UK Withdrawal from the EU: Statements (Resumed)

I am sharing time with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. I am happy to be able to speak on this issue of huge importance this evening. Ireland is left in a very uncertain place following Britain’s decision to leave the EU last year. We are well aware of the great difficulties we will face along the Border with Northern Ireland and the economic implications to which it will give rise. I wish to voice one view that is rarely heard, however, namely, that of Irish fishermen in the context of their concerns about their future following Brexit. In my own constituency of Cork South West, the fishing community is quite large and its members fear that as soon as Britain formally leaves the EU, both Irish and European trawlers will be banned from British waters. This would result in reduced reach for our Irish fishermen and increased numbers of trawlers fishing in already overcrowded Irish waters.

Many say that areas in the South will not feel any effect from Brexit and that the Border counties are the only ones that will be hit. This is simply not true. Recent CSO figures have noted a 6.4% decline in British tourists coming to Ireland, many of whom would usually be visiting the west Cork area, a popular destination for tourists all year long. This is largely down to the drop in the value of sterling against the euro. British tourists are vital to the Irish tourism industry and represent over two in every five international visitors to the country. The chairman of the Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, Aaron Mansworth, expressed his fears that the recent recovery in tourism is now under threat as a result of Brexit.

I have met many farming organisations, including the Irish Farmers Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association. They are greatly concerned about the implications Brexit will have on the Irish agri-industry, especially through our agri-exports. The UK was the market for 50% of Irish beef exports. A loss of access to the UK markets would destabilise the overall dairy sector here, as a third of all our exports went to the UK and it was our main market for cheddar. I think it is vital that our Government strongly negotiate for fair deals with Britain in terms of farming and fishing to secure their economic future here.

I think it is fair to say that Brexit will do more harm than good to Ireland, whatever way it falls. It is hugely important that we look for as soft a Brexit as possible in terms of trade barriers, Northern Irish relations and to keep growing our unique Irish-British relations.

The next speaker is Deputy Catherine Murphy.

I will take that slot, if I may.

The Deputy has taken it by decree.

It is either that or I do my impression of Deputy Catherine Murphy.

I am happy to debate this critical issue. We are coming back to it again and again, and rightly so, because it is very important. I spend a lot of time giving out to the Government, which is a valid thing for an Opposition to do, but I wanted to compliment it on taking the correct approach this summer. It was right, in its negotiating stance, to say it was up to the British Government to come forward with proposals to deal with the Irish Border issue, and that it was not for us to try to get them out of the incredible dilemma they created in this regard. I still think that was the correct approach because Brexit is creating such difficulties that it behoves those who instigated it to come forward with a workable solution.

The contribution in this House from Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, European Parliament rapporteur on Brexit, was a welcome intervention. He took a reasonably strong line and stated that the European Parliament would look to implement the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts in whatever Brexit deal emerges. I recall him saying that, in order to minimise the damage for Northern Ireland, it would have to stay in some type of Single Market or customs union arrangement. He later said he did not want to determine what the mechanisms would be but that is what he said and if that is carried through in the European Parliament's final approach it would be very welcome as it gives us some security about it.

I was very concerned at the earlier statements of the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in this House who said a border is a border. He said free movement could be arranged but for trade in goods and services the European Union would take the position that there has to be a border. This led me to be concerned that we would be left with both Britain and Europe facilitating a border against the wishes of the Irish people on, I believe, both sides of the Border.

I watched Theresa May's speech in Florence with interest. It was welcome to hear her talk of the move towards a two-year transition and paying European contributions in that time, as well as her recognition of the European Court of Justice and regulatory systems. However, we are still scratching our heads about this process. The fundamental obstacle is that Britain still wants to have its cake and eat it. Mrs. May did not put forward any real, practical tangible answer to the question of how the UK can leave the European Union, the Single Market and customs union yet trade as it does today. The British do not have an answer to that question. They want both, and the ones to whom I have spoken seem to believe Europe will concede on trade because trade will trump politics. They do not seem to understand that, in this instance, politics will trump trade and this is understandable from a European perspective. How could we agree to them wandering off without being subject to any regulations or common agreements and agreeing to a trade deal because we want to sell beef or BMWs to them? I do not hear any politician, on either the Labour or Conservative side, putting forward a proposition which addresses this issue. I am sure, in the end, there will be some fudging of the wording where, in effect, membership of the customs union continues but dressed up in a different language. They will broadly accept the European regulatory approach but will coat it for their home audience in something different.

I am now joined by my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, and I will happily cede to her in a few minutes' time.

It is important for us to maintain a close relationship at this very difficult time. I am with Sadiq Khan, the Lord Mayor of London, in saying they should vote again but I have looked at the most recent opinion polls and, when asked if they will be better off post-Brexit than staying in the European Union, the people of the UK are still split 50-50. Some 47% think they will be better off after Brexit so the chance of a second vote is slim. I could be missing something and perhaps they will get some benefit from the freedom to trade but I do not think so. In such circumstances, it is very important for us to maintain good and close relationships and there are three or four key areas where this can happen, regardless of what happens in the negotiations around trade, the customs union and the Single Market. The first is in energy, where we have imperative needs to maintain an integrated approach with Britain. They also have these needs, not just in regard to ourselves but to all the rest of north-west continental Europe, because they are now as dependent as we are on imported Norwegian, Russian, Nigerian and other gas supplies. Like us, they are beginning to realise the future is going to be renewable electricity. It will be offshore and it makes no sense at all for Britain to develop that on an isolated basis. It makes sense to develop further interconnection to Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Germany to enable a low-cost, effective, secure, balanced, variable and renewable power supply, because this is where the power system is going.

I see the development of cables as connections and those connections will manage the north-western Europe variable, regional, balanced power market. On the other side of this balancing system is the demand management side, which will increasingly be managed by digital services. This will cover the way we run our electrical car fleets, the electric heating systems in the home and how our industry and data centres work. We will all turn our power on and off in a flexible balanced space and efficiency is the key to everything.

Managing it will be all about digital rules and the second physical connection, in addition to the electricity cables, will be fibre-optic cables connecting us to Britain and the rest of the Continent. It is only the European Union that can effectively stand up to global corporations such as Google, Facebook and others by setting the regulatory rules around the digital economy so that the public can have confidence in it. This is the second area, which is not part of the customs union but at which we must look in order to maintain a common approach. Britain happened to follow the European rules in this area because it is not big enough to do it on its own.

Last but not least is food. It is a real concern that one quarter of our product exports is in the form of beef and we are very over-reliant on sales of beef to the UK. One of the things that will protect us are high environmental standards, the European standards on which we will insist. If one was to ask the British people tomorrow whether they wanted chlorinated chicken from the United States, they would say "No". If they were asked if they wanted beef up to the eyeballs in steroids, they would say "No". These are, therefore, the areas in respect of which we can get agreement and a common regulatory approach that will help us continue to work together, regardless of whatever else falls apart.

I echo the previous speaker's points about food standards. It is something that is very much in our interests - certainly the European standards - and it does give rise to concern.

While the actual level of progress that has been made between the European Council and the United Kingdom so far in the negotiations remains unclear, the fact remains that it is imperative that the Union delivers for this State an arrangement in which we can continue - with as little interruption as possible - our relationship with our neighbours. Let there be no doubt that there is still a complicated path ahead over the next month before the European leaders meet in Brussels. It is imperative that our economic course and relationship with Britain post-Brexit has as few obstacles as possible for a myriad of reasons, not least those of an economic nature.

As the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, states recently, Brexit trading issues cannot be addressed until the question of the Irish Border is resolved. He also stated that what we must all agree on is that the issue of the Irish Border needs to be given top priority in negotiations between the UK and the EU. The Government must ensure that it presses this point at every available opportunity.

While we hear a great deal about this matter, it is the practical outworkings relating to it - in terms of how it will be delivered - about which we need to hear. It would probably have to be a political decision as opposed to any kind of technical decision. We cannot sit idly by as decisions are made that will impact directly on our future. We cannot become collateral damage as an afterthought in these negotiations. There have been fine words spoken about how we will be protected - not least in this Chamber last week - but it is how that happens in practice, and not just the words, that will be important. We know we will have a new relationship in the context of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. That relationship must continue to be underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said that the UK and EU will crunch through the technical detail when they discuss Northern Ireland in Brussels today. Mr. Davis also said there is a shared desire to maintain the common travel area and protect the Good Friday Agreement. Of course, it is much more detailed than that. These issues are sacrosanct to all citizens across this island and it is vital they are protected. The EU is the basis for an equality that was provided by virtue of Ireland and the UK's common membership of the Union. It is difficult to see how the Good Friday Agreement can remain as it stands in the absence of that arrangement. However, remain it must and we, the UK and the EU, must do absolutely everything within our power to ensure that happens.

