. That party stood over a social system. It gave its blessing to and ran a capitalist system that transferred more and more wealth within French society into the hands of the super-rich and the 1% elite at the same time as unemployment among the youth went to all-time high levels and poverty in urban and rural areas reached a level not seen in recent times. Unfortunately, this pushed millions of people in the direction of the extreme right, which posed as an anti-establishment force in that country. There is a clear need to build a strong and powerful radical left within French society. I will deal with the question of its approach towards the European Union and membership of the Union.

There is no doubt that following the victory of the presidential candidate who won last Sunday night, there was a sigh of relief among tens of millions of ordinary people throughout Europe precisely because it was not Le Pen. Deputy Burton has gone beyond that. She has given a political blessing and has underscored her support for the new French President, who is, Deputy Burton maintains, a politician of the centre. If he is a politician of the centre, he is a politician of what Tariq Ali would describe as the extreme centre. What is his programme? He stands for the slashing of 120,000 civil service jobs. He stands for the slashing of corporation tax from 33% down to 25%. He is a strong supporter of what is known in France as labour reform, which might better be described as labour counter-reform, in other words, new measures enacted by law that would allow employers to more easily increase the hours of their workforces, sack and dismiss workers and cut pay and pensions.

Deputy Burton's political ally, Mr. Macron, is not going to do this by means of democratic processes through the French Parliament. He has made it clear that he intends to introduce those policies by Government decree. This is the approach that has made a cropper of Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. The revolutionary traditions of 1968, when workers poured out onto the streets in their millions to defeat this reactionary agenda, can and will, I hope, rise again.

Much has been said of the victory of Mr. Macron on Sunday night but the extent to which fear was a factor has not been sufficiently commented on. Fear of economic uncertainty and xenophobia built the Le Pen vote. However, fear of Le Pen and the far right rallied people behind Macron. It was that rather than an endorsement of his agenda that brought his victory.

The lesson of recent history, to which the Deputy is blind, is that the politics of the extreme centre paved the way for the electoral victories of the extreme right. That is how it happened in the United States. The policies of Barack Obama, which concentrated more and more wealth in the hands of the 1% at the expense of working people and the poor in society, helped to prepare the ground for the extremely unfortunate victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election late last year. The policies of the extreme centre of Macron in France can pave the way for Le Pen in 2022 unless a genuine radical left alternative is built within that society. The mobilisation that can and, I hope, will take place against his so-called labour reform offers such an opportunity, because the candidate of the radical left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, commanded almost 20% of the vote after the first round in France. There is considerable potential there.

What positions should he take on the European Union? Clearly, a candidate does not speak to those discontented millions and win them away from Le Pen by saying that he endorses the European Union and the inequality that has been sanctioned by the European project. A candidate must make it clear that he stands for a break with the current set-up, a completely and utterly different Europe, a Europe for the millions rather than the millionaires.

Unfortunately, the Deputy was not here to hear my reply, but I think her points have been answered comprehensively. I will conclude by making some points about the Government Brexit document.

Reference is made in it to a rainy day fund and to a plan to attract financial investment. Today, a report was issued by the Swiss-based Financial Stability Board which showed that Ireland is now the fourth largest shadow banking hub in the world, behind the United States, the Cayman Islands and Japan. There are €2 trillion worth of non-banking financial assets in this country, which is eight times gross domestic product, and at least a third has little or no oversight, according to official sources. I am not saying that all of the financial investments that the Government plans to win from London is in that category, but much of it is. It is not a recipe for more jobs. It is a recipe for more brass plate operations down at the IFSC.

To have real jobs, we need public sector investment in areas that are crying out for it as well as jobs and service provision such as housing and health. We undermine our ability to organise that investment if €1 billion is put aside in 2019, another €1 billion in 2020 and another €1 billion in 2021. The bulk of that money should be invested now in public sector enterprises. It will pay back the Exchequer because taking people off social welfare makes a saving and workers will be paying taxes, which is also an input. They need to be well paid jobs.

The Public Service Pay Commission reported yesterday. It mentioned Brexit ten times. On page 27 alone, Brexit is mentioned six times. The Government is drawing from that report and other sources and using those examples as a tool for holding down the wages and conditions of workers. We have seen its position regarding the public sector pay negotiations. It wants to retain the unpaid hours, increase pension contributions and maintain a two-tier wage structure. We say the opposite. The FEMPI measures need to be completely unwound. We need to reverse the pay and pension cuts immediately. We need cost of living increases for public sector workers that take into account the hikes in rent and accommodation costs. If these changes cannot be won at the negotiation table, and it is clear from the Government's position that this is the case, the ground needs to be prepared to follow the example of the Dublin Bus and Luas workers and that of the gardaí. If they are not granted at the negotiation table, they need to be won through strong and well organised industrial action.

I respect the democratic mandate of the electorate in Britain, which means Brexit, but Northern Ireland and Scotland did not vote to leave. There are questions around the will and the decision of those electorates when they are still part of the British empire and not in the EU where they voted to remain. It is still incredible that there was such a lack of in-depth discussion or exploration in Britain on the implications of leaving the EU. It became focused on the issue of migration and how much Britain was going to save by not being in the EU, and then there was the huge gamble taken with Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement and the peace and stability that has been achieved. While the Good Friday Agreement is not perfect, there is a generation of Northern Ireland citizens who do not know and have never experienced violence, bomb warnings, bombs going off, murders, abductions or the total destruction of daily life that the Troubles brought.

Our civil servants, the Departments, the ambassadors and various Irish bodies did a tremendous amount of work preparing for a possible vote for Brexit that may or may not have happened and when there was a vote for Brexit, preparing for it although they did not know when Article 50 would be triggered. They are still working in the unknown because we are only at the start of the process which, like all divorces, could be amicable but might also be totally fraught.

There are two issues, namely, safeguarding and not jeopardising what has been achieved through the Good Friday Agreement, and safeguarding Ireland's interests. It is a balancing act. We will be trying to maintain our ties with Britain. Regardless of whether we like it, we have significant economic, political, cultural and historic ties. We hope not to get caught in the crossfire between Britain and the EU, and there is bound to be crossfire.

When we examine the Government's approach, I accept the extent of the political discussions at various levels, Michel Barnier's understanding of Ireland's position - we will hear more of that tomorrow - and what appears from the document to be the Government's confidence that Ireland's specific priorities will play a central role. However, this is not just about Britain leaving the EU. Ireland is central for many reasons. I agree that our diplomats and officials are well experienced and held in good regard. The crux, however, is that the best deal for Ireland may not complement what is the best deal for the EU. The EU will be acting collectively. A majority vote will decide Ireland's relations with Britain and Northern Ireland and, under EU voting rules, it will be difficult to hold onto Ireland's interests and to ensure that they are a priority. It will take formidable negotiating skills and bargaining with the other EU member states. I hope we do not end up doing a Faustus on this and selling our souls. The reality is that if the EU-UK agreement does not suit Ireland, as a member of the EU, Ireland will have to abide by it. We know what happens little fish in big ponds.

We have a wealth of information and papers, etc., but it seems clear that there will be at least four years of negotiations and a year for national ratification. This hinges on the financial settlement becoming a deal, which has implications for the Common Agricultural Policy. The specific issues that I see facing Ireland are our relationship with Northern Ireland; the Border; the common travel area; the protection of the Good Friday Agreement; the protection of Northern Ireland's citizens with Irish passports who are, therefore, EU citizens; Britain's financial commitments to the EU; the shortfall that will exist and how it is addressed; EU agencies currently in Britain and where they will locate; and Irish citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Ireland. We know that the common travel area, which came into being before we joined the EU, is vital for those who commute between Northern Ireland and the Republic for work, education, business, health and personal reasons. The Government papers seem to be aware of a need for transitional arrangements.

Our overdependence on the UK as a trading partner is obvious. We must look for other trading partners. We see the figures relating to that overdependence on the British market that has developed in the extent of the trade in beef, dairy products and cheese, etc. The agrifood sector has already been feeling the consequences with a loss of jobs. I know from my work with AWEPA and having been on the foreign affairs committee that so many countries outside the EU, in Africa and in the Americas want to do business with Ireland. I know, in particular, about our ambassadors in Africa who are working hard on this. We must ensure that we live up to expectations from those countries, that our trading with them will be ethical, that there will be respect for workers' rights and that taxation will be fair, open and transparent.

There are concerns around fishing. Our fishing industry lost out in previous years under the EU and just when there has been some slight improvement, there is a possibility of regression.

There is cause to reopen our embassy in Iran, but there is massive potential across the Atlantic. Given that Mexico is our biggest trading partner in Latin America, there are more opportunities there. This also applies to Cuba. We must look at having other embassies in South America because our embassy in Mexico has such a huge area to cover.

On Britain's foreign policy, it does not cover itself in glory with the extent of its arms selling to various countries. This fuels conflict and conflict fuels poverty, starvation and human rights abuses. There is a major irony here because Britain is a major contributor in terms of overseas development aid. There will be a shortfall but this will be an opportunity for the EU to look at how funding is allocated because there are major issues over the EU migration trust funds.

We need to focus on those areas such as tourism, the single electricity market and education where there is an all-Ireland approach.

I wish to mention drug trafficking and the potential impacts here from drug traffickers to exploit either a soft or a hard border. A huge drug trade already exists between Ireland and Britain. We see it in large scale seizures.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has been very influenced by British expertise in the areas of research and practice in the social and health response surrounding drugs and drug addiction. English is the primary language of communication across Europe, and there could be difficulties in that regard.

