Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Last Friday, when the Government published this no-deal Brexit legislation, I remarked that, as an Oireachtas Member for 21 years, I found myself having the curious feeling of hoping this was one law which would do no more than sit on the shelf. People knew what I meant. It is in part an expression of the overall sense of sadness Ireland feels at the UK's decision to leave the European Union. It is also an expression of disbelief that the British Government and Parliament would allow the UK to leave the EU in a disorderly fashion. Members should make no mistake. Such a result would be a lose, lose, lose for the people of the United Kingdom, Ireland and the European Union.

The Westminster Parliament is the only place which can prevent this from happening. Westminster needs to make up its mind, collectively, about what it wants. Today's debate in the House of Commons illustrates the fluidity of the situation and, accordingly, the need for us to be prepared for all eventualities. Our history with Britain is deep and complicated but it has arrived at a position of parity, trust and close friendship where we are co-guarantors of peace on our islands. The Irish and British live, study and work together, as well as marry each other and have families together. We understand each other's sense of self and sense of humour.

In politics we agree on a lot more than we disagree on. Brexit must not be allowed to take any of this away from the British-Irish relationship today.

Somewhere along the road, the Irish and the British outlook and politics related to the European Union diverted dramatically. We joined the EU together in 1973 when critics here claimed a small nation like Ireland would be assimilated. Instead we flourished. As a Deputy representing the people of Cork, I am proud to be Irish but I am also proud to be a European. I am proud of the European Union and what it has given our country but also what we in turn have given the EU. I want my three daughters to have the freedom to travel in Europe, perhaps to study or work in another EU country and speak other European languages. They will be no less Irish for doing so. Being Irish today is about being outward looking, generous and European.

As an Irish politician I will face no backlash from the people who elect me for saying any of this. However, too few politicians in the UK were able or willing to say such things when discussing whether to leave the EU. That is something every Member of this House must be wide awake to as the same inward looking political reversal is possible in all European Union countries. It would be complacent and naive to think otherwise. Brexit has reinforced once again that the loudest agitators in politics, the ones who get the most media attention, often have the least understanding of the consequences of that for which they advocate. It is important for all of us who believe in the EU, as I do - the Government, Opposition and those standing for public office, especially those standing in this year’s European elections - to communicate honestly to the Irish people the ongoing privileges and advantages of our EU membership.

However much we wish, we are not going to wake up to find the last two and a half years have been a bad dream. The UK is leaving the European Union and today we still do not know how or under what conditions. This poses unique and unprecedented challenges for Ireland. The Government continues to work towards the ratification of the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as a priority. We remain closely engaged with our EU partners, as well as maintaining ongoing contacts with the UK. Discussions are ongoing in Brussels between the EU and the UK. The EU has made it absolutely clear that it stands by the withdrawal agreement, and it is not open for renegotiation. However, the EU has made it clear throughout this process that it will listen to British concerns. It will continue to do so and try to accommodate them. Ratification of the withdrawal agreement would allow us to move on to start work on the agreement that will frame our future relationship. The withdrawal agreement gets us to that next phase in the best way possible.

I would like again to take the opportunity to state that the unity and common purpose of all of the parties here in the Dáil to deal with this common challenge has been invaluable. I thank all Members for this facilitation and support that they have given in the context of the negotiations to date. Brexit will bring real changes for all of us. The Government has been working hard to ensure that Ireland is ready for the changes and challenges that Brexit brings. We continue to seek to mitigate, as far as possible, the negative impacts of what is to come. With the impending approach of the Brexit deadline, we have had no choice but to ramp up our no-deal plans. The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill, which the Government now lays before the Dáil, is a key part of that work. It covers, in primary legislation, the issues that need to be addressed immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit, ensuring that key measures and protections are in place. It focuses on protecting our citizens and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs, particularly in key economic and vulnerable sectors.

The Bill forms part of the extensive preparations that are under way across Government and across the EU. Our preparations include a range of measures such as the recruitment of customs and sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, officials, preparations at our ports and airports, and a range of financial and advisory supports for businesses to help them to prepare for Brexit. Comprehensive, cross-Government preparations were set out in the Government’s contingency action plan, published in December, and updated on 30 January. This work continues at both a national and EU level. All Departments have sector-specific plans in place. These address key challenges arising from a no-deal Brexit, and associated mitigation efforts.

Our work at national level goes in tandem with the significant work under way across the EU to prepare for the UK’s possible departure without a deal on the 29 March. At EU level, 12 separate legislative proposals have been made as part of Brexit contingency preparations. They range from aviation connectivity to road freight connectivity, from dual use goods to fishing authorisations. Ireland has engaged on the detail of what is proposed at EU level on contingency to ensure that our concerns are reflected in proposals being taken forward at EU level.

Given the emergency nature of this legislation, the Government took the decision that progressing this through the Houses as an omnibus Bill was the most practical and sensible way to ensure that we have the necessary legislation enacted on time. The Bill contains 15 Parts, addressing primary legislative issues which require immediate attention in a no-deal scenario. These will be complemented by range of issues which will be addressed by statutory instrument, also before 29 March. Primary legislative measures have been identified following a detailed screening by all Departments of legislation currently in force. The relevant Ministers will introduce their sections of the Bill and set out those measures under their remit in more detail. However, I would like to give Deputies a brief overview of the proposals.

First, should the withdrawal agreement be ratified, this Bill will make provision in domestic law for a transition period during which EU rules and regulations will continue to apply to the UK, even though it will be formally a third country. This transition period effectively maintains the status quo up to December 2020. It will allow for the negotiation of an agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, and provide certainty to citizens and business as we continue our preparations for the new relationship with UK outside the EU. That provision will apply should a withdrawal agreement be agreed and we move into a transition phase. It will ensure that we treat the UK as a third country outside of the EU but in transition, effectively, as an EU member state. That section is different from the rest of the proposed legislation which applies in a no-deal emergency situation.

Protecting and maintaining the common travel area and the associated rights and privileges is a key part of our planning and preparations. This is vital in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland peace process, as well as for broader Ireland-UK relations. The Bill, therefore, includes measures to underpin the common travel area, CTA, to ensure that the associated rights and entitlements of Irish and British citizens under this long-standing arrangement will continue in all circumstances, deal or no deal.

In the area of health services, the Bill provides continuity for a range of existing healthcare arrangements between Ireland and the UK, once the UK leaves the EU. The Minister for Health will be provided with the power to make regulations in a number of matters, including to enable persons from Ireland to access healthcare in the UK. This seeks to ensure that insofar as possible there is minimum disruption to health services and that essential services are maintained on a cross-Border, all-island, and Ireland-UK basis, which anyone living in the Border counties will understand only too well, as will those living elsewhere.

In the area of social protection, the Bill provides for the continued payment of a range of benefits, including old age pensions, illness benefits and child benefit. It ensures the recognition of contributions made when working in the UK, and access to social insurance payments.

It is important that we ensure a seamless transition and that existing payments are protected and maintained. The Bill also provides protection for workers whose UK-based employer becomes insolvent.

In the area of higher education, the Bill protects the continued mobility of students under the common travel area. It will allow SUSI grants to be paid to eligible Irish students studying in the UK, as well as to UK students in Irish higher education institutions. This will provide certainty for Irish students studying, or considering studying, in the UK and for UK students in Ireland. These measures protect and enhance the long-standing excellent co-operation and collaboration between higher education systems in Ireland and the UK.

The Government is determined to maintain the strong co-operation with the UK in the area of law enforcement, particularly in the context of Northern Ireland. The Bill includes provisions to ensure that justice and security co-operation with the UK, as a third country, can continue. It puts in place measures to apply the 1957 European Convention on Extradition to the UK. This will ensure workable extradition arrangements are in place between ourselves and the UK. It also makes amendments to the Immigration Acts, which might otherwise expose the State to the risk that removals would be unsuccessful and undermine existing arrangements.

From the outset, the Government has made it a priority to minimise the impact of Brexit on North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. The Bill addresses sectors where major challenges associated with a no-deal Brexit have been identified, including all-island transport and energy. Provisions in transport will protect cross-Border bus services, ensuring continued service provision for passengers and commuters on the island of Ireland. This covers compatibility with EU rules that govern services between a member state and a third country in respect of areas such as the recognition of driver qualifications.

The Bill will enable the Commission for Energy Regulation to address possible issues arising from a no-deal Brexit and maintain the operation of the single electricity market, which is so important to Northern Ireland in particular.

The Bill also covers tax measures that seek to minimise the disruption to business operating cross-Border in the immediate aftermath of a no-deal Brexit. In the context of capital acquisition tax, the amendment provides continuity in existing treatment so that landowners who operate cross-Border will not be disadvantaged. On corporation tax, the amendment maintains the status quo for tax treatment of certain transaction or corporate group structures.

The Government and the Commission have paid particular attention to the impact of Brexit on Irish business in their contingency planning. Businesses and other affected areas need to respond and prepare themselves, and the Government is providing an array of supports and information to assist them.

The Bill will give Enterprise Ireland additional enabling power to further support businesses through widened investment, loans, and research and development and investment grants. This is to further assist Irish businesses in remaining competitive and resilient in a no-deal Brexit context. This will maximise our capacity to support businesses in the face of what could be a difficult transition.

The Bill also provides continuity for financial services, while the Irish market transitions to a new central securities depository provider. Other measures provide for a temporary run-off regime to protect Irish policyholders from continuity issues with their insurance contracts in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Finally, the Bill includes provisions to introduce postponed accounting for VAT purposes in a no-deal scenario. This will alleviate the impact of potential cashflow burden issues faced by businesses post-Brexit. This is a practical measure which will support businesses and was an issue highlighted by multiple industry representatives.

I would like to flag that, in the area of taxation, the Minister for Finance will introduce two technical changes on taxation on Committee Stage next week. I will happily brief any of my colleagues on the content of that should they want it.

It is the Government’s intention that, following the Second Stage reading this week, to take Committee and Report Stages next week. The Bill will go to the Seanad for Second Stage, Committee Stage and Report Stage in the week of 11 to 14 March. This timeline allows for commencement orders and other secondary legislation arising, numbering some 30 items, to be enacted in time for 29 March. Ministers have briefed Oireachtas committees over the past two weeks, since the publication of the heads of the Bill, to discuss the proposed measures in their sectoral areas. As the timelines are tight for the necessary enactment, the Government will work closely with all Opposition parties in the Oireachtas and all Members of the Dáil and Seanad to ensure that the necessary no-deal Brexit related legislation will be in place before the end of March. This legislation is an essential part of our whole-of-Government preparations for Brexit. I appreciate the co-operation and assistance from all Members in both Houses to ensure that we can get this Bill through the relevant stages and enacted in time.

The potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland would be severe. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, recently outlined the potential macroeconomic impacts and negative impacts that would be faced across a number of exposed sectors. Our preparations, including through our legislative proposals, are focussed on minimising these impacts. I reiterate, however, that managing a no-deal Brexit is an exercise in damage limitation. It would be impossible in a no-deal scenario to maintain the current seamless arrangements between the EU and UK across the range of sectors which are, at present, facilitated by our common EU membership. The Government is committed to working at a national level, as well as at a European level, to minimise impacts for our citizens and businesses as much as possible. The Bill before the House forms an important part of this work. It puts in place necessary measures for the application of a transition period under the withdrawal agreement. It also provides continuity in key arrangements with the UK, notably in the context of the CTA. In doing so, it seeks to protect our citizens and support the economy, enterprise and jobs, in key economic sectors.

There will come a time, I hope, when the word "Brexit" will no longer dominate the lens through which the British-Irish relationship is viewed. The Government is determined to ensure that Britain and Ireland build new structures to build and maintain our strong and special relationship. I say again, however, that our future is European. It is incumbent on all of us here to ensure Ireland remains an active and committed member of the EU and its Single Market and customs union. There is no greater demonstration of the benefits of EU membership to a country like Ireland than the unity and solidarity shown by our EU partners in the face of the potential exposure of this country to the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

I look forward to colleagues' comments.

With 31 days to Brexit, it is extremely disappointing and worrying that we find ourselves in this situation of having to pass emergency legislation to try to minimise the damage to our country and our citizens because of the UK Government's failure to ratify the withdrawal treaty which it negotiated and helped to craft. We are but onlookers to this entire mess, something which we did not ask for or create but which nevertheless impacts on us heavily.

The Oireachtas has shown incredible political maturity in uniting to navigate Brexit together and ensuring that we do all we can to protect Ireland's interests. We have at times disagreed with the Government's approach to the Brexit process - particularly in the context of the disintegration in Anglo-Irish relations - and we remain dissatisfied with the level of preparedness for a potential no-deal Brexit. Notwithstanding this, Fianna Fáil has, despite the posturing of others in this House, given Government the latitude to deal with Brexit in the national interest. When one compares and contrasts the political situation here to that in the UK, one is comparing stability with chaos. The stable political situation here in Ireland has allowed us as an Oireachtas to have to a mature and responsible approach to Brexit and work to protect our economy, our people, our farmers and our business community.

I am proud of the role my party and its leader have played in ensuring that much-needed stability our country needs right now, particularly in light of the cheap political stunt Sinn Féin tried to pull last week when it attempted to plunge the country into a general election. What Sinn Féin wants is to develop the same chaos here that it has created in the North, playing right into the hands of the hard-line Brexiteers and attempting to mirror the chaos in London. I am thankful that it was unsuccessful in what it attempted to do.

There are only 11 Dáil sitting days until 29 March. The time is tight to get this mammoth legislation through the House but I and my colleagues in Fianna Fáil will do all we can to facilitate its timely passage. We are, however, disappointed that the Bill was only published on Friday last and that the Opposition has been given insufficient time to scrutinise it properly. Given the goodwill that exists on the part of my party in assisting the Government in getting the legislation through and despite numerous requests from me to see it sooner, this request was not facilitated and the reasons given are not acceptable. It is in all our interests to ensure that this crucial Bill is as robust as possible and it is our opinion that much more time should have been allocated in respect of it.

The Bill was published on Friday and, four days later, is now before the House. By the Government’s own admission, it is a substantial item of legislation, so the time provided to the Opposition to scrutinise it - effectively a weekend - is wholly inadequate. It was simply unnecessary to create this situation. It is no secret that other countries, including France and the Netherlands, published their Brexit legislation a number of months ago. We seem to be on the back foot in terms of contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit. Given that Ireland is the country most exposed to the impact of Brexit, we should really be out front in terms of our preparations for a no-deal Brexit, not at the back of the queue and lagging behind, trying to catch up.

All of us in this House, like the Tánaiste, are hoping that this emergency legislation will not be required and that either a deal can be reached or there will be an extension of the Article 50 process. It appears likely an extension will be sought and granted, given how little time is left, but it is not a guarantee that it will be requested by the United Kingdom. We do not know what length of extension will be sought in the event that there is a request from the UK, but an extension, while preferable to a crash out, will not be without impact. The continued uncertainty is having a negative impact on sterling prices, business and farming. As a result, this is not an ideal situation by any means. The business community is crying out for some degree of certainty in order that it can plan and make investments but a picture is being painted that so much is on hold as we wait to see what happens.

The situation is extremely fluid. Yesterday, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, stated that she would delay the next meaningful vote on Brexit until 12 March, only 17 days out from Brexit day, and President Donald Tusk called on the UK to ask for an extension. The leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has stated he would support a second Brexit referendum if the UK Parliament rejects Labour's Brexit proposals. In today's edition of the Daily Mail, three Conservative Ministers wrote an article stating that they will support an amendment tomorrow to take no deal off the table and extend the Article 50 process if there is no agreement by March 13. The situation in the UK is changing by the day, if not the hour at times, and it is uncertain for everybody. We know the clock continues to tick down to 29 March and we are no further towards concluding a Brexit deal.

To say something positive about the UK political position, I can see that a number of MPs across all parties genuinely want to find a solution and understand and sympathise with the Irish position. I put on record that I am grateful for those moderate voices in the British Parliament who appreciate their responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement and also understand that there is an onus on the UK when pursuing its Brexit policy that it should not hurt or damage other member states in the process.

Whereas we all hope that those in charge of the Brexit process in the UK see sense and realise that leaving without a deal would be an act of great self-harm, nothing can or should be assumed at this point. We only need to look back to December 2017, when we were told that commitments given on the Border were bulletproof and cast-iron to see how wrong assumptions and premature celebrations can be. It is my strong belief that the actions and comments of our Taoiseach in December 2017 following the joint statement that gave birth to the infamous backstop at paragraph 49 was touted as a big political win by the Irish Government over the UK. The language used by the Taoiseach at the time made the backstop toxic to some MPs and went some way to souring relations between the UK and Ireland. We have been dealing with the consequences of that mistake ever since.