One thing we will all miss should Brexit happen - and I hope there is the possibility of a second referendum overturning it - is the engagement that occurs when people encounter each other at meetings, whether it is at the European Council, in the European Parliament or at other fora. That day-to-day, week-to-week type of engagement is something we have not factored in and that will certainly be missed.

We know we are in a unique position. When the German election was being held, I listened to some commentary on whether Brexit featured. The conclusion was that it did not feature at all. However, it is the backdrop to a huge amount of what happens in this country, perhaps because a mishandled negotiation will propel our economy into a fragile state. The fact that 41% of Irish farm produce goes to Britain is a very stark example of just how interlinked are our fates. Equally as important as recognising the problems is recognising that if we support Britain to exit in the least damaging way possible, it would make matters a lot easier for us.

Brexit poses significant competitiveness implications for Britain and with that comes an onus on the political structure here in Ireland to maximise the support mechanisms to Irish enterprise. I acknowledge that the Enterprise Ireland "Be Prepared" grant of €5,000 being offered to businesses to help them manage Brexit is a step in the right direction but, to be honest, it is a drop in the ocean and does require far greater support. I know there are other supports but that sector, and the agrifood sector, are the sectors about which we have got to be most concerned.

A well-managed Brexit represents the best possible outcome for Britain. That should be our focus because a good outcome for Britain gives us the possibility of a reasonably good outcome for us, albeit in a situation where there are no ideal outcomes from a scenario that is not of our making and to which there are many downsides, some of which we have not yet even considered.

I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I have spoken on this topic on numerous occasions in this House and at many events in my home county of Louth.

We must not forget that it was the United Kingdom that decided to leave the European Union. A referendum was called and the UK people decided, whether rightly or wrongly, to leave the EU. We do not want them to leave the EU, the Single Market or the customs union but, ultimately, that is a decision for them. We have a strong relationship with both the EU and the UK and we intend on keeping both.

Over 200,000 jobs in Ireland rely on strong trade with the UK. Coming from a Border county like Louth, I know more than most the possible effects of a hard border. While there will be a political border between Ireland and the UK, there should not be an economic border on the island of Ireland. The Border needs to be invisible. We want to maintain a common travel area and the current situation regarding reciprocal citizens' rights and the ability of Irish and British citizens to live, work, access health, housing, welfare and pensions in each other's countries.

Ireland's unique situation will require tailor-made solutions. It will be difficult to determine how Border issues will be resolved until we know what will be the new arrangements between the UK and the EU. However, it is important to make as much progress as possible in the first phase where the Irish-specific issues have been prioritised.

We would like to continue to reassure Irish citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in Ireland that their rights have not changed. They are the same as they were before Article 50 was triggered.

While some progress has been made in negotiations, October is fast approaching. Further progress is needed. Our overall priorities are clear: no economic border; retention of the common travel area; protect the peace process; reciprocal rights; an effective transition arrangement leading to the closest possible trade relationship with the UK; and the need to work for the future of the Union.

Now is the time to be optimistic about Europe. Significant progress must be made on citizens' rights and the financial settlement so that the discussions on the EU's future relationship with the UK can begin. This is about building confidence. We need a foundation before we can build the house. This will be a long process and the outcome is far from determined. A lack of agreement resulting in a disorderly withdrawal would be damaging for all concerned, particularly Ireland.

I welcome the recent paper on guiding principles for Ireland and Northern Ireland from the European Commission's task force. That paper builds on the EU guidelines issued earlier this year in which Ireland's concerns and priorities were strongly acknowledged. The paper makes clear that it is the UK's responsibility to propose workable solutions when it comes to the Border.

The UK remaining in or as close as possible to the customs union and the Single Market would be the best solution. We want to maintain the trading relationships that have existed on our island for many decades. We are also passionate about the future of the European Union and playing our part in determining that.

We are not under any illusions about the complexity of Brexit. We have already taken important steps to prepare our economy, including in budget 2017, the Action Plan for Jobs 2017 and our trade and investment strategy. More initiatives are being prepared. Our Government enterprise agencies continue to work with companies helping them deal with Brexit, making them more competitive, diversifying market exposure and upskilling teams.

The EU is a home that we helped to build. The Irish Government is confident we can work together as 27 countries to deal with all these challenges. When Ireland joined the EU, our reliance on the UK for our exports was over 50%; it is now 17%. Our exports to the rest of the EU are currently 35% of our total exports. The EU is a marketplace of 500 million people; the UK is a marketplace of 65 million. This is not an either-or choice between the UK or our membership of the EU. We want the future relationship between the EU and the UK to be as close and as positive as possible. We will work hard with them to achieve that.

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 latest recorded figures show the UK received over £35 billion in foreign direct investment; Ireland during the same period received just over €5 billion. This represents a good 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.

I know from my constituency of Louth, the effects of foreign direct investment. We have seen many multinational companies locate to the town of Dundalk especially. The people and businesses of the town know at first hand the many benefits that large multinational companies locating to the town can bring. I wish to put on record the good work done by IDA Ireland in attracting foreign direct investment to the region. Dundalk has had more foreign direct investment over the past ten years than anywhere outside of Cork and Dublin, and that investment builds on this major urban centre's great tradition of industry.

A perfect example is Mullaharlin Park, a world-class science and technology space which is the result of a wonderful collaboration between Louth County Council and the IDA. Only last week we had the announcement of 125 new jobs as Graebel makes Dundalk its hub for its European, Middle Eastern and African operations. Dundalk owes much of its success to Dundalk Institute of Technology because of the quality of education it provides. Industries seeking to come to the region know they will be able to avail of a highly-trained and skilled workforce. Dundalk also has a reach of over 3 million people within a 90-minute drive. This is why the M1 corridor currently hosts many foreign direct investors. I congratulate Dundalk Chamber of Commerce on its 125-year anniversary and for having sold more than 800,000 "buy local" vouchers in Dundalk.

It is useful that we are having statements on Brexit after Guy Verhofstadt's visit here and British Prime Minister May's statement on Friday, 22 September, but we must look at the format of how we do this. We have had a debate on Brexit over two days. If we get past the first phase of the negotiations - I will deal with that in a minute - I believe the Government should work with the Opposition and other parties to publish an agreed statement, an agreed motion, from the Dáil reaffirming our position as an Oireachtas. I do not want this to be divisive. Statements are good and this business is appropriate but, as we get further down the line, if we get to a stage at which the financial settlement, Ireland and citizens' rights are agreed, the Dáil and the Seanad - the Oireachtas - should consider making a formal statement, particularly in light of the fact that we have a minority Government in place. Yes, we have Ministers in place, but it is important we do that.

I know this is not a questions-and-answers session but I am interested in the Government's view on the status of the negotiations on the financial settlement, citizens' rights and reciprocal rights between UK and EU citizens, and Ireland, specifically Northern Ireland. If we are really honest, progress has been extremely slow. One of the areas where there has been some positive comment is Ireland and the North of Ireland. However, I would caution again, as I have done every time I have spoken on this, that we should not allow Ireland and the North - the island of Ireland - to be used as a British Trojan horse when the British are dealing with the European Union. What is good for Ireland, in the position that Britain has actually put forward, is also good for Britain.

Furthermore, if history teaches us anything, it is that until recent times, the past two to three decades, British foreign policy has not been advantageous to Ireland but has been about Britain, Britain first and Britain alone. I would therefore be cautious about the welcome we are giving to Britain's affirming what it has already affirmed in international law. I refer to the Good Friday Agreement, to which the UK has signed up as a co-guarantor, and which is an international treaty lodged with the United Nations. The common travel area is also based on agreements between two sovereign states and those agreements go back to the foundation of the Free State. The Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area are therefore fundamental issues. I do not see Britain saying it will guarantee them as a give from Britain. They are must-haves. They are absolute. The UK cannot just unpick them, tear them up and throw them away.

I do not wish to be overly negative. There were positive aspects of the British Prime Minister's speech. Ireland was central to it, there was the reality of a time-limited extension to the two-year period, a transitionary arrangement, and there was a commitment to honour future financial commitments and obligations. The latter is important because it flies in the face of the "go whistle" strategy of Boris Johnson and others and is therefore a big change, which we recognise.