The Good Friday Agreement gives special status to Northern Ireland, and this must be protected. At a recent presentation to the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, we examined the implications regarding reconciliation and calls for a detailed study into the potential implications of Brexit for reconciliation. The presentation submitted by a speaker from the University of Ulster stated: "The evidence of divided societies everywhere is that the implications of Brexit for identity and cultural issues may be more significant and potentially dangerous in the long term than the specific economic consequences [because] uncertainty about identity and political issues can rapidly escalate into direct confrontation." We know there are threats to jobs in a number of sectors, so the negotiations must ensure high standards in employment, but there are also opportunities for more employment or alternative employment.

I acknowledge what Mrs. Theresa May said about acknowledging the UK's relationship with the Republic, the importance of the peace process and the desire to avoid a hard Border and that the withdrawal does not harm the Republic or jeopardise the peace process. We have seen the initial EU response as an understanding of Ireland's position, but it will be difficult. Regardless of what is being said, the reality is that when someone leaves a club, they will not have the same benefits as when they were a member, so there is a need for maturity, common sense and goodwill on all sides.

There has been much talk and much worry but also much confusion as to what Brexit will actually mean and how it will impact on people's lives, and the negotiations have not really even started yet. The mists are starting to clear and we are now getting a better idea of what is involved. It seems clear to me at least that this is a marathon and not a sprint, so we need to be ready for the long haul and maintain our stamina so that Ireland keeps its focus until the very end. We now know what the European Union wants out of the negotiations with the publication of the guidelines. I congratulate the Government on its work to gain recognition from our European partners that there are some issues in respect of which Ireland simply is different and unique. We have started well. I am not a critic. I give credit where credit is due and I give credit for that.

We are lucky with the choice of the chief negotiator, who will appear before this House tomorrow. Mr. Barnier is a man of great capability and insight and he starts this process with a great deal of knowledge about Ireland. I led a delegation of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs to Brussels to meet him in February. He was extremely open to engaging with us, to improving his understanding of the situation on the ground and to hearing creative solutions to the challenges. He is our negotiator. He will represent us, so we need to maintain that engagement beyond this week.

A number of committees have met different Ministers and senior civil servants. The committee I chair has met the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, a number of times as well as officials from the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs and Trade. All of them have impressed me by how seriously they are taking this and how diligently they are working on engaging with our partners, as are our MEPs. I compliment our MEPs. I do not care what parties they are from. We met them all when we were in Brussels and, as far as I am concerned, they are working diligently and very well. Be they representatives of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or whatever, they are working very well, and we must respect that work.

It is important for all our sakes that we spend time on the detail and on working to make sure that whatever the result, it is the best it can possibly be across all headings, but particularly for the peace process in Northern Ireland, all Irish citizens living in the United Kingdom, all our businesses, our farmers, be they big or small, and all our citizens who work within those sectors. We will find friends in this. Many member states share many of the concerns we have and we need to keep talking to them so that they understand us and we understand them. We all need to play our part. I try hard to meet at least one ambassador every week, which has been a very useful discipline. These men and women work hard at representing their countries and are willing to share that understanding and their concerns with me and the committee I represent. They are also willing to listen to, and better understand, the issues of Ireland. I started this engagement when I was fortunate enough to become Chairman of the committee. I like to do my work diligently. I set out to meet an ambassador every week because we can engage in an informal way and it is useful to build up a relationship with these people.

I suspect the actual process of the negotiations will be very technical, very boring and very detailed. However, every single line and issue will be important to us, so we need to play our part and remain interested, engaged and focused. We also need to do what we do best, which is to ensure the concerns of the citizens of Ireland and the citizens of our constituencies are brought into consideration. More than ever, we need to start talking about solutions. After this is all over and when the dust settles and we have to move on to a new approach and to a European Union of which the United Kingdom is not a member, we will still have to share an island with the United Kingdom and it will still be our nearest neighbour. We need to keep that in mind as we go through this. That relationship will be very important to us forever. These will be hard negotiations, but we all need to get through them in a friendly and professional manner. They may be hard, but we need not lose any friends over this.

I, too, am glad to be able to speak on this very important topic, which has many conundrums. I am also delighted that Mr. Michel Barnier will be in this Chamber tomorrow and I thank Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, as Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, for meeting him in February and inviting him here. It is very important that he comes here because he is a very important figure in the situation in which we now find ourselves. It is the height of summer but we are on thin ice. It could be two steps forward and one step back.

I supported our accession to the EU all those years ago as a buachaill óg when I was a member of Deputy Breathnach's esteemed organisation. Much has changed since. The ideals of Europe were noble but some of its players, as far as I am concerned, got too big for their boots. This was proved here many a time but most importantly during the bank guarantee and the bailout. When our back was to the wall, the EU did not put out the hand of friendship or throw us the lifebuoy; it put the boot in. I have been very disappointed in some of the leaders of the EU since the British people made a sovereign decision according to their system by democratic vote, and let us face it, they did. I know Northern Ireland and Scotland did not vote to leave but I will address that in a minute. Theresa May has taken everyone by surprise by calling a general election. In the middle of all this, she needs to get her own mandate. However, we are getting side threats, side remarks and snide remarks, such as that the English are not players on the team any more and that by all means we must all gang up against them. That is bad, foolish and wrong. That is not what the EU masters who designed the EU had in mind. It is very important that we have a balanced approach to matters.

I look forward to Mr. Barnier's comments tomorrow and the comments of the party leaders and speakers in response to him, the engagement and the body language. I also look forward to the outcome of the British election and to seeing whether we can get a charted course forward. The issue is just too serious for this country. From agriculture to education to all kinds of exports and imports, we have too much to lose. It has been suggested to me by some people that we should apply to rejoin the Commonwealth. It may be an abhorrent thought but perhaps we should think about it because we have too much to lose, including our nearest neighbours and our exports. There is also the thought of a hard Border between here and Northern Ireland, at Aughnacloy, Belleek, Caledon or anywhere in south Armagh. It would be unthinkable to have a hard Border now because we have motorways going through most of the areas. We also had customs posts in the past. It would be unthinkable that they would come back.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan noted that young people born since the peace process started do not know anything about the Troubles. I salute the architects of the peace process, including the former Minister of State, Dr. Martin Mansergh.

In addition to uncertainty in the North and all over Europe, there is a degree of uncertainty in this country regarding the position of the Taoiseach. Deputy Breathnach showed me a tweet a moment ago which indicated that the Taoiseach had informed his erstwhile friends in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party that they will know what his position is next week. It is a kind of a triple lock and a little like the third secret of Fatima. The 100th anniversary of the visions in Fatima will be celebrated tonight, tomorrow and at the weekend. Will we ever find out when the Taoiseach will step down? I am not criticising the job he has done but he must make up his mind whether he is in or out and whether he will tell his colleagues or keep them guessing. There is too much uncertainty. We need all players on the Government team to pull in one direction, rather than in a Cork, Dublin or Mayo direction. It is a kind of tripod or merry-go-round but the issue is too serious for that.

I am not in Fianna Fáil. I am an Independent.

That depends on which House you are in.

You quoted me high enough last year but we did not buy it.

Members should speak through the Chair.

I am being taunted. I know where I stand, unlike the Members opposite. They do not have the courage to stand up in their party and tell the Taoiseach to either pee or get off the pot because they want someone new, some leadership and direction and to know what is happening.

At least we have a party.

While I do not wish the Taoiseach any ill will, I wish he would make a decision and take a definite position. If he wants to stay, I have no problem with that. If the sheep are back in the pen and will not take him on because the sheepdogs are minding him, he would be right to do so. As I stated, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the visions of Fatima. It is nearly easier to find out the secret of Fatima than it is to find out what is going on in the Fine Gael Party.

I thank Deputy McGrath for sticking to the topic.

I welcome the opportunity to comment on the forthcoming negotiations on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the impact of Brexit, particularly on tourism and sport. On 23 January, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and I hosted an all-island dialogue on the impact of Brexit, particularly on the tourism and hospitality sectors. The feedback from industry participants at the event reaffirmed the Government's analysis on the importance of Brexit for tourism. The Minister and I are committed to an ongoing dialogue with the tourism and hospitality industry as the Brexit negotiations proceed.

For tourism, the priority issues for the Government are preserving the common travel area, avoiding a hard Border on the island and minimising the impact of Brexit on the tourism industry and national and local economies. Notwithstanding the record performance in attracting overseas visitors in 2016, the most recent quarterly visitor numbers from Britain showed a 6% decline. While it is too early to be definitive about this development, it reflects feedback we have been receiving from our industry partners, including hoteliers and visitor attractions which have experienced some softening in visitors and bookings from Britain. We are also seeing the impacts of a difficult underlying trend in the British market. These include a drop in air access to the island of Ireland this summer, with 4% less capacity on cross-channel routes. Since the United Kingdom's referendum on Brexit, the decline in the value of sterling has made holidays and short breaks here more expensive for British visitors. Economic uncertainty is making British travellers more cautious about their discretionary spending, which is impacting on travel to Ireland.

Research commissioned by Tourism Ireland indicates a decline in overseas holiday activity by British consumers in 2017. In addition, the exchange rate movement has increased Britain's competitiveness as a destination. We will continue to closely monitor developments around Brexit to better understand and plan for the implications for travel. Competitiveness and value for money will be more important than ever given the decline in the value of sterling. The maintenance of the 9% VAT rate for tourism services, which was opposed by many parties, including one Opposition party during the most recent budget, and the 0% air travel tax are critical in maintaining Ireland's tourism competitiveness. They are policies I will strive to have maintained and I hope Opposition parties will support us in that endeavour.

