Deputy Ó Cuív was in possession. As he is not in the House, I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.
Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019: Second Stage (Resumed)
Tá an reachtaíocht lena bhfuilimid ag déileáil ríthábhachtach ar bhealach amháin, ach ar bhealach eile tá súil againn nach mbeidh sé tábhachtach nuair a thagann athrú poirt ar Rialtas Shasana. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go ndéanfaimid déileáil leis an mBille seo agus leis na féidearthachtaí a bheidh ann má tharlaíonn an Breatimeacht ar an 29 Márta seo chugainn. Tá sé ceart agus cuí go bhfuil pleanáil á dhéanamh againn maidir leis an mBreatimeacht. Nuair a bhíomar ag tnúth leis an mBille seo, dúradh linn gur Bille omnibus a bheadh i gceist. Tá go leor Billí a bhí i bhfad níos mó ná 69 leathanach feicthe agam thar na blianta. Dúradh linn go mbeadh 1,000 leathanach i gceist. Tá an t-ádh linn, i slí amháin, nach bhfuil 1,000 leathanach ann.
Cé go bhfuil fadhb agam leis an moladh sa Bhille seo a lán cumhachtaí a thabhairt d'Airí difriúla cinntí a dhéanamh ar ár son i gcruachás na héigeandála a bheidh ann má imíonn an Bhreatain as an Aontas Eorpach gan conradh nó deal a bheith déanta, is dóigh liom go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go ndéanfaimid an reachtaíocht seo a ritheadh. Measaim nach bhfuil sé iomlán foirfe. Ba chóir go mbeadh i bhfad níos mó sa Bhille. Maidir leis na cumhachtaí atá le bronnadh ar Airí amach anseo, níl mé sásta nach mbeidh na hAirí sin freagrach don Dáil as na cinntí a ghlacfaidh siad más rud é go bhfuil fadhbanna ann. Tá na cumhachtaí sin liostaithe sa reachtaíocht. Ó thaobh cúrsaí sláinte, mar shampla, tá sé ráite sa Bhille gur féidir leis an Aire "with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, make such order or orders as he or she considers necessary to continue in being or carry out any reciprocal or other arrangements in relation to health services" agus leanann sé ar aghaidh mar sin. Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil éinne i gcoinne na forála sin, ach is dóigh liom go bhfuil fadhb i gceist má táthar ag tabhairt cumhachtaí d'Aire nach mbeadh ag an Aire sin ag aon am eile seachas am éigeandála. Cé go nglacaimid leis go bhfuil éigeandáil i gceist, ba cheart go mbeadh srian leis na cumhachtaí seo.
Ba mhaith liom cásanna éigeandála eile a lua. Mar shampla, tagann rún maidir leis an Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 os comhair an Oireachtais gach bliain. Dhein muid cinnte de go raibh ar an Aire teacht ar ais os comhair an Oireachtais chuile bliain, ar a laghad. Tugann sé sin deis dúinn a chinntiú nach bhfuil mí-úsáid á bhaint as an gcumhacht éigeandála atá i gceist sa chás sin. Bhí cumhachtaí éigeandála eile i gceist nuair a theip ar gheilleagar na tíre seo. Ag an am sin, dhein muid cinnte de go raibh bealaí áirithe istigh sa reachtaíocht chun an t-ábhar a chur ar ais chuig an Teach seo. Bhí sórt oversight ag an Dáil, nó ag coiste Oireachtais, ar úsáid na cumhachtaí sin ionas nach mbeadh mí-úsáid i gceist, nó fiú nach mbeadh bealach eile timpeall ar na cumhachtaí sin.
Is í an fhadhb is mó ná go bhfuilimid ag pleanáil i gcomhair rud atáimid ag súil nach dtarlóidh sé. Cé go bhfuil sé ceart agus cuí a leithéid a dhéanamh, tá gá ann maoirseacht dhaonlathach éigin a bheith ar chinntí na hAirí. Ní Aire amháin a bheidh i gceist. Tá an tAire Sláinte luaite agam, ach measaim go ndéanann an reachtaíocht seo tagairt do sheisear Aire gur féidir leo cinntí a ghlacadh gan aon fhreagracht, nó aon dualgas orthu teacht at ais chuig Tithe an Oireachtais. Tá dualgais orthu, dar ndóigh, as na cinntí a ghlacann siad. Caithfidh siad an fhreagracht sin a bheith acu i dtús báire mar chuid den Rialtas. Is féidir linn iad a cheistiú anseo, ach ní gá dóibh tacaíocht na Dála a fháil agus iad ag iarraidh cloí leis na cinntí sin. Faoi láthair, mar shampla, tá cinntí á nglacadh ag an Rialtas gan tacaíocht ó thromlach na Dála. Tugann an struchtúr atá ag an Dáil i láthair na huaire deis don Rialtas leanúint leis an gcur chuige sin.