However, while we should not be used as a Trojan horse for Britain, neither can we allow ourselves to be used as a battering ram for the EU. It concerned me when Michel Barnier was here and took a particularly hard line, but some of Guy Verhofstadt's comments also concerned me. The engagement with Mr. Verhofstadt was useful to have, particularly the questions-and-answers element of it, but let us remember that Guy Verhofstadt is effectively the representative of the European Parliament. He is not a negotiator and is not on the negotiating team. When Mr. Verhofstadt says Ireland should not and will not suffer because of Brexit, I am absolutely with him 100%. They are good words but they must be backed up by deeds. Furthermore, when Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier and others say it should be up to the British to come up with solutions, I could be okay with that if I thought the British could come up with solutions to this and if Boris Johnson, Mr. Davis, Prime Minister May and a Cabinet in Britain, that is fractured, were not involved.

Are we going to leave it up to them to come up with solutions? The political judgment of the Tory Government over successive Prime Ministers, including the former Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, but particularly the current one, and successive foreign secretaries would tell me there is no way on earth we should leave it to the British to come up with solutions, particularly a solution to an Irish border. Again, history tells us that the British do not really have a fantastic track record of drawing up borders and dealing with international crises. I do not wish to be facetious. I genuinely think we and the EU have a role in bringing about solutions. It is not acceptable to say we will leave it to the British to come up with the solutions.

We must remember that when the British talk about free trade and access to a free market, the irony and contradiction of that is that they actually have that already. They have access to the largest free trading bloc in the world with the highest of standards and their own British companies export over €300 billion worth of goods and services into the EU. Do they actually think they will be able to replace that level of trade with trade with Argentina, Brazil, Australia, India and their former colonies in the far-reaching four corners of the world of the former British Empire? They will not be able to do so. Nor will we be able simply to replace any trade with Britain that is lost, and that will be very difficult. To talk about diversification is fine, but in certain sectors it is not that easy. The Minister knows this, as do my other colleagues in the Chamber, in particular in respect of the agrifood sector. In my area of Dublin Fingal, where there is a large horticultural sector, the value of exports to England has already dropped. We have lost nearly €800 million worth in the value of exports in that sector alone and we are highly exposed in certain other sectors.

What we have proposed, as a party, and I made this point to Guy Verhofstadt, is the creation of an EU reform fund, which is a pan-European fund that certain affected sectors, such as the horticultural sector in Holland, Poland or Ireland, can access so that those sectors which are most at risk and which are losing jobs can get real support from the EU. I welcome the fact Mr. Verhofstadt said that is under active consideration. However, what I need the Minister of State and the Government to do is to formally request it at Council of Ministers level and Commission level. That may have been done since July and the Minister of State may be able to inform me of this separately. When I was in Brussels with my own party team in May and June, we questioned whether a formal proposal had been put forward. A parliamentary question was also asked of the Minister of the time, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, as to whether we had requested of Europe a relaxation of state aid rules in order to look at an EU reform fund to assist businesses. It had not happened as of then.

If it has not happened, it needs to happen urgently while the door looks like it is slightly ajar. However, it should not be just seen as a dig-out or a helping hand for Ireland alone. In Denmark, Belgium and Holland there are people who are highly exposed to the British market, particularly in the horticultural sector. We need to level the playing pitch. We need have no doubt that, right now in Britain, EU state aid rules are not to the forefront of the British Government's mind. The Nissan deal in Sunderland was one area where, if we were to get the details, we would be able to see whether it breached state aid rules. We have to level the playing pitch.

Let us remember as well, as part of this, that while the UK is our biggest single market and a very important market that needs to continue operating, at the same time, Ireland is the UK's fifth biggest market. The trade between the two countries is over €60 billion a year, which is significant and important. Furthermore, what is also significant is the lack of agreement in an area where I would have foreseen agreement happening much sooner, namely, on citizens' rights and the reciprocal rights of citizens. We will have the largest number of EU citizens living outside of the EU should Brexit happen, which it will, and they are our own fellow citizens in the North of Ireland. However, what Britain proposed was a new level and a new grade of citizenship for which someone would actually have to apply and which was not reciprocated. The EU has been very clear that British citizens' rights in the EU will be protected and will be transferred across. However, if we cannot even agree that fundamental, I think we have to prepare for the worst; we have to work for the best but prepare for the worst.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo anocht. Rural communities in particular face very serious challenges as a result of Brexit. It is my belief that this Government has done precious little to ease that uncertainty and fear among many communities. Recent research by IBEC shows that the rural counties with the highest exposure to a potential hard Brexit are Cavan, Monaghan, Kerry and Longford. It estimates that 243,000, or 13.2%, of the employed population of these counties work in Brexit-exposed sectors. A report by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in March identified very serious threats to the agriculture sector and research by IBEC finds that average farm incomes overall could be slashed by more than 6%, which is a serious worry to many of us in the House. This is in addition to reports from Teagasc which show a 9% decrease in farm incomes in 2016.

I attended a briefing with representatives of the IFA earlier today and I can tell the House that Brexit is chief among the concerns for their livelihoods. There is fear that the progress that has been made by many farming families will be lost in this whole Brexit ordeal. Their interests and the interests of all citizens and all sectors need to be protected.

Bord Bia has stated that Brexit has already cost the Irish food and drink industry almost €570 million in 2016 and a report by lnterTradeIreland and the ESRI estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, exports of the food and beverage manufacturing sector to Britain could fall by 45%, or €2.1 billion. Workers in my own constituency have already been exposed to the negative impacts of Brexit, with the closure of the mushroom factory in Portarlington and the loss of 33 jobs. The prospect of a reinforced border on the island of Ireland is devastating for small businesses and the farming community, particularly for those who straddle the Border.

We do not want any border on this island. Sinn Féin has consistently called for special designated status for the North within the European Union in order to protect the interests of citizens on this island, North and South, and to respect their rights and their vote in the referendum. This call has been supported by all parties in the Dáil and is echoed in the report by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The Irish Government must intensify its efforts to advocate and build support for this position within the EU. Budget 2018 provides the Government with an important opportunity to strengthen supports to rural communities facing the challenges of Brexit.

Sinn Féin is arguing for the establishment of a €10 million Brexit support fund to assist small businesses and farmers in assessing and preparing themselves for Brexit. Such a fund will provide for the expansion of current enterprise programmes in order to enhance assistance to our SMEs, including those in the agrifood industry. The Action Plan for Rural Development commits to the commissioning of specific research on the impact of Brexit on rural Ireland. To date, this research has not been carried out, which again shows the neglect of rural Ireland. It is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. While I acknowledge extensive research has been carried out by relevant sectoral stakeholders, it is important that we obtain a comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by rural communities in social, economic and cultural terms. I believe this type of research is essential and will form a blueprint to ensure that appropriate planning can take place in order to mitigate negative consequences for rural communities. I urge the Government to commission this research without further delay and put in place a comprehensive plan to support rural Ireland in the challenges that lie ahead.

This Government was elected to support all citizens, rural and urban. I call on it to do just that in the context of Brexit.

There is unanimity across the House and among the majority of people in the North of this island that Brexit will be bad for Ireland. Not only is it a threat socially and economically, but it also threatens the health of people, north and south of the Border. It threatens the health of Irish people because a hard border will damage access to health care and health facilities, as well as damaging the health co-operation that exists.

The past decade has seen major developments in health co-operation, with a number of joint departmental projects being developed across the island. These include: work on shared radiotherapy and paediatric cardiac services; health promotion focusing on alcohol, tobacco and obesity; cancer research; mental health; and suicide prevention. In particular, I would highlight the areas of suicide prevention and shared radiotherapy services. A huge amount of work has been put in by the individuals concerned and those projects are really starting to show dividends. People in Donegal can now access radiotherapy services in Altnagelvin and it is extremely important for those people that we maintain that service.

There is already a shared understanding between the Governments, North and South, that health is an area of opportunity for shared provision. However, Brexit could derail this co-operation in a number of areas. In the 18 months to 30 June 2016, the HSE reimbursed over €650,000 for treatments and services in the North under the cross-border health care directive, which represented 277 people. I have spoken to people in my own constituency of Dublin Fingal who have availed of this and who have travelled across the Border to avail of services that we have not been able to offer them in this State.

Illness, disease and health know no borders and these figures demonstrate that people are willing to travel for vital services and treatment when they are needed. The evidence of this is in the every area and constituency; people will travel if they can get the health care they need.

