Ceisteanna - Questions

Brexit Issues

Gerry Adams

Question:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he expects to be in a position to publish the planned document that outlines the Government’s approach to mitigating the impact of Brexit on the economy and trade; and the current status of this document. [25889/17]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

2. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the Government’s approach to mitigating the impact of Brexit on the economy, trade and jobs. [25982/17]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach to outline the status of proposals to be published by his Department to address the economic and trade implications of Brexit. [27241/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

Following the adoption by the European Council of the guidelines establishing the framework for negotiations with the UK on its exit from the EU, the Council of Ministers adopted a decision on 22 May authorising the beginning of the negotiations, which are starting this week. The negotiating directives under which the talks will be conducted reflect Ireland's unique concerns: to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the peace process; to avoid a hard border; and to protect the common travel area.

I have already spoken to Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and Prime Minister May. I will attend my first European Council this Thursday, when we will discuss migration, security and defence, jobs and competitiveness as well as the Brexit negotiations.

Seeking the best possible outcome from these negotiations is a priority for the Government. In addition, the Government intends to intensify its focus on the economic implications of Brexit. Extensive work is under way across several Departments on these issues, including ongoing analysis of impacts at a sectoral level. This reflects the five elements that will underpin the Government's approach. The first relates to sustainable fiscal policies to ensure capacity to absorb and respond to economic shocks, not least from Brexit. The second relates to policies to make Irish enterprise more diverse and resilient, diversify trade and investment patterns and to strengthen competitiveness. The third relates to prioritising policy measures and dedicating resources to protect jobs and businesses in the sectors and regions most affected by Brexit. The fourth relates to realising economic opportunities arising from Brexit and helping businesses adjust to any new logistical or trade barriers arising. The fifth involves making a strong case at EU level along the lines that Ireland will require support that recognises where Brexit represents a serious disturbance to the Irish economy.

These objectives will be the basis for work by the new Government and will build on many initiatives already in place. Decisions in support of these objectives will also be reflected in the annual budgetary process; the forthcoming national planning framework 2040; the new ten-year national capital plan; the review of Enterprise 2025; and sectoral policies and investment decisions in areas such as agriculture, enterprise, transport, communications and energy. In taking this work forward, the Government will continue to engage with stakeholders, including through the all-island civic dialogue process.

My question was about when the Government expects to publish the planned document that outlines the Government approach to mitigating the impact of Brexit. I also asked the Taoiseach to give us a sense of the current status of this document. He may have done that and I may have missed it, but I would like him to clarify it.

If I recall properly, the last - and probably the only - comprehensive document on the Brexit negotiations was a most unsatisfactory production. We were all called to a meeting. We did not have copies of the document. We waited for approximately half an hour for the Taoiseach to join us. Then, given that we did not have a chance to read the document, the meeting was suspended.

The big issue is that the Brexit negotiations started yesterday. However, the Border issue, which was going to be one of the significant priority issues, has now been put into part of the dialogue under the authority of the co-ordinator rather than part of a working group. Can the Taoiseach tell us whether this issue is now being relegated to a status of lesser importance? Can he tell us what role the Government will have in this process? Given his statement that the North should stay in the customs union and the Single Market and that any customs checks should be on ports and airports rather than on land borders, can the Taoiseach tell us how he hopes this will be made manifest? Did the Taoiseach raise these issues with the UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in his telephone conversation last Thursday or in his meeting in London?

There is no date agreed yet for publication. That is for two reasons. I have appointed the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. He will have special responsibility for co-ordinating the whole-of-government response to Brexit. Our new people may need some days or a week or two to determine how exactly we are going to develop that document.

One of the difficulties in developing such a document is that we do not yet know the nature of Brexit. We have not yet decided whether we are going to predict what Brexit will look like and base the response for each sector on one particular outcome or whether we are going to take five or six or four or three potential Brexit outcomes and try to respond to each of those potential outcomes on a sectoral basis. That is difficult to do because Brexit with the absence of a free trade agreement is very different to Brexit that has a free trade agreement.