The tourism sector has been an important jobs engine in the period since 2011. In that time, according to Central Statistics Office data, the rate of job creation in the sector significantly outperformed the overall rate of creation elsewhere in the economy. Drawing on the alternative approach, an estimate of all jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry based on previous Fáilte Ireland surveys of businesses indicates that total employment in the sector stands at approximately 220,000. This estimate includes an additional category of tourism services and attractions which is not covered by the Central Statistics Office. It is further estimated that every 1,000 additional tourists support 14 jobs in the tourism industry. Unfortunately, negative growth in tourism may be expected to result in tourism enterprises shedding employment at a comparable rate.

The Government's Action Plan for Jobs includes a number of tourism-related actions. Implementing these will mitigate some of the risks arising from Brexit. Accelerating diversification of overseas tourism to Ireland to reduce the impact of a possible decline in visits from Great Britain is vital for the sector. Other actions reflect the higher relative importance of tourism in rural and regional economies, as I am acutely aware as a representative of a rural constituency. These include the implementation of the Ireland's Ancient East brand, the continued development of the Wild Atlantic Way and the introduction of new initiatives such as a partnership between Fáilte Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service which seeks to bring more visitors to our national parks and nature reserves. This initiative was recently complemented by the local authorities.

The response to Brexit must be across the tourism sector, not only from central government and its agencies. To this end, I was pleased to be able to launch the local authority tourism conference recently. I welcome that, for the first time, 31 local authorities now have tourism strategies, statements and work plans in place. This is in line with the aims of the tourism action plan and is a recognition of the importance of tourism for local economies. We must be cautious about the road ahead for the tourism industry given the risks arising from Brexit. The challenging negotiations which will take place in the coming two years will be closely monitored by the Department, its agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, local authorities and all those involved in the hard-working tourism industry. In that regard, I single out those who work at the coalface of the tourism industry. The people working in our hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions and transport services are also at the front of house for Ireland. They are not only ambassadors for their enterprises and sectors but in many ways for the country and their role cannot be overstated.

On sport, the other side of the Department for which I have responsibility, the impact of Brexit is still subject to considerable uncertainty. However, anything that would impair or impede the free movement of sportspersons, their sports equipment and animals, for example, in the case of equestrian events, has the potential to present logistical difficulties that do not exist currently. We will work towards minimising and, if possible, eliminating any such disruption. I am particularly aware of the importance of cross-Border co-operation with Northern Ireland in the area of sport. In that context, it is appropriate to emphasise that 45, or approximately 70%, of our national sports governing bodies operate on an all-Ireland basis. This illustrates the extent of the very welcome co-operation in sport throughout the island.

As Deputies will agree, sport has been a unifying force that helps to bring together the two traditions and eliminate some of the doubt, uncertainty and suspicion among both communities on the island. My officials regularly meet their counterparts in Northern Ireland and engage in extensive and effective dialogue on topics of mutual interest relating to sport. I cite, for example, the valuable ongoing work between the Department and its opposite number in Northern Ireland on preparing the bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023. This event has the potential to be transformative and a power of good for the island. It is being facilitated by both Governments and the unparalleled generosity of the GAA which has made the aspiration of lodging an application to host the event in 2023 a reality. This engagement will continue. By means of these contacts with the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in London, we have an effective mechanism in place to monitor the impact of Brexit on the sporting landscape.

Through bilateral meetings with my opposite number in Westminster, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ms Tracey Crouch, I had the opportunity to discuss some of the issues of concern to us, particularly in the areas of tourism and sport. The hospitality industry has come through a tumultuous period. Many of the measures introduced by the previous Government, including the 9% VAT rate, 0% air travel tax and separation of Shannon Airport, were opposed by the Opposition for naked political reasons. We are now reaping the benefits of these measures.

However, had we not reduced VAT, abolished the travel tax, given Shannon Airport its independence and pursued The Gathering and its associated events, which were lampooned by members of the Opposition for naked political reasons, our tourism industry would not be in its current position. It covers all parts of the island and has the potential to create employment, which is of major importance and has been a driving force for our economic growth following the carnage and wreckage that the Government was left with in 2011.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, our departmental officials and I are acutely aware of the needs in tourism and sport and we are ensuring that every and all opportunities to enunciate these concerns on behalf of the industries and participants involved are taken in the most effective fashion.

My party leader addressed the macro issues of Brexit's impact on the European project and our party spokesperson, Deputy Donnelly, focused on the matter of trade and the difficulties and opportunities therein, so I will focus on the difficulties for the Border from a North-South perspective.

Rudderless leadership and squabbling over cash for ash and the Irish language north of the Border have diminished the ability of this island to ensure that the best Brexit situation on an all-Ireland basis is reached. I hope that, post the 8 June election, the Assembly can start operating and focus on the business that is required of it if it is to share in the burden of finding a solution on a Thirty-two County basis.

While respecting the participation of cross-Border sectoral engagement in the two all-island dialogues, it is my belief that there is a distinct lethargy among departmental officials north of the Border. If we are to have the best outcomes for the island, they need to engage in work that will guarantee the achievement of the unique solutions that Mr. Michel Barnier, Mr. Guy Verhofstadt and the negotiating team have asked the island to find. The old Irish phrase, "Ní neart go cur le chéile", springs to mind in this regard. For Northern Ireland officials, doing the bidding of the British Government's pro-Brexit stance appears to be in conflict with finding a solution that will not set the Border communities back decades through a lack of dialogue or achieve bespoke arrangements that suit the Thirty-two County island. While Northern Ireland has no autonomy on Brexit, I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to outline to the House the discussions that are taking place at departmental level North and South to ensure that the disruption caused by Brexit is kept to a minimum and funding streams are protected and enhanced.

I will focus on a number of issues that, while significant, have received little mention in all of the debate since 23 June. On health co-operation and in conjunction with the subsequent Good Friday Agreement, the Ballyconnell Agreement, which was signed on 10 July 1992, set up an organisation called Co-operation and Working Together, CAWT. It has seen great collaborative work on health projects and EU funding has allowed more than 50,000 people to avail of services that would not otherwise have been provided. How can we guarantee such co-operation in future?

Similarly, we need to focus on issues like energy, tourism, which pertains to the Minister of State who has just left the Chamber, the peace process, our economy and trade. A total of 88% of Ireland's energy needs are met by the UK, with 55% of fuel imports coming from there. Brexit could result in cutting off ties between our respective energy industries, leaving Ireland severely compromised. We should seek as a priority an all-island single electricity market.

Prime Minister Theresa May stated this week that no deal would be better than a bad one. No deal would be catastrophic for us on this island, as it would bring into effect the full extent of tariffs under World Trade Organization, WTO, rules. This week has seen testy exchanges, which has increased worries in Dublin about the upcoming negotiations ending without a deal. No deal means that Ireland's food market in the UK, which supports 150,000 jobs in many sectors, could face tariffs of up to 35%. Under the EU's external trading arrangements with WTO countries, dairy products are subject to an average bound tariff of 35.5%, animal products are subject to an average tariff of 16.9% and clothing products are subject to an average bound tariff of 11.5%. This would be disastrous for us in dealing with the UK, which is our largest trading partner and to which 45.5% of Irish food and animal exports go. More than 80% of products produced by individual firms in the agrifood sector are exported to the UK.

Our Government needs to get real on the prospect of this happening. It should stop believing that this will be a soft Brexit. There is a significant gap in expectations on both sides in these negotiations. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that Britain is not realistic about the negotiations and is more focused on its general election on 8 June.

Ireland's unique position has been alluded to in various discussions. We will need to get clarity - sooner rather than later - on what will happen to our Border with Northern Ireland. We also need to protect the common travel area. However, these are all contentious issues. If Britain leaves the customs union, there will certainly be some form of border control and possibly immigration checks. I have received no answer to this question yet, but has discussion on these issues taken place?

Currently, goods travel from warehouses in the UK to the Republic without a problem. Post Brexit, this will require some level of bureaucracy and duties, resulting in considerable cost increases for those engaging in that activity. Prices will rise significantly for Irish consumers, putting us at a severe competitive disadvantage. Going it alone is not an option for such a small economy. The IDA and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation need to work fast, hire new staff to deal with this crisis and incentivise and attract new entrants to the retail sector from other countries.

With regard to tourism, we need clarity on the Border issue. The Minister of State referred to Ireland's Ancient East. Tourism knows no borders. Where I live, the opportunities presented by the Cooley Mountains, the Gullions and the Mountains of Mourne operating as a single entity to deliver on the £9 million investment in tourism go without saying. However, this initiative is now under threat despite the fact that local authorities on both sides of the Border have made every effort to ensure that non-contentious issues such as tourism and water supply operate seamlessly. Last week, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, stated that he wanted to see the proposed high-speed rail link between Dublin and Belfast operate post Brexit. That was pure lip service, as no costing of that project has been done.

The symbolic Narrow Water bridge needs to be built regardless of Brexit. The project is another important link between the North and the South. It has been in the pipeline for many years, but if we do not act quickly, the planning application on the northern side of the Border will expire. Given that €1.95 million was spent on the project by Louth County Council before it was virtually shelved, it should be re-activated by the Government to ensure there is EU funding. It will help to create a critical mass and linkage in an area that is even more beautiful than the Kerry region.