I am glad that this legislation has finally being published and that the Government is at last not assuming an orderly Brexit and that everything will be all right on the night. We just do not know if that will be the case. Whereas Brexit is not of Ireland’s making, we are, unfortunately, central to it. The UK is our nearest neighbour and traditionally our largest trading partner, and our countries are bound together by our often difficult past and tied to each other's future because of the common travel area and as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Ireland and the UK joined the European Union together in 1973 and the relationship between our two islands has been shaped and governed by European Union membership ever since. We took for granted the structures that were put in place by the EU that provided for regular interaction between the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister of the day and various Ministers from both jurisdictions. We have become accustomed to the EU way of doing business and the UK leaving the EU will fundamentally change how our islands interact and work together. We now have to find another mechanism by which our two Governments and countries can maintain our relationship and continue to work together. Fianna Fáil has proposed a Nordic-style council of ministers and believes no time should be wasted post Brexit to put this new structure in place. Given how strained relations have become as a result of the Brexit process, we will have work to do to mend those relations and strengthen them for the future.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, this Bill will address some of the most fundamental issues and will, as much as is feasible, maintain the status quo. The Bill spans a number of different Departments and over the course of the debate my party's various spokespersons will address each of their areas of competence covered by the Bill. We welcome that reciprocal health arrangements will be maintained as this was of particular concern to patients living around the Border who may have been precluded from accessing their geographically closest hospital for treatment. We welcome that an agreement has been reached that formalises the pre-existing common travel area social protection arrangements in a legally-binding agreement signed on 1 February. We welcome that this Bill ensures that cross-Border bus services will be maintained to ensure connectivity across communities. We also welcome the provisions relating to electricity supply licences to facilitate the continuing operation of the single electricity market and we welcome the measures that strengthen Enterprise Ireland’s capacity to support through the Brexit process client companies that may have become exposed and vulnerable. This flexibility is much needed and will remove some of the barriers and red tape companies can face in obtaining credit. We welcome also the provisions relating to third level institutions and the maintenance of the current arrangements with the UK to facilitate students from both islands continuing to study across both islands.

While these measures are welcome, we must be very clear in this House and, more importantly, with the public that this is emergency legislation and it will not fully protect Ireland or its economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There will be an immediate disruption to financial markets. A fall in sterling would harm our competitiveness. Several sectors will be particularly exposed and will immediately need significantly more support and assistance than the Government has offered to date. Over the longer term we would see a reduction in economic growth and a reduction in the level of output. According to Department of Finance projections, a disorderly Brexit would result in a substantial slowdown in gross domestic product growth to 2.7% in 2019 from an estimated 4.2% in the 2019 budget, and the modest surplus projected for 2020 would instead become a deficit. Over a ten-year period, the level of Irish output could be reduced by approximately 6%, employment would increase more slowly and the unemployment rate could rise by 2%, which translates to between 40,000 and 50,000 job losses. That, in turn, would impact on the public finances. To put it mildly, there is no good news in Brexit.

Certain sectors are particularly exposed to Brexit. Our agrifood industry, for example, could be decimated in a no-deal Brexit because it is particularly reliant on the UK market. In 2017, agrifood exports to the UK were valued at approximately €5.2 billion, with 48% of our beef exports going to the United Kingdom and 21% of our dairy exports, including 46% of cheddar cheese exports. Almost 100% of mushrooms go there. There are up to 300,000 people employed both directly and indirectly in this sector in the country and the grim reality is that a no-deal Brexit would result in job losses in this sector. There is very little in this Bill to prevent this.

Last week, there were reports that in a no-deal scenario the UK would open its market to South American beef. This would be nothing short of a catastrophe for our beef industry and it would have a devastating effect on all our farmers.

If this comes to pass and Irish beef is forced to compete in the UK market against cheaper imports from other countries, jobs, many of which are in rural Ireland, will be lost. It was really concerning to read reports last week from the UK that some British politicians were seeking to exploit this concern from Ireland around our beef market in the hope we would compromise on the backstop. It was disappointing to see tactics of this nature emerge and I hope they have been put to bed. It is wise to remember that there will come a time when Brexit is behind us and we have to be able to trust and work with each other. In response to this, the Tánaiste said last week that the European Commission will support and protect a sector to ensure that it survives. While warm words are welcome, this industry needs to know the facts and figures. It needs assistance now and needs to know that a concrete guarantee will be in place afterwards relating to resources, financial and otherwise. I have consistently asked the Government to provide the farming sector with details regarding the financial aid package that will be available on 30 March should the worst happen. We need to ensure that regardless of whatever aid is made available, it goes directly to the producer and that the farmer is not at the back of the queue.

Moreover, we cannot lose sight of the fact that whatever the outcome of Brexit, orderly or disorderly, it will ultimately result in change, and while the magnitude of this change is not yet identified, industries, businesses and SMEs will need additional supports in the short, medium and long term to help them adapt to a new trading environment that sees the UK outside of the EU and considered a third country. While the measures in this Bill relating to Enterprise Ireland are welcome, we need more detail on how the Government plans to support businesses and industries in the weeks, months and years ahead. There has been far too much of a wait and see approach from Government. Now is the time for specifics.

From the date of the referendum result, Fianna Fáil has called on the Government to prepare for all Brexit scenarios. Time and again, we asked the Government to publish its contingency plans and to be prepared for what is one of the gravest threats we have ever faced. At times, when the Government did not like our line of questioning, it accused us of playing politics with Brexit, but that was neither true nor fair. We were, and are, simply trying to protect our country and our interests and do our job in opposition. It is no secret that while we have broadly supported the Government's negotiating stance, we have been critical of its domestic preparedness, and I make no apology for that. As the main Opposition party spokesperson, it is my job to ask the difficult questions and to hold Government to account. The Government has been far too quick to accuse the Opposition of acting against the country's interests when we simply ask legitimate questions of Government policy and strategy. Only yesterday, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, together with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, launched the first in a series of customs training workshops which are being delivered for the Government by the local enterprise offices, LEOs. This exemplifies the tardiness with which the Government has approached its domestic preparations for Brexit. Why are these workshops only being launched now with just over 30 days to go until 29 March? Why did the Government not act sooner in terms of providing these workshops? These are legitimate questions and the Government should not shy away from answering them.

Throughout this entire Brexit process, the issue of the Border has loomed large over the debate. The possible reintroduction of a border on this island is causing serious anxiety across Border communities and the issue remains unresolved. There is a withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK negotiation teams, and within that agreement there is a solution to the Border, namely, the backstop. However, this remains one of the key barriers to getting the deal ratified in the UK Parliament and the UK is seeking to change the backstop or drop it from the agreement. If the deal is not ratified, then we do not have a backstop and we remain without a solution to the Irish Border issue. I listen and take heed when the head of the PSNI warns that the reinstatement of any Border infrastructure on this island would run a serious risk of a return to violence. I sincerely hope that British politicians listen to this warning too. A Border is not just a barrier to trade. It represents partition and harks back to a dark past on this island that we want to leave in the past.

Like everyone in this House, Fianna Fáil will not accept a reintroduction of a Border on this island but we are concerned about what happens in a no-deal scenario. This Bill does not address this issue and we have no clarity on how the Government intends to protect the Single Market and the Union's customs code in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We have been told that difficult conversations must be had, but what does that mean in practice? When pushed on the issue, the Tánaiste went as far as to say there might be checks in the sea somewhere, but that does not exactly provide any clarity to anybody in this House. More than once, I have asked whether any contingency planning for a hard border has been done by the Government and I have been told "No". I have to take this answer in good faith and accept this to be the case. However, I do not think it is credible to suggest that no conversations have taken place whatsoever around what might happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

It is accepted that if the UK crashes out and becomes a third country, there must be checks somewhere on goods coming in from the UK, but we have yet to see anything from Government on how it plans to deal with this. While the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is clearly in the dark on this issue, I have to assume that at the very least, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have had this conversation. I would be concerned by any suggestion that we might have checks imposed on Irish goods entering the EU mainland through France or elsewhere because we might be seen a as back door to a third country and will not permit checks here. This would effectively remove the benefits of the Single Market from Irish exporters and we do not want to see this happening. I sincerely hope, therefore, that the Government and the huge team of experienced civil servants working on this have a plan in place in the event that the worst happens.

This omnibus Bill is only one element of our preparations for Brexit but it is an important piece of the puzzle and will go some way towards ensuring we maintain the status quo in key areas in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The fact we have set aside essentially all parliamentary time by agreement of the House to get this legislation passed shows the commitment of all Deputies to doing what we can to protect our country and get the legislation through. There is no doubt that Ireland is in a vulnerable and precarious position and we need to up our game in terms of preparations. It is clear we can no longer afford to have all our eggs in the basket of getting a deal over the line.

As painful as this process has been to date, arguably the most difficult part is yet to come. We are still only at the state of negotiating the UK's exit from the EU. We have yet to begin negotiating the future trading arrangement between the EU and the UK. This will be by far the most important part for Ireland, and arguably it could deal with the Border issue as well. The future arrangement we will negotiate beyond the UK's withdrawal agreement is the agreement that will govern our relationship with the UK in a post-Brexit world for decades to come. To think that we are only at the stage of negotiating the UK's exit and have yet to start negotiating the future trading arrangements should provide for some sobering thinking. We have a long way to go in the Brexit process.

I assure our citizens and those listening to the debate that Fianna Fáil will do whatever needs to be done in the national interest to help our country navigate Brexit. As an Oireachtas, all of us working together have shown incredible maturity in ensuring that our country has the stability it needs to navigate Brexit in the difficult weeks and months ahead. It is clear to me that Brexit will be with us for many years to come, but our hope is that in the weeks and months ahead, we can find a stable place and ensure that we get a deal over the line so that the UK exits the EU in an orderly fashion and we can then proceed to the real task, which is negotiating a future trading relationship with the UK and the EU that serves Ireland's interests and ensures we protect our citizens, economy, farmers and business community. I look forward to listening to the debate. My party and I will do everything we can to ensure that the legislation is passed in a timely manner.

This omnibus Bill is the bare minimum needed in terms of Brexit planning. It is a steady state solution that does not plan adequately for the economic consequences of a hard crash-out of the EU by the UK. This is despite the fact that the Bill is being portrayed as a comprehensive response to the disruption Brexit will bring. However, it does not engage with the realities that many businesses and citizens will face. A no-deal Brexit would lead to 50,000 job losses in the first year. That is according to data from the State and all of the think tanks that have looked at the economic consequences of Brexit. Where are the provisions for this potential disaster? The majority of these job losses will be in the agrifood sector, yet the Bill is silent on this.

Brexit does not just affect businesses. It will affect communities and people, and any Brexit strategy worth its salt needs to reflect and address this reality. Sinn Féin believes in a dual strategy for dealing with a no-deal Brexit. The first is to mitigate its effects in the short term through State measures. The second is to overcome any disruption through medium to long-term investment in capital and social infrastructure.

In terms of the North, the Taoiseach has consistently stated that there will be no hardening of the Border and that our agreements must be protected.

We accept and acknowledge those statements from the Taoiseach. Instead of a hard border, people North and South should be given the opportunity to remove the Border once and for all. That is the democratic thing to do and it is also the right thing to do. Partition has failed; it has failed for our country. Brexit has shown that the British Parliament has not acted and will not act in the interests of Ireland. The people of the North voted to stay in the European Union and we want to ensure that the entire island does so. Therefore, it is not only prudent but imperative that the Government begins to plan to give effect to the promise of the Good Friday Agreement, to plan for a referendum and to plan to win that referendum.

Why does the Government close its mind to any planning on Irish unity? We call for a forum to be established to have a discussion on how we plan the transition to Irish unity and the Government says "No". We call for the Government to bring forward a White Paper to set out the stepping stones necessary to create a united Ireland and the Government says "No". It is part of the Good Friday Agreement. If the Government wants to deliver on all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, it has to recognise the holding of a Border poll to unite this country is one part of that.

This omnibus Bill is being presented as what the State needs to do to protect itself in the event of a hard crash-out. However, the biggest issue facing the State and the island of Ireland if there is a hard crash-out is what happens at the Border. We do not accept all of those problems can be solved in an omnibus Bill but we do say the Government is closing its mind to the most obvious solution which is available to the Irish people, North and South, in the event of a hard crash-out, the application of World Trade Organization rules and the chaos for businesses, farmers and citizens either side of the Border. Why are the Government and Fianna Fáil afraid of Irish unity, afraid of having a debate on Irish unity and afraid even to plan for Irish unity without taking any practical steps? The Tánaiste can account for that for his party and Fianna Fáil can account for itself. Again, this is why we call on the Government to convene a forum to begin planning for Irish unity.

We met the Tánaiste and his colleagues to discuss the Bill. We will engage constructively to work with them to progress the Bill but also to strengthen it. We will be seeking clarification on some matters to ensure that the Bill is fit for purpose and adequately addresses the full range of issues thrown up by a no-deal Brexit. While we will not be seeking to delay any necessary legislation, we will not be giving the Government a blank cheque. We support most of the provisions of this Bill. Those Deputies who represent Border counties know that those provisions are necessary. They are the bare minimum but they are necessary to ensure continued access to services in health and education, and to ensure the all-island economy, all-island public transport and all-island energy are protected. All of that is absolutely necessary, which we accept.

While we do not have a quarrel with the Tánaiste or the Government in regard to many provisions of the Bill, we will certainly seek to expand on them. However, we do not believe the Bill does enough to invest in the Irish economy, to support small to medium size businesses or to make sure we protect ordinary citizens from the worst effects of Brexit. I have to point out that, in whatever form it takes, Brexit is going to bring about economic shocks and turbulence for Ireland. Obviously, that turbulence will be greater if there is a no-deal scenario. One of the quarrels we have with the Government is that, whatever form Brexit takes, businesses need to be supported, and it is not just in the case of a hard crash-out. There are many exporting businesses, many in the agrifood sector and many in other sectors of the economy who are struggling as we speak because of currency fluctuations. Yet, there are no hard, tangible, practical solutions, measures, investments or supports, financial or otherwise, in this Bill that would give any comfort to those businesses.

The Bill covers the Departments of Health, Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Education and Skills, Finance, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Taoiseach and Justice and Equality. While the range of issues covered gives the impression that this is a comprehensive Bill, in reality, there is a simple and necessary theme and objective that runs through it. Overall, the purpose of the Bill is to allow certain Departments to treat Britain as if it is a treaty country in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and this applies to the North as well. It is to avoid Britain becoming, in certain aspects of Irish law and policy, a third country. We are going to spend five or six days discussing this Bill but, in essence, that is the purpose and objective of the Bill, and we support that. The one major exception is in regard to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, to which I will return later.

In the area of health, for example, the Government proposes to amend the Health Act 1970 and the Health Act 2004 to enable healthcare arrangements to be maintained between Ireland and Britain, including reimbursement arrangements, in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The common travel area facilitates access to health services in both states, including access to emergency, routine and planned care, and the Bill seeks to put in place an appropriate legal framework in the Irish state to ensure the continuation of the common travel area arrangements in respect of healthcare. In terms of student supports, the Bill proposes to ensure continuity of the current commitments to maintaining the rights and privileges bestowed by the common travel area and eligibility for SUSI grants, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Again, in terms of continuity, we have a section on cross-Border bus services, an amendment to the Harbours Act and amendments to the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984 in order to protect workers where an insolvency happens.

In all of this, there is nothing new being proposed, which, when we think about it, is quite strange as Brexit will be very new and is going to be durable and lasting for the people of this State, for businesses in this State and for citizens, not just in this State, but across the island. While it is important to ensure continuity, it is also important to ensure preparedness for the discontinuity Brexit brings with it. That is just common sense.

The one area where the omnibus Bill delves into this is in the section on business supports. The Government proposes a series of amendments to the Industrial Development Acts 1986 to 2014. These will give Enterprise Ireland the power to offer enhanced support to companies involved in research and development. It will also allow Enterprise Ireland to lend, participate in certain types of follow-on investments and ensure the organisation can apply for Government approval for individual investment amounts on loans in excess of €7.5 million. These measures differ from those originally proposed in the heads of Bill, especially around the need to extend state aid rules to normal EU levels.

When Deputy Quinlivan and I discussed this, we were taken aback, to say the least, that the Government does not already avail of the flexibility in regard to state aid rules in these areas. We find it truly shocking that the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation currently operates under state aid caps that are self-imposed by the State. These were in place during the economic crash, when businesses needed to be supported. They were still in place as many of those businesses, over the course of the last couple of years, were deeply affected by the uncertainty that Brexit presented due to the currency fluctuations to which those sectors were exposed. Why was that the case? What the Bill is missing and what the Government has not yet spelled out is where is the flexibility in regard to state aid rules. The EU needs to understand that the Irish economy is the most exposed as a consequence of Brexit. If there is a hard crash-out, it is going to be a disaster for the Irish economy. We all accept that and we all, as much as we can, want to do whatever we can to avoid a hard crash-out. While I still believe that is the most unlikely outcome, we could find ourselves in that position more by accident than by design. We need Europe to step up to the plate, not just in regard to giving us protections in regard to the backstop, which is necessary and for which we are thankful, but also in giving greater flexibility to the Government in the application of the fiscal rules and state aid rules in order for it to properly support, in very practical and tangible ways, the sectors of the economy that will be most exposed.

Last month, Sinn Féin launched a comprehensive Brexit contingency plan. Again, I was taken aback by the spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, who seems to think it is its job to hold Sinn Féin to account for the failures. Every single time we hear Fianna Fáil make a speech, it is to attack Sinn Féin. One would think we were responsible for Brexit failures and the problems in health and housing.