The United Kingdom has indicated that it still intends to leave the customs union and the Single Market. However, those involved seem to want to negotiate a new UK EU free trade agreement that would not leave them far off something not dissimilar to being in the customs union and in elements of the Single Market. We have to decide whether the document is going to predict what Brexit means and then have our sectoral response to it or whether we are going to have five or six different scenarios for what Brexit might mean and then have different sectoral responses to each potential outcome. That is a decision we have yet to make.

I agree with Deputy Adams. I was deeply concerned yesterday when, effectively, we were told that the Irish issue was going to be one of the top three issues but it seems now to be second-tier in that regard. Furthermore, one concern I have expressed all along is that even when we were getting agreement to discuss the Irish Border issues, it was exclusively on the question of the common travel area.

There was effectively no agreement. When Michel Barnier was here, he could not have made it clearer that there will be no discussions of cross-Border trade in Ireland in either goods or services. The Taoiseach is speaking as if we were completely removed from the talks and ineffective in our ability to steer what might happen. We need to be centrally involved in the issue of trade relations between Ireland and the UK, not just in the movement of people. It will have the greatest effect in terms of whatever deal is made. That there are to be no discussions until the autumn, when there will be a wider discussion of cross-Border trade issues for the Republic, is a further example of how we are losing our influence on the European side of this negotiation, whatever about the UK side. We need to start insisting that the trade issues in respect of Ireland and Britain, which are different from any others because of the land Border and the extent of trade between the two countries, be discussed today rather than in six months' time. We should direct Michel Barnier to do so rather than just accept as a fait accompli that they will not talk about trade until later.

I can assure the Deputy that issues particular to Ireland are very much in the top tier of negotiations that are now ongoing. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, will meet with Michel Barnier in the coming days. I will be at the European Council later this week and will meet many of my fellow Heads of Government, including Chancellor Merkel and others. I will of course, once again, flag Ireland's particular concerns and attune my European colleagues to our particular interests.

I always think the common travel area is a misnomer. There is much more to it than travel. The terms I prefer to use are "effective common citizenship" or "reciprocity of civic rights", namely, the right of Irish and British citizens to live, work, study, and access welfare, pensions, housing and health care in each other's countries as though they were citizens of both. At our meeting yesterday, Prime Minister May and I reaffirmed our commitment to retaining reciprocity of civic rights. Trade is a European competence, as Deputy Ryan knows. It will not be the case that Ireland can remain a member of the European Union and have a bespoke trade arrangement.

Will we go back to smog?

It is a European competence and is not one of the issues that will be discussed in the first part of the negotiations. The first part of the negotiations relates to the divorce, as some describe it - how much Britain will have to pay, the issue of citizens' rights and the issue of the Border in Northern Ireland and Irish issues in particular. It has been indicated by the negotiating team and the task force that if sufficient progress is made on those issues, we may be able to begin talks on the new trading relationship that will exist between the United Kingdom and the EU.

I welcome the Taoiseach to his first Taoiseach's questions. The issue of Brexit will loom very large in our discussions in the coming weeks and months. Yesterday, the Taoiseach met Prime Minister May and we heard yet again the commitment to the maintenance of the common travel area and to a North-South Border that is as frictionless as possible. However, we also heard a reaffirmation that it is now the settled position of the United Kingdom to withdraw from both the Single Market and the customs union. As Commissioner Phil Hogan said today, that means a hard Brexit and a hard Border. That is his assessment.

It is almost a month since the meeting to which Deputy Adams referred, when the Taoiseach's predecessor undertook to have this economic analysis presented. I understand what the Taoiseach has said in respect of gaming out a number of possible outcomes. The previous Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, also said at the time that there would be budgetary implications, however. There are issues about which we have to talk and think now, for example, investment in our ports and rail systems, the realignment of the European globalisation fund, and looking at the geographic and activity sectors that are most impacted upon. Has there been any movement on those issues?