Protection of the environment is another issue that should not be overlooked. Under EU legislation, a huge range of environmental protections are set out. We need to ensure Northern Ireland will maintain the same level of environmental protection as under current EU standards. There are many common cross-Border issues, including the integrity of freshwater and marine habitats, climate change, air quality and a plethora of other issues.

For Border regions and my county of Louth, at the start Brexit seemed to be all about currency volatility. While there is no escaping the impact of that volatility and businesses manage to adjust somehow, it will inevitably lead to an increase in smuggling and illicit trading. There are, however, other issues of serious concern, for example, for cross-Border commuters and staff working on both sides of the Border. They include the reintroduction of customs checks, the position of education and research and the need to ensure Horizon 2020 projects will continue, as well as co-operation between universities.

I was born prior to 1969 and our membership of the European Union and the era of the Good Friday Agreement and have seen the benefits the European Union has brought to our community. We cannot go back to the past.

Ó thaobh áilleachta de, a Theachta, nach raibh tú riamh i nGaillimh? Ag bogadh ar aghaidh go dtí Sinn Féin, glaoim ar an Teachta Ó Caoláin.

Aontaím leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an Teachta Breathnach faoi thuaisceart Chontae an Lú.

Last week, representatives of local authorities across the Border area met in County Fermanagh where the findings of an Ulster University report on the impact of Brexit on Border areas were presented. Not surprisingly, the report stated some of the weakest economies on the island of Ireland were along the Border and, therefore, required the most protection against the negative impacts of Brexit. Furthermore, it made reference to the fact that, in 2015, almost 1 million cross-Border journeys had been made every week to access work, education and other services. Unfortunately, the impact of Brexit is already glaringly obvious, particularly in the agrifood sector. Due to the weakening of sterling in the wake of the Brexit vote, agrifood sector exports were estimated to be €570 million less than they would have been in 2016 and beef farmers alone had taken a hit of €150 million. These figures are staggering considering the fact Brexit has not officially happened yet, but it does give us an insight into the severity of what is to come. Things are only going to get worse, with tariff barriers, border checks and other regulatory changes that will have a devastating effect on the sector.

In my county of Monaghan, the mushroom sector is vital. Britain and the North of Ireland account for 90% of the value of Irish exports in this sector, at over €80 million. A number of months back I referred in this House to the fact the mushroom sector was worth €180 million a year to the economy and employed 3,500 people across rural Ireland. Regrettably, I also had to record the fact that at least 10% of Irish mushroom producers had closed down since the referendum on Brexit. Needless to say, I continue to have real concerns that this percentage will increase and that many hundreds of people will be left unemployed. The same situation presents for the pigmeat and poultry sectors which have enjoyed significant bilateral trade, North and South and between these islands. All sections of the agrifood sector are in crisis mode.

Sinn Féin has been continuously stating a North of Ireland exit from the European Union will harden the divisions between the North and the South, with the potential for the reintroduction of customs check points, trading tariffs and adverse knock-on effects for all-island economic activity and co-operation. The only way to avoid the further deterioration of the situation and to try to reduce the overall negative impact of Brexit is for special designated status to be granted to the North where the majority voted to remain. They should not be pulled out of the European Union against their will. In addition, it is in all our interests to ensure special designation is granted. The majority of Members of this House agree, as does the European Parliament. While we, of course, welcome the provision for the North to resume EU status following a successful Irish unity vote, the Government must try to abate the serious repercussions for all-island economic integration and cross-Border trade, particularly the services, manufacturing, farming and agrifood sectors; ensure the North will remain within the European Union and that, as a country and an island people, we get the very best deal possible.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an phlé seo anocht sa Dáil. Níl dabht ar bith go mbeidh thar na míonna agus na blianta amach romhainn go leor plé agus scansáil ar an Bhreatimeacht agus na himpleachtaí agus na deacrachtaí a bheidh ann. Tá an díospóireacht tosaithe ó bhí an vóta caite ag muintir na Sé Chontae agus ag muintir na Breataine. Mar a dúirt an Teachta Ó Caoláin, labhair siad amach go soiléir i dTuaisceart na hÉireann agus dúirt siad go raibh siad ag iarraidh fanacht taobh istigh den Aontas Eorpach. Anois cífimid go bhfuil siad á thabhairt amach as an Aontas Eorpach in éadan a dtola. Labhair go leor dúinn sa Teach seo faoi Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus na prionsabail atá taobh thiar den chomhaontú sin, go háirithe an prionsabal ó thaobh consent de. Is é sin ná nach chóir go mbeadh aon rud curtha ar mhuintir na Sé Chontae nach bhfuil an tromlach ag aontú leis. Seo sampla maith ina bhfuil an prionsabal sin caite ar leataobh.

We need to recognise that there is an overwhelming national interest at play on all sides in regard to Brexit. However, when it comes to the Government, in particular Fine Gael, it believes it has a right to speak for all of the island in terms of its own policy on the issue. The reason I say this is the position it has adopted in the Brexit negotiations is a conservative one rooted in partitionism. It is not the approach that is needed and not the mandate it should pursue.

This House has spoken very clearly on the issue. It has stated clearly that Dáil Éireann supports special designated status for the North. The majority of parties represented in the Assembly have adopted the exact same position. The majority of civic society, the people, believe that is what is required. Farmers, workers' organisations and business leaders in almost every sector want special status, yet the Fine Gael-led Government chooses to ignore that overwhelming demand. Just last week we saw the European Parliament's chief negotiator make comments on special designated status for the North of Ireland. Let me say it again to the Government. There is genuine goodwill across the European Union, from the bureaucracy to the leadership, on the suggestion the North should not be sacrificed on the Tory altar of reactionary foolishness. Let us make the demand central to the negotiations that will take place in the weeks, months and years ahead in order to start building for special designated status. Let us start breaking it down to see what it means and how we can achieve it in real terms.

Those in Fine Gael are in the way of the will of the people on this issue and have made themselves an obstacle to genuine progress for the people. They must reassess their stance, go back to their constituencies and listen to their neighbours, families and the people who will be impacted on by Brexit.

They must listen to the will of the Dáil, the majority of parties in the North and, indeed, the people in the North.

Likewise, the Government is not fighting Ireland's corner when it comes to looking for renegotiation or recognition of what the reality of Brexit will mean for this country, North and South, east and west. Fine words are well and good, but what we need is concrete action. When I say "concrete action", I mean that we need to be examining the exemptions built into the existing treaties, for example, state aid to allow for more investment in certain sectors in industry where necessary. This is possible, if we make this central to our negotiation stance. Let us look at the European Globalisation Fund, which in my party's view needs to be re-calibrated to fight the shock of Brexit in industries before the shock takes place and the redundancies are made to ensure that sectors, such as the mushroom sector Deputy Ó Caoláin talked about, are supported through that fund so that they can ride out the storm that will undoubtedly come, and has come in some areas, as a result of Brexit. The fiscal rules have built into them exemptions that can be unlocked if Ireland places them central to its negotiation strategy. We need to ensure that they are used so that we can invest, North and South, to limit the effects of Brexit on the island of Ireland, particularly through capital and other investment.

There are other areas, such as the Structural Funds, where we need to be making a case, for example, for more flexibility and greater co-financing. In that regard, we also need to ensure in these negotiations that Ireland is put at the front of the queue, not at the middle or end of the queue, when it comes to EU transport and infrastructure projects. That is what fighting for Ireland and putting Ireland's interests first and centre stage looks like. It is not what Fine Gael is doing at present. There needs to be a proper assessment of the impacts of Brexit, but particularly in terms of our Northern comrades.

There also needs to be an open and honest debate. There are 33 documents held within three different Departments about border controls being established - contingency plans by Revenue. Three different Departments have had presentations, Ministers included, in relation to that, but not one of those documents is being released to Members of this House or to the public. We need to have an open debate about what the real consequences of Brexit will look like. My community and Deputy Ó Caoláin's community need to know that there are contingency plans here, that there are dozens of documents and presentations-----

Tá an Teachta imithe thar am.

-----that are talking about erecting custom posts on the roads and streets that we traverse on a daily basis.

I welcome the opportunity to make a statement on Brexit. I listened to the various Opposition speakers since 7.30 p.m. or so, and it is interesting to hear the various different opinions out there. I suppose nobody expected of the guidelines, following the negotiations and consultations that we have had over the past number of months with our colleagues in the European Union and the meetings we had in the UK, and what happened when the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, triggered Article 50 when she asked her ambassador to go to the President of the Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, that we would have a paragraph in them. In all the guidelines that were published, everything that we had discussed and brought up, and the concerns, were included. That is testimony to what the Government has been doing over the past number of months.

The result last June was not the result we wanted. We wanted the UK to remain in the European Union but, unfortunately, it voted to opt out. I suppose, of all the countries in the European Union, the Government was more prepared than any other country. Why? The answer is because we had more to lose than any other country.

The unique relationship that exists between the UK and Ireland is something special. The trade between our countries, with €1.2 billion worth of goods being traded each week, outlines that special relationship. That is why, I suppose, from our point of view, our focus on Brexit has been to minimise the impact on trade and the economy, and that has been an important focus in my Department as well. Both the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and myself, and the management team meet every week in relation to Brexit and what our Department will do in this regard.

One of the most important issues was to protect the Northern peace process. Our colleagues across the way, Sinn Féin, have mentioned that. That has been a very important part of our negotiations, to talk to our colleagues in Europe in relation to the peace process and the important and significant role the peace process has played in developing the economic situation between both sides of the Border as well.