It is of major concern that this scheme could cease North and South as a consequence of Brexit. Further entwining of the health services and co-operation can be found through the all-island congenital heart disease clinical network board. Only a few years ago the board was tasked to build a world class congenital heart disease service for all of the children and young people on the island who suffer with congenital heart conditions. As a result, an announcement was made in 2016 that capacity would be expanded for catheterisation procedures in the newly opened, state of the art hybrid cardiac catheterisation laboratory at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. This service is very much anticipated and needed. This will create an all-island catheterisation waiting list, to the benefit of children across the island. This will be the first all-island waiting list of its kind but a hard border will threaten this. To be clear, in order for this service to be effective it needs a critical mass of a minimum of 6 million people, which is the population of the whole island.

Brexit also threatens clinical trials for medicines and treatments which are carried out on an all-island basis. Cancer Trials Ireland, CTI, is the leading cancer research trials organisation in Ireland. A major goal of CTI is to strengthen the capacity for cancer centres across Ireland, North and South. While the vast majority of these trials are carried out in Cancer Trials research units in the south, a number of trials have participation from research units in the north. The withdrawal of Britain from the EU will, no doubt, have a significant impact on this.

A hard border threatens services that are already stretched and struggling in the Border region. Currently there is a memorandum of understanding between the ambulance services North and South. Ambulance personnel and paramedics from the North and the South routinely attend to people and accidents on either side of the Border. We should be looking at strengthening this understanding as opposed to having to deal with a situation where ambulances cannot operate in this manner any longer.

To date there is a record number of shared health services operating on a North-South basis. Those operating these services and those using them know that sickness and disease do not respect arbitrary borders and they are keenly aware that between the North and the South we have some of the best hospitals, doctors, nurses and health care professionals in the world. Such work could all be undone if the Government and all Members do not fight to ensure that there is no hard border.

What is being done to protect these services? I welcome the all-island health dialogue. It was a good innovation but it is not enough. We need to know that these arrangements will be Brexit-proofed. We need to know that people who live in the Border region will be able to rely on the systems that have developed through North-South co-operation. We need to know that these issues are taking priority in Government buildings and at negotiations between the EU and Britain.

While we respect the vote of the electorate in Britain, and rightly so, one cannot help being struck by the total lack of awareness and lack of preparation before Brexit on so many of the implications of Brexit. One is also struck by the way in which Brexit was reduced to just two issues: the money that Britain would save and the migrant issue. We now know of the massive implications for Ireland, for Irish-British relations and also for Northern Ireland. These implications cover a wide range of issues from agriculture, the agrifood business, transport, tourism, energy, the environment, culture and so on.

Ireland and the EU recognise that Brexit will impact significantly on our relations with Britain but I wonder if the British Government is really grasping that. There has been a lot of lip service paid. We know the old cliché of talking the talk but not walking the walk. On Northern Ireland, Brexit is very definitely gambling with the Good Friday Agreement, in spite of the assurances given. It is vital that what has been achieved in the Good Friday Agreement, imperfect as it is, is not jeopardised or undermined.

There will be consequences, unintended or otherwise, and I make the point again of the possible implications for identity and culture. These may, in the long run, be more significant and potentially dangerous than specific economic consequences. It is in an atmosphere of uncertainty that direct confrontation can happen.

We are hearing a lot of assurances that there will not be a return to the hard border. Those words are very welcome but what exactly will happen in reality? It seems that the suggestion of a transition period of at least two years is being considered. The farm groups are looking for five years and others are suggesting ten years. Prime Minister May said that Ireland has unique issues to consider and that protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area are of importance to Britain. The Prime Minister spoke of Britain's responsibilities to the island of Ireland, North and South. The words of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, this week match that. The words are there but the detail for realising those matters is still lacking. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has called for detailed implementation proposals and we are at that stage now. The real danger is that what is good for Ireland may not be compatible with what is good for the EU. There is a real danger that Ireland may be caught in the crossfire between Britain and the EU. Human nature being what it is, when one member leaves a club the other members will not be happy and they will certainly not give the member who leaves the same privileges and benefits of the members who are still in the club.

There is a need for support for Ireland as Brexit has the most impact on our economy. We must protect those jobs in businesses that are most affected. There is an example in Germany after reunification.

I shall now turn to the environment. Britain will not be bound by some of the key elements of the EU environment directives and there could be implications relating to the conservation of our shared natural heritage. I attended a retailers against smuggling event today and there was much concern, from attendees from North and South, that Brexit will create a bigger market for smuggling of cigarettes, loose tobacco and alcohol. Retailers conducted a survey that showed 51% of the Border retailers in the Republic of Ireland believe that ensuring there is no growth in price differentials between alcohol and tobacco sold in Northern Ireland and the South after Brexit is the primary way to prevent smuggling. They had staggering figures on the loss of revenue due to smuggling.

Britain has contributed considerably to the EU monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction. Their expertise has been particularly welcomed in the areas of research on the social and health response around drugs and drug addiction. One must wonder about this sort of membership and contribution continuing.

I acknowledge Britain's big contribution to overseas development aid - €13.3 billion - and the fact that Britain is one of five EU countries that has reached the 0.7% contribution. There could be that shortfall to consider. There is a danger that Britain could divert its overseas development aid to countries where Britain has a particular interest, rather than to the countries of most need. We are seeing an increase in its aid no longer being untied in the way ours is.

There are challenging times in this long goodbye as Britain leaves the EU but it is also a time of opportunity. There has been an over dependence by our markets on the British market; we know the figures for beef and dairy products. I acknowledge the work of the Departments, the embassies and our ambassadors in trying to develop new markets. At a committee on the issue we were told that if 1% of the firms relocated to Ireland it would mean 6,000 new jobs.

I attended the Committee for Budgetary Oversight earlier today and it was good to hear that the Minister for Finance is to introduce a Brexit package to support Irish businesses, exporters and hopefully the Irish farming sector. Witnesses at a recent Committee for Budgetary Oversight, including the Irish Tax Institute, IBEC and the chambers of commerce, all called for additional supports for companies that will be strongly impacted by Brexit whether in 2019 or 2021. I hope that any such tax expenditure will have detailed costings and that a time cap is put on whatever provisions the Minister will bring forward. Undoubtedly some supports are necessary for Irish industry and agriculture and the EU 27 should contribute heavily to their funding. I welcome that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, inaugurated the stakeholders' forum. The reality of the vital necessity to protect the North of Ireland and its people, in respect of Brexit, came home to us recently when the UK Office for National Statistics, in conjunction with Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and Ireland's Central Statistics Office showed us quite clearly the incredible amount of interaction between the North and the South. There are 110 million Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland crossings back and forth annually and a huge number of rail passengers.

There are nearly 300,000 UK citizens living in the Republic of Ireland while there are well over 100,000 persons of EU birth living in Northern Ireland. It is therefore welcome that Prime Minister Theresa May announced in her recent speech in Florence that the UK did not plan to bring forward new border infrastructure such as the infrastructure we had during the disastrous years of the Troubles. I also welcome the emphasis by Mr. Michel Barnier on the protection of the common travel area as a core objective. It was good to see that the Florence speech at last signalled an acceptance that a transition period was essential prior to Britain leaving the EU.

While the visits to the House of Mr. Michel Barnier and Mr. Guy Verhofstadt seemed reassuring at the time, it is fair to say that profound concerns remain among our citizens North and South as to whether our interests will really be protected in March 2021. Last week, we thought there had been strong progress on the three issues of our own country, citizens' rights and the financial settlement, but we have now heard that there has not been. A lot of people have concerns about both sides in this negotiation. In the UK, Minister David Davis and his Brexiteer allies were clearly ready at the start of the negotiations to have a so-called "hard Brexit" and to drive their economy and country, and us with them, off the cliff. That would have been disastrous for Irish and UK trade and for our economies. It is good to hear the British Labour Party say through Mr. Keir Starmer that there is a need for a transition period. The current and very popular leader, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, has indicated that there may have to be a second referendum on the result. Of course, the UK Labour Party feels the ordinary working people of England, in particular, and Wales made a decision to leave which has to be respected.

On the other side, it sometimes seems with Europe that it is a case of one step forward, two steps back. I have always been unhappy that Ireland is not directly represented at the table and that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, is not part of the actual negotiating team. We remember in the House the great former Finance Minister of Greece, Mr. Yanis Varoufakis. He detailed in his book "Adults in the Room" how impossible it was to negotiate with the EU. Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble, Mr. Jerome Dijsselbloem and the rest of them sidelined him and refused, almost, to accept him as the Finance Minister of his country. Eventually and in effect, they got him sacked.