Fianna Fáil has produced no plan of its own. It has no Brexit contingency plan and was relying almost solely on the Government's plan. Yet, Fianna Fáil comes in to critique it. We have launched a Brexit contingency plan because we know we need to invest. There needs to be investment in capital spending, in supporting business and in ensuring commercial exporters are properly protected. We also need to invest in supporting all of the regions, some of which, such as the south east, will be deeply exposed as a consequence of Brexit.

Brexit will mean a structural change in the Irish economy. It going to be one of the biggest market distortions to impact on Irish businesses. The Government also needs to understand that Brexit will not be solved by market solutions alone. State intervention is needed. There needs to be State support and investment. Where is the investment? Where is the additional capital spending on ports, for example? Where is the additional capital spending on public transport? Where are the additional, hard, practical and tangible supports for businesses that need them? The Government is tinkering around the edges in this Bill with grants for research and development for companies. That is reverting to what current state aid rules allow anyway. There are, however, no real practical proposals to give businesses the supports necessary. We have engaged and worked with a number of different stakeholders. We met with IBEC, ISME and the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. All of those organisations are stating that what is needed is a loosening of state aid rules. They also state that what is missing from this Bill are practical proposals for businesses.

Those organisations also recognise the need to invest in the Irish economy. The only way to protect this economy from the worst effects of Brexit is to invest. There is no investment of additional capital spending in public transport. We also have ports that need to be supported. I gave the example previously of the ports in Rosslare and Waterford. There is also a need to invest in the ports in Cork, the Tánaiste's constituency, in Shannon Foynes and other parts of the country. That is necessary to ensure every region in this State, and on the island of Ireland, is in a position to have connectivity with Europe if there is a hard Brexit. There is nothing of substance in this Bill, however, that deals with any of those measures. Much more needs to be done to protect the Irish economy.

I return to the topic of the North and the Border. I fully accept we cannot deal with the real and mammoth challenge a no-deal Brexit will create for people who use services on either side of the Border and businesses that use and depend on the all-island economy. We represent the vast majority of nationalists in the North, despite what might be thought from listening to some of the voices from the Government and Fianna Fáil. They vote for us because we understand where they are at and we understand their needs.

We understand they are concerned about what will happen if there is a hard Brexit and what will then happen with the Border. We have no inkling from the Government about what will happen. We know the obvious. World Trade Organization rules will kick in and there will be disruption. In that scenario, everybody accepts there will be a hardening of the Border. The Government, however, is putting its fingers in its ears and pretending there is no problem. It is a real problem. The Government needs to spell out to people who live on both sides of the Border what will happen in that scenario. It is not good enough to state we can sort this out afterwards. People need to be given some sense as to what will happen.

It is reasonable and responsible for politicians on the island of Ireland to plan for the most obvious outcome in the event of a hard Brexit. That is a Border poll on Irish unity. Why is the Tánaiste so afraid to have that discussion? The Government is surely aware of the opinion polls which show that in the event of a hard Brexit a majority of people North and South would opt for the entire island remaining in the European Union as a unified country with no Border. That would be instead of the chaos of continued partition, where one part of the island would be inside the customs union and Single Market and the other part of the island would be outside. That is where the disruption and chaos will come from. There is an obvious way to end that disruption and chaos.

I will finish by stating we welcome the publication of this Bill. We also welcome the provisions which are necessary and will be helpful to citizens who use services. We accept we have to plan for the worst case scenario. We are hopeful. I acknowledge the Tánaiste recognised the efforts of the Opposition in helping get to the point where we had a withdrawal agreement, a protocol and an insurance policy for Ireland. That is what we want. We want to avoid any hardening of the Border. We wanted the withdrawal agreement to be passed. We want a solution that protects the interests of the people on this island. It does not suit anybody if we have a hard Brexit.

It does not suit people in the North, the South, in Britain or in Europe. We do, however, have to plan for every eventuality. We do not believe the Government has done that in respect of certain sectors of the Irish economy which need to be supported. The Government, therefore, needs to come up with more practical proposals for businesses and farmers. There have been repeated promises that such protections will be coming from Europe and that Europe will give a package of supports to the farming community and the agrifood sector. We have not seen them. They have not arrived. We have the Government’s Bill and none of it deals with those issues.

That is not how the EU works.

The point is we are very close to D-Day. This State, and every member state, is planning for a no-deal Brexit. We are being told these are the contingencies. On the other hand, we are also being told that there might be some solutions down the road for the agrifood business and farmers. They have not seen them, however. We have also not seen any bespoke solutions for this State to be able to ease the rules on state aid. Europe needs to do much more to protect the Irish economy. I am not just referring to the backstop but the Irish economy as a whole.

We welcome the publication of this Bill. We will work with the Government and the Tánaiste to get this Bill passed as quickly as possible. The nine spokespeople for Sinn Féin, in respect of the relevant Departments, are working on amendments and supporting the sections of the Bill that we can. We will not delay the passage of this Bill. We will support it as best we can to make sure it goes through as quickly as possible. We are sincere, however, when we say that it does not go far enough in many areas. It is underwhelming regarding practical supports for the vulnerable sectors of the Irish economy. Much more needs to be done to ensure more supports are provided, no matter what form Brexit takes, whether hard or soft. Those supports are not in this Bill, unfortunately.

This is important technical legislation necessary to ensure our laws are not punched full of holes as a result of the United Kingdom changing status to become a third country outside the European Union. I am not sure I can ever recall debating a Bill, introduced by the Government, that everybody in the House wants to ensure never actually comes into effect. We are all hoping for an alternative outcome. This underscores the unique and bizarre situation that has come to pass since the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

We need to address many issues that are non-legislative. Some of those have been touched upon by other speakers. We will have to address those matters outside of the scope of this legislation. The Bill, however, does cover many areas. I want to focus on the economic side of the legislation. The major concern of this Bill is to allow the continuation of trade with the United Kingdom as smoothly as possible. Clearly, however, as we all recognise, it will never be as smooth as with countries that are actually full members of the European Union. That underlines a central truth missing in recent years from the debate on the European Union in the United Kingdom.

Modern trade is managed, regulated and organised through international agreements and legislation. It is a point that is worth stressing. Diehard supporters of Brexit in the UK seem to entertain a fantasy of unregulated trade. Whether it relates to the type of free trade deal they wish to have with the EU or to trading under WTO rules, they apparently assume that trade agreements are simply about opening up markets, as opposed to regulating the flow of goods and services entering markets and regulating ongoing economic activity.

Trade policy with respect to the UK has been a settled matter since the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement of 1965, followed eight years later by our entry into the European Economic Community. The 1965 agreement expanded on the 1938 Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement. This historical perspective is important to remind us that if and when the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal it will bring about a situation we have not had to deal with in decades. Hopefully, it will not happen now and the EU and UK will conclude a comprehensive trade agreement whereby something close to free trade with the UK will continue. In fact, we can be clear that our preference would be for the British people to be allowed to reconsider if this is what they want in light of all the new information that is now available. We hope the UK could yet remain in the Union.

However, the legislation we are examining is designed, in part, to prepare for a no-deal outcome. If that happens, we have to be ready for a period of time – hopefully, a short one – in which we do not have a trade agreement with the UK for the first time in decades and have to rely on WTO rules. The WTO's multilateral trading system is founded on five basic principles, namely, trade without discrimination, gradually freer trade through negotiation, predictability, promoting fair competition, and encouraging development and economic reform. Built on those foundations, WTO trade agreements are complex documents, covering a wide range of detail relevant to each and every sector of the economy. Crucially for our purposes today, the Bill must be consistent with WTO rules. We cannot legislate for post-Brexit trade with the UK in a way that contradicts our own commitments, as well as British commitments, under the WTO agreements.

Trade without discrimination is one of those WTO principles. That means that Ireland and the UK - indeed the entire EU and the UK - cannot alter the basic rules of trade that we offer any other country trading under WTO rules. These are important principles. In the absence of a formal trade deal with the UK, Ireland cannot have more favourable trading arrangements with the UK than with any other WTO member state. In future, the EU can, and hopefully will, have a comprehensive trade agreement with the UK. If the withdrawal agreement currently before the UK Parliament is passed, we will continue to have free trade as part of the agreed transition period. However if there is a hard Brexit on 29 March, or if the UK enters a transition period but fails to conclude a trade deal with the EU, we will find ourselves trading under WTO rules.

The Government’s legislation seems to prepare for this for the most part but I question Part 6. I hope the Tánaiste will deal with this in his response. Under Article 2 of the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services, GATS, each member must immediately and unconditionally give other members treatment that is "no less favourable than that it accords to like services and service suppliers of any other country". Part 6 treats the UK as a member of the EU, the European Economic Area, EEA or the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, for most, if not all, tax purposes. British companies, shares, trusts, insurers, residents, ships, colleges and so on will all benefit from this status. This is presumably done to preserve the status quo in trade insofar as it gives rise to taxable consequences here. However, other third countries and their companies, insurers, residents, ships and so on do not get these benefits. The Bill proposes to give them exclusively to the UK.

This appears to be preferential tax treatment extended to just one so-called "third country" and not available to others. I am sure the answer to my question to the Tánaiste has been comprehensively teased out. Is this compatible with our obligations under the GATS treaty? If not, what is the alternative? It would be much easier for Irish businesses if we could proceed as outlined in Part 6, as this would mean less disruption, but it is our job as legislators to stress-test this legislation. As others have said, we only got sight of it last Friday, despite the fact that it is a comprehensive Bill with such important ramifications. There will be some teasing out to be done as we read, re-read and get advice on the various component parts. It would cause even more disruption to business if Part 6 was ruled to be in breach of our obligations under the GATS treaty and subsequently needed to be changed. I look forward to hearing the Tánaiste's explanation of how he and the Attorney General believe Part 6 is compatible with the WTO rules I have outlined to the House.

On a different issue, I wish to raise a matter of constitutional concern in the Bill. Brexit legislation in Westminster has relied heavily on what are euphemistically called "Henry VIII clauses". These clauses confer a delegated power under which a Minister may amend primary legislation by secondary legislation. A ministerial order, therefore, can amend a British Act of Parliament. The British Government can do that under the UK's constitutional arrangements. This reverses the usual rule that legislative power is vested in the legislature. These clauses have been controversial in the UK, but in our own context such clauses would be unconstitutional. They are constitutionally prohibited except where necessitated by EU membership. In such cases they already been permitted by referendum.

The Department of Health is seeking to create a Henry VIII clause in the Bill. Whether or not it has drawn inspiration from the UK's legislation, the Government will need to rethink this section of the Bill. Under Part 2, the Government has proposed to give the Minister for Health power to make "such adaptations and modifications to the Health Acts 1947 to 2019 or any regulations made under those Acts as the Minister considers necessary for the purpose of bringing those Acts or regulations into conformity with this Part".

This would clearly involve the Minister for Health amending primary legislation without bringing it back for determination in the Dáil.

The specific section where the power is described is section 4, which proposes to insert section 75B(2)(c) into the Health Act 1970. I believe this to be unconstitutional. Under Article 15 of the Constitution, the "sole and exclusive" law-making power of the State is vested in the Oireachtas. As a result, regulations that modify primary legislation are necessarily beyond the authority of Ministers.

In a 1999 legal case, Laurentiu v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, counsel for the State conceded that power to amend primary legislation could not be delegated by the Oireachtas to any other body. Specifically, the Oireachtas "is constitutionally prohibited from abdicating its own power" and "in accordance with the democratic basis of the Constitution, it is the people’s representatives who make the law, who determine the principles and policies".

Chief Justice Murray gave a relevant judgment in 2004, in the case of Mulcreevy v. Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In that judgment he stated:

It is well established that the exclusive role assigned to the Oireachtas in the making of laws by [Article 15] does not preclude the Oireachtas from empowering Ministers or other bodies to make regulations for the purpose of carrying into effect the principles and policies of the parent legislation. […] But it is also clear [this is the important point] that such delegated legislation cannot make, repeal or amend any law and that, to the extent that the parent Act purports to confer such a power, it will be invalid having regard to the provisions of the Constitution.

The sole exception to this rule is in the European Communities Act 1972, which enables a Minister by regulations to amend an EU directive. The power to make regulations under that Act has been held to be necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union and therefore immune from constitutional challenge.

I have raised what might be regarded as two technical matters. This is largely technical legislation but they are both issues of major consequence to the robustness of the Bill and the importance of the transposition and carrying on of health matters in one case and of other matters in the second case I have mentioned. They pose serious questions about whether the Government’s legislation has been sufficiently considered before it was presented to the Dáil.

I agree with the points made by other speakers that it is very late in the day for us to have sight of such monumental legislation with such far-reaching import. For all of us to have a mere weekend to read it, and get our legal advisers to read it, is very short notice. To have then literally a week to debate it on Second Stage in principle and to have questions and queries responded to before we go into committee week is a tight deadline.

I want to come back to the substantive issue of the overall Bill. This Bill is designed to prepare our Statute Book for a disorderly exit of the UK from the EU. It is equally designed to prepare us for the possibility that the UK and the EU will be unable to conclude a comprehensive free trade agreement in the time available even if the existing withdrawal agreement is passed.

I will quote the then Taoiseach in the debate on the trade agreement that ended the six-year Anglo-Irish trade war in 1938. Éamon de Valera stated: "One of the things, then, that makes this Agreement possible is that you have at this moment in England a Conservative Government that can, in Parliament, make its will effective." Our problem today is that the withdrawal agreement, including the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol known as the backstop, has been paralysed by a British Parliament that is deeply and hopelessly divided on the issue of the European Union. Prime Minister May's Conservative Party Government is internally divided. Even if it was not, it is incapable of making its will effective in Westminster in the way referenced by the then Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, in 1938.

The net result is that we have to be careful not to assume that we can make sensible or purely technical administrative agreements with the UK once it has left the Union. I know that is at the back of much of what the Tánaiste has aimed to do. It is likely to be the case that if the UK leaves the Union without a deal, there will be serious economic consequences for it, which will quickly will lead to a sour political atmosphere there, even sourer than the one that currently prevails, and, whatever we feel about it, it is likely that Ireland will be blamed, especially by those Brexiteers who have lied to the British people about the EU for years and who have lied about the fantasy of unregulated open trade with everybody and anybody after Brexit.

If we need to use this legislation, due to the UK leaving the EU without a deal, we are also likely to be in a situation that is unfriendly, if not actively hostile, to the development of bilateral agreements on administrative matters. I applaud the efforts of Deputies who said they would all hold hands and have a Nordic council but I fear that in a disorderly Brexit there will be great animosity. These administrative matters will be hugely important. They are important to Irish patients in British hospitals who need to access health care without incurring significant personal costs. They are equally important to British patients who avail of the Irish healthcare system. These administrative matters will affect Irish students in British universities. They will affect commuters crossing the Border on buses and trains. People do not expect to have to think about all of the background law and regulations that allow them to get on with normal living. It is important that we get our legislation in order so that the level of disruption to people's lives can be minimised.

I want to conclude by inviting the Government to explain how it intends to deal with the issues and problems I have set out but also with other issues that have yet to emerge and that have not been anticipated. Even the complexity of this Bill is nothing compared to the complexity of Brexit itself. What processes will be put in place to allow for a rapid response when gaps in laws and regulations are identified that have not been thought of by any of us when this law is enacted? Presumably, a permanent Brexit unit will need to be established to keep all of these issues under constant review as we move into the unknown waters of Brexit.

I will share time with Deputy Boyd Barrett. I want to start on the issue of jobs. Estimates that a no-deal Brexit could result in 40,000 job losses could prove to be conservative, according to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. It is an absolute priority that jobs are protected. How can this best be done? What is the best model for protecting jobs?

Let us start by looking at what the Bill provides for. Among other things, this Bill provides for, first, Enterprise Ireland to lend up to €7.5 million to a company without having to consult the Government and more than that if it has the Government's permission; second, Enterprise Ireland to invest up to €7.5 million in a company without having to consult the Government and more than that with its permission; third, an array of increased grants to companies for research; and, fourth, grant aid to the horticulture industry over and above its eligibility for Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine grants. It is a kind of bailout model which would see the State providing aid to the private sector.

A number of questions arise. Will the companies have to open their books for inspection before receiving aid? Will conditions of state aid be that a company guarantees that there will not be any job losses, it will not cut wages, it will comply with environmental standards and it will recognise trade unions?

In other words, will a company be allowed to receive state aid and then cut jobs or cut wages?

I am totally in favour of saving jobs. I am in favour of state aid to save jobs but I am also in favour of doing it on a different basis. Medium or large size enterprises that need state aid in this crisis should be taken into State ownership. In other words, they should be nationalised. Of course, when the banks were nationalised ten year's ago, they did not serve the people. They shut branches, axed jobs and hammered mortgage holders. Their boards were stuffed with establishment figures. There should be no establishment figures this time. Nationalisation in this crisis should be done on the basis of workers' control and workers' management. These nationalisations should guarantee job protection, protection of wage rates, the highest environmental standards and trade union rights.