We are not going back to the days of a hard Border because hard borders create friction. They create obstacles to the way of peace and obstacles to the way of economic progress as well. We are very conscious of the important role the Border counties are playing here in this. We know how food crosses the Border, North and South, before it is fully processed. These are our concerns which we have relayed in all areas at our meetings with our European colleagues.

Both the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and myself have travelled to various European countries to outline our concerns to our European partners. I visited Tallinn in Estonia on Monday last where I had a number of meetings with ministerial colleagues. They all are most understanding of the situation that exists between Ireland and the UK. I would compare it, as I said at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and to other Ministers, to the relationship they had with the other Baltic countries. It was the same when I visited Budapest. We have got our message across.

When we are negotiating over the next two years, we will be negotiating from within the European Union because our future lies in the European Union. Ireland has come a long way since 1973, when we very much depended on trade with the UK. Today, approximately 40% of our trade is to the UK.

Trade between the UK and Ireland is extremely import and we will not neglect that. We want a soft Brexit. We want to continue the trade with the United Kingdom because it is our closest neighbour and because that trade is very important. Maintaining the common travel area is a priority for us as well.

That is why I say to all Members that our preparations have been extensive over the past 12 months. We have conducted significant planning in all sectors, my Department included, including consultations with all the stakeholders. We have had extensive engagements. As I said, at ministerial level, the Taoiseach took control of the campaign at an early stage. We all heard about the Brexit Ministers, but we all know that our Departments - the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my Department, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and various other Ministers when they travelled abroad had an important role to play. We have held extensive consultations at official levels as well. Our officials are travelling all the time to Europe to talk to their counterparts there. Our diplomats who are based in Europe have been doing their work as well. Over 400 meetings have taken place on this. What is included in the guidelines is the result of the hard work by the Government, our diplomatic team and the Ministers in preparation for Brexit.

As I said, we are a small island nation. We export 80% of everything we produce. Of course, the first port of call for any exporter is the UK; it is easy and it is English speaking. That is why the British market is so important to us.

On Enterprise Ireland and our agencies, we have funded them with resources for staff and have provided funding in supporting clients and sustaining and growing exports to the UK. It is also encouraging and supporting diversification to new markets outside of the UK.

Of course, the eurozone is an area that we are targeting and marketing in as well. Two weeks ago, I visited Antwerp with 15 Irish companies in the pharma-construction sector. I spoke to some of those companies - I had a Brexit meeting in Brussels before with all of those companies. I refer back to the survey, which some of the speakers referred to, that my Department carried out.

Many of the Irish companies that are exporting are growing businesses in the UK. They are signing contracts at the moment and they are not affected by what is happening. Deputy Ó Caoláin is correct in what he said about the food sector, which is vulnerable, in particular in the Border region, as he outlined. That is why we introduced measures in last year's budget to try to protect food producers. The reason the food sector is vulnerable is that margins are very low. In addition, there is concern about fluctuations in sterling, which has affected many companies as well, especially those on low margins. The currency fluctuation is not as bad as we thought it might be in that sterling is still hovering around 83 cent or 84 cent at the moment. We would be very concerned if it reached the 90 cent mark. However, that did not happen and even when Britain triggered Article 50, the currency did not fall. From that point of view, we have time to prepare.

Enterprise Ireland is talking to approximately 1,500 client companies that are exporting to the UK. Being competitive is so important for companies in the current challenging economic situation. Companies must be competitive because if they are not, they will evaporate because the standards in eastern European countries are beginning to rise and they are competitive. They have the knowledge as well. We must be innovative all the time, which is the reason we encourage companies to innovate.

Enterprise Ireland is encouraging companies to prepare for Brexit by improving competitiveness, investing in innovation and diversifying into new markets, which is also important. I have responsibility for local enterprise offices, LEOs, which are organising workshops for small companies and micro enterprises and holding seminars to train and assist companies to better understand the challenges of Brexit and to continue to implement such initiatives as the online trading vouchers, which are important also. I urge all those in the sectors that are concerned about the potential impact of Brexit to contact LEOs as they can assist companies and provide advice.

In response to what Deputy Stephen Donnelly said, we carried out a survey which showed that 49% of companies had not been affected yet by Brexit and 15% of companies had been affected to a minimal extent, but there are concerns about the future. In terms of policy response, we are progressing the development of a Brexit working capital guarantee scheme and other loan options also for the long term. That will depend on resources and EU state aid rules as well. We have worked hard in recent months to ensure our specific concerns are being raised by our EU partners. Our consultative approach will continue with our economic preparations for Brexit.

I wish to share time with Deputy Murphy O'Mahony and Deputy Cahill.

Arguably, Brexit poses one of the biggest risks to farmers, exporters and jobs in the agrifood sector since the foundation of the State. According to a recent report by Bord Bia, the agrifood industry in Ireland has already lost up to €570 million in sterling depreciation. The depreciation alone threw the mushroom industry into turmoil, with the loss of €7 million in exports and 130 jobs. It nearly decimated the industry. It seems that is only a drop in the ocean compared to the threats coming down the tracks facing farmers and the agrifood sector. At the end of the separation period, which will probably be March 2019, the United Kingdom could, for example, impose tariffs, which tend to be high for certain foods such as dairy and beef; decouple itself from EU food standards, adding many new regulatory checks, delays and costs; remove tariffs from low-cost regions like South America, making it extremely difficult for Irish farmers and producers to compete; and impose border controls around Northern Ireland, making it harder, slower and costlier to move product North and South.

The UK leaving the EU also creates a €3 billion shortfall in CAP funding, which is about 6% of the total budget. Irish farmers get more than €1.5 billion annually through basic scheme payments and the rural development programme, with direct payments accounting for two thirds of total farm income across all sectors. If the mushroom industry is to serve as a warning for the agrifood sector as a whole, we are nowhere close to where we need to be in terms of protecting indigenous food producers against the implications of Brexit. We need to explore options to keep the UK as close as possible to the Single Market and customs union and to maintain the current zero tariff situation which is crucial to the agrifood sector. We need to make use of Common Market measures in CAP providing for exceptional financial aid measures against severe market disturbances. We need increased resources for the market access unit in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to enable new export markets to be opened for Irish food and drink products. We need EU assurances that CAP payments are secure beyond 2020.

Before I conclude, I wish to return to the beef sector. Beef prices have come under pressure in 2017 as approximately 100,000 extra cattle come on-stream over the course of this year. The Minister, Deputy Creed, must consider introducing a €200 annual payment for suckler cows to ensure the sustainability of the national herd to supplement the existing payment structure in the beef genomics scheme and increase payments to €200 for the first 20 cows with the balance at €80 per cow. I raised the matter with the Minister last week during Question Time but I received a very negative response. Such an annual payment is very achievable given the likely underspend in the scheme and I urge the Minister to take another look at it, given that the beef sector will be the most exposed as 50% of all Irish beef exports go to Britain.

My time is up. I would never like to see a Border again between Northern Ireland and ourselves. Common travel and freedom of movement were the hallmarks of the relationship between Britain and Ireland and I wish to see that maintained. I urge the Minister if at all possible to achieve that in the negotiations and to keep what we have.

It is almost one year since the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU. Since then our Government's approach has been stagnant to say the least.

The Government has failed to develop any cohesive plan that would secure our relationship with our nearest and biggest trading partner. That is despite the fact that reports indicate that sectors such as the agri sector, the tourism sector and the SME sector have already been adversely affected.

The agri sector has lost €570 million alone due to fluctuations in sterling, even though 37% of all Irish food exports are exported to the UK. That is not sustainable. In the area of tourism investment, I take the example of Cork Airport. There are approximately 18 flights daily between Cork Airport and the UK. Those flights are imperative to the continued rise in tourism numbers, especially in west Cork which I represent. Any disruption to the single aviation market would greatly impede that. Moreover, if we are to expect multinationals to locate and invest in rural areas, we must be mindful of the fact that adequate facilities are essential. In that regard, extra resources for State agencies such as Fáilte Ireland, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are essential. In the context of small and medium enterprises, I refer to a Department of Finance report published in October 2016 which indicates that regionally based SMEs are most likely to suffer a negative impact following a less than favourable Brexit deal for Ireland.

All of the above sectors, together with many other sectors in the Border area, will be negatively affected in the absence of a properly negotiated agreement. It is clear that it is vitally important that a plan is put in place for the Border counties. However, it is also vital that the non-Border counties are given equal consideration. I represent Cork South West, which is one of the furthest constituencies from the Border, and I want the Minister to understand how important proper negotiations are for all of us.

I will focus my comments on the agrifood sector. The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, spoke about our preparations for these negotiations which are in their infancy, if not embryonic. As the former president of a farming organisation, my experience of EU negotiations is that concessions are only made in the final hours. That, however, is when we, as a country, will be at our most vulnerable.

We are by far the most dependent on access to the UK market. Just the other day, a major UK retailer said it was not going to stock Irish beef any more. This circling-the-wagons mentality by UK retailers and farmers has not even entered the equation yet or been considered.

As Deputy Aylward said, the beef sector is a hugely important market for us. Some 50% of our beef finds its way onto UK shelves. It is a high value market for us, as well as being the highest value beef market in the world. We have not yet done the preparatory work to try to find replacement outlets for our beef.

This year has seen an increase in Bord Bia's budget of €2 million. With the challenges that organisation is facing in trying to get alternative markets for our products, that figure does not show enough commitment from the Government in preparing the ground work necessary to cope with the consequences of Brexit for us.