Is dóigh liom gur cheart dúinn athruithe a dhéanamh sa chomhthéacs seo. Beimid ag déileáil leis an gceist sin an tseachtain seo chugainn. Ba cheart dúinn a chinntiú go bhfuil bealach éigin ann tuairisciú ar ais a eagrú. B'fhéidir gur chóir go mbeadh ar an Dáil tacaíocht a thabhairt do na cinntí seo i bhfoirm rún nó a leithéid - roimh ré, más féidir, nó ina dhiaidh muna féidir é sin a dhéanamh i gcás éigeandála. I roinnt cásanna, ní aithneoidh muidne cuid de na fadhbanna a thiocfaidh chun cinn tar éis na Breatimeachta go dtí go dtarlaíonn siad. B'fhéidir nach mbeidh aitheantas á thabhairt do cheadúnas éigin nó ceadúnas eile. Fiú an tseachtain seo, tá sé feicthe againn go bhfuil gá le mionathruithe ón Rialtas chun déileáil le ceisteanna a ardaítear. Nuair atá an reachtaíocht seo á phlé againn ar Chéim an Choiste an tseachtain seo chugainn, b'fhéidir go mbeidh ceisteanna eile tar éis teacht chun solais. B'fhéidir go mbeidh orainn aitheantas a thabhairt d'eagras, do cháilíocht nó do riail éigin sa Bhille seo. B'fhéidir go mbeidh orainn teacht ar ais le Bille eile go luath tar éis an 29 Márta chun na poill atá fágtha sa reachtaíocht seo a líonadh agus cosaint éigin a thabhairt.
Sa deireadh thiar thall, tá sé i gceist againn anseo cosaint a thabhairt do shaoránaigh na hÉireann, go háirithe, agus do gheilleagar na hÉireann, agus a chinntiú nach mbeidh dochar déanta dóibh. Ní ceart go gcuirfear srianta nó bacanna roimh na mic léinn agus na tiománaithe atá ag taisteal Thuaidh-Theas, nó ag bogadh ó chuid amháin den oileán go dtí cuid eile, nó fiú trasna na hoileáin. Tá sé i gceist againn aitheantas breise a thabhairt don chomhlimistéar taistil, atá aitheanta againn ó na 1920í ar aghaidh. Ba cheart go mbeadh breis seasamh ag an gcomhlimistéar sin ar aon leis na rialacha eile atá i bhfeidhm idir an dá thír le fada an lá, fiú roimh an Aontas Eorpach. Tá sé aitheanta againn go bhfuil sé riachtanach go mbeadh ceangal nó buntáiste ann dúinn thar an Aontas Eorpach. Tá an saol athruithe ó déanadh roinnt de na cinntí éagsúla i dtaobh na conarthaí idir an dá stát ar an dá oileán. Toisc gur ghlac muid ballraíocht san Aontas Eorpach, táimid ag brath ar rialacháin nó directives a thagann ón Aontas, ach nach bhfuil cosaint dhleathach acu ó thaobh Éire agus Sasana toisc go bhfuil Sasana ag imeacht, má imíonn siad. Is gá dúinn an chosaint sin a chur ar fáil ar bhealach amháin nó bealach eile.
Níor labhair mé mórán faoin mBreatimeacht go dtí seo. Nuair a bhí mé ag caint le duine thar an deireadh seachtaine, dúirt sé liom go bhfuil sé ceart go leor bheith ag caint faoin mBreatimeacht, ach caithfear a thuiscint gurb é an leigheas ar fhadhb na Breatimeachta ná an Sasimeacht. Aontaím leis a mhéid a bhí le rá aige. Ba cheart dúinn féachaint ar conas bogadh ar aghaidh. Don chéad uair i mo shaol polaitíochta, toisc na Breatimeachta tá daoine ag caint faoi leigheas na críochdheighilte in Éirinn. Tá siad ag teacht ar an tuairim a bhí agam i gcónaí - gur chóir go mbeadh Sasimeacht. Bheadh sé i bhfad níos éasca dá mbeadh sé sin tar éis tarlú, mar bheadh leigheas éigin ar a lán de na ceisteanna atá ag déanamh tinnis dúinne sa Bhille seo. Ní leigheasfadh sé gach fadhb - fós bheadh ar na trucks agus a leithéid ag dul trí Shasana toisc nach bhfuil an B&I, mar shampla, againn. Níl ár longa farantóireachta féin againn mar Stát. Tá an cuma air nach bhfuilimid tar éis bheith gafa le haon chuid den chaimiléireacht atá ag tarlú i Sasana maidir le longa farantóireachta. Ní féidir de roinnt de na calafoirt sa tír sin glacadh le longa móra. Tá siad tar éis deontais móra a fháil chun longa farantóireachta a ghlacadh. Tá daoine éigin i Sasana chun tairbhe a bhaint as seo. Is í an fhadhb atá againn in Éirinn ná nach bhfuilimid tar éis na pleanála sin a dhéanamh. Níl an t-airgead againn, agus anois tá an cuma ar an scéal nach bhfuil an t-am againn.
Nuair atá leoraithe lastais ag dul go dtí an Eoraip, caithfidh siad dul trí Shasana don chuid is mó. Measaim go mbeidh fadhbanna againn amach anseo. Ba chóir dúinn i bhfad níos mó a dhéanamh le díriú isteach ar conas is féidir linn ceangail níos fearr a dhéanamh dóibh siúd atá ag scaipeadh earraí timpeall na hEorpa. Ba cheart go mbeidís in ann na hearraí sin a thógáil chuig an margadh chomh tapa agus is féidir, agus chomh saor agus is féidir. Ní ceart go mbeadh bacanna orthu má éiríonn fadhbanna idir Shasana agus an chuid eile den Aontas Eorpach ag Dover nó aon chalafort eile amach anseo. Cé nach ngoileann fadhbanna bunúsacha den tsórt seo ar an gcuid is mó den phobal faoi láthair, goilfidh siad orthu an-tapa má thosaíonn praghsanna na hearraí ag ardú amach anseo, nó muna bhfuil tús áite á fháil againn ar margaí na hEorpa san am atá amach romhainn, toisc go bhfuil moill ar ár n-earraí a sroichint an Mhór-Roinn.