The most astonishing thing of all on the European side is that at the very moment when one of its largest economies and member states is leaving, the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has come forward with federal proposals including qualified majority voting on the CCCTB - the tax base - which could be disastrous for us. We then had President Macron addressing the kids in the Sorbonne to say there will be one president and parliament for the eurozone and one finance minister. Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, who came to the House, is dedicated to creating a federation in Europe. At the very moment that people are leaving and five or six other member states, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, have grave concerns about the European Union, we get this agenda. What happened to multi-speed Europe? We have so much in common in terms of culture, history, trade and other interests and Britain could have stayed somewhere in the outer part of that planetary system.

I welcome the fact that there will be a Brexit package. I welcome the moves which have been made to link up and work closely with Denmark, the Netherlands and others to encourage a situation in which, if there must be a divorce, it is a velvet one. There are 22 smaller member states, of which we are one, in the remaining 27. Sometimes when one reads Mr. Yanis Varoufakis, one is reminded of the Hotel California from the famous song which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, may remember from his rock and roll days. As he knows, one of the lines states "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave". A lot of people think the European Union is exactly like that and that, in some way, Britain will always be with us as a member state.

I wish to share time with Deputy Seán Haughey.

It need hardly be said that this is an extremely important debate. It was very important that senior people from the Commission and the European Parliament had the opportunity to engage with us here in the Oireachtas. Some months ago and at my invitation, the Vice-President of the Commission, Mr. Franz Timmermans, came to a joint meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. It was the first public recognition at a committee by a senior Commission official that the Good Friday Agreement had to be protected. He accepted the arguments of the Chairman and other members of the committees of the centrality of the Good Friday Agreement to the future development of our country. We recorded very strongly that day the fact that since May 1998, the Good Friday Agreement had transformed our island.

As a person with the privilege of representing two of the Southern Ulster counties, I cross the Border several times a day as I travel in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. If I travel from Cavan town to Clones, I go in and out of Fermanagh four times. As such, I know what impediments and obstacles might exist for the likes of me and others living in that community in going about our daily business. The Good Friday Agreement has been transformative. I welcome the fact that Mr. Michel Barnier and, last week, Mr. Guy Verhofstadt have recognised in the House the importance of ensuring that the agreement is protected in full. We should refuse to countenance any diminution in the workings of the agreement or of its potential. One of the best meetings I participated in at parliamentary level on Brexit, its challenges and opportunities, was a meeting of the North-South Interparliamentary Association in the early days of December 2016. The association consists of members from Stormont and the Oireachtas. We had an extremely good, frank and vigorous debate that day. It was extremely important to widen the discussion to include people who do not share our views on this very important issue. Sadly, there is no Executive or Assembly in the North today yet we have never needed them more. I hope sincerely the Minister and his colleagues in government will work might and main to ensure the institutions get back up and running.

I have highlighted in the House on numerous occasions the vulnerability of the area I represent. The economy of the central Border area of Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Tyrone and Armagh is heavily dependent on the agrifood, construction products and engineering sectors. They are the three most vulnerable sectors as a result of Brexit. They have already been impacted by the fluctuations and weakness of sterling since June 2016. I have appealed to the Government at every opportunity, including during Question Time and other debates in the Dáil, to ensure that sector-specific assistance is given to enterprises in these sectors to help them remain competitive. They face huge challenges. In an area that suffered so much due to the Troubles over a period of more than 30 years, it was local enterprise and entrepreneurial flair that led to the creation of very successful businesses which have been built in the agrifood, construction products and engineering sectors. These sectors have been impacted most already as a result of the British referendum and they remain the most vulnerable. They are the most reliant on the British market for the export of their products. The budget is only a few weeks away and I must again appeal for specific assistance for those very vulnerable sectors.

I note also the tourism and hospitality sector. In the area I represent, a sizeable proportion of the sector's business comes from Northern Ireland. Obviously, the weakness of sterling has already had an impact. I hope sincerely that the 9% VAT rate will not be changed. While a change may be fine and dandy for hotels in the larger urban areas which are doing well, there is still a need for a major recovery in rural areas. It is essential to maintain the current VAT rate.

Some speakers earlier referred to the understandable focus in our Brexit debates on the economy, business and trade. Brexit will also impact on the provision of education and health services in my area. We have 30,000 people a day crossing the Border to go about their daily business of attending work or accessing health and education services.

We must ensure that, under no circumstances, obstacles are put in the way of people going about their daily business or in the movement of goods or services.

After the vote in the UK on 23 June 2016, I said in the House that it would be regrettable that a considerable amount of time, effort and resources would have to be expended by the Government, and public administration generally, trying to sort out the Brexit fallout. I said then that this would ensure policy-making in other areas would be delayed. One only need look at the crisis in our health services or the housing crisis to see these effects.

The concerns of Ireland then are still the concerns now, namely, the need to maintain the common travel area, the need to avoid a hard border between North and South, as well as the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. The British Prime Minister and European Commission have also agreed these issues need to be addressed. I welcome the support of Michel Barnier, European chief negotiator for Brexit, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit co-ordinator, for the view that the Irish question has to be addressed before moving to the next stage of the negotiations dealing with the new trade relationship. Their support given in this Chamber is most welcome. In his address last week in this Chamber, Guy Verhofstadt said ultimately the UK will have to propose and agree solutions to the Irish problem.

This is a concern. The UK’s Conservative Government has to deal with many problems, not just Brexit which is taking up much of its time. I am not sure Northern Ireland will be high on its list of priorities. Much of what the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, said in her Florence speech on 22 September, however, is to be welcomed. She spoke about the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area. She also ruled out any physical infrastructure at the Border. It is hard to see, however, how this can be achieved, given the UK is intent on leaving the customs union. For that reason, Fianna Fáil advocates the establishment of a special economic zone for Northern Ireland and the Border counties to enable them to maintain links with the European Union. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to this proposal and signal it to the UK Government in whatever way is deemed appropriate. It is also unfortunate that the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly are not in place. They are very much needed at this time.

Will the Government publish the proposed Brexit sectorial response plans? We need to properly resource and staff State agencies and do more to ensure diversification into new markets for Irish businesses. It does not look like sufficient progress will be made in the next few weeks on the three main issues at this stage of the negotiations, namely, the rights of UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK, the EU budget commitments and the Irish situation. As regards the future relationship, particularly in respect of trade, an overall solution as far as Ireland is concerned should involve a free trade agreement with conditions which mirror, as far as is practicable, the provisions of the customs union and the Single Market, together with lengthy transitional arrangements.

Members have already spoken about the future of Europe. A debate on the future of Europe, initiated by the European Commission, is now under way. It has taken on added impetus with the election of Emmanuel Macron in France and the re-election of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Ireland should remain at the heart of the European Union and should be fully committed to playing a full and active role in planning the EU. That said, we should pay particular attention to the speech made this week by the French President in which he called for further EU integration. In particular, he called for a common intervention force, defence budget and strategy and requested a European defence fund be established quickly. He also called for minimum and maximum corporate tax rates to be replaced by 2020. He suggested access to the EU Cohesion Fund be conditional on respect for these rates. All food for thought but Ireland will have to be particularly vigilant with regard to these two particular issues as the debate continues. As the Franco-German axis is fully restored, the interests of small nation states must not be forgotten.

We need a public consultation in this country as regards the future of the European Union. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs has initiated a process at parliamentary party level and brought in various stakeholders. The Irish public needs to be aware of this debate, these developments and have an input into the type of future European Union which we all want to see.

We are all talking in a vacuum tonight, as we do not know what the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, is really going to do or what her timeframe is for Brexit. I do not think even Mrs. May knows what she is doing herself. After the Brexit vote, I was the first to suggest we cajole the UK into having another vote. That may not even be out of the frame yet. I hope it is not because I know many people across the water and in the North who voted for Brexit but who would gladly vote the other way if there was another chance.

Brexit has already caused trouble. Deputy Brendan Smith from the Border county of Cavan spoke about how it is affecting his constituents. Believe it or not, it is also already affecting people as far as Killarney, Castleisland and Cahersiveen. Small manufacturers exporting to England are paying a high price and losing much money due to the fall in the sterling rate caused by the Brexit scenario. Several years ago there were small manufacturing companies in practically every town in Ireland. However, they have ceased business because, with the Nice treaty and other developments, all our small manufacturing companies went to eastern Europe for cheaper labour. Those we had left survived the economic crisis. However, Brexit will impact them with the fall in the value of sterling which will have a further adverse effect on rural areas such as Castleisland and Killarney.