Retailers from the Republic, Northern Ireland and Britain joined forces last week to warn that the price of everyday food items could jump by up to 45% in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The director of Retail Ireland, Mr. Thomas Burke said:

Regardless of the type of Brexit agreed over the coming weeks, retailers will see an increase in their operating costs arising from checks at ports and other supply chain disruption. In the current operating environment, these additional costs simply cannot be absorbed and will have to be passed on to the consumers in the form of higher prices.

Retail Ireland represents the interests of the big chains. I do not believe that the big chains simply cannot absorb increased costs. To take just one example, pre-tax profits soared by almost 800% to just under £1.3 billion at Tesco in the period from February 2017 to February 2018. I can state with a degree of certainty that Tesco can absorb increased costs better than a household on the average industrial wage or a household on not much more than the minimum wage for that matter. I would say to the Tescos of this world that if they try to increase prices by anything remotely resembling the kind of figures mentioned last week, they will need to prepare for protest outside of the shops. I will be there myself, along with many others I suspect. If they want to take that as a warning that is fine because that is exactly what it is. Furthermore, the trade union movement should take action to ensure that wages are not undermined by price increases. Wages should either be linked to prices or the State should act to freeze prices. The unions need to put this Government under real pressure on this issue.

We know the red lines laid down by the Tory government. We know the red lines laid down by nationalism and unionism. It is time for the labour movement to lay down its red lines. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions needs to convene a conference as a matter of urgency to bring together every working class activist on the island of Ireland to discuss these matters alongside workers' representatives from England, Scotland and Wales. Delegates from trade unions, representatives from workplaces and genuine cross-community groups should all be invited. No to job losses and price increases, no to wage cuts and no to sectarian division. Yes to nationalisation to save jobs, yes to action against price increases and yes to the unity of working class people in fighting to defend our jobs, conditions and futures. These are the red lines the working class movement needs to discuss and to act on.

The most important issue facing this country in the event of a no-deal Brexit is the threat of a hard border. That is an issue that is not dealt with in this legislation and we still do not know from the Government what it will do in the event of a no-deal Brexit where pressure comes from either the UK or the European Union to impose a hard border. While other considerations that are looked at in this Bill such as health, education, insurance, tax, electricity, harbours legislation, share trading and the other issues which we can go through in a minute, are very important and need to be looked at and addressed and some of them have been, to my mind all of those issues are secondary to the threat of a hard border being imposed. If a hard border was re-erected between the North and South of this island, it would be a total disaster and it would drag us back to the very dark days of conflict and division. It is important to say that this threat is not one that should be uniquely highlighted by those who consider themselves nationalists or republicans. It would be a disaster for everybody from every background, every creed and every political point on the spectrum if a Border was imposed. It would cause divisions and conflict that would be disastrous from every point of view.

It is not clear to me what the Government will do in that context and it is clear to me that the other parties to this Brexit dilemma are not fully to be relied upon. It should be a statement of the absolute obvious, given the shambles in Westminster and the rotten politics of the Tory Brexiteers, that these people cannot be trusted not to crash into a situation where they may seek to reimpose a Border. They are obviously willing to sacrifice the best interests of this country or of peace for whatever bizarre political agenda the Tory right wing and the Tory Brexiteers are pursuing. The danger from that quarter is obvious but there is equally a danger which has been revealed in various comments and statements made by European leaders and by some comments and statements made by our Government. They say that we are doing everything we can to avoid a hard border, we are not making any preparations to do anything at the Border but then they say that it could be very difficult to avoid a hard border if there is a no-deal Brexit or that somehow a Border would become "inevitable" if there was a no-deal Brexit. By that, they mean that pressure would then come on to protect the integrity of the European Single Market and that the commitment to do that would then potentially lead to the Irish Government, on behalf of the European Union, erecting a Border to protect the integrity of the European Single Market.

We need to state categorically that this will not happen and it should be stated in this Bill. We should state that under no circumstances will it happen and that this particular dilemma can be sorted out by the European Union and Britain but for our part we are not participating in any shape or form under any circumstances with the erection of a border between the North and the South and that we will actively oppose any attempt to put a border between the North and the South. As I have said, we have heard comments from the Government itself at various times on this and we have also had a number of comments from people such as Merkel, Macron and leading figures in the European institutions saying that in order to protect the Single Market, a border might be necessary if we cannot do a deal and we can just blame Britain for that.

There is no doubt we could blame Britain and point at Britain for its recklessness, shambolic politics and the particularly rotten politics of the Tories, but the blame game is not good enough. We need absolutely to say we will not allow a border to happen under any circumstances as a result of pressure from anybody and that we will oppose it because peace on this island is more important than the Single Market or WTO rules or anything else. This is the most important point I want to make.

It does not surprise me that in recent opinion polls a majority of people in the country have expressed that they do not want to return to a hard border. If there is any suggestion from any quarter that this might happen there should be massive protests, not, as I have said, waving tricolours, although people can wave what they like as far as I am concerned, but on the basis that it would cause divisions and create the basis for conflict. Anybody who is progressive, who opposes sectarianism and who does not want to see a return to violence should mobilise to oppose any move towards a hard border. To say that anything such as this being suggested or any move in this direction should mean a Border poll is a basic democratic statement. The Government has suggested it would be dangerous or inflammatory to speak about this but to me it is a matter of basic democracy that if any suggestion of this sort was made, the people North and South should have the right to make a decision as to whether they want it to happen. There is no doubt that if they were asked that question, they would say they do not want it to happen. It is a basic democratic point to make and it is the view of the majority of people.

On the other substantial areas of the Bill, there are many provisions that are essentially trying to maintain the status quo in areas such as health services, which is to be welcomed, education, maintaining bus services, maintaining electricity provision and, with regard to harbours, basic practical provisions that will allow ships from Britain and Ireland to continue to land in each other's ports and other such measures.

I do have concerns about some of the tax measures the Government is taking to protect us on an economic basis. As has been said by others, of course we need to move to protect jobs. This is absolutely the case. I worry, however, that our notion of protecting these jobs seems to focus significantly on the maintenance of tax loopholes which, frankly, are problematic in the first place. These include research and development tax credits, which are one of the major means through which multinational corporations in this country avoid taxes. I am concerned about this and there is potential for abuse in it. I do not want to go from this to stating we should have a protectionist tax code, but I am concerned about potential abuses.

I am concerned about loans been given out to businesses where there are no guarantees about the jobs that would be retained and the standards and objectives being pursued by those private companies. There is a complete lack of emphasis on direct public investment in infrastructure and public enterprise in the areas on the Border likely to be affected and the need for particular investment in these areas to protect industry there against the possible impact of a no-deal Brexit. I am quite worried about these issues and I want assurances.

Their needs to be considerable scrutiny of tax loopholes. I take seriously Naomi Klein's concept of disaster capitalism, in other words, never letting a good crisis go to waste. There are certain sectors we know did this in the most recent economic crash. Vulture funds and big international investors took advantage of the crash. The Government facilitated them in this under the guise of stating it must act in an emergency. It actually introduced measures that allowed vulture funds and international investors to gobble up massive amounts of Irish property assets in particular, with, in my opinion, disastrous consequences. I am concerned there might be elements of disaster capitalism buried in the detail, especially in some of the tax loopholes and the lending facilities being proposed for IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. I am not saying this is absolutely the case but the provisions need to be seriously scrutinised. I would like to see far more emphasis on tangible investment in infrastructure and public enterprise and the State directly protecting jobs.

I would like to hear precisely what is the issue with driver licences. The licences of UK licence holders living here at present will stand as driver licences here. There have been contradictory signals and warnings about UK driver licences not being recognised here. This would be a problem for people from the North and Britain who have UK driver licences. The AA has spoken about a legal patch being required but then slightly rolled back from it. We need answers on this. If necessary, there should be amendments to the Bill or legislation to ensure mutual recognition of driver licences is maintained.

In the area of health services, as well as maintaining existing cross-Border health services, it would be a very good measure on our part, and it could be included in the Bill, to offer free abortion services in the South to the women of the North. We need to show in a positive way the need to maintain the progressive trajectory we have seen in repealing the eighth amendment and the introduction of abortion services in this country. People will remember that at the time the talk was that the North would be next and women in the North are fighting for abortion services. Irish women in the North would have to pay to come down here for abortion services. We could include something in the legislation to state women in the North would be entitled to avail of abortion services in the South without charge.

Last night, I read through the material and put down on paper a few thoughts in preparation for today, but then another avenue opened up. What appeared certain until today was that Britain would leave the EU and the uncertainty was all about the when and the how and whether it would be a no-deal Brexit, a last-minute deal or an application for an extension. New vistas are appearing daily. Yesterday we had the British Labour Party's decision to back a second referendum to prevent a crash out. This throws up the possibility of no Brexit if that is a proposition on the paper if the referendum goes ahead. The Tánaiste has been very strong in confirming that a disorderly Brexit would be a lose, lose, lose situation for Ireland, the UK and Europe.

Prime Minister May recently postponed the vote until 12 March. That has been interpreted as an attempt to wind down the clock such that the withdrawal agreement is far more appealing than crashing out with no deal and the Prime Minister will be able to win a vote in the House of Commons on the matter. The Taoiseach is of the belief that Britain will not crash out. Yesterday, "extension" appeared to be the word of the day at EU and Irish level. Today, it appeared in the vocabulary used by Prime Minister May, who promised to give members of the UK Parliament a vote on extending the Brexit negotiations or withdrawing without a deal if her plan is rejected next month. The latest proposal is for a meaningful vote on 12 March and will include whatever additional assurances she gets from the EU. If that proposal falls, two separate votes will take place the following day, one on a no-deal Brexit and another requesting an extension. She now appears to be taking seriously the challenges and problems that a crash-out Brexit would bring. I find it rather bizarre that she is acknowledging it at this stage. Yesterday, she stated, "I believe that if we have to, we will ultimately make a success of a no-deal". However, she will also present an honest assessment of the very serious challenges presented by a no-deal Brexit. The debate in the House of Commons has descended into a major row between the British Labour Party and the Tories over which of them has made more U-turns.

The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, believes a deal on Brexit will be reached by 29 March. Another member of the DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson, commented today that the EU will shift and make the necessary changes to the withdrawal agreement. He made those comments in spite of the fact that the EU has been firm that the withdrawal agreement is all that is on offer.

Three days of late sittings have been allocated in the House to prepare for something that might not happen and which we hope will not happen. Prime Minister May is insisting on going to Europe to seek concessions. What is very certain is that the political system in Westminster is in disarray. I have been at meetings today since 3.30 p.m. and have not had a chance to hear the latest news. I wonder what new avenue has been opened at this stage.

I wish to acknowledge the briefing last Friday morning organised by the Tánaiste. It provided a whistle-stop tour of what Brexit means for the Departments mainly affected by it. Although short, it provided a good overview of the Bill and the issues that will be discussed this week. A significant body of work has been carried out for something that might never happen and which no rational person would want, namely, a no-deal Brexit. Officials went through the 15 Parts of the Bill which involve nine Ministers. The hours of work that went into the preparation of the Bill took away from the work that the Departments should have been undertaking. What came across from the briefing was that the motive behind the Bill is to ensure a seamlessness after 29 March and if there is no deal.

Of course, the new favourite word seems to be "extension" but it is difficult to see what that will achieve beyond what is happening now. What is the point of an extension if the EU is maintaining that what is on the table is all that will ever be on offer? After two years of negotiations, one would have thought that every "i" had been dotted and every "t" crossed. In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will become a third country. As other Members have stressed, what is paramount is protecting the Good Friday Agreement, supporting North-South co-operation, and protecting and maintaining the common travel area.

On the section of the Bill dealing with health and the confirmation of existing healthcare arrangements, the explanatory memorandum confirms the situation regarding access to health services in the UK for citizens of this State and vice versa, but the question of access to healthcare for a UK citizen living in Ireland when that person is in another EU country is not addressed. An issue regarding drugs which has not, to the best of my knowledge, been raised is that people travel to facilities such as Merchants Quay Ireland and the National Drug Treatment Centre at Trinity Court in Dublin to access addiction treatment and interventions. How can the opiate substitution treatment methadone maintenance programme between Belfast and Dublin or Ireland and the UK be maintained if there are differing regulations in each jurisdiction relating to the prescription of methadone? Will people be prohibited from having prescriptions filled in other jurisdictions?

On industry, although the EU has been firm to date on respecting the Good Friday Agreement and the need for the backstop, it is very clear that the UK will remain in some form of customs union in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There will be pressure for such a customs union from countries such as Germany, for example, the car industry of which has a significant dependency on the British market. A crash-out Brexit now appears less likely, given the upsurge in discussion of an extension. I acknowledge that Enterprise Ireland and other agencies will facilitate additional lending and investment instruments and it is likely there will be significant demand for that. However, a question remains about the criteria that will be applied in that regard and the basis on which certain people will be supported but others will not. The Student Support Act 2011 is dealt with in the Bill and those current arrangements will continue, as will the arrangements under the Harbours Act. However, even if a deal is agreed and there is no crash out, there will be a need for border checks of some sort. Even Norway, which has access to the Single Market, and Turkey, which has a close customs union deal, are subject to border checks. There needs to be clarification of what kinds of checks are proposed and envisaged between Ireland and the UK and the UK and continental Europe.

It is crucial that there be no hard border on the island. The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, of which I am a member, heard many presentations by organisations, community groups and businesses, some of which were from the North or involved in North-South Border co-operation. Their fears and concerns were very apparent to the committee. There is a need for more clarity on this issue because a hard Brexit is still a possibility.

Notwithstanding the immense work done on the Bill by officials, it is a rush job which was prepared in a vacuum and without knowing what is coming. I hope that does not come back to haunt us. The hope is that the legislation will not be needed. There are bigger questions for the EU generally in regard to its commitment to the principles on which the EU was founded and by which it is supposed to abide, such as respect for human dignity, law, human rights, democracy and equality. The situation is very challenging. There are difficulties and frustrations but, as an eternal optimist, I do not think it will all be doom and gloom. I hope I am right.

I am delighted to have this brief opportunity to contribute on the Bill. I commend the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and nine other Departments on the work they have done in ensuring that we have some degree of readiness for a disorderly Brexit, which, of course, must be avoided at all costs. Like my colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, I welcome the decision by Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party to move towards a second referendum to prevent a no-deal Brexit. I commend the work of the Tánaiste in involving our Irish-American colleagues, particularly at national congressional level, and bringing in the important lever of the 30 or 40 million Americans of recent Irish descent to try to even up the disparity in power between us and the UK.

The Bill and the draft heads of the Bill bring home the dawning realisation of the profound damage a disorderly Brexit could cause to Ireland in areas like health, education, social welfare, justice, migration and our economy, especially agriculture. In particular, it could put at risk the incredible work done by so many people to progress North-South developments under the Good Friday Agreement.

I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service which provided a very helpful digest of the general scheme of the Bill and an updated version on the Bill as laid before the House. I note some differences between the heads of Bill and the Bill as presented to the House. Where is the section of the Bill dealing with data governance? On railways, the draft Bill contained a section regarding the Dublin-Belfast line.

That is no longer necessary.

It also contained significantly more information regarding immigration data. The Tánaiste stated that 12 separate legislative proposals have been made as part of Brexit contingency planning, addressing areas such as aviation, road freight connectivity, fishing authorisation and so on. Does the Bill provide the whole story or are there significant areas which are yet to be addressed? I previously raised the issue of fisheries with the Tánaiste and was told that it could not be negotiated until the future relationship trade agreement was being implemented post Brexit.

As the Minister knows, east-coast fishermen are absolutely terrified at the prospect of not being able to fish in waters that have been EU waters but will become British waters. There are major problems. The Minister is very familiar with this area from his previous work. It has been mentioned that the Commission has published 87 notices on areas that require negotiation. Are all these included in the Bill? The Minister stated that there will be some amendments. Do we have all the information we need to protect the common travel area and the reciprocal rights and entitlements to public services across the two jurisdictions? It was stated during previous discussions that the common travel area long predates the European Union. The Minister indicated previously that bilateral negotiations were critical to the maintenance of an agreement, much of which is simply based on tradition and precedent considering that Ireland was once part of the United Kingdom.

On Part 2, as my colleague stressed, we have become used to European health insurance, the treatment abroad scheme, the cross-border healthcare directive and the range of initiatives that involve North-South collaboration. It is daunting to think all these are endangered by Brexit. I refer to the additional resources we received. Section 45 of the Health Act 1970 is to be amended by the Bill, which seeks to cover frontier workers, workers posted to Ireland and so on. Again, it is remarkable that we have to be doing this at this stage given that we have become so used to an EU health system.

The chief concerns in the post-Brexit world will include mutual recognition of qualifications in medicine and the supply of medicines. The former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, referred to the need for dialogue between professional bodies in the UK and Ireland on qualifications. There was a recent Bill in this regard. There is grave concern over access to medicine and treatments after Brexit. This week we will celebrate Rare Disease Day. All of us have been making representations on orphan drugs and drugs to look after a small cohort of the population. We have had very bad news in respect of one of those in the past day or so. It is critical to ensure that all the measures in the Bill will not have to be implemented since the kind of Brexit they address would be to the detriment of our people, North and South.