On the Taoiseach's discussions with the Prime Minister yesterday, it is quite clear that we will not have a trade agreement in the timeline envisaged by Article 50. Is there a settled view in Britain that there will have to be transitional arrangements after the formal exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, which may last several years?

I dislike the terms that are often used about the Border, such as "frictionless".

Some people call it the Vaseline Border, it is so frictionless.

The latest term is "ultra-soft Brexit", which I assume is softer than a soft Brexit. The phrasing that best reflects our ambition as a Government is ensuring that there is no economic border between Britain and Ireland or between North and South. There is a political border, of course.

How is that to be achieved outside the customs union?

It will be very difficult. Any border that does exist, as I said yesterday, should be invisible. I was glad to hear Secretary David Davis use that term as well. It will be extremely difficult. Nobody fully knows anyone's end position. I certainly cannot speak for the British Government in respect of its negotiating position or end position. It could yet reconsider leaving the customs union and the Single Market. Deputy Howlin will know that his sister party, which had a very successful election in Britain, wants to stay in the Single Market, as do pretty much all the other British parties, at least.

Keir Starmer put forward a very interesting position yesterday.

I think it is fair to say this is still very much an evolving situation. We may find that if Britain leaves the customs union and the Single Market it may be still possible to negotiate a UK-EU free trade agreement that retains much, most or almost all of the elements of the customs union and the Single Market. For example, places like Switzerland operate such arrangements.

There could be budgetary implications, but again it depends on the nature of Brexit. One of the things I would envisage us having at some point is a transition fund for business, to allow business to adapt and change in reflection of the fact that Brexit will change the rules of trade. However, we cannot set up such a fund until we know the new rules of trade. That is the difficulty with all of these matters. We may need greater investment in some of our ports, such as Rosslare, for example, so that we can have better direct connections to continental Europe.

That will take years. We need to be doing it now.

Again, it will depend on what Brexit means because it will all depend on the land bridge arrangements. If they do not disrupt trade, it will not be necessary. If they do, it will be.

To respond in full to the Deputy's question, we did touch on the issue of transitional arrangements at the meeting yesterday. What Prime Minister May prefers to talk about is an implementation period. Whether there is a difference between "transitional arrangements" and "implementation period" that is more than language is yet to be determined.

I put it to the Taoiseach that the plan should involve all scenarios. We will need to publish the paper to which the Taoiseach alluded when it is drawn up. People get Ireland's unique situation, challenges, difficulties and so on. However, we are still light in terms of solutions. The fundamental issue is trade. Trade will govern the North-South relationship, the east-west relationship and the UK-Europe relationship.

Notwithstanding the British election which, on the whole, could be positive and might be an opportunity for a softer Brexit, the talk is still of exiting the Single Market and the customs union. Even the DUP's formal position is for exiting the customs union. One would hope there is a softer reality lurking behind that somewhere.

Trade will govern everything. I have argued for the past year and a half that we need a transition fund in place. We should be arguing with Europe that there will be a need for state aid considerations to be put aside or solidarity funding to be put aside to enable businesses to adjust. Already the agrifood industry has lost about €500 million in exports because of Brexit. British inflation will be heading above 3% shortly. The impact of Brexit is already here. While I accept we do not know the final shape of Brexit, we cannot wait until we see it to take steps to facilitate companies and businesses to adjust. My colleague, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, raised many issues pertaining to how Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and other State agencies could be enhanced in terms of their resources. The choice has been made not to do so up until now. We should be far more energetic in equipping our agencies to start working with other companies to get them Brexit-ready.

It is early days yet. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, and I will have to talk about this in more detail. My instinct is to produce a paper that allows for different scenarios. I am not sure we can cover all scenarios, given the number of different potential outcomes of Brexit.

There are 20 or 30 but perhaps we can take the five most likely-----

I am referring to the big ticket items.

-----or the ones that most resemble other situations like Norway, Switzerland, a third country or Canada.