The British Prime Minister has said that no deal is better than a bad deal, but the reality is that the clock is ticking. If we come to the end of negotiations and there is no deal we will be on WTO tariffs which would put a levy of 16 cent per litre on dairy products going into the UK market.

Ornua, which is our major dairy marketing body, has huge business interests in the UK and is largely intertwined in that market. Some 80% of our cheddar finds its way onto UK shelves as a unique product for the UK market. We would have no alternative market for that cheese product.

There has not been much focus on the high standards that the EU Commission demands of our food producers. If the UK is operating outside the Single Market it will not be under the same restrictions. Not so many years ago we had a foot and mouth scare in this country, so what controls can the EU have on UK imports post-Brexit? We have been fighting for a generation to stop third country beef imports coming into the EU. Farmers in those countries operate on completely different standards to those within the EU. That can pose dangers for food production on this island.

The mushroom sector was the first casualty of the Brexit vote when sterling fluctuated. It had a negative effect on our mushroom business. Two mushroom growers in County Tipperary went out of business quickly after the British vote last year. Therefore, the challenges facing the agrifood industry are immense, yet we can only see the tip of the iceberg so far. To date, the Government's preparation has been inadequate. Nothing illustrates it more so than the budgetary allocation for An Bord Bia for the current calendar year.

Our dependency on cross-Border trade is illustrated by the fact that 300,000 litres of milk per day come into the Twenty-six Counties from Northern Ireland to be processed. All such matters will be major issues in the Brexit negotiations. The challenges are huge but as of now our preparations are not adequate to ensure that the agrifood sector can come out of the Brexit negotiations in an economically viable state.

I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to this evening's debate on the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. I have spoken on this topic on numerous occasions in this House and at many events in my home county of Louth. My message has been very clear from the start of this whole process. First of all, we must not forget that it was the UK that decided to leave the EU. As a result of an internal Tory feud, a referendum was called and the UK people decided, whether rightly or wrongly, to leave the EU.

We, in Ireland, will no doubt be affected by this decision. The UK is our nearest neighbour and also our largest trading partner. Over 200,000 jobs in Ireland rely on strong UK trade. Coming from a Border county like Louth, I know more than most the possible effects of a hard Brexit. Let us be very clear, however. Brexit also presents massive opportunities for us here in Ireland. We will become the only English-speaking country in the EU. We now have an opportunity to attract even more foreign direct investment. To put this in perspective, the UK is currently the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the EU. The last recorded figures show the UK received over €35 billion in foreign direct investment.

If we look at Ireland during the same period we received just over €5 billion. In my opinion this represents a great opportunity to attract those investors to Ireland. The choice is simple for those companies. Do they want to invest in the only English-speaking country in the EU or do they want to invest in the UK which wants to leave the EU? In my humble opinion the choice is very clear.

The work done by IDA Ireland must be applauded but we must do more to ensure these companies continue to increase their investments in Ireland. We only have to look at the papers to see that companies are already looking to move from the UK and set up their headquarters in Ireland. We must continue to support these companies and entice them to Ireland.

I know from my own constituency of Louth the effects of foreign direct investment. In Dundalk especially, we have seen many multinational companies locate to the town. The people and businesses of Dundalk know at first hand the many benefits that large multinational companies locating to the region can bring. I would like to put on record the good work done by IDA Ireland in attracting foreign business to the region. I urge it to continue attracting this type of investment.

Getting back to Brexit, I hear a lot of commentary about the effects of fluctuations in the value of sterling and how it will affect Border regions like Dundalk. I suspect much of this commentary is just scare-mongering. We, in Dundalk and other Border regions, have long battled against the fluctuating value of sterling. There are times when one wins and times when one loses. This is nothing new. We have overcome these challenges in the past and will overcome them in the future.

Shortly after the result of the Brexit referendum became known, David McWilliams stated that the result offered Ireland the greatest opportunity of our generation. I wholeheartedly agree with him. In my view there are far more opportunities now than ever before, including opportunities for Irish businesses to expand into new markets. In addition there will be opportunities to trade on better terms with our UK counterparts. There is also an opportunity to become the main English-speaking financial services centre in the EU, in addition to opportunities to develop new business relationships with our European counterparts and exploit the void that the UK will leave.

There will also be many challenges. We must resist completely any attempts to implement a hard Border between the UK and Ireland. We must also resist the political scare-mongering that is taking place in regard to a hard Border. Political parties like Sinn Féin are only interested in political point-scoring and not in looking at the bigger picture. They are more interested in setting up mock customs borders, as was the case just outside Dundalk recently, than trying to address the real issue of Brexit.

As regards borders, the EU already has arrangements in place with countries like Norway and Switzerland. These are examples where common sense prevailed and a practical solution was put in place. In my view we will see a practical solution in respect of the UK border. The Taoiseach has secured the EU’s support to ensure that the special relationship between the UK and Ireland must be maintained.

I have listened to many different opinions on Ireland's membership of the EU since Brexit. It is my firm opinion that we must not be drawn into a debate about our own membership of the EU.

We are a proud member of the EU and that is where our future lies. We must be committed to the EU, the Single Market, the euro and our low corporation tax. We must not be drawn into the UK's difficult negotiation with the EU. We must stand with our European counterparts and, at the same time, do everything in our power to protect our interests in these negotiations.

Coming from the Border town of Dundalk, and having run a very successful business in that town, I know more than most in this House the importance of a border that is open not only for trade, but also movement of people. I do not doubt for one moment that there will be serious challenges and obstacles to overcome, but I also know there will be opportunities for us as a result of the UK deciding to leave the EU. We must be ready to take full advantage of these opportunities and not lose out to other European countries, which no doubt see the same opportunities. I urge all political parties to stop the scare-mongering, stop playing political games and look at the bigger picture. We have an opportunity to grow our economy and strengthen our links with Europe and countries further afield. We must not take the same road as the UK and shut the doors to the rest of Europe. We must take this opportunity to build bridges and create new alliances.

I am supposed to be sharing time with Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin but we were not expecting our time to arise quite this early. I will propose to share the time in any event and hopefully she will realise our time has begun.

I believe Brexit is one of the biggest mistakes the British people have ever made and the British Government continues to make. It is an horrendous thing that has happened. It has happened in the context of a majority of the British public having a complete lack of education of the consequences for them. It has happened while powerful and sinister interests in global geopolitics have interfered in new and unprecedented ways in referendums over the last number of years. This has been reported as recently as last weekend by Carole Cadwallader in The Guardian. It brings a whole new dimension to our world political system and we would do well to read that article, particularly in terms of the influence of very sinister elements of the American right and of the Russian nation. We would do well to keep those particular influences in mind in various debates happening in this country as well. We also saw that influence attempted in France during the presidential election, where it failed. It succeeded in the UK and in the United States of America. We must be vigilant about that. I say that as an aside, but as an important aside.

I am education spokesperson for my party and it is very important to lay on the record the issues in respect of education that arise from Brexit because they are serious, multifaceted and, like everything else in the context of Brexit, they are not easily understood and they are not easily predictable. We must identify them, however, and the Government must get to work on them. The issues in respect of education span primary education, secondary education, third level and the whole area of further education, training and apprenticeships. It also spans the area of research, which should not be just a matter for the Department of Education and Skills but should be a responsibility and interest across Government.

With regard to primary and second level, there are small amounts of students who cross the Border to go to school and their particular status will have to be resolved in the context of the negotiation. It is not the biggest issue in terms of Brexit but it is an issue which is there and which the Government will have to identify and address. There is also an issue, particularly in terms of primary education, with the recognition of teacher qualifications. That will have to be seriously addressed and negotiated. It is an issue that will come across in various professions but it will have a key impact in terms of primary education.

In terms of secondary education, there are already signs that the English language is going to be downgraded to some extent post-Brexit. I wonder if that will happen on a practical basis. Will people start to speak French at meetings? The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will know that English had become the lingua franca of many meetings at European level. I know that at our own party meetings at European level, which I attend regularly, English is the language used. I wonder will that begin to change. We must wait and see but we must be prepared for that at second level. The Minister must introduce his modern languages strategy and get to work on it. He announced it three weeks ago but has not yet published it. We must educate our young people, and indeed ourselves, up to a standard in a range of modern European languages that may become more useful in the years ahead.

It is at third level, however, that the greatest challenges face us in terms of Brexit. There are currently quite a number of students that come from the North to the South. There are also approximately 12,000 Irish students in the UK. Their particular status is uncertain. There was an increase in terms of the number of Irish students coming to the UK and UK students, including those from Northern Ireland, coming here. That seems to have tapered off in the last academic year or so. The universities are reporting anecdotal evidence to me of a drop-off in the number of Northern students coming to the South. That is deeply worrying. One of the ways I got to know a lot of people from both sides of the community in the North was in my class in college, where half of the class were from the North. That was an unusually large number at that time. We need to integrate our education systems more and we need to allow that free movement and access. That should be the Minister, Deputy Bruton's top priority in the context of Brexit. The common travel area and freedom of movement for students should be maintained post Brexit.

It caused some controversy, and indeed some interest, in the North of Ireland when I stated my beliefs regarding cross-Border education. While students who come to the South from the North or the UK are guaranteed to be treated as EU students for the remainder of their three or four years of academic life, that same guarantee and proposition is not available to students starting in September 2018 or thereafter. It is important to get that message out. On the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, and without prejudice to the rest of the Brexit negotiation, I believe it is open to the Government to tell students that we will give them EU status indefinitely if they come from the North of Ireland. The Government should do that unilaterally. It needs to be done. I think it can be done without regard to anything else. It can be done without regard to reciprocity. We should hope for reciprocity but of course we cannot deliver that. We are not the authority in the North or in the UK. That should be done as a generous offer. We should say that students can come here from the North as EU students indefinitely. That would certainly give a boost to our universities. It would give a boost to young people, certainly in the North of Ireland, but also in the UK as a whole. They voted in favour of remaining in the European Union. I think those benefits need to be extended to them unilaterally.