Part 3 is important. I welcome the allocation of additional financial resources and also the flexibility afforded to Enterprise Ireland, under its CEO, Ms Julie Sinnamon, in taking shares in companies, etc. We have had many discussions on getting the business sector ready for any kind of Brexit, particularly a crash-out Brexit.

We recall the creation of an all-Ireland energy market. It is one of the most historic developments of the past few decades. The threat to the single electricity market is very worrying. Part 4 is particularly important in this regard.

Part 5 is also important. It relates to SUSI. I noted media reports that there were approximately 10,000 Irish students in colleges in the UK but the Oireachtas Library digest states the number of students from Ireland in receipt of a SUSI grant in the UK is much lower, namely, 1,418. It states there were 213 students from the UK studying in Ireland and receiving the SUSI grant. It is important to make contingency plans for approved institutions, including Queen's University Belfast, the University of Ulster, St. Mary's University College, and Stranmillis University College. Without the changes in Part 5, students would be left in very dire circumstances.

As a previous speaker indicated, Part 6, which covers taxation, is particularly revealing because of the gamut of reliefs that operate across the UK and Ireland. The Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 is the principal Act referred to in the Bill in this regard. The Bill is informative for those who did not realise the sheer volume of interactions between investors and savers across both countries. Mention was made to postponed accounting under the Value-Added Tax Consolidation Act 2010, which is also important.

Part 7, which relates to financial services, is important. The Stock Exchange is now known as Euronext Dublin but we are deeply involved with the UK central securities depository. Back in 2017, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was encouraging private entities to put in applications to establish an Irish-based central securities depository due to Brexit but we have not gone down that route so far. The Bank of England, along with the European Securities and Markets Authority, has agreed that we should still be able to use the EUI even in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

Part 8 is important in the area of insurance because of intermediaries from the UK or Gibraltar that operate in Ireland.

Part 10 provides for the changes needed to allow for third-country bus services and grants additional powers to the chief executive of the National Transport Authority. When considering this, it is interesting to note there are 300 bus journeys across the Border day in, day out. I am one of those who believe that a hard border should not return under any circumstances. In earlier discussions, reference was made to a border moving to northern France, including Calais, Cherbourg and the other ports, in the event of a cliff-edge Brexit. Clearly, we cannot be involved in implementing a hard border in any way in this context. It just cannot be on the table. I hope the recent moves in the UK Parliament by both major parties will be a step on the way to ensuring it does not happen.

Part 11 is important. A significant number of British and Irish citizens benefit from social protection allowances and benefits in the two countries. One of the issues raised with me, which has occurred to a number of pensioners, particularly those who worked for many years in the UK and who are enjoying a UK pension, is that in the event of a crash-out, with another decline in sterling, those pensions will be worth much less. The point was put to me that we are rightly stepping in to assist our farm industry and others. Are there plans, however, to protect the value of social welfare pensions from the UK in dire circumstances?

There are matters covered in the general scheme that are not in the Bill itself. Perhaps the Minister will explain this. I welcome the Bill and will be supporting it. It seems bizarre, however, that we are discussing such lengthy, detailed legislation to deal with something that may never happen. We all hope it will not happen. It seems the great majority of Members in our sister Parliament at Westminster do not want any kind of cliff-edge or disorderly Brexit. They will have their say. They feel an obligation to respond to the will of the British people, who did decide to leave the European Union but hope the whole European Union, of which Ireland is an integral part, will have the closest possible relationship with the UK.

I am glad to get an opportunity to talk about this important Bill. Among every section of every community in Ireland, nothing gives rise to concern as much as Brexit, which now has been talked about for almost two years. The various groups affected are so concerned. These include farmers, the self-employed and small companies exporting to the North and to Britain.

The one issue that does not seem to be mentioned in the Bill, which has been highlighted by other speakers, is the hard border and how it will be managed. I agree with others that if Britain wants to leave the EU and maintain a border between the North and the South, that is a matter for Prime Minister May and the European Union to sort out. We cannot interfere or be a part of anything that would break up the Good Friday Agreement, into which so much effort was put by past leaders, Ministers for Foreign Affairs and everyone who was involved from all sides. Sinn Féin, the unionists, including the DUP and, in our country, former taoisigh, Albert Reynolds, Garret FitzGerald and Bertie Ahern, played their parts. All the leaders along the way put in hard work and we cannot ever again allow the divisiveness that obtained in our country for almost 30 years. We do not want that back and we cannot wish that upon our people, south or north of the border. We condemn and abhor much of what happened for that time, the wrongs that were done, and we do not want to go back to that.

There are small things which can be very big things. I am being asked questions about driving licences and that issue needs to be explained. Will an Irish licence be recognised in Northern Ireland or Great Britain? What about lorry drivers? It will be the same for people coming to this country with an English driving licence. Will it work vice versa? Will UK licences be recognised here? Surely things like that can be sorted out and common sense will apply to ensure that drivers will be able to continue as they have been. If a driver is good enough to drive in Ireland or the UK, the licence he or she obtained should be sufficient to allow him or her to drive in either country.

I am glad that this week, at last, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has indicated that, with conditions, he would be in favour of having a second referendum. We spoke about it in this House when news of the referendum result broke and I believe I was the first person to ask the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny to ask the UK Government to have another referendum. I hope that will happen. Many people, all along, have been asking and hoping that would happen. The people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be well informed before they cast their votes a second time. It is clear that they were not advised of all the pros and cons when they went to the polls the first time and of the adverse effects it could have for their country and other countries, especially ours.

The backstop is important. I hope, if the UK decides to leave on 29 March, that the backstop is part of whatever deal will be agreed by the UK Government and Parliament. Maybe they will delay the UK's exit further and eventually save the day with another referendum.

It has been mentioned that Irish farmers will get a package from Europe. Farmers are in a critical state now, especially beef farmers. Prices are very bad. Farmers have sheds of cattle and they are afraid of what will become of them. They are feeding and caring for them like they always have. The farming community comprises a wonderful set of people, especially the farmers I represent in Kerry. They are very concerned at the moment. There have been beef plan meetings in Castleisland, Kenmare, Dingle and Listowel. There are more planned in Dingle and Cahirciveen and there will be one in Listowel next Monday, 4 March. The price of cattle is the issue that is exercising their minds and they are concerned.

I was at one of those meetings last night. We were told about what happened to a Libyan cattle buyer who wanted to buy 4,000 bulls in this country. I do not know if the Tánaiste is aware that there is a complete slowdown in taking bull beef from the farmers. To get a call from a factory that will take a few cattle from a farmer is like winning something big in the lotto. Farmers need contacts and the way the factories are operating at the moment is not fair. A few years ago, farmers were advised to go into bull beef, to deviate away from bullocks, but now nobody wants to take the bull beef. There has been a complete slowdown. A Libyan purchaser wanted to come here to buy 4,000 cattle worth €5 million. The Tánaiste is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. This Libyan man applied for a visa in mid-November to be allowed to come to see the cattle. The boat and buyers were organised but he wanted to come and see what he was getting. Lo and behold, he still has not been told what is wrong or if he will get a visa. I am afraid that the cows carrying calves at the time he applied will calve again before he gets an answer to his visa request. It is ridiculous that this has happened. We have been asking the Government day after day on the Order of Business to ensure that our country will have other live export options around the world. This has happened to our farmers under our noses who work so hard, from dark to dark, to try and produce top quality beef and there is then no outlet for them to sell it. It is ridiculous.

This Libyan man has now indicated that he is not interested in Ireland and he has gone to Spain. It is appalling that we have lost that volume of bull beef exports. It seems that he applied to the Department of Justice and Equality for a visa. No one has come back to him.

Neither has anyone said they are looking for anything. The galling point about it is that the man was in this country several times before. There could not be much wrong but it is like somebody was not paying attention. It looked as if other Deputies made representations to the Minister for Justice and Equality on his behalf. However, sadly, nothing has happened and this is where we currently stand.

We know there is a large beef market in Iran but it seems this has not been explored by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Farmers at these beef plan group meetings have asked about these markets. The group which has set up the beef plan has said it is trying to secure markets abroad. It is, however, up to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to do so. While he may have been castigated for different reasons, we remember when the former Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, went out to meet the then Libyan leader, Gaddafi, and secured markets when agriculture was on its knees before. The Government should not be beyond that. Ministers should be able to do that as well. There are now more ways to travel to new markets, as well as dealing with matters through email. I cannot understand how we have lost an export market like the one in question.

It is a fact the majority of our beef exports go to the UK. The UK has already put pressure on us by suggesting it will allow in beef imports from South America. Likewise, Italy and Germany are exploring how to allow South American beef imports into their countries in return for allowing them to sell cars to South American countries. These matters are concerning for our farmers.

We do not have enough lairage in Cherbourg. It is not France's responsibility to provide lairage for dairy-bred calves but that of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Bord Bia for export on to markets like Holland. We cannot get them there because we need extra lairage in Cherbourg. Will the Minister team up with the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Justice and Equality, to ensure these export markets continue to protect our agricultural industry?

What travel arrangements are being made if Britain leaves? Will Britain still be the main landbridge between Ireland and the Continent? What problems will arise with the transport of animals? Can we avoid going through the UK as much as possible because there will be tariffs? People are asking these questions. I am appealing to the Minister to ensure the proper arrangements are in place to deal with these matters. Time is getting scarce.

Fishermen are also concerned. They find it hard enough to survive with the elements and bad weather. Will the Minister explain how much of a package we will get from Europe to assist our farmers and fishermen?

The cross-border health directive has been vital for many people in Kerry and west Cork. Through it, Deputy Michael Collins and I have taken 25 buses of people to the North of Ireland to get operations to remove cataracts, get hip or knee replacements, as well as for children to have their tonsils removed. Are we sure this will continue if Britain leaves the European Union? We have great admiration for these people who have taken it upon themselves to travel this long journey for an operation. It takes seven hours to travel from Kerry to Belfast. One 96 year old man saw it as either going to Belfast or going blind. One has to admire them for going in the dark of the morning and not coming back until late the following night.

We need to assure people that medicines will be available. There is much concern that there may be shortages of different kinds of food such as flour. I was told often by my grandmother that there was a scarcity of flour after the Second World War. She would tell how glad she used to be to get a ten stone bag of flour that she would carry home over 350 yards on her back from where it was dropped off on the road with just one stop. When I hear talk about scarcities of flour, I think of her and what she went through at the time.

The free travel scheme facilitates people to travel North to visit relations and friends and likewise for people coming down from the North. It is hoped this will continue. We depend on tourists from the UK. Many of them come year after year. They have always been appreciated and recognised as good spenders. We hope that, if there is a hard Brexit, they will still be facilitated. Any drop in visitors from Great Britain would hit hard many of the small bed and breakfasts, as well as family run and large hotels, which provide such great facilities. These businesses provide many jobs in the Ring of Kerry, the great town of Killarney, Tralee, north Kerry and even in the heart of south Kerry in places like Valentia. These places appreciate the visitors from the UK, as well as those who come through the UK to visit our county.

I call on Deputy Shortall who is sharing time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

It is quite unusual to see so many Deputies in the Chamber welcoming Government legislation. It is particularly unusual to welcome legislation we hope never to see enacted.

Looking through this mammoth Bill, it is extremely jarring to confront the fact that in a few short weeks, unless Article 50 is extended, we will have an external EU frontier cutting across this island.

While I commend the Government on this complex legislation, it is a matter of huge regret that we should have to discuss this issue at all. As I and others have stated previously, there is no such thing as a good Brexit. As it stands, the relationship between Ireland and the UK, as partners in the Single Market and the customs union and with almost frictionless movement of people, is as close to the optimum that can be achieved in terms of social and economic co-operation between two economic states. However, the United Kingdom has chosen to walk away from that arrangement. It has also chosen to walk away from similar relationships with 26 other member states. From the perspective of a neighbouring country, this is a really baffling decision and the Conservative Party will bear a heavy responsibility for it in the future. It also shows the dangers of nationalist populism when driven to its irrational extreme.

While we respect the outcome of the 2016 referendum, the lack of foresight and planning, the obfuscation that has followed and the incomprehensible continuing lack of clarity from the British Government regarding what kind of Brexit it wants has undoubtedly served to sour relations between our two states. This is most regrettable as the warming of the east-west relationship between our two states was one of the hard-won triumphs of the peace process. We can only hope that this relationship can be repaired over time.

Events at Westminster today indicate that an extension of the Article 50 process seems a more likely outcome than no deal. The Labour Party seems to have thrown its weight behind the possibility of a second referendum. We need to have more clarity in terms of what it now proposes. If Article 50 is extended, I urge the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to work to ensure that it is for as tight and defined a period as possible.

Aside from the possibility of hard Brexit, the most frustrating outcome for individuals and businesses that desperately need clarity on what form Brexit will take is a further open-ended period of uncertainty. Businesses that rely on access to the UK market literally have no idea what their trading arrangements will be in a few short weeks. To further prolong this uncertainty is untenable. The British Prime Minister’s strategy of running down the clock to effectively bounce her party into supporting the deal on the table, at the risk of a no-deal Brexit, underscores the UK's total unpreparedness for the enormity of a hard Brexit.

Playing fast and loose with not only the peace in Northern Ireland, the businesses that rely on trading relationships and the UK market but also with the lives of the most disadvantaged who would be disproportionately damaged by a no-deal Brexit displays a callousness and a disconnectedness from the reality of existence for so many people in the UK. Theresa May will be remembered as the Prime Minister who tore up her own deal when faced with the same malcontents from the extremes of the British political spectrum who, in the first instance, fought for Brexit in the absence of a plan on how to deliver it. Regardless of the form it takes, it is a Brexit will come at the expense of the British public, their jobs and businesses.

I now turn to the Bill. I commend the work that has gone into producing this legislation. It contains complex provisions - spanning several Departments - that would attempt to minimise the massive disruption that a disorderly Brexit would cause. I especially welcome the proposed changes to the VAT regime for importers that would continue to treat the UK on the same terms as a member state for the purposes of making VAT returns every two months on imports, rather than on their arrival in Ireland. This will be of benefit to small and medium-sized enterprises which do not have sufficient capacity or a sustainable cashflow that would allow for continuous VAT payments. This is a particularly welcome measure because it goes some way to addressing an aspect of Brexit preparedness on which the Government has been weak, namely, support for small and medium enterprises.

Part 3 relates to the role which Enterprise Ireland will play in enhancing support to companies involved in research and development in order to allow them to continue to operate and expand. There is also provision for additional lending and investment instruments in certain circumstances. While these measures are welcome, I do not think that it is credible that this measure should be offered after the fact if the Bill is ever needed. I urge the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to speak to small and medium-sized enterprises so as to fully ascertain their needs. Small businesses cannot afford to prepare for no-deal Brexit while big business cannot afford not to. The Brexit loan support scheme was a welcome plank in the Government’s preparedness strategy. However, we have heard serious and repeated claims that the scheme did not take into full consideration the specific needs of small and medium-sized businesses when it came to capacity to make applications. If the Article 50 process is extended, I ask the Minister to work to further develop the strategy to assist this sector to prepare for Brexit and to ensure that those in it are fully cognisant of existing supports. I also ask her to work to develop additional sector-specific solutions as needed.

While the Government and the other 26 EU member staters have thus far stood fast on the need for a legally-binding backstop to be a core part of the withdrawal agreement, as the deadline looms, I hope no member state will be tempted to blink. In recent months, certain elements in Eurosceptic Governments who may be more susceptible to bilateral lobbying by the UK have made some worrying comments about Ireland’s role in the current impasse. This cannot be allowed to become a narrative as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit approaches. The Government enjoys the unprecedented support of all in this House to continue to hold the line. I urge the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to ensure that this support is echoed in the capitals of the other 26 member states as 29 March looms nearer.

The Green Party will support the Government and all the other parties in trying put this legislation in place. It is legislation that none of us want to see enacted or used but it is a necessary precaution that we must make as a result of the possibility of a no-deal, crash-out Brexit.

This morning I read something that gave me a sense of the lack of connection to reality of the British political system at this time. I regret that I must say this but they are the only words I can use to describe the situation as I see it. It was an article in The Telegraph by the very eminent and experienced former Tory leader and Foreign Secretary, William Hague. He advises his colleagues that if the EU is going to make any meaningful concession, it will do so only at the last minute because of the consequences of a no-deal Brexit. He said that the UK Government has to hold its nerve and extract change to the legal durability of the Irish backstop. That seems to be the current negotiating tactic employed by the UK Government. I scratched my head and thought how surely they must understand, as I think most people here do, that the European Union is not going to allow the extraction of such as concession.

To explain why, our party leader in the European Parliament, Mr. Philippe Lamberts, MEP, was over here recently and put it well when I questioned him on this. He said that what they do not seem to realise is that the concession they are looking for is, in effect, a concession with regard to the Single Market, or a complete weakening of it, and whatever the difficulties that would no doubt be caused by a no-deal Brexit exit, which no one wants, the European Union will not undermine the Single Market. It will not throw a concession on that because that is fundamental. The Single Market is a cornerstone of the Union and that is what is at play. I regret that such a lack of knowledge, or lack of shared understanding of what is at play, exists on the other side of the Irish Sea and I hope that in some way in the coming weeks they can turn it around to realise that this issue will not move, that having it as their great salvation out of the division they have in their Parliament will not work and that they will have to seek some other means, and fairly quickly, to manage this situation. I heard an adviser on the Irish side say today, and I have heard it said recently, that the chance of a no-deal crash out is only 10% and in all likelihood there will be an extension and then some form of agreement. I am nervous because the way I see it in the House of Commons is that there is such lack of cohesion and co-operation, even within each party, or certainly across that House, the risk is they will not even manage that process of avoiding the no-deal crash out, and we have to prepare for it.