In regard to the harm that has been done already to agriculture and to the enterprise sector, primarily that has been because of fluctuations in the value of sterling. Sterling has gone up and down previously, separate from Brexit. We have had currency fluctuations many times in our history. That is not to say it is not a problem that does not need assistance, but it is different from the impact that may arise from Brexit as a result of a permanent change in the rules of trade.

I agree that a transition fund will be necessary, but we have to know what that transition is and we do not yet know that at this stage. It is difficult to see how we could put a transition fund in place not knowing what the transition is to and if is it to something.

We could put it in place in reserve.

We could, yes. That is an option and I am not ruling it out.

Regarding the agencies the Deputy mentioned, we have provided additional resources to IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia to diversify Ireland's markets. Also, business is being provided with vouchers and tools to assess whether they are Brexit ready, but I agree we will have to ramp that up in the time ahead. I do not dispute that at all.

We will move on to the second group of questions, Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive.

Brexit Issues

Micheál Martin

Question:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on section E on Brexit in his Department's statement of strategy, in particular the way in which stakeholder consultation and engagement on an all-island basis as appropriate is taking place outside the national fora that have been held in Kilmainham and Dublin Castle. [24677/17]

Gerry Adams

Question:

5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has had engagement with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in respect of Brexit recently. [25568/17]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

6. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagements with the trade union movement and ICTU on Brexit. [25618/17]

Stephen Donnelly

Question:

7. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on sectoral Brexit response plans for Government Departments as outlined in Ireland and the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union; if work has started on these plans; and if planning has not started, the expected start date of this planning process. [25706/17]

Micheál Martin

Question:

8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in exploring the possible transition relationship between Ireland and the UK to form a stopgap between EU membership and full Brexit, to assist with mitigating economic damage between the two important trading partners and to possibly provide a legal basis for trade to continue between the two countries and between the North and South of Ireland; and the work that has been done to date. [25943/17]

Joan Burton

Question:

9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when the special paper on Brexit will be published. [25978/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive, together.

Sectoral consultations are a core feature of the Government's engagement and analysis on the impact of Brexit. Following the first plenary session of the all-island civic dialogue in November, the Government launched a series of sectoral all-island civic dialogue events in order to deepen our sectoral analysis. Led by Minister, these sessions are an invaluable opportunity to engage directly with stakeholders most impacted by Brexit, including on an all-island basis.

Seventeen all-island sectoral dialogues, across a wide range of issues, have been hosted by Ministers to date with over 1,400 industry and civic society representatives from across the island participating. Two have been held over the past month with one focused on the north west and the wider Border region and another on the equine and greyhound sectors. The next sectoral dialogue will take place on 3 July focusing on enterprise skills needs. A further programme of all-island sectoral dialogues is currently under development. In addition to the civic dialogue process, Government Departments are continuing to engage with a wide range of stakeholders on the implications of Brexit.

The former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, attended a meeting of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, on 28 February. This forum brings together the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, business groups and Government. At the meeting on 28 February participants exchanged views on the potential impact of Brexit, including its implications for enterprise and workers, along with wider economic questions. The exchange was a useful and productive one and it was agreed that it would be followed up with further exchanges and dialogue on a regular basis.

On 2 May, the Government published a comprehensive document setting out the approach of the Government to the forthcoming negotiations, following the successful campaign to have key Irish issues recognised in the EU negotiation position. Following on from this publication, work is now under way to prepare a further paper on the economic implications of Brexit. This will draw on the work to date across Departments, will build on ongoing cross-Government research, analysis and consultations with stakeholders, and will reflect the core economic themes already indicated by the Government in terms of prudent public finances, improved competitiveness and diversification, special attention on sectors and regions most at risk, economic opportunities and possible additional EU supports.