My worry about the education sector at third level, listening to the academics speak, is that the opportunities that arise from Brexit are being emphasised more than the threats. There will be opportunities because Ireland is an English-speaking country, a member of the EU, a member of the euro and has some excellent universities. There are opportunities there to attract research funding and academics who are EU citizens who wish to continue to work in the EU. Already there is anecdotal evidence of an increase in interest. I am worried, however, that optimism is overshadowing some of the threats. We need to carefully examine both sides of that particular ledger and I am not sure that is being done at the moment. There is too much of a sense of everything being rosy in the garden at the moment. I am worried about that. I ask for a note of caution while recognising that there are indeed opportunities.

I will yield to my colleague in a moment but there are tremendous links between Ireland and the UK in terms of research. Between 2005 and 2014, there were nearly 17,000 papers co-authored between Irish and UK academics. We need to continue that as best we can. I hope that type of co-operation will continue after Brexit but there are issues that we can deal with now at a national level.

I put it to the Minister that the detailed position paper which the Government published last week is a rehash of everything we have heard before. It is distinctly underwhelming with nothing new. It contains no ideas, no vision, no strategy, no budget, no timelines and no ambition. If this represents two years planning, as the Taoiseach has said, I greatly worry about the two years ahead of us.

Sectors such as the agrifood sector, the equine sector, the tourism sector and the small and medium-sized enterprise sector are already being affected and impacted by Brexit. These sectors and the hundreds of thousands of people employed in them cannot sit and wait for the Government to develop plans. They need help and support now. Now is the opportune time to help them. The agrifood industry has already lost €570 million due to sterling depreciation and jobs have already been lost in the sector, particularly in the mushroom industry. A recently published report by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has shown that 37% of those surveyed have already felt the negative repercussions on Brexit before it has even happened.

We are almost a year on from the referendum and the Government's wait and see approach and promise to develop plans in the future is simply unacceptable. We need to see action. This is the most important negotiation that we, as a country, will ever enter into. The UK is traditionally our largest trading partner and our countries trade approximately €1.2 billion in goods and services on a weekly basis. A hard Brexit could reduce that by as much as one third. I understand that officials from the Department of Finance told the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach that their projections suggest that a hard Brexit would result in a reduction in national wealth, a 30% decline in exports to the UK, a rise in unemployment and 40,000 fewer people in work after ten years. The Government needs to plan for this scenario now, not hope for the best. This message seems to have been lost on the Government.

The actual negotiations have not yet begun but at the moment, there is a significant gulf between the UK and the EU in terms of expectations. The risk of coming away with no deal would be bad for the UK, bad for the EU and particularly bad for Ireland. We, as a country, must work with our colleagues in the EU to secure an agreement that safeguards the EU project and prevents it from further fragmentation. Our future is definitively in the EU and we must ensure that we protect it.

Upholding the Good Friday Agreement, which is an international treaty, in full is a legal requirement and the only thing to do. The impact of Brexit on our education system will be significant. Deputy Byrne outlined the impact of Brexit on primary, secondary and third level education but as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, I want to put on record my concern about the 125,000 EU students in the UK, of which approximately 10% are from Ireland. There is a significant number of issues there. We need to minimise the damage Brexit could do to our agriculture, tourism and education system and maximise the potential benefits we could gain.

Today, a few dozen miles from where we are, in towns like Newry, Armagh and Enniskillen, Irish people democratically determined in the recent Brexit referendum to remain in the EU but not much has changed for these Irish people in the past 100 years. The self-determination of Irish people in Northern Ireland is being ignored and discarded by London, as it was in Dublin 100 years ago. Shockingly, what happens to the Border on the island of Ireland and our national interest is still beyond the democratic control of the people and the issue of consent, which has been the foundation stone of the peace process for the past 14 years, has been binned by Tories because it was inconvenient.

Some 1.8 million people live in Northern Ireland and all of them have a constitutional right to be Irish citizens. That means they have a right to be EU citizens. However, because of way the Brexit negotiations are to take place, it is very likely that these EU citizens will be second-class citizens because they will be isolated outside the EU and unable to exercise most of their rights. Article 9 of the Treaty on European Union states that "in all its activities, the Union shall observe the principle of the equality of its citizens, who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies". How in the name of God will EU citizens in Northern Ireland be able to get that equal attention? The treaty also states that citizens are equally represented at Union level in the European Parliament. Again, there is no talk at the moment about giving EU citizens in Northern Ireland a vote in European elections in the future. These are European treaties. They state that every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union and that decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen. Again, how is this going to happen?

There is a precedent in this area. A European Council decision adopted in 2004 set the number of elected EU representatives in Cyprus at six. While elections are not held in the northern part of the island, almost 80,000 Turkish Cypriots who have acquired identity cards in the Republic of Cyprus are eligible to register as voters. They also have the right to be included on the special electoral list in elections to the European Parliament. We know that they are citizens and the EU has responsibility to them. At least we should be facilitating our brothers and sisters in their quest to exercise their rights as EU citizens.

The Good Friday Agreement has a number of core components. One of these is the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU has also been critical for peace in terms of providing substantial political and financial aid. This is in major danger due to Brexit. Co-operation on the island of Ireland is slowly developing. We can see it in a number of different areas. For example, Altnagelvin Hospital provides cancer care for the entire north west. Children in Northern Ireland can get some of their services in the South and a new cross-Border ambulance service literally saves people's lives on a daily basis. Many of these services are funded, part funded or at least organised by INTERREG and other EU programmes, which will be deleted if Northern Ireland is taken out of the EU.

Of course, Brexit will be a severe blow to everybody involved in business on the island of Ireland. There is no doubt in my mind that the 12 counties in the northern half of the island will be worst affected. These people already live on a man-made periphery. They already deal with two different jurisdictions and two different legal and economic systems but if the UK comes out of the Single Market plus the customs union with all the divergence that entails, it will be far more difficult for them. Let us look at some of the statistics around the all-Ireland economy. A total of €6 billion worth of trade takes place on a cross-Border basis on annual basis and 177,000 trucks, 270,000 vans and 1.5 million people travel across the Border on a monthly basis so businesses face an enterprise minefield and it is hard to fathom how they are going to get through it. Again, if we go down the route of a hard Border, what we are looking at in terms of WTO tariffs alone is 375 different tariffs just for fish. There are 375 separate tariffs in one tiny sector of a massive supply chain. The level of non-tariff barriers that will appear if the UK develops genetically modified products means that we can say goodbye to cross-Border supply chains with regard to lots of agricultural products. The UK will change its regulations on the environment or workers' rights because there will be no point in bringing back sovereignty to London if the UK Government did not look to change those regulations.

We have heard that everything is hunky-dory from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and that lots of energy and money are put into this space to resolve the issue. InterTradeIreland carried out three surveys on the island over the past three quarters. A total of 98% of businesses on the island of Ireland surveyed by InterTradeIreland said they had no plans to deal with Brexit. The only thing that matches the size of the crisis posed by Brexit is our lack of preparedness. One of the methods to mitigate against the threats posed by Brexit is a reunited Ireland. I am heartened by the large number of different political and non-political organisations who in the past number of months have come to the same space as us with regard to the logic of unity. Even the Labour Party has strongly articulated that in recent times. I believe Fianna Fáil will participate in the local elections in Northern Ireland in 2019. I am heartened by that but until that sunny day arrives, another solution to the problem exists.

That is to ensure that we shift the EU border from the line between Louth and Donegal into the Irish Sea. The North must stay within the Single Market, the customs union and the EU.

The Brexit train is currently raging down the tracks. Logic dictates that the Government should make its hand as strong as possible with regard to what is happening. The Spanish Government did so. A few weeks ago, it achieved a veto so that no agreement can apply to Gibraltar without Spanish agreement. Spain has imposed its will on the future of Gibraltar and ensured that any future agreement must be agreeable and acceptable to Spain. The Government has achieved no such cast iron veto. It has secured positive support and good wishes. This reminds me of a television advertisement for Donegal Catch. I do not know if the Minister of State remembers it. Spain may have received the cast iron guarantee but Michel Barnier is putting our interests on file.

The Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Breen, stated that the Government opposes a hard Border. However, if it has no cast iron guarantee, all the opposing in the world might amount to nothing. He said that we have great understanding from our European brothers and sisters. However, only a few short years ago the largest transfer of wealth on this island since the plantations took place through the banking guarantee. Our European brothers and sisters did not show us much understanding at that time.

This House has given the Government a mandate to seek special status. The majority of Members have voted in recent months to seek special designated status for Northern Ireland. It is outrageous that the Government is ignoring the will of the Dáil and the people. I ask the Government to get strong on this issue and fulfil the mandate it has been given by this House to ensure that it gets special status for Northern Ireland and adds some certainty to the challenges faced by all sectors of Irish society.

I listened with great interest to Deputy Tóibín’s remarks. The situation we are in is less than optimal. I agree with the Deputy's point that negotiating through a third party will be a major challenge. Whenever a third party is sent to a negotiation, it is difficult to predict the outcome. I have previously thought that every angle had been covered in instructions given to a third party but then did not get the expected result. If one is not at the table, it is very difficult to control the unforeseen.