It will be difficult for parties on this side to manage the whole process, not only because we are not in opposition to the Government on this but because of the sheer breadth of the technicalities. Given that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is able to bring in one Minister after another and has the Departments rowing in, it will be difficult for us to suggest amendments or to have the same resources, particularly given the timelines we have for debating this legislation. This is not an ordinary legislative process.

There are a number of areas where I would hope we could suggest further measures that will need to be taken. They might not necessarily have to be legislative but we will certainly look to see if they are, or will try to input as best we can into what is a contracted and, by its nature, a crisis legislative process. We need to strengthen - if it is not in the legislation, it needs to be put in somewhere else or there needs to be an opportunity to do so somewhere else - the preparation for the environmental consequences of a no-deal crash out Brexit.

One of the strengths of the Good Friday Agreement is it recognised the environmental reality that we share one island and pollution does not recognise borders. Councillor Mark Dearey, a colleague of mine in Dundalk, always makes the point that the water that eventually arrives at his tap has crossed the Border four or five times as the rivers wind their way through south Armagh and County Louth. Similarly, he makes the point that there is real uncertainty as to where the Border is in the likes of Carlingford Lough, and he lives on the shores of Carlingford Lough. A series of environmental campaign groups came to the Dáil late last year, largely because they had no one in the Assembly to speak to. There is no representation in Northern Ireland at present, which is shocking because the Good Friday Agreement envisaged that environmental powers would be devolved to the Assembly. In the absence of any political representation in the North, which could hear their pleas, groups such those protesting against gold mining in the Sperrin Mountains and those who were rightly concerned about the massive and seemingly fraudulent expansion of the pig sector in the North where there is a range of new environmental concerns came down here. For instance, there is the equivalent of 12 million persons' worth of sewage coming from these new anaerobic digestion plants that have been approved in the same way that the home renovation incentive, HRI, plants were approved in the North. That pollution, the ammonia and the concerns regarding water pollution from such plants are cross-Border issues. This Bill is not strong on the environmental legislation and that is something we will need to strengthen in the event that there is a crash-out Brexit. The advantage is it is not ideological. It is merely the physical reality that, as is said, pollution does not recognise borders. Good environmental management must cross borders. That is an area where we could perhaps get some co-operation with unionist parties in the North in recognising it is in their interests. It is in no one's interest to ignore transboundary pollution issues.

There is another reason it is an important area for real detailed work and consideration. One of the problems with this Brexit process and one of the fears we have is that the UK Government intends to use the Brexit process to weaken environmental standards and gain competitive advantage by diverting from the high standards the European Union has set in the Habitats Directive, the Water Framework Directive and the climate directives. All that environmental legislation is European and, as we see it, looking at the draft legislation before the House of Commons, the environmental regulations they are seeking to put in place do not include proper monitoring of what will happen, especially in Northern Ireland. It is English-centric. They are looking at weakening environmental standards and diverting away from European standards which would have particularly severe negative consequences for this island. That is one of the main reasons we must maintain a no-border approach. For farming and for environmental reasons, that has particular consequences on this side of the island.

I hate to say it but we simply do not trust the European Research Group, ERG, and its fairy tale notion that there will be fair trade deals everywhere. It wraps it up in a green ribbon that Mr. Michael Gove, MP, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, presents in terms of being the greenest of them all. Given everything we know about its philosophy, I am sorry but it seems in the legislation it is already considering deregulated lower standards in both employment and environment. That is why I would like to see a much strong emphasis in our response to protect environmental standards in whatever we do.

A second and more detailed area is in the education sector. I have been approached by a number of people involved in Irish universities who said that they are concerned about the lack of a detailed approach to the management of students, who thrive on both sides, both our students going to the UK and UK students coming here. I was told as recently as last week that they had no real certainty as to what they would do with students later this year and next year. I do not have immediate proposals or suggestions in this regard. We must look into the details of the legislation, and through the legislative process, try to ensure that it is as tight and as effective as possible. As I said at the Brexit dialogue in Dublin Castle recently, one of the areas where we might see co-operation with our unionist friends is on the rights of those holding British passports in Northern Ireland to have access to the likes of the Erasmus scheme and also to work, which applies not only to students. We must avoid, in what we are managing, the division between those carrying an Irish passport in the North and a British passport in terms of the rights they gain. We should look for concessions from the European Union post Brexit, whether it is a no-deal or a withdrawal agreement, to protect those rights because it would be deeply divisive to make what passport a person in the North holds determine his or her future. It would be deeply unfair and would undermine everything we have been working for within the Good Friday Agreement and within the peace process that we are all committed to.

There is so much more here because it is such broad legislation. Suffice it to say that we enter into the process of writing this legislation with regret. We will maintain the co-operative approach with the Government that has been evident throughout this Brexit process but we will try to maintain a critical eye and provide useful suggestions to address any flaws and to propose improvements as best we can. Time is short.

The position is tight and we will do our best to help in whatever way we can.

I welcome the opportunity to address Dáil Éireann on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 and, in particular, the elements of it which I have proposed as Minister for Finance. The Government remains firmly of the view that the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is to ratify the withdrawal agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the British Government. The Government remains focused on the ratification of the withdrawal agreement and the negotiation of an ambitious and comprehensive future EU-UK partnership. However, we must also be prepared for the possibility that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without an agreement. We are doing all we can to avoid this happening, but we need to be ready in case it does.

The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 follows on from the Government's contingency action plan published in December 2018 and the measures being undertaken at EU level via the European Commission's contingency action plan. The purpose of the Government's Bill is to protect citizens and the economy by putting in place the necessary measures to mitigate some of the worst disruptions and discontinuities that would arise as a result of a no-deal Brexit. As Minister for Finance, my objective is to protect the economic and financial interests of the state and support the work of the Revenue Commissioners so as to minimise the disruption to trade to the greatest extent possible. My Department is working within the whole-of-government approach and co-ordinating closely with the agencies, including the Central Bank of Ireland and the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, which is also heavily involved in developing and implementing plans and measures to protect the economy to the greatest extent possible.

As I have outlined previously, Brexit, in whatever form, is an historic challenge and, as we approach it, we must continue to be clear that membership of the Single Market and the customs union is a core element of our economic strategy and will not change. Ireland will remain an active and enthusiastic member of the European Union and the Government is committed to working with the European Commission to ensure the closest possible relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom and to protect the interests of businesses and citizens as much as possible. The legislative amendments I have proposed in the areas of taxation and financial services will form an important part of this contingency planning.

Part 6 of the Bill provides for the modification of income tax, corporation tax, capital tax and stamp duty legislation in order to ensure continuity for business and citizens in their current access to certain taxation measures, including reliefs and allowances. Part 6 also makes provision for the introduction of postponed accounting for VAT on imports from third countries, an important measure to mitigate the cash flow burden on businesses should the United Kingdom leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement. It also provides for the retention of certain capital taxes and VAT anti-avoidance provisions. There are seven chapters in this Part of the Bill.

The proposed amendments to income tax are covered in chapter 2, sections 16 to 41, inclusive, where various sections of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 will be amended to ensure income tax measures will continue to apply to existing beneficiaries should the United Kingdom leave the European Union without an agreement. The relevant legislative provisions will, as far as practicable, be extended to include the United Kingdom in order to maintain the status quo in the immediate future. The measures covered are diverse and include the artists' exemption; the exemptions from income tax of hepatitis and HIV compensation payments and foster care arising in the United Kingdom; the application of the seafarer allowance and the fisher tax credit to Irish taxpayers serving on UK-registered vessels; ensuring continuity of relief for small and medium enterprises benefiting from the employment and investment incentive, start-up refunds for entrepreneurs, the key employee engagement programme and preservation of existing pension reliefs for Irish taxpayers; the retirement arrangements for professional sportspersons to ensure Irish taxpaying sportsmen and sportswomen who retire to the United Kingdom can avail of the relief; and the continuation of various reliefs in respect of charitable donations and charities' incomes.

The proposed amendments to corporation tax are covered in chapter 3, sections 42 to 47, inclusive. In broad terms, they seek to maintain the status quo in the tax treatment of certain transactions or corporate group structures in the immediate aftermath of a UK exit from the European Union without an agreement. The purpose of the amendments is to minimise disruption to businesses to the greatest extent possible. For example, the amendments proposed in section 42 relating to charges on income for corporation tax purposes will ensure certain interest payments made by companies to recognised banks, Stock Exchange members and discount houses carrying on business in the United Kingdom will continue to qualify for the relief. Similarly, the amendments proposed in sections 45 to 47, inclusive, aim to retain reliefs for certain start-up companies, companies engaged in research and development activities and gains realised on certain transfers of chargeable assets owned by UK companies.

The proposed amendments to capital taxes are covered as part of chapter 2, section 41; chapter 4, sections 48 and 49; and chapter 7, section 60. The amendments are proposed in order to allow for continuity of existing provisions, in the main capital gains tax and capital acquisition taxes covering investment and farming reliefs, as well as amendments to cover specific capital gains tax anti-avoidance measures.

VAT is covered in chapter 5, sections 50 to 53, inclusive. The main change being proposed is in section 51 which provides for the introduction of postponed accounting for VAT. This is a significant measure that will alleviate VAT burdens on businesses as a result of Brexit. The change allows businesses to account for VAT on imports in their bi-monthly VAT return, instead of having to pay VAT at the point of importation, which normally applies to imports from third countries. This mirrors the existing VAT system for trade from the United Kingdom and will avoid the cash flow burden for businesses trading with the United Kingdom of having to pay VAT up-front and also the administrative burden of operating new systems. The amendments proposed in section 52 are an anti-avoidance measure.

With stamp duties, chapter 6 sets out the proposed amendments to the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999 which are covered in sections 54 to 59, inclusive. The aim of the amendments is to maintain the status quo. The amendments proposed in sections 54 to 57, inclusive, provide for a continuation of stamp duty reliefs on the acquisition of stocks and marketable securities, the reconstructions or amalgamations of companies and the demutualisation of assurance companies. The amendments proposed in sections 58 and 59 provide for a continuation of stamp duty levies on certain life insurance and non-life insurance premiums. Today the Government approved two amendments to be included in the Bill on Committee Stage related to duty free sales and the operation of the VAT retail export scheme between Ireland and the United Kingdom post Brexit.

Turning to Part 7 of the Bill, legislative amendments are proposed to extend the protections contained in the settlement finality directive to Irish users of UK-based settlement systems for trading in financial instruments once the United Kingdom becomes a third country. This legislation is related to the Irish market's reliance on CREST, a central securities depository, CSD, based in the United Kingdom to settle trades in Irish listed financial instruments. A central securities depository is a specialist settlement system that holds financial instruments such as shares on behalf of investors and facilitates transfers in ownership through electronic book entry, rather than the actual physical transfer of paper certificates.

It is a key component in financial market infrastructure that enables the safe and efficient trading of financial instruments.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European Commission has already adopted a temporary and conditional equivalence decision for UK-based CSDs under the central securities depository regulation, CSDR, for a period of two years. This will allow the Irish market to continue settling trades in CREST while the transition to Euroclear Bank, a CSD based in Belgium, is completed. The proposed amendments to the settlement finality regulations are required to support implementation of the Commission equivalence decision and allow Irish participants to continue accessing CREST. The settlement finality directive ensures that transfer orders of financial instruments entered into designated settlement systems by market participants are legally binding. It provides legal certainty to market participants that trades will fully settle even if one of the parties attempts to revoke the trade or becomes insolvent prior to settlement. Recital 7 of the directive grants member states the discretion to extend the protections of the directive to third country systems. At the time of the directive's transposition into Irish law through SI 624 of 2010, Ireland did not exercise this discretion as CREST was based in another member state - the UK. Following the UK's decision to leave the EU, it will become a third country for the purposes of EU legislation and, therefore, it becomes necessary to implement recital 7 in Irish law, as I am proposing in this Bill, in order to ensure that the protections under the directive continue to apply to Irish market participants.

Regarding the designation of settlement systems, I, in my role as Minister for Finance, will decide on the designation of a system following a recommendation by the Central Bank of Ireland. The Central Bank is required to conduct an equivalence assessment of the United Kingdom's legal system as it relates to settlement finality to ensure it is equivalent to the relevant Irish laws and that the rules of the individual system comply with the requirements set out in Regulation No. 7. The proposed legislation allows for the withdrawal of a designation if the Central Bank of Ireland deems that either UK law or the rules of the system no longer comply with the requirements set out in the legislation. The legislation also allows for the temporary designation of settlement systems that are already designated by the Bank of England under settlement finality. The introduction of this legislation will ensure that there is no disruption to existing market activity in the event that the UK withdraws from the EU without ratification of the withdrawal agreement.

Finally, Part 8 of the Bill provides for contract continuity in respect of contracts of insurance. If the UK withdraws from the EU without ratification of the withdrawal agreement, it will become a third country from 30 March 2019 with regard to the EU's regulatory framework for insurance and financial services. UK and Gibraltar insurance undertakings or insurance intermediaries will, therefore, no longer be able to write new business in Ireland and will not have the authority to continue to service contracts that were concluded before Brexit. The servicing of contracts would include activities such as paying out on claims or accepting premium payments. Therefore, certain measures are necessary to protect Irish customers to ensure the continuity of these services post Brexit.

The Central Bank has indicated that a significant majority of insurance undertakings have proposed appropriate contingency plans that have already been implemented or will be implemented. In addition, most of the larger insurance intermediaries are taking the necessary action to resolve this issue. However, there is a legitimate concern, that some smaller UK-Gibraltar insurance undertakings and insurance intermediaries, which, admittedly, represent a very small portion of the overall market, will not have implemented contingency plans in place on time or because they do not propose continuing to operate in the Irish market post Brexit.

This Part, therefore, caters for these situations and ensures that Irish policyholders who hold existing life and non-life insurance policies with insurance undertakings or through insurance intermediaries operating in Ireland from the UK or Gibraltar will not be affected due to those undertakings or intermediaries losing their right to conduct business in EU members states post Brexit. To do so, the Part provides for a temporary run-off regime, which, subject to a number of conditions, will enable such firms to continue to fulfil contractual obligations to their Irish customers for a period of three years after the date of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The measure is exclusively in place for existing policies and does not allow these firms to issue new policies. This temporary run-off regime is established by amendment to the two sets of regulations that provide for the regulation of insurance undertakings and insurance intermediaries, namely, the European Union (Insurance and Reinsurance) Regulations 2015 and the European Union (Insurance Distribution) Regulations 2018.

Finally, Deputies should note that this regime is in line with the principles set out by the European Commission and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, EIOPA, in that it does not allow for new business to be written, it is temporary in nature and is in line with the principles set out in the Solvency II directive. These factors have been key considerations for my Department and the Central Bank in developing this regime. Indeed, EIOPA, in its recommendations for the insurance sector in light of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union, which were published on 19 February, has effectively endorsed this approach. I am confident, therefore, that these measures should ensure that Irish policyholders are protected in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

I hope this gives Members a good outline of the issues in this Bill that are covered by the Department of Finance. The breadth of the issues ranges from sportspeople to settlement systems, which indicates the complexity of this Bill and the complexity of the undertaking that lies ahead. The passage of the Bill is vital to ensure that in the event of a disorderly Brexit, we have done all we can to protect the interests of our State and citizens.

It is timely, if unfortunate, that we find ourselves debating this Bill this evening. The Minister outlined some of the key aspects of the Bill and the complexity involved in so many of the areas covered by it. I will focus on agriculture, which is not directly affected by the Bill but is equally complex in terms of the issues thrown up by the threat of a hard Brexit and requires as much clarity in our preparations as do those areas covered by the Bill. As the Minister is aware, of all the sectors of the Irish economy to which the threat of a hard Brexit poses a massive risk, agriculture is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of its level of exposure. While 17% of our total national exports are destined for the UK, the figure for the agriculture sector last year was 38%. There are some areas within agriculture that are massively exposed. It has been well rehearsed at this stage in terms of how the beef sector in particular is exposed. Half of our beef exports go to the UK. Certain areas in the dairy sector, particularly cheddar, are exposed. Other affected areas include the pigmeat and horticulture sectors. The impact on horticulture has been felt for a year and a half. The initial fluctuations in the value of sterling whacked that sector and put some operators out of business.

It is crucial that as much clarity as possible is brought to bear on preparedness and the mitigation measures that will be in place in the event of a hard Brexit.

We all look with great attention at the day-to-day developments in Westminster and my own assessment, and that of most people, is that it is still unlikely there will be a hard Brexit. However, we have to ensure we have every possible measure in place in the event it does happen. In regard to agriculture, unfortunately, the clarity has not been there to the extent that should be possible. The Government has not ensured the sector is as prepared or as clear as it could be in terms of the supports that will be in place if a hard Brexit happens on 29 March.