We want to maintain the closest possible trading relationship, based on a level playing field, between the European Union and the United Kingdom. The EU negotiation guidelines state that the EU welcomes and shares the UK's desire for a close partnership in the future. Ireland's economic interests lie firmly in a strong and well-functioning EU with continued and unfettered access to the Single Market for Irish goods and services. There is a lot of negotiation to be done around trading arrangements post-Brexit. Our contingency work is examining all scenarios and we cannot pre-empt the outcome at this stage. We are not under any illusions about the complexity of these negotiations and are engaged in detailed planning to prepare for these.

Ireland welcomes the start of discussions on the future EU-UK relationship, in a manner consistent with the phased approach set out in the EU negotiation guidelines. The Government has heard loud and clear the concerns of businesses and citizens on the need for certainty on day one of Brexit. Our EU partners share this concern and I welcome the fact that the guidelines acknowledge that the negotiations may need to determine transitional arrangements.

I have Questions Nos. 4 and 8 in this grouping and I will do my best to keep within the timeframe.

The timeframe is the timeframe.

Relax, Deputy.

It is accepted that in the next few years we will be dealing with one of the most complex challenges that has ever faced this country and the Irish public service. As I said earlier, we succeeded in getting our overall concerns recognised in the general guidelines. That has played to our traditional strengths as a country and to our public service. The next phase, which we have discussed, is the more difficult one of generating and promoting concrete solutions to our priorities across a range of technical discussions. That needs to be upped a gear significantly. It is one thing to say we have concerns here and there but what are we saying to our partners in Europe? These constitute a solution and solutions to the particular problems.

Last year, a review of staffing and roles concerning Brexit in the Department of the Taoiseach was promised but there has been no sign of it. The Minister might follow that up. It is a serious issue for us. In our view the level of dedicated staffing for Brexit is nowhere near where it is required.

On the Brexit transitional arrangements, there is almost no circumstance other than the UK remaining in the Single Market, where there will not need to be some form of transitional arrangements. It is absolutely going to happen. It may be that the new found flexibility shown by the British negotiators in Brussels yesterday means that they are now willing to seriously engage with the idea of transitional arrangements. That will require a continued budget contribution and some jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, ECJ, during the transitional period. In our view, while the transitional agreements are likely for the overall UK-EU settlement, they should also play a significant role in the provisions for Ireland. In terms of the well-being of communities and businesses, the longer the period, the better.

Can the Taoiseach outline to the House his policy on this matter and what he said to Prime Minister May on this yesterday? Did he get a sense from her that she accepts the necessity for a transitional agreement to facilitate not only Ireland and Europe but British businesses and jobs, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer articulated, quite forcefully in recent times, the necessity for Britain to start getting real and pragmatic about it? From the Taoiseach's visit with the Prime Minister yesterday and from what he picked up, did he get a sense that the idea of a transitional agreement is now gaining far more traction than heretofore?

Go raibh maith agat.

As I have two questions in this grouping, I do not know if I am entitled to two two-minute slots?

I have allowed for that.

Am I allowed two two-minute slots technically-----

No. The time is one and a half minutes per question.

-----given that Deputy Boyd Barrett was being awkward.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Martin has two questions.

Deputy Martin has a lot to say.

I call Deputy Gerry Adams.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Are we banking the questions now?

If we go over and back with every question, we will not get-----

That is what we did with the last grouping of questions.

Tá a lán ama uaim. Tá a fhios ag an Teachta.

The Deputy will get to start again from scratch.

Are we going to go over and back with the question and the reply?

It is better to do so.

An féidir liom leanúint ar aghaidh?

On a point of order, we started the proceedings by going over and back and we should continue to do that.

And everybody was accommodated.

Are the Deputies happy with that?

The Deputy does not have a question in this grouping.

Deputies should remember that when the 15 minutes is up there will be a cut-off.

And the injury time.

I call the Taoiseach to reply to Deputy Martin's questions.

Níor chuir mé mo cheist fós.

I do not mind. I am in the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's hands.