There is much talk about special status for the North of Ireland. We should really be looking for special status for the Twenty-six Counties. With the value of sterling reduced, much trade from the South will inevitably go to the North. People will be able to buy many of the commodities they need for daily living cheaper there. That scenario could obtain for 20 years. What would that do to this current generation? It would wipe us out completely.

Today we met with representatives from the motor industry in Buswells Hotel. They are saying they are losing a large amount of trade with already many cheaper vehicles being brought down from the North or being brought across from England, which is impacting in a serious way on their sales.

There are many other similar matters that worry people. Every man, woman and child in the country will be affected if England eventually leaves the Single Market.

I call on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to act. Farmers throughout the country are worried about prices and what will happen their trade if we do not continue to have as much trade with the UK. We must ensure that this trade continues. In the meantime, however, I call on the Minister to seek to provide more markets for live cattle exports, even outside the European Union. Sadly, a group of people were protesting against the live cattle trade yesterday outside Agriculture House. I and many farmers throughout the country are not praying for them. We know that if farmers were dependent on the price offered by the factories, which are a monopoly and have a stranglehold on prices, they would be in a very bad position. If it were not for the live export of young cattle, many farmers would not be in business.

We are in a very serious situation. As I said, we are in a vacuum because we are dependent on what the government across the water will do. I ask this Government to leave no stone unturned in doing everything possible to protect the people we represent throughout the country. They range from small farmers and small manufacturers to exporters such as Liebherr Container Cranes in Killarney, which employs many people, and all the other exporters in the country. We must do our best to ensure that we maintain the standards and profits they have at present and that they are not reduced or hurt in any way.

Theresa May made a speech in Florence on Friday, 22 September, last. While a number of the points made in the speech are welcome, it is clear that the UK is intent on delivering a hard Brexit. We welcome that the Prime Minister emphasised in her speech the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area and ruled out any physical infrastructure at the Border.

The UK has been our largest trading partner for centuries and our countries trade approximately €1.2 billion in goods and services each week. All countries will be affected by Brexit, but Ireland will be disproportionally affected on several fronts among the EU member states. The issue of the Border is particularly complex and while we welcome that the UK has ruled out a return to any physical infrastructure at the Border there is no clarity on how it plans to avoid this, given that it is intent on leaving the customs union. The British have created this problem so we wish to see how they will solve it. Domestically, much more needs to be done to be Brexit ready. On several fronts Brexit is nothing short of a disaster for the people of Northern Ireland, the majority of whom voted to remain. Ultimately, Fianna Fáil wishes to see a Brexit deal that secures a trade deal which is as close as possible to what we have now. We also must maintain the almost invisible Border on the island.

The UK leaving the Single Market and possibly the customs union will have serious consequences for Ireland’s economy. Although Ireland has significantly diversified its economy and lessened its dependency on the UK market, Brexit will nevertheless have a profound impact on Ireland across a range of sectors. Some 14% of Ireland’s total exports go to the UK. Similarly, imports into Ireland from Great Britain accounted for 24% of total goods imported in 2015. In fact, in some sectors this reliance has increased over time.

Some of the most exposed products to the UK under the proportional exposure measure are Irish exports predominantly from the agrifood sector. A recent report by Bord Bia illustrates the challenges ahead for the agrifood sector, a sector that has already lost up to €570 million due to sterling depreciation. Currency fluctuation and the lack of certainty in currency rates are causing huge problems for the sector. Despite the growth in new markets, the UK remains by far the single largest trading partner for the agrifood sector. In 2016, agrifood exports to the UK totalled €4.8 billion or 39% of all our exports while imports were €3.7 billion or 40%, with a trade surplus of €1.1 billion.

Ireland’s food and live animal sector is substantially more exposed to the UK when compared with the other 27 member states. This sector accounts for just under 30% of Ireland’s goods exports to the UK. At the agrifood sub-sectoral level, Ireland’s meat and dairy products, in particular, are substantially more exposed to the UK in comparison with other countries. Some 50% of our beef exports and 26% of dairy exports go to the UK, as do 80% of our cheddar and 90% of our mushrooms. Regardless of what funding we put into State agencies, that dependency will take a long time to erode. Teagasc estimates that a 10% fall in the CAP, along with lower UK food prices due to tariffs, could reduce farm incomes by 26%.

Brexit poses challenges in terms of changes to the EU-UK trading relationship, changes to regulations and standards, border controls and certification and the related areas of veterinary and health certifications. For example, in the last couple of months stricter controls and more checks were put on Brazilian imports into the EU. If the UK leaves the EU, will it follow what the rest of Europe does? Among other actions what we require is: a Minister for Brexit to oversee and co-ordinate the cross-departmental approach required; detailed contingency and scenario planning, by sector, for a hard Brexit; increased resources for our State agencies, including the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia; an exporters fund to assist companies to diversify into new markets and maintain their UK market share; export credit to be available to offer finance to companies for international export operations and other activities; regulation changes to allow credit unions to loan to businesses; the corporation tax rate protected; a review of strategic plans, such as Food Wise 2025, in light of Brexit and the potential impacts on the development of the agrifood sector over the next decade; support for the regions and targeted measures to ensure that Brexit does not contribute to greater regional imbalance. It is the parts of this country that are dependent on agrifood businesses that will feel the chill of Brexit most.

Political activism is mainly a hard grind. Progress is usually frustratingly slow and barriers to development often seem insurmountable. However, on rare occasions big objectives coincide with major opportunities. When that happens, it is very important to have the skills to identify that and the doggedness to pursue those objectives. Brexit is an unmitigated disaster. It will affect every part of Ireland. I believe it will affect Ireland more than any other European country, including Britain. Obviously, it will push a coach and six through the Good Friday Agreement.

How we might mitigate the Brexit disaster will determine the economy and the politics of the island for a generation. Top of the list of threats to us is a border between North and South. Trade, travel, tourism and the lives of ordinary people will be significantly threatened.

There is a solution, however, one which provides for the free flow of people and goods, namely, special designated status. For a few months, Sinn Féin was alone in pushing for this solution. However, we succeeded in having a motion in favour of special designated status passed in the Dáil with the support of the majority of Deputies. My party's MPs have also been working long and hard on this issue in Britain. Just this week, they managed to persuade the British Labour Party, in the form of Owen Smith, the shadow Secretary of State for the North of Ireland, to state the North should stay in the European Union. That the shadow Secretary of State and Sinn Féin are on the same ground on this issue is an important development.

The European Union wants to punish Britain for the Brexit vote to ensure no other member state dares consider exiting the EU. Strangely enough, this desire to punish Britain presents the State with an opportunity. Guy Verhofstadt indicated he would support a solution that is virtually identical to that which Sinn Féin has put on the table. It is shocking that the European Union is taking a more ambitious approach to the Brexit process than the Fine Gael-Independent Government. The EU is at the leading edge on this issue, whereas the Government is, unfortunately, a reluctant laggard.

For the first time since the foundation of the Northern state, unionists have lost their majority position in the North. This is one of the most important developments in the North in my generation as it materially changes the moral right of unionists to dictate to the rest of Ireland what happens to the island of Ireland. Of course, we should listen to unionists and pay strong heed to their desires for the future. However, people in the North voted to remain in the European Union and unionism is in a minority position. Even by the rules imposed on the peace process by the British, unionists do not meet the criteria that would allow them to exercise a veto over the rest of us on this issue.

The democratic will of the Dáil is in favour of designated status for the North. The main opposition party in Britain is also in favour of designated status, as are the European Union and the majority of voters in the North. We have, therefore, an alignment of core interests and stakeholders in this process. If this is not a once in a generation opportunity to fix much of the collateral damage done to this island and much of the damage that Brexit threatens to do to Ireland, I do not know what is.

There are, however, challenges. We have a clueless and disinterested Tory Government in London and a Government here that is weak, feeble and reluctant. While we do not have any control over the British Government, we must try our damnedest to get the Government onside. I ask the Minister of State to take from this debate the message that the Government must recognise and doggedly pursue the opportunity Brexit presents. It must come on board with the voters of the North, the democratic will of this Chamber, the European Union and most of the British electorate.

To reiterate a point that was well made by Deputy Broughan, the biggest threat to the European Union is not the United Kingdom Independence Party or the Alternative für Deutschland but EU federalists. What struck me after Britain's vote to exit the European Union was the complete absence of some badly needed navel gazing. There was no understanding in the EU establishment that it needed to analyse the reasons the citizens of Europe were turning their backs on their focus on a federalist Europe. Unless such an analysis takes place, the EU will experience major trouble in the period ahead.