With my colleagues on our agriculture team, Deputies Cahill and Aylward and Senator Paul Daly, and on our Brexit team, Deputies Haughey and Chambers, since it became clear the UK was on a certain course, I have consistently asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine what exactly the Government is doing to try to help the agriculture sector. Since budget 2018 was announced in October 2017, the Minister's standard response, which he has used to reassure us in regard to how the Government was taking this seriously, is that significant funding has been put aside to bring in a Brexit loan scheme specifically tailored and designed to equip the agriculture sector, and farmers in particular, to deal with and prepare for Brexit. Where are we today in regard to that scheme? It still has not been launched and we still have not seen the detail of it. Going back over 18 months, that was the stock answer from the Minister to reassure us in terms of how seriously the Department was taking its responsibility to work with the sector and prepare it as best it could. However, it is still nowhere to be seen.

Unfortunately, that is reflective of the overall approach we have seen from the Government in regard to agriculture. Instead of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Government have majored in hoping for the best but they have not paid the attention they should to preparing for the worst. We saw this displayed at the Cabinet meeting in July last at the Daniel O'Connell homestead in Derrynane, after which the Government made the big bang announcement that there was no need to worry, that it was totally in control and that it would hire 1,000 officers in order to be prepared for the eventuality of a hard Brexit. Some 700 of that 1,000 round figure were to be customs officers and 300 were to be sanitary and phytosanitary, or SPS, veterinary officials. Fast forward to October, three months after the initial big announcement, and the figure of 300 SPS veterinary officials was downgraded, with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine outlining that all we would need was 116. As of today, and having queried the Minister in recent weeks in regard to how many of those officials would be hired and in place for the end of March, when they might be needed, there has been no answer. He could not tell us because they have not been hired.

In the last couple of days, what we have seen in the media from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is that it is now putting out a tender call to the private veterinary sector, calling for people within that sector to make an application or an expression of interest to the Department as to their preparedness and willingness to take up the role of inspector officers at entry points into the State at the end of March, should they be needed. While the Government was telling us it had it all under control, this week we see it is outsourcing it to the private sector and to the veterinary community, and expecting them to come forward with an expression of interest, with just 31 days to go to Brexit. Of course, the veterinary profession is already under massive pressure in regard to resources and is exceptionally stretched, and the end of March is the busiest time of year for veterinary practices and professionals across the country. I severely doubt the Government will get the required level of response to fill those roles in the event of a hard Brexit. No doubt, the Government will tell us it has this covered because it has the tender out, and it will hope for the best again and hope it will not be needed - the default position. However, if it is, I doubt this will be in place, given that the level of consultation with the veterinary profession has been very limited.

The other key thing we need to see, and which we have not seen, is certainty with regard to the level of support that will be in place in the event of a hard Brexit for the beef sector, the dairy sector and the agrifood sector. When the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is cornered and put under pressure as to what exactly will be done, he tells us not to worry and says hundreds of millions of euro will be available, but that is as far as it goes. There is no certainty. We saw the UK environment Secretary, Michael Gove, last week outline what might happen there, particularly in regard to beef, where a tariff-free quota would be allowed up to the level of tonnage that would be required to make up for the UK's lack of self-sufficiency. Again, there is no clarity as to the response from the Irish Government in terms of what will be in place in the event that our sector needs to be supported, given it is already under massive pressure.

My clear message is that the Government needs to step up to the mark in terms of communicating what it is going to do in regard to agriculture and the supports that will be in place should they be required, although we all hope they will not be. The Government and Members on all sides of the House are resolute in terms of working together to try to achieve that objective but we need to ensure the supports are in place, and that they will be communicated in advance to try to protect what is our largest indigenous sector, which is essential to the economy of the nation, in particular rural Ireland.

Here we are, passing emergency legislation in the Dáil arising from Brexit. After the referendum on 23 June 2016, I said in the Dáil, as many others said at the time, that it would be an awful shame that so much time and effort has to be given by Government and Opposition, and by public administration generally, to dealing with the fallout from Brexit, and so it has come to pass. With 31 days to go to 29 March, we have 11 Dáil sitting days left. I suggest this legislation has come to us a little late but we will scrutinise it as best we can. It was only published last Friday and is very complex legislation, so all credit to the civil servants who prepared it across many Departments. We now have to do it justice.

In regard to the withdrawal agreement, we are hoping Westminster will pass it in time. I am not sure what the other options are or if there is a possibility of a new deal between the EU and the UK involving a legally binding codicil in respect of the Irish backstop. Obviously, a new deal would need the agreement of the European Commission. There is also the possibility of an extension of Article 50 and now, into the mix, the British Labour Party has thrown the possibility of another public vote.

It is worth stating again that the political stability in the Republic of Ireland at this time should not be taken for granted arising from the confidence and supply agreement by Fianna Fáil to facilitate this Government. I am not sure everybody gets the immediate threat to jobs, to living standards and to the public finances arising from Brexit. I think the effects will be seen immediately. People's standards of living are under threat and people need to realise this. At least the Dáil is sitting this week to pass this emergency legislation. The Dáil has not been dissolved, which I believe most people will appreciate.

The Brexit omnibus Bill has 15 Parts and involves nine Departments. It aims to secure the provisions in respect of the common travel area, maintain existing arrangements and deal with immediate issues to ensure continuity generally. I hope no new measures are being slipped into it. We need assurances in that regard. I note that the Minister has stated two amendments were approved by the Cabinet today. We need full openness on the Bill and no suggestions measures are being slipped into it about which we know nothing.

The Bill deals with health issues, in particular the cross-Border directive and the treatment abroad scheme, which is to be welcomed. It also deals with the Industrial Development Acts and the remit of Enterprise Ireland, which is also welcome.

There are provisions covering the single electricity market. They are only precautionary and it is hoped they will not be needed.

Provisions are included for the continuance of Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants under the heading of education. That is a practical measure which students will appreciate.

The Minister has outlined all of the financial provisions included in the Bill. The VAT deferral item is of particular concern and will be welcomed as part of the Bill.

There are provisions covering transport, the Harbours Act 2015 and ports. I am that glad buses and trains will also continue to travel across the Border.

Citizens will appreciate the social welfare provisions and the assurance that benefits will continue to be paid.

There are many complex provisions covering justice issues, including extradition, warrants, immigration, the common travel area, visas and fingerprints, etc. Those with an interest in justice issues will appreciate all of these provisions.

This legislation is not the be all and end all in dealing with Brexit, Therefore, we need to be kept informed on all of the other measures the Government is taking, as well as the issues that come within the competency of the European Union. There has been mention of 20 statutory instruments being implemented. As other speakers stated, we need more information on the additional measures being taken, particularly in the SME and agriculture sectors. I am glad that the Minister is here, as I want to raise the issue of contingency planning at Dublin Port which is in his constituency in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is examining the possibility of allowing lorries to park in one of the long-stay car parks at Dublin Airport to avoid traffic jams at Dublin Port. In the event that there is a no-deal Brexit, it is envisaged congestion on the M1 and the M50 and in the Dublin Port tunnel is a real possibility arising from delays at customs. The suggestion is the Dublin Port Tunnel may have to be closed and that alternative routes will have to be used by trucks to avoid congestion. That would be of real concern for Dubliners, including my constituents. If the Dublin Port tunnel was to be closed for any length of time, the whole city would snarl up. To the best of my knowledge, it happened last Monday. The Minister, the Department and Transport Infrastructure Ireland which manages the Dublin Port tunnel will have to give this issue serious consideration. The one thing that will immediately annoy people in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit is traffic chaos in the city and leading into the port. I hope all of the interested parties are dealing with that matter and preparing for it.

With reference to Northern Ireland, it is good to see that business and farming interests are making their voices heard on how they will be affected by Brexit. It is unfortunate, however, that politics in Northern Ireland has become polarised, as we have seen in recent elections. I was interested in the comments of the leader of the SDLP, Colum Eastwood, at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. He said there was a special place in hell for those calling for a Border poll at this volatile time. It would be counterproductive to throw it into the mix now. Moderate voices need to express that view in a very forceful way. I have also spoken in the House before about the deterioration in Anglo-Irish relations arising from Brexit. Other speakers have also mentioned the issue. The peace process brought to an end 800 years of hostile relations and imperial oppression, as some like to refer to it. We have come a long way from the Good Friday Agreement. A lot of work will have to be done by the Government, all of us in the House, all other Members of the Oireachtas and our colleagues across the water to restore good harmonious relations which are in the interests of all citizens. There are many connections between our two peoples, about which we need to be concerned.

I have some concerns about our level of preparedness for Brexit at this stage. My colleague Deputy McConalogue mentioned recruiting Customs officers and veterinary inspectors, about which there is confusion as to whether we are doing what we need to do to fulfil previous commitments on the timely recruitment of these personnel. We also need more details on the provision of State aid for particular sectors of the economy, including SMEs and the agriculture sector.

I refer to the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament in May. Deputy Shortall spoke about the need for voices of reason at this time, as we have witnessed a rise of populism and the hard right, in particular. Citizens need to give serious consideration to the people whom they elect to the European Parliament. We need to ensure the European Union will function effectively for all those of us who subscribe to its liberal democratic values.

Táim buíoch as an deis labhairt ar an mBiIle seo anocht. Since the Brexit referendum result became clear in June 2016, we, in Sinn Féin, have been steadfast in stating Brexit presents the most serious social, economic and political challenges to the island in a generation. That is the reality of the current situation. Brexit presents a massive challenge, one that demands a thoughtful, purposeful and robust response. The withdrawal agreement between the European Union and Britain that is on the table and the backstop contained within it are that response which by no means is perfect. In fact, it is the bare minimum required to in the short term protect the Good Friday Agreement and ensure some safeguarding of our economic interests. It is a legally binding guarantee that ensures there will be no return to a hard border on the island and that the interests of citizens in the North, the majority of whom voted against Brexit, will be protected. However, it falls short on the promise that the rights of citizens in the North would be protected. I refer to the rights and protections afforded to other Irish citizens living in the European Union being extended to citizens in the North. We already see the assumption of the British system that all those who live in the North are British citizens. In their eyes, Irish citizens living in the North are foreigners in their own land.

The Irish Government and the EU have much to do to ensure that the rights and entitlements of people in the North, including the right to political representation, are protected. To date the Government and the EU have failed to secure these rights. The legislation before us, the so-called omnibus Bill, does not deal with the long-term issues. No British Government should have the ability to set aside the wishes of the people in the North and impose Brexit. The Border is the problem, and as Brexit so amply demonstrates this is not just an Irish problem. It is a European problem also. Unfortunately, a mere five weeks from Brexit the British Prime Minister continues to renege on the deal that she made. She has sought to play blink with the EU and demand changes that she cannot secure and which must not be conceded. Today the Brexit shambles continues at Westminster. The reality is that the backstop is required to protect our agreements and our economy. It is required to ensure there is no hard border. This is not simply the position of Sinn Féin, the Irish Government, the Irish State or, indeed, the EU. This was the position of Theresa May when she spoke to us before Christmas, yet she now says that it is not required or that it can be time-limited. Today she said it was her deal, no deal or further negotiation. All the while, uncertainty and instability grows.

The time for stalling is over. There is a deal on the table, and the British Government and Parliament must now honour that agreement. There is a cohort of Brexiteers who do not deal in reality. They believe in Brexit at any cost, and if that cost is chaos in Ireland, a hard border and the ripping up of our agreements, so be it. That is their view. They do not want to be in the European Union. We know that much. They do not want a withdrawal agreement and they do not want a backstop. For them, Ireland is inconsequential. Our economy, our citizens and our agreements are collateral damage in their fight to recapture their imperial past. It is our job to ensure that does not happen.

I share the view of the Tánaiste when he says we do not want to see this Bill enacted. What we want is a solution. We never wanted Brexit in the first place and we certainly do not want the chaos it will cause. That is why the people of the North rejected Brexit; because they recognised the folly of one part of our island being inside the European Union and the other being outside. The consequences of that are now upon us. The British Prime Minster tells us she wants a deal but she already has a deal. Today she told us that Parliament will decide if there is to be no deal. She is the Prime Minister who has refused to rule out no deal. She is now telling us she may seek an extension to Article 50 while also saying that an extension will not resolve anything. That is why we must prepare for the worst-case scenario. That is why we must face up to the prospect that in a couple of weeks we could be in a no-deal situation, despite the wishes of the people of this island, North and South.

It is an outrageous proposition that nobody here wants, but it is being foisted on us by those who do not care one iota for Ireland, our interests or our people. Shamefully that cohort includes the DUP. That party knows that a hard Brexit will damage this island, but its members are content with that situation because in their view the return of a hard border is the acceptable cost of the union with Britain. They are wrong. The DUP does not represent the view of a majority of citizens in the North. They got it wrong during the referendum debate, they were wrong in its aftermath and they are now very wrong about the withdrawal agreement and the backstop. It is disappointing and in fact disturbing that the DUP has sought to take the side of Tory Brexiteers and the likes of UKIP over the needs and aspirations of citizens in the North and across the island. However, that is their decision. Their decision is to be reckless and irresponsible. The truth is that ordinary citizens in the North, whether they are republicans, nationalists, unionists or otherwise, recognise that Brexit is not good and they want a deal that protects their livelihoods and their futures.

Sinn Féin speaks for all communities on this, not for narrow interests. We have brought our view to Europe, to the Irish Government and to the British Government consistently over the last year and a half and more. When we first articulated a policy of special status for Ireland and for the North, some of the parties in this Dáil accused us of grandstanding. They told us it was unrealistic. Yet it has since become the agreed EU position in negotiations. I believe we had a huge impact in that regard.

I have made the point here before that Brexit is not a temporary thing. It has consequences that are very real, lasting and enduring. They are for keeps. To combat those, we need a solution to match. Sinn Féin will be supporting the Bill before us tonight. We believe it can and should be strengthened and we will bring forward amendments to that effect. However, I must state this clearly that the Bill before us is not the catch-all solution to a no-deal scenario that the Government has sought to portray it as. It is in fact just one of the multifaceted responses that are required and which must be adopted as a matter of urgency by all of us here in this Dáil.

The Bill deals with some of the things that will impact immediately on people’s daily lives in the event of a no-deal Brexit, things like access to healthcare, cross-Border travel, access to education and pension entitlements. Dealing with these matters is absolutely necessary and nobody here could argue against ensuring that the contingency measures in this Bill are put in place and are ready, if required, though hopefully never needed. That is a reasonable proposition and one which we wholeheartedly support. Where we may differ with the Government, although I hope this is not the case, is with regard to what else is required in the event of a no-deal scenario. Much more is required. In addition to dealing with what the Bill before us does, we need to look at the bigger picture. While this Bill deals with important day-to-day matters it does not address the very real economic consequences of a crash-out Brexit or the prospect of the imposition of a hard border on our island.

Our country in its entirety will be the country most affected by Brexit apart from Britain itself. That will be felt in ways that are out of proportion to anything that might be experienced by other countries in the European Union. That is why we need, and why we in Sinn Féin have compiled and called for, a comprehensive medium-term plan for dealing with the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit. The first part of that must be to mitigate the effects of Brexit in the very short term through legislative measures, some of which are dealt with in the Bill before us. The next part of the strategy must be to ensure that we overcome the disruption of Brexit through medium-term investment in capital and social infrastructure. That is why we have proposed the development of a €2 billion Brexit stabilisation fund. This should be put in place to complement, not to substitute for, any EU supports that are forthcoming in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We need supports for small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, in vulnerable sectors as well as targeted capital investment in our ports, roads and airports and in housing, health, and education. Enterprise Ireland has said that up to 25,000 jobs could be lost in a no-deal scenario. This would be catastrophic and we need a plan on the shelf for that prospect.

There is a need for direct Government support for those importers and exporters that trade exclusively with Britain.

The majority of these businesses are small to medium-sized enterprises and lack the scale of resources to easily change practices that have been so many years in the making. That means taking on board the concerns of stakeholders, mitigating, where possible, the effects of Brexit and investing in the future to overcome the structural changes in supply and trade that Brexit will bring.

We must also accept that Brexit does not just affect businesses. It affects communities and people as well, and any Brexit strategy worth its salt needs to reflect and address that reality. That must be put in place without delay.

As I said, there is a gap in this legislation. It fails to address the fundamental issue at the heart of the current crisis - partition. The third and most crucial aspect of our contingency planning must be to look to the future and to the constitutional arrangements on this island. I have made the case on numerous occasions, and I will do so again, that in the event of a no-deal scenario it is absolutely incumbent on the British Government to put the constitutional future of the North to the people in a referendum on Irish unity because if the people of the North are to be disregarded, then the people of the North must have their say in respect of their future. In a series of polls, a majority in the North have indicated that in a no-deal scenario, they would vote for a united Ireland. Similar polls indicate likewise here in the South.

It is now time for the Government to heed those views from across the island and to indicate clearly that it, too, wants to see a referendum being held in the event of a no-deal situation. It is a more than reasonable position and one which all parties here should support. It makes perfect sense because the European Council agreed in April 2017 that the whole of our island would be afforded membership of the EU in the event of national reunification. That is what all of us here should be working towards.