To answer Deputy Martin's questions regarding staffing and roles, I will have to follow up on the issue of staffing and roles in my own Department. I have not yet had the opportunity to tour the Department and meet all the staff. I hope to do that on Monday. I had planned to do that this Monday but then the opportunity to visit London came up and I thought that was more important. I hope to do that on Monday, to examine where there may be gaps and where we may need to have additional staff support.

The meeting I had with Prime Minister May was only our first meeting. We had a phone call previously and we will have another meeting, hopefully en marge, later in the week in Brussels. I did detect that there is a willingness on behalf of everyone to have transitional arrangements if they are needed.

As I mentioned, the term "implementation period" was used rather than "transitional arrangements", but I am not sure if there is a fundamental difference between the two. When it comes to Brexit, much of what is finally agreed to will come down to language. The situation is very much evolving, but I do not see how there could not be a transition period. I do not think we could have a sudden change in the rules; changes would have to be transitional.

The ICTU has set out its concerns for Irish jobs arising from Brexit. Has the Government discussed with the trade union movement the implications of Brexit for jobs? We already know from Bord Bia that Brexit will cost the Irish food and drink industry €570 million, as costed last year. Thousands of jobs depend on this sector. Similarly, the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has warned about the dangers to the agriculture sector. Ms Patricia King has said the European Union's fiscal rules should be relaxed to allow for public investment. Has this been discussed with the trade unions or the European Union? Does the Taoiseach accept the criticism made by Mr. Liam Doran of the INMO who has claimed that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has shown no awareness of the impact of Brexit on the State's ability to retain health care staff. We are referring to three big sectors - food and drink, agriculture and health care. In the light of these concerns, has the Government discussed with the European Union the establishment of a hardship fund or a transitional financial arrangement to offset the economic consequences of Brexit?

I have had many engagements with the ICTU recently, but they have related to matters such as pension reform. I have not yet had any personal contact with it about Brexit other than at wider, multi-sectoral forums, but I have no doubt that I will have that opportunity very soon. The national economic dialogue will take place in the next two weeks and it will be a very good chance for me to engage with the ICTU and business representatives on a number of issues, including Brexit.

Bord Bia's forecast involves a worst-case scenario. It is the maximum impact a hard Brexit could have on Irish food producers and exporters. None of us is working towards that outcome. We are all working towards an outcome that will as much as possible maintain free trade between Britain and Ireland. That is something we are keen to do and which is achievable. I do not detect an enormous desire in London to reduce the amount of trade between the North and the South, east-west, or between Britain and the rest of Europe. Britain wants to be able to negotiate its own trade deals separately from the European Union in the belief it can have more, not less, trade. In my mind, it is hard to see how one can square that, but the position in Britain is not to shut down trade. It is not a position similar to that being taken in the United States where there are attempts to erect barriers to trade. Britain honestly believes that by leaving the European Union, it can have greater free trade with countries outside the European Union, but I do not know how that will manifest itself.

I recently saw an interesting statistic for health care staff. It suggested Brexit might benefit us in helping us to retain and recruit health care staff. As the value of sterling fell, the salary differential between Britain and Ireland looked very different. When one converts sterling to euro, salaries that looked better in Britain no longer are. I also understand there has been a decrease of 97% in the number of non-EU nationals going to work in the British health service because of uncertainty about its position. Perhaps a weaker sterling and Britain being less welcoming of migrants might be to our benefit in recruiting health care staff.

My question also relates to the involvement of the Irish trade union movement in the preparations for Brexit. I do not believe trade unions that operate on a cross-Border basis and are intimately involved in assessing the impact of Brexit or any change in circumstances in jobs have been sufficiently involved. I ask the Taoiseach to address that issue. We have called for two measures, one of which is an early warning system, while the other is a regional forum because, as the ESRI has outlined, the impact will vary from region to region. Some regions such as Dublin will do better, while others will be adversely impacted on, including places as surprising as Waterford which is very dependent on the agrifood sector.