It is very important for this country to engage not only with our European colleagues, but also our near neighbour. Our interest is served by everybody using common sense here and those on both sides of the divide, the European leaders who will be negotiating, including Mr. Barnier, and the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, and her team, not getting into a test of strength to see who will win. If that leads to a hard Brexit, it will have huge consequences for this island.

The other big problem we face, accepting that Border controls within this island would be impossible to police and politically unacceptable, if there were to be a hard Brexit, Britain would probably put the effective Border at the Irish Sea. If people think that unlikely, I remind them that during the Second World War there was free movement on this island. One was checked by security getting on the boat up in Larne or Belfast or wherever one embarked because it was known that trying to seal the Border was impossible.

There are two issues on which I would like to concentrate. The first regards the possible implications of Brexit for our beef industry. Of all our agricultural industries, beef is the most vulnerable. Brexit could have a perversely beneficial effect on horticulture should it become more difficult to import products than to use Irish products. However, horticulture is a very small though important section of Irish agriculture. It is a very important section of agriculture in the north of Dublin. The challenge for the beef sector is not that Britain will not have to buy beef. It will. It does not have enough. It will probably produce more beef because intensive farmers there will be allowed to use methods of husbandry which are not currently permitted in the European Union. It has been made clear in the documentation published by the British Government that more intensive farming, genetically modified organisms and so on will be allowed. The big challenge for us will be Britain importing beef from other countries. If the British market is flooded with cheap beef from South America, it will pose a major challenge for our beef industry. We must try to minimise this. The Government could try to get Britain to agree that health and animal welfare standards and the use of hormones and so on would not be acceptable in either the production or the sale of livestock. We must be creative and innovative, keep our eye on the ball in the negotiations and devise a way to ensure that we protect our premium product and retain our ability to get a premium price. It will be very difficult.

The other immediate challenge which seems to have attracted very little attention - I am delighted go bhfuil An Leas-Cheann Comhairle sa Chathaoir anocht – is the issue of fisheries. We should always look at the political dimension of a problem because that can be more important than the economic dimension. It has been said that Britain is not overly concerned about repossessing our waters because it exports the fish caught in those waters and imports different species of fish for consumption in Britain. However, that ignores a fundamental political reality. The last referendum on Scottish independence was won by a margin of 4% or 5%. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is a unionist and does not want to lose the kingdom of Scotland from the United Kingdom. While there is a great attachment to Northern Ireland amongst Conservatives and unionists in Britain, the union of Scotland and England is a fundamental tenet of their political being. The emotional responses we have as a nation are equally strong across the water. I saw manifestations of this during my time as Minister, in particular at the British-Irish Council. The British Prime Minister would not like Nicola Sturgeon to get one over on her and pass another referendum. It is not that it has to be won. It is known that 40% of the electorate would vote one way and 45% the other, meaning a small swing would decide the referendum.

It is my view that Britain will go for a hard Brexit on our waters. It will repossess the waters because there is more water around Scotland on its three sides than in any other part of these islands. They have the Orkneys, the Shetlands and the Outer Hebrides and that water extends way out into the ocean. In that circumstance, Ireland immediately loses 34% of its catch, mainly from the north west. Furthermore, those other European countries that have fishing rights in those grounds will be looking for compensatory grounds. I asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, a question about this issue. He seemed to put the whole question onto some distant back-burner. I believe he is wrong and that from day one, he should put on the table that in the event of the European Union losing these hugely geographically spread out fishing grounds, which are of critical importance to our fishing fleet, we will be looking for a total renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy so that Ireland will not be a major loser in this respect.

To be honest, I believe that in every adversity there is opportunity. I have been critical of all Governments, including Fianna Fáil Governments, that the deal done on fisheries from the day we entered the European Union was pathetic. Back in the early 1970s I believed, as I do now, that we never thought it would go to 200 miles and we neglected the potential of our seas in favour of agriculture and short-term money. That money is beginning to dry up for agriculture and will dry up more after Brexit with the withdrawal of the British contribution to the EU Exchequer. It is now time for Ireland to start planning if this is going to happen - and in my view it is likely that it will happen. We not only want to minimise the negative effect, we also want to see if we can turn it to our advantage and ensure that if we own 14% of European waters, we get a lot more than the 4% of the fish quotas we currently have. I urge the Minister of State to urge his colleague to not see this as an afterthought. He should have been thumping the table from day one, saying that this is a likelihood and Ireland wants guarantees that the matter would be totally reviewed. I am out of time, unfortunately. In a lot of countries if there was a policy to return the coastal waters to the coastal communities - irrespective of nation, in France or wherever - and not have the super-trawlers taking everything, I believe we would find a wide consensus across Europe. There would be an exclusive coastal zone for boats under a certain size as recommended by an Oireachtas committee in a reform cap. This would be much more sustainable than the present arrangement of allowing hunters in very large boats to do inestimable damages to a vital natural resource.

This was a very interesting debate and I have listened to most of it. There were some very positive and worthwhile contributions. On the morning after 23 June last year, most of us woke to get the news that Brexit was going to happen, as the British people had voted. Many people were in a state of shock and had not expected it to happen. The polls had been totally opposed to that. On 29 March this year, Article 50 was triggered. This was another milestone. Nothing could happen until that had happened because there was always a slim chance that maybe the decision might be reversed or the Parliament might go against it.

There is another milestone facing us with the 8 June elections in the UK, and the German elections after that in the summer. The real negotiations cannot start until those milestones are gone through. That is not to say we are not getting ready and preparing. Over the past ten months - since June last year - the Government, led by the Taoiseach, has travelled the length and breadth of Europe for consultations on Brexit. Our engagements have not been limited to meetings with direct government counterparts; our outreach effort has also encompassed meetings with parliamentarians, journalists, business leaders and representative groups. I have also raised Brexit with my opposite numbers at every practical opportunity. Setting out Ireland's key priorities and concerns has been at the heart of this exercise. Let there be no mistake about that.

There are two contextual factors that have become evident in this process. First, with the exception of the UK, the level of political and public debate in Ireland about Brexit is completely without parallel anywhere else in the Europe. Colleagues on all sides have recognised the potential impact it will have in Ireland. Second, in the face of the challenges that Brexit poses to Ireland, the level of public support for Ireland's membership of the European Union is exceptionally high at 88% across the country and 94% in Munster I am happy to say. The fact that Ireland's position is grounded in such a high level of stakeholder and public engagement has commanded tremendous respect from our partners. This has undoubtedly contributed to the Government's success in ensuring that our concerns are reflected in the EU's negotiation position. This comprehensive document, published last week, reflects the intensive and multi-faceted approach the Government is taking to the Brexit process. Its publication was timed to coincide with a key milestone; the adoption of the European Council's negotiating position. I believe that this was the right moment to draw together the outcomes of the Government's domestic and international engagement to date, as well as the analysis and co-ordination that has been carried out across all Departments and many of our agencies. Its primary focus is in demonstrating how the policies and priorities identified by the Government will be pursued within the context of the most imminent steps of the Brexit process, which is the Article 50 negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

The Taoiseach has already outlined that this process of engagement is dynamic and will further intensify in the coming weeks and months, especially in respect of the economic implications of Brexit. As set out in the comprehensive document, however, in order to advance as quickly as possible to the discussions of the future EU-UK relationship, we must work closely with our EU partners to achieve sufficient progress on the priorities that have been identified as part of the withdrawal process. This will be a key focus for the Government in the coming weeks. We will be working with the EU taskforce and with our EU 27 partners to agree a more detailed set of negotiating directives. Once these are adopted by the General Affairs Council on 22 May, I expect that the negotiations will, most likely, get under way in late June after the British general election.

Engagement with the EU taskforce has been an important focus for Government. It is therefore timely that Michel Barnier and members of his team are visiting Ireland later this week. During his visit, Mr. Barnier will meet with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Dara Murphy. He will also address a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Across our engagement with Mr. Barnier, the Government will take this opportunity to acknowledge the extensive level of engagement that he and his team have taken to date with Ireland at political and official level. We will use the occasion to welcome the draft negotiating directives that have been prepared by the task force that not only reflect the EU guidelines, but also take on board some additional concerns and issues that were identified in the Government's comprehensive document. We will also underline the Government's support for the phased approach and we will emphasise our hope that sufficient progress on the withdrawal issues can be made at an early stage so we can move on to the discussions around the future relationships. This depends very much also on the UK's approach to the negotiations and its willingness to engage constructively at all times. Mr. Barnier's visit will also take in meetings with citizens and stakeholders, including his visit to the Border area on Friday.

Of one thing we can be certain; Mr. Barnier is committing himself with an immense energy to the task of protecting Ireland's interests and the interests of the EU in the forthcoming negotiations with the UK. In delivering this concluding statement, I am more than aware that it represents a mere punctuation mark in the continuing debate and discussions in the House. The EU guidelines and the draft negotiating directives speak to the effectiveness of the global supports to date, which has been clearly outlined in the comprehensive policy document. As the process continues we will continue to engage with the House and with citizen stakeholders to ensure that our approach to negotiations is understood. We welcome the support of all Members in the House. We must work together on this with constructive suggestions. Deputy Ó Cuív's speech earlier was very constructive and positive. I was taken with Deputy Byrne's contribution also on education and his opening remarks on the geopolitical influences. There are some very good ideas but we need to continue this, work together and put on the green jersey more than ever before. This is one of the biggest challenges the State has had to face in decades.

This is only a punctuation mark along the way. The work really only starts now.