It seems some parties here have a problem with that view. I have to say I do not understand that position because these are the same parties which are quite content to talk up their united Irelander credentials when it suits them but talk down the prospect of unity when they think it is politically expedient to do so. I believe their position is the wrong position.

I am talking chiefly, although not exclusively, about the shameful position of Fianna Fáil on this matter. It is now almost two years since Fianna Fáil promised it would "within months" publish a roadmap to a united Ireland. We are two years on. There is no plan. There is no roadmap, only the word "No". Its hypocrisy is laid bare for all to see. We are told that now is not the time to be talking about a unity referendum due to Brexit but now is absolutely the right time to be talking about unity as the undemocratic nature of partition is clear for all to see. Never again can a British Government seek to impose its will on the people of Ireland. Those days are over.

The leader of the SDLP, or should I call him the Fianna Fáil leader in the North, Colum Eastwood, said at the weekend that there is "a place in hell" for those advocating for a Border poll without a plan. Someone should have told Colum how Fianna Fáil has rejected proposals for a cross-party group to create such a plan for unity. It will have another chance because we in Sinn Féin will bring forward amendments to this Bill calling on the Government to convene an all-Ireland forum on unity and for the Government to develop a White Paper on Irish unity. Now is the time to talk about unity, to plan for unity and to secure and win unity polls, North and South. I trust the leader of Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach will support these measures and essential amendments to ensure there can be no Border on our island.

The leader of Fianna Fáil also raised the issue of the institutions in the North. It is absolutely regrettable that the North's political institutions are down during the Brexit process, but that is the reality we face. It is a disgrace that the Executive is not meeting but while the leader of Fianna Fáil hurled from the ditch, Sinn Féin sought and secured a deal with the DUP, a deal that the DUP subsequently walked away from and, a year later, it has not walked back into the talks.

I would remind the Fianna Fáil leader that it was his northern sub-contractors that first walked out of the Executive.

The SDLP walked away from its responsibilities while the late Martin McGuinness did all the heavy lifting.

That is the truth. The Fianna Fáil leader’s position is not surprising given the diatribe he greets us with here on a regular basis. Throwing shapes and offering a running commentary on issues of the day are no substitute for political positions and principles, so I suppose the current leadership of the SDLP and Fianna Fáil are very well matched.

The prospect of a hard border would still be on us, as it is now, even if the institutions were in place. That is a fact. That is why we must not deal in the hypothetical but with the reality before us that we face the prospect of the introduction of a hard border on this island in a matter of weeks if there is no deal.

The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have dodged this issue time and again. I appreciate fully that they do not want to be seen as the Government that reintroduced a hard border on this island but that is what will happen if nothing is done because that is what the European Union rule book dictates, and we cannot allow that to happen. That is why, in the event that a no-deal situation, the Government must immediately begin preparing for a referendum on Irish unity, preparations it should be undertaking in any event.

The only way to ensure there is never again a hard border on our island is to remove the Border for once and for all. It is the common sense, durable answer to a no-deal scenario and an absolutely essential component of the Government’s contingency planning.

Should we have this evening’s Bill? Yes. Should we have an investment programme and emergency EU funding for vulnerable sectors? Absolutely. Should we have a unity referendum in the event of a no-deal scenario? Most definitely, because the ultimate backstop for citizens in the absence of a withdrawal agreement is the Good Friday Agreement and if a no-deal situation transpires come 29 March, then we need, as per the Good Friday Agreement, a referendum on Irish unity. That must happen and we must now prepare to prepare to plan to end partition and to remove the Border, the dilemma of the Border and the jeopardy of the Border from our island for once and for all.

I have not heard all the contributions but most of the ones I heard were supportive of the Bill and its provisions and indicated that the provisions were necessary to keep business, traffic and trade flowing in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Bill has all the hallmarks of emergency legislation. What we are doing all this week and next week, in terms of passing this Bill, is striking in its rapidity and in the multitude of areas it covers. In a way, it is emergency legislation. I have no problem with that. We have no problem with the fact we have to sit late to get the Bill through the House but it is because Brexit will threaten businesses and trade and that there is a clear need for some provisions. However, we are moving heaven and earth yet again to respond to a crisis. Some people will find parallels to the legislation that was rushed through this House in 2008 to bail out the banks, albeit over two weeks rather than two nights. I am not arguing that this is not an emergency or that this Bill is not necessary but we should look carefully at what it does. It raises the grants available to businesses affected from €0.5 million to more than €7 million under Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland.

It covers up tax loopholes and tax credit facilities for businesses that might be affected by Brexit so that they can continue to avail of our flawed tax codes for corporation tax and capital gains tax. It clearly flies in the face of much of the dogma that we have had forced down our throats in recent decades on what the State can and cannot do to interfere with the market because we are constantly told that the State cannot interfere with enterprise and the markets but here we are interfering in a very forthright manner.

In the words of the Minister, the Bill seeks to safeguard our State and its institutions so the question I want to put is: if this is how we respond to an emergency, could we see single-minded determination - I would dearly love to see it - from this State, the Minister and everyone in the Government to rush through emergency legislation to deal with the other emergencies we face, such as the housing emergency and the climate emergency? Why can the State not move heaven and earth to invest in State-owned institutions to deal with those emergencies?

We must look at where this crisis originates from because it really is a crisis of the British State. It is particularly a crisis of a section of the Tory Party, who whipped up anti-immigration sentiment and the worst kind of nationalism, namely, British nationalism, in order to stem the growth of the support that was rising for Corbyn and for his section of the Labour Party and to safeguard their own positions. This is a battle within the British ruling class of two competing blocs in Britain and it is all about a decaying British empire on which the sun does not even rise anymore. It is a decaying empire that is trying to reposition itself inside global capitalism to be able to compete with Brussels, Paris and Berlin and make the City of London great again. I come from a political tradition that used to raise the slogan during the Cold War of "Neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism." The slogan today would rightly fit with "Neither London nor Brussels but with workers across Britain and across Europe." I say this because both in Britain and in the European Union, the movers and the shakers of this crisis have no real interest in or how their machinations affect the lives of ordinary people.

The main issue for us is that this Bill says nothing about the implementation of a hard border. It says nothing about taking measures that could stop a Border being imposed on us by the European Union. Despite what was said here in Parliament over a year ago, Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier have given no guarantee that they will not try to implement a hard border in this country. There is no declaration by the Irish State as to what the Government will do in the event of a hard border being imposed on us. For example, it does not offer abortion services to women in Northern Ireland, something that we are proud of having achieved down here. After the referendum was passed, the first slogan to be chanted across the yard at Dublin Castle was "The North is next" but we have nothing to say to those tens of thousands of women in the North who are trapped without abortion services. It does not say anything about building the kind of infrastructure that is needed to link the North and the South, such as decent railway lines between Dublin and Derry and Donegal and Derry. It says nothing about the environment and the types of changes that we need to make to ensure that we battle climate change in a meaningful and effective manner. Indeed, it says nothing about the proposal by the Tory Government to dump nuclear waste in County Down and that is a serious threat by the Tory Government.

The bottom line is that if there is a hard border imposed on this country, either by the Tories through a hard Brexit on foot of their refusal to do a deal or by the European Union insisting that there be one, it behoves the Government to declare that we will have no truck with it and we will not implement a border by using civil servants, gardaí, customs posts or any software or online equivalent that might try to track whatever happens on the Border. Therefore, it behoves us to say that the best solution to a hard border is to have no border and that means giving the people, North and South, a vote on the outcome of whatever deal or no-deal happens. The people of this island did not vote for a hard Brexit. They did not ask for it and in that case they need to have a democratic vote on the outcome of whatever happens.

It is absolutely legitimate to be sceptical of the European Union and at the same time to be against a hard Brexit because what it would do in this country is unthinkable. Were a border to appear again in this country, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement and the progress that has been made since then, it would be unthinkable. It behoves the Government to have a response to that. The best response is to look to the people for people power to oppose a hard border, to give them the vote in the first instance and if there is any attempt to physically impose it, to mount a mass movement in opposition to it, such as the movement that was mounted in opposition to the water charges, to defeat an attempt to implement such a hard border.

With Brexit approaching, it will no doubt have important consequences for the Irish economy. It is vital that this Government navigates its way through these uncertain waters with its head well screwed on. We are all in the same boat, and it is so important that we work together and listen to the concerns of the people.

Brexit poses a number of major challenges for healthcare, especially our collaboration between Ireland and the UK and how patients from the Republic can access health services in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, and vice versa. My main concern is for the cross-Border directive. So far, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and myself have carried 26 busses to Belfast for cataract procedures. Statistics released recently showed that 150 people travelled to the North in 2015, 1,025 in 2016, 2,011 in 2017 and up to the first four months of 2018, 1,422 had travelled at a cost of €2.79 million. That shows that there has been an explosion of people going to the North for procedures and patients receiving care in Northern Ireland as part of the cross-Border directive. People from the Republic received high-tech treatment in the UK under the treatment abroad scheme. While we have been give some reassurances, which are very welcome, that the cross-Border directive will remain accessible for people travelling from the Republic to Northern Ireland and the UK, I still seek more clarity on this issue. A new basis will have to be agreed to support ongoing and future collaboration in health services and in ensuring timely and seamless access to treatments for patients.

We also need more clarity on other cross-Border service level agreements that exist as a result of collaboration and capital investment from both the Republic and Northern Ireland. These include the provision of all-island paediatric cardiac surgery services for children with congenital heart disease at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin in Dublin. It is vitally important that during the Brexit negotiations, we remain vigilant that these agreements are not threatened. There are also patients going from Donegal to Derry for cancer treatment, and it is very important that this continues. It is not just the cross-Border directive; other agreements between the UK and the Irish Government need to be protected going forward.

On medical professionals such as doctors, we will need a bilateral agreement between Ireland and the UK to facilitate Irish graduates who complete their postgraduate training or spend a period of time in the UK before returning to Ireland. It is vital that there will be continued mutual recognition of qualifications between Ireland and the UK as there are currently almost 3,200 doctors registered with the General Medical Council in the UK who received their primary medical degree in Ireland, and 742 doctors registered with the Medical Council in Ireland who received their primary medical degree in the UK.

We need to pay particular attention to the agricultural sector. Brexit is already causing chaos to the Irish agricultural industry. As I mentioned today in a question, at the very mention of Brexit, factories lowered the price of cattle about two years ago. It has not recovered since and many beef farmers' livelihoods are being threatened seriously. The uncertainty around Brexit is being felt hard by farmers on the ground as I have said. Beef prices have taken a serious hit and prices for finished cattle are down by €100 to €150 per head. The UK is Ireland’s largest market for food and drink, with 40% of our food exports destined for the UK. A reduction in access to the UK market would have a very negative impact on the Irish beef sector and potentially on the overall EU beef market.

The 270,000 tonnes of Irish beef exports to the UK represent almost 10% of the intra-EU beef trade. The displacement of these exports would, therefore, have a serious effect on the overall EU market. I was disappointed with the Taoiseach's reply to my question earlier today on looking at other markets. The beef sector is on its knees. Last weekend, I attended a beef forum meeting in Bantry along with more than 300 other people. They are not making up stories. This is the reality as it hits. They are worried about the potential loss of the UK market and the price they will get for their cattle. Earlier today, I asked the Taoiseach to consider opening the embassy in Tehran because the Iranians have indicated they would consider buying Irish beef if something like this happens. He more or less dismissed it. That does not look as though he is fighting to deal with our worries about losing the British market. Last Thursday, we read in the Irish Independent about the potential loss of much of the UK market. How will this be offset? What are the thoughts of the Minister and the Government on this?

The Irish farming and food sectors have a higher dependence on the UK market compared to other sectors in Ireland, therefore making them the most exposed sectors to any negative economic impact of the UK's Brexit decision. We really need to look at our diary industry. Ireland is the only significant exporter of cheddar cheese to the UK market and the UK market is the only market of significance for Irish cheddar. We export 78,000 tonnes of cheddar cheese, most of which comes from Carbery in Ballineen in my constituency. The people there have done excellent work over the years. At present, they are doing much work to try to counteract what could be a very negative Brexit. It is also very worrying for the many dairy farmers who supply them. Irish exports account for 82% of all cheddar cheese imported by the UK. It is vital that we have tariff-free access to the UK market.

We need to pay serious heed to the effects of Brexit on EU funding for farmers. The UK is an important contributor to the overall EU budget, providing 10.5% of funding. In turn, some 37% of the overall EU budget is directed towards the Common Agricultural Policy. Brexit is likely to have a significant negative effect on future spending on the CAP, particularly from 2021 onwards. The EU will need to provide substantial financial support for Irish agriculture or many of our rural family farms will not survive.

I also have a big concern about employment levels. The report by Copenhagen Economics for the Government estimates that the UK’s departure from the European Union will cause the value of output from key parts of the agrifood sector to fall between 10% and 20% by 2030. The agrifood sector employs 175,000 people and this could mean 17,000 fewer jobs, or more than 30,000 fewer jobs were there to be a hard Brexit.

We cannot forget about our ports and fishermen and the effect Brexit will have on them. In my constituency we have ports such as Bantry Bay, Castletownbere, Union Hall and Kinsale. Their futures need to be secured. I plead with the Government to support these ports through the uncertain times that lie ahead with Brexit on the horizon. Recent days and weeks have shown us that we are in very uncertain times regarding Brexit, which is especially the case for many of our industries, including fisheries. When Ireland first joined the EU, fishermen got a shockingly bad deal in the negotiations for membership. We got small and unfair access to European waters. People can now install an app on their phones that will allow them to see the number of foreign vessels in Irish waters. It is astonishing. With the introduction of fish quotas, Irish fishermen were at a disadvantage from the start. Big European factory ships have blown our Irish fishing fleet out of the water. When I see on the app so many foreign vessels on our shoreline it is quite scary, to be quite honest. Our fishermen have been left high and dry. They play a major part in our country but there are very few debates on their livelihoods. They have suffered for years under successive Irish Governments, which have failed to properly represent them in various quota negotiations in Europe. Now, with Brexit, the fishing industry is at another crossroads and we need the Government to fight a strong case in Europe on behalf of fishermen. Our fishermen and fisherwomen need to be protected in their own waters. We cannot allow other European fleets to flood our waters post Brexit. The quotas of Irish fishermen must be protected.

I had a fight with the Minister about applying for a bluefin tuna quota. That request was continually refused. Now I am grateful to see he has applied for a bluefin tuna quota and I hope it will be a great help to the fishing industry. It should not be a fight. We have to look at other markets if things go badly and this is one way to help. It has now been agreed but it took a hell of an argument.

We need to protect all our export markets. It is vital to maintain strong and competitive transport links with the rest of the EU in order to secure Ireland’s economic future. Two thirds of Irish exporters use the UK landbridge to access Europe. Brexit will have a huge effect on Ireland’s ability to use this route for exports. We need to look at negotiating transport routes.

I have a big concern about driver licences. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the driver licence of a UK licence holder living in Ireland will not be recognised. What will happen to Irish drivers in the UK? Will they be in the same situation with regard to an Irish driver licence? This area needs clarity. I have been contacted by quite a number of people about it.

I have also been contacted by people worried about their citizenship and the cost of all this. It is a very difficult time for people. Thousands of people living here receive pensions and other payments from Britain, while Ireland also pays people who live in the UK. I welcome the announcement that the Irish and British Governments have guaranteed the continued payment of State pensions, child benefit and other social welfare payments in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal. We need to ensure the future of Irish citizens living in the UK and vice versa. This is needs to be addressed urgently. No Irish citizen living in the UK should have to live in fear. We also need to ensure there will be freedom of movement between here and the UK. We need to look what will happen to Irish students studying in UK colleges.

My fear regarding Brexit lies with the people of rural Ireland and the negative effect it will have on rural Ireland. In recent years, I have seen rural Ireland wither before my very eyes. In my constituency, and I presume it is the same for other Deputies, I have seen the closure of schools, pubs, shops, butchers, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, petrol stations and insurance offices. We have also seen the closure of post offices. My fear is what will happen to rural Ireland when the effects of Brexit kick in.

The Irish Hotels Federation has reported that nine out of ten hoteliers in Ireland are concerned about the impact of Brexit on their businesses. I come from a beautiful part of west Cork where we are lucky to have such a high standard of hotels, from the Barleycove Beach Hotel in Goleen to Actons in Kinsale and every hotel in between. The list of hotels is endless but one thing they all have in common is that they are highly dependent on tourism, in many cases from the UK. There is no doubt that a disruptive Brexit could have serious economic repercussions that would be felt directly by the tourism sector given its heavy reliance on the UK market. The tourism sector is already suffering as a direct result of the Government’s increase in VAT from 9% to 13.5%. Our tourism businesses have much to deal with, including the Brexit storm that is on the way, the increasing cost of business, such as insurance hikes, a slowdown in European growth and the increase in the VAT rate. Having spoken to hotel owners I know they are very concerned about the Government's negative change in approach to tourism and the lack of recognition of the important role tourism plays in our economic growth.

That concludes this evening's debate. I thank the staff, Deputies and Ministers.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 February 2019.