Most of the Taoiseach's answers and those of his predecessor have been almost chicken-and-egg in their nature, that we cannot act until we know, but we will not know for a long time. However, we need to start making preparations now. In some of the suggestions I have made we can not only seek out the problems and challenges but also, as Deputy Micheál Martin said, generate our own solutions that we can impose and push on others and perhaps identify opportunities that we can drive that will be of particular benefit to us. Will the Taoiseach look at the greater involvement of the trade union movement which has a unique level of penetration of industry, North and South, and how he will involve it in the preparations for Brexit? Will he look at the idea of establishing regional forums to bring together all of the actors in each region in order to identify the regional impact?

I would welcome greater involvement by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the trade union movement generally, as well as the business community, in helping us to prepare for Brexit. I will take up that suggestion bilaterally, most likely in the national economic dialogue which will take place in the next week or two. I know that it is dialogue in which the Deputy took part when he was in government and it was very valuable.

It gave rise to the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF. It is something that benefits the country and I will continue to pursue and build on the work done by the Deputy in that regard. He said we could not act until we knew. That is correct, but we can prepare for different scenarios. It is my intention that we should prepare for different but the most likely scenarios.

I would be loath to have Ireland proffer solutions that involve different forms of border. When I hear people talk about there being no hard border, it implies there will be a soft border. When I hear people say we will not go back to the borders of the past, that implies that there will be borders of the future. I would be reluctant for an Irish Government to proffer what a border of the future might look like because our preferred solution is something different, namely, that Britain reconsider leaving the customs union and the Single Market. We do not want it to leave. I told the Prime Minister, Theresa May, yesterday, that while respecting its decision, Britain was welcome to rejoin or reconsider should it wish to do so. If that cannot be done, we would like to see a transitional agreement or a UK-EU trade agreement or a wider agreement that would result in a new status quo that was not terribly different from what we already have in the customs union and the free trade area. I would rather work towards this than be in the business of making proposals to create a modern new border which I do not want and which I think this House does not want.

My question relates to the sectoral plans which were discussed. There has been a lot of diplomatic activity, but when it comes to work at home, with the business and farming communities, there has been considerable inertia on the part of the Government. For instance, IDA Ireland has hired one of the ten people it has been enabled to take on, while Bord Bia and the Health and Safety Authority have hired none. Enterprise Ireland has hired less than one third of its allocated staff. One of the things we need is a detailed response or contingency plans sector by sector. The words used by the Taoiseach were that "work is under way" and that we were "engaged in detailed planning". We knew about Brexit a year ago. The vote happened in June 2016. If a multibillion-euro corporation had found out a year ago that a massive threat was coming its way, it would have contingency plans in place by now. We are aware of some of its scale. The Department of Finance states 40,000 jobs might be at risk. In trade we lost €500 million last year due to currency fluctuations. As I noted, the State agencies are way behind in hiring the people they need. The business and farming communities and people living in Border regions are getting very scared and a year after the Brexit vote we are still waiting for detailed sectoral plans.

When can we expect to see those plans? When will the Taoiseach share them with the Dáil and the sectors involved? When can we get involved in the detail and debate it to see if we can come up with solutions in working together?

I can only refer to the answer I gave, that is, we are working on contingency plans, but we must make a decision on whether any plan will set out five, six or seven potential outcomes in respect of contingencies pending one of the outcomes occurring, or whether we should try to predict what Brexit will mean. The Deputy is right to say it has been a year since the referendum, but a year on we are no clearer on what Brexit will look like. We have had the Lancaster House speech and the regulations as agreed by the European leaders, but we are not much clearer on what the outcome will be. Therefore, all we can do, as a corporation would do, is set out a risk register and potential contingencies and plan for them on a sectoral basis. That is the work that is under way.

Does the Taoiseach have dates or deadlines as to when we might see the sectoral plans?

I do not have a date for each. As I said, just last week I appointed the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, with responsibility for the Government's overall response to Brexit. He is in Northern Ireland dealing with the talks and I will be at the European Council for most of the week, but we will get it done as soon as we can. We will not long-finger it.