The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has raised the issues of consolidated corporation taxes and a European army immediately after a major country decided to leave the Union. The federalists are people deaf. The European Union needs to decentralise by devolving powers from the centre back to the people of Europe. They will not hear this message from yes-men or in an echo chamber. They will only hear it if we have a Government that is willing to stand up to the EU federalists and tell them what needs to happen. I ask the Minister of State to take that message back to the Government and European Union.

Brexit is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges Ireland has ever faced. It is an immense task which has serious ramifications for the entire island. The United Kingdom has traditionally been our largest trading partner, with our countries trading approximately €1.2 billion in goods and services each week. While all countries stand to be affected by Brexit, Ireland will be disproportionately affected on several fronts and more so than any other EU member state.

The British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, made a speech in Florence on Friday last. While a number of the points she made were welcome, it is clear the UK is intent on delivering a hard Brexit, given the Prime Minister's re-statement of her Government's position that the UK will leave the Single Market and customs union. It is incumbent on the Government to prepare and plan for this eventuality.

The issue of the Border is particularly complex. While we welcome that the UK has ruled out a return to any physical infrastructure at the Border, there is no clarity as to how it plans to avoid such a scenario given that it is intent on leaving the customs union. From the outset, the Fianna Fáil Party has strongly advocated the establishment of a special economic zone for Northern Ireland and the Border counties which would enable the North to maintain links with the EU. This possibility must, at a minimum, be explored in full.

Domestically, much more needs to be done to be Brexit ready. First and foremost, Northern Ireland is still without an executive and has been rudderless for a number of months. On several fronts, Brexit is nothing short of a disaster for people in Northern Ireland, the majority of whom voted to remain, and the Border counties. It is imperative, therefore, that all sides redouble their efforts to resolve outstanding issues and move forward to promote actively and to seek the least damaging Brexit possible.

I am the chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which recently undertook a series of engagements on Brexit and produced a document on the issue. In the course of our engagement, the committee heard presentations from, among others, Enterprise Ireland; IDA Ireland; InterTradeIreland; the Centre for Cross Border Studies; the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce; the Small Firms Association; the then Minister for Finance of Northern Ireland, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, MLA; the then Minister for Infrastructure of Northern Ireland, Chris Hazzard, MLA; and the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

The stakeholder engagement highlighted how difficult the road ahead will be and the importance of Ireland being prepared for the negative economic impact of Brexit and to take advantage of opportunities that may arise. The joint committee's report attempts to gain a better understanding of the consequences of Brexit on the economy, jobs and enterprise. The future trading relationship between the European Union and United Kingdom will be critical. The closer we remain to the current relationship, the less will be the impact of Brexit. However, as we seem to be heading for a very hard Brexit, we must be ready for the worst case scenario.

We have already begun to see some of the negative consequences of the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote. I propose to address a number of these issues. It is vital that Ireland has a strong voice in the Brexit negotiations. It is important that we argue strongly in favour of making a transitional agreement until such time as the future relationship between the EU and UK is agreed. A special status arrangement for Northern Ireland within the European Union is also vital to protect the rights of Northern Irish citizens and residents. The peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement must also be at the forefront of negotiations. As the Border area is likely to be one of the regions of Europe most affected by Brexit, it is imperative that peace and community projects continue to be funded. Deputy Tóibín raised the issue of special designated status for the North.

I am happy to say that our committee recommended a designated special status for Northern Ireland within the EU that protected the peace process, allowed access to the Single Market and all EU funding streams, retained the common travel area, allowed access to EU institutions, including the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, and EU sectoral agreements, and protected EU rights pertaining to employment, social security and health care.

The enterprise agencies' funding must be adequate to help businesses that are struggling due to Brexit and maintain Ireland's image internationally as a country that is open for business and investment. I hope that funding for the IDA and Enterprise Ireland will be addressed in the forthcoming budget.

Ireland is a proud and committed member of the EU. As proud Europeans, it is our duty to highlight areas that need reform. To deal with the effects of Brexit, it is vital that there be changes to the EU's fiscal rules to allow for more capital investment across the Continent. By allowing for greater capital investment, EU member states will be better able to prepare their economies post Brexit. There also need to be exemptions from state aid rules to allow member states to aid businesses and sectors that are experiencing particular difficulties related to Brexit. Allowances need to be made for the exceptional circumstances in which the EU, particularly Ireland, finds itself.

It is important that the EU does not become embroiled in a race to the bottom with the UK. High standards in environmental and employment law must be maintained. We want a competitive economy, but one that provides secure, well-paid jobs.

The committee believes that action needs to be taken within the Irish economy. Businesses throughout the country must be helped to understand the dangers of Brexit. This applies to all firms, not just those that are directly involved in exporting to the UK. An early warning system should also be developed, bringing together employers and employees or unions to help identify sectors and enterprises at risk. The committee has recommended that the Department monitors the number of businesses relocating from Ireland to the UK and determines what measures can be put in place to avoid this.

The committee believes that there needs to be investment in education, infrastructure, housing and office space throughout the country to allow communities and businesses to mitigate the negative consequences of Brexit. For its part, the committee is fully committed to monitoring the progress being made on the ongoing implementation of the recommendations in the report, as well as other policy initiatives, in close consultation with Ministers, the Department, its agencies and other stakeholders with responsibility for policy in this area. Brexit will require a response from the whole country, including Government and all stakeholders.

Is someone sharing Deputy Butler's time?

Actually, the Deputies are not sharing, so I must cross the floor to Deputy Durkan.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Brexit affects every aspect of people's lives on the island of Ireland, North and South. The decision taken by the people of the UK by way of a referendum has the potential to have a major negative impact on this country, some of which has already been felt.

However, I am not as pessimistic as many seem to be. There are opportunities. Contrary to what some say, the Irish Government has adopted the correct attitude. It has maintained its position on retaining the status quo and included the island of Ireland in its submissions. The EU has responded positively and recognised the need for the island of Ireland to proceed within the customs union, the Single Market and the common travel area.

All this will undoubtedly be difficult. It is a new ball game and a challenge to everyone, but it comes down to the extent to which the British Government is prepared to negotiate. It initiated its departure - it had that right - but it must consequently negotiate its exit. At the beginning, it was stated that no agreement would be better than a bad one, but I am not so sure about that. Our part of the EU will need to trade with the UK, and it would be much better were Ireland to trade as a single entity. Again, it comes down to the extent to which the British Government will agree to that, but it is not impossible. This approach can be catered for, either within existing arrangements or if changes in structures are needed.

Similarly, the UK needs to trade with the EU after Brexit. It cannot do all its trade with far-flung regions around the globe, even if that means cheaper imports. Again, that issue is down to the UK Government.

One of the problems is that the people of the UK were told before the referendum about the massive savings that would accrue as a result of exiting the EU. Of course, those savings were never quantified or backed up. The facts did not emerge until afterwards. It is sad to say that people and, in particular, the British Government have suddenly recognised that much of that talk was chatter, something that was grasped by some at the time to sell what they were selling because they wanted out of the Union. We must not forget that the decision was not made by a landslide majority or that Northern Ireland did not acquiesce in going the same route. Neither did Scotland.

All credit is due to the Irish Government. In the early stages, the previous Taoiseach nailed down the territory on which we would negotiate, that being retaining the status quo and everything that entailed. That is still the case. To be fair to all sides of the House, the Opposition has generally been supportive of that concept because it is the only show in town.

The new Taoiseach has continued solidly and constructively in the same vein. This has been critical to the debate. If any chink appears in the armour, if any weakness shows at all, negotiators will see it.

People say that we should accelerate the negotiations, but that is for the UK Government. It exited; it made the decision. It is not for the rest of us to compromise our position.

I agree with the number of Deputies who made the point that this country should not be used as a Trojan Horse. It is important for both parts of the island of Ireland that we speak, operate and negotiate as one and that we leave no one behind. It is equally important that we speak as members of the EU. While many aspects of Europe need to be changed, improved and so on, the Europe we have had in recent years has been immeasurably better than anything in the previous 100 years. That would not be difficult to guess.

We need the resolve to see this out and get the best of what we had before. Prior to Brexit, we could have sought improvements, so there is no reason in the wide earthly world that we could not continue doing so in the interests of the island of Ireland.

The politicians and public in Northern Ireland are good, hard-headed business people. They may have political difficulties from time to time, but they know what is in their interests as well as ours. They know the degree to which we must co-operate to do what is necessary to get over this difficulty.

Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier and all the other Europeans we have met in recent times have been very reassuring and have shown a very clear knowledge of the situation in this country with regard to the Border between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. They have reiterated at every opportunity their view that they understand our situation, that it is in the European Union's interest to retain the status quo, that it is in the interest of this part of the European Union, as it was, to retain the status quo and that it is in the interest of the future development of Europe that we stand over what we say and that we do not blink.

I will conclude by saying a certain amount of poker playing is going on. There always is in any negotiation that takes place, particularly in situations like this. We have to show that we have the prowess and ability to play the game of poker as well as anybody else. We have a lot to play for and we have a lot to lose if we blink. We should not blink. We should be reassured of the strength of our case and be convincing to ourselves, but more especially to our colleagues across the Irish Sea with the support and co-operation of our European Union colleagues.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union approximately 16 months ago, it was an opportunity for us to pull out our green cards and go on a Brit-bashing tour which so many of us, that is, politicians, the media, and the general public duly did. What has become clear over the past number of months is that any attempts to make the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union as painless as possible for the island of Ireland as a whole has actually come from the British Government. The stance of the British Government on Brexit has softened since the Conservatives had a disastrous general election result on 8 June. Although the softening of its stance is welcome, I find it astounding that it is it which has stood up more for Ireland’s interests in the recent talks than our own Government which is playing a game of tit-for-tat. Let me remind the House that it is a Conservative-DUP Administration. Prime Minister May has already said the freedoms of Irish citizens in the UK are to be preserved and that they would not have to apply for a document similar to an ID card in post-Brexit Britain, something that sadly so many non-British nationals in post-Brexit Britain will have to do in the coming years. Freedom of movement between Ireland and the UK is high on the priority list for the British Government. There are greater challenges ahead in terms of trade which will require reasonable input from all institutions.

No Member of this House wants a return to a hard border between the North and South. The EU needs to be reminded that it was the British and Irish-led Governments along with all parties in Northern Ireland that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It is only us who understand the significance of any such border. What impact has the European Union had on previous Anglo-Irish relations such as the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998? The European input was greatly appreciated during those intense times. I understand and respect that the EU is compelled to seek the best deal for its member states as a result of the UK leaving the EU but we should not underestimate our ability to negotiate bilaterally with the British Government and start putting Ireland first for a change.

One issue on which I feel strongly, as does the Fianna Fáil Party, is that a Brexit Minister should be appointed to co-ordinate overall negotiations with the various Government Departments. Following Brexit, many Ministers said there were positives resulting from Brexit, with the example that we could entice financial institutions from the City of London. Our big issue here is that agricultural trade with Britain is of paramount importance. No matter what happens with Brexit, it is important that in any agreement, agricultural trade continues with the British. That is why we need a Brexit Minister so that every Department filters through him or her to ensure we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

I welcome the opportunity to make some concluding remarks this evening. I believe that a detailed debate on the issue this early in the Dáil term has been time well spent. All of us are in daily contact with a vast array of stakeholders who are deeply worried about the impact Brexit will have on their lives and livelihood. Just this morning, I met with the executive of Galway county IFA. The first item on the agenda was Brexit and the likely impact of Brexit on the agricultural economy of County Galway.

I thank all the Deputies who have contributed over the past two days, many of whom have highlighted the issues and concerns they have been hearing in their constituencies. It is important these concerns find voice and are brought to bear on our collective thinking and planning for Brexit. It is a priority for the Government and I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is convening the third plenary session of the all-island civic dialogue tomorrow in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. Since its establishment in November 2016 over 1,500 representatives from a range of industry and civil society groups have taken part in the all-island civic dialogue process. Its inaugural plenary session marked the beginning of a series of public consultations with a broad range of stakeholders and 19 all-island sectoral dialogues have taken place across the country. The work of that civic dialogue process to date has had an important role to play in shaping and reaffirming the priority issues identified by the Government ahead of the negotiations. The issues identified across a range of sectors were clearly reflected in the Government's comprehensive document, Ireland and the Negotiations on the UK's Withdrawal from the European Union: the Government's Approach, which was published on 2 May.

Additionally, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has established a Brexit stakeholder forum as a means to inform and explain the Government's position during the Article 50 negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. This brings together the voice of business, unions, political parties or State agencies and specific key sectors such as farming, and leading experts. A particular focus of this forum will be on our preparations for phase two of the EU-UK negotiations when parallel discussions are expected to begin on the framework of the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

The Government is strongly committed to engaging with all relevant stakeholders, is doing so and will continue to do so. We are acutely aware of the concerns of all sectors including the agrifood sector and it is clear our response must be multifaceted, requiring cohesive action here, at home and in the EU and further afield. As the House is aware, the Taoiseach has designated special responsibility to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for the all-of-Government response to Brexit. Further intensifying the co-ordination of work across all Departments will be an immediate priority and to this end new cross-departmental co-ordination structures are now in place chaired at a very senior level by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is clear the conclusion of a withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK will continue to be a very significant focus of our efforts in the immediate term and I will return to this shortly. I also assure the House that the wider goal of protecting our economic interests in terms of trade and investment in the UK will be a key priority as well as a need to drive further diversification of our trade and investment flows across the globe.

My Department and its diplomatic missions will play a crucial role in protecting these interests and in promoting diversification and identifying and seizing new opportunities. It is clear Ireland will need to augment resources in networks overseas, including our diplomatic network. We also need to capture larger market shares in fast growing emerging countries and our priority will be to maintain, grow and diversify our share of international trade, employment and investment given the challenges of Brexit and a more competitive world. The recently published trade strategy, Ireland Connected: Trading and Investing in a Dynamic World, and the Taoiseach's recent announcement of a wish to double our presence across the world by 2025 are a clear demonstration of the Government's ambitions in this area. Our efforts to realise the economic opportunities as distinct from the challenges arising from Brexit also include working closely with the Ministers, Deputy Harris and Deputy Donohoe, on Ireland's bid to bring the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority to Dublin. Brexit will be a critical factor in our long-term economic strategy and a new ten-year capital plan is in preparation.

We are revising our Enterprise 2025 policy and we are in active discussions with the European Investment Bank for a potential increase in investment in the country.

The Government's enterprise agencies continue to work with companies, helping them to deal with Brexit, making them more competitive, diversifying market exposure and upskilling teams. In this regard I strongly encourage businesses to make use of the resources and the advice available including through our local enterprise offices and Bord Bia to help them build their own plans for Brexit.

We are entering an important phase of the negotiations. We know that in broad terms the EU and the UK share the ambition of sharing the closest possible relationship in the future and I welcome that the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, confirmed this overriding objective in her speech last week. However, certain important milestones must be passed to get to this point. First, we want to achieve an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU. As the Minister, Deputy Coveney, set out in his opening remarks, a key benchmark in coming weeks will be the question of whether sufficient progress has been made on the so-called withdrawal issues during the current phase of the negotiations.

At the outset of the negotiations the EU and the UK agreed that the advancement of these issues must be the immediate priority so that we can move as quickly as possible to begin discussions on the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Last week's speech by the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, was welcome. It provided some further clarity on the UK's position, including on citizens' rights and the financial settlement. We will now wait with anticipation for Mr. Michel Barnier to outline tomorrow the extent to which these commitments have translated to progress around the negotiating table during this week's round of negotiations.

Ireland has also consistently stressed that a transition phase supported by adequate governance arrangements will be required to minimise the disruption of trade and avoid a cliff-edge scenario. Equally important will be to ensure a level playing field on any future EU-UK agreement and to ensure the integrity of the Single Market and customs union. This is also in Ireland's fundamental economic interest.

The closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK must be based on a level playing field and recognise the proper balance between rights and obligations, an issue also helpfully acknowledged by the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in her speech last week. I have spoken of the so-called withdrawal issues, which, of course, include the unique set of issues related to the situation on the island of Ireland and which, quite understandably, have been raised repeatedly throughout this week's debate.

The continuing understanding we enjoy from our EU partners is very clear. This shone through very clearly during last week's visit to Dublin by Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, MEP. I know that our partners in the EU 27 reiterated their support at the General Affairs Council earlier this week which was attended by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. Ireland's unique priorities of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, maintaining the common travel area, and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland have been reflected in the EU's core negotiating documents. We will continue to work closely with Mr. Barnier and his team to advance Ireland's concerns in these negotiations to build on the progress made to date.

I thank all the Deputies who took the time to contribute to the debate. I assure the House of the Government's commitment to continue such engagement in the coming weeks and months.