Regarding additional IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland staff, the updated position is that in budget 2017 we announced additional resources to recruit ten extra staff in IDA Ireland and 39 in Enterprise Ireland in response to Brexit. In IDA Ireland four of the staff have been appointed to date and the recruitment process for the other six is ongoing. IDA Ireland has undertaken a rigorous recruitment process across a wide range of channels to ensure the best candidates are identified for these roles. Of the 39 posts in Enterprise Ireland, 13 have now been filled and a further 21 have been advertised. The remaining five job specifications are being finalised with a view to advertising them in the immediate future. The position is, therefore, slightly better than that related by the Deputy.

Recruitment is moving in the right direction.

In the Taoiseach's recent manifesto for voters in the Fine Gael leadership election he referred to holding special day-long Cabinet meetings a number of times a year. Of all the issues we face on the island of Ireland, Brexit must be one of the most significant because of the implications for employment, not only in the North but also particularly in the South. In the case of the South, The Taoiseach has probably read the IBEC material, according to which, in certain cases, there could be very significant job risks, particularly in agri-related industries. As the new Taoiseach, a post in which I wish him well, has he arranged a day-long Cabinet meeting on Brexit to get his new Cabinet up to speed? It is set out in his manifesto that this is the way in which he will try to inject a little dynamism into what is a rather tired and jaded Government. The Government is replete with action plans with hundreds of points, but that is not the same as implementation plans that are acted on. In the Taoiseach's pitch to Fine Gael voters he pretty much acknowledged that he would bring a new dynamic. It is extraordinary that his predecessor had not published a White Paper on Brexit. That is not to say, as circumstances evolve, such a paper could not be modified or addenda and additions published to it. When will we see a White Paper?

On the different Departments, how is the Civil Service to operate if it does not have a mandate? Furthermore, there are quite a lot of distinguished people with huge European experience retiring from government service, particularly in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as former heads of the permanent representation in Brussels and so on. Will the Taoiseach give some consideration to retaining some of them? I also asked his predecessor about getting trade negotiators in to beef up Irish expertise.

I call the Taoiseach to give a final response.

Deputy Joan Burton raised a number of matters and I think I jotted all of them down. The paper we have produced on Brexit, the Government's position paper, is a White Paper in all but name. Various decisions were made not to call it a White Paper. The White Paper produced by the British Government is very similar in content and format.

I did not actually produce a manifesto; it was an ideas paper. A manifesto is for an election, but this was an-----

Courage to Take Us Forward by Leo Varadkar. I apologise - it was a paper.

I put forward two ideas in the paper I produced, both of which I intend to pursue. The first is that we have a number of one-day Cabinet meetings. This is not something we did when the Deputy and I were in government together, but it would be of value in that, rather than discussing important items as one of 15 or 50 items on the agenda, we could give them a thorough analysis and tease through the thinking of others and try to come to common thinking on the part of the Government-----

Will one of the meetings be about Brexit?

We are running out of time. We will not get to the next group of questions.

The first of the one-day Cabinet meetings will take place just after the recess next month and deal with climate change, the capital plan and budgetary matters. A subsequent meeting will concern Brexit, but I do not yet have a date for it. I would first like to see how the negotiations develop. One of the ideas in the paper concerns an examination of the model of the Scottish First Minister's committee on Brexit which is similar to what Deputy Joan Burton suggests, that is, taking people with experience in the European Union civil service who are Irish, taking people who are retiring from dealing with European and foreign affairs and having them involved in some way. I would like to pursue that idea also.

We must adhere to the time allocated, that is, 45 minutes. There are two minutes left. All I can suggest is-----

On a point of order, may I suggest we not go ahead? It would make a travesty of the grouping of questions.

There are 15 questions in the next group. If there is agreement on Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett's suggestion, we will not go ahead because otherwise we would not have time for supplementary questions.

Yes. We will let them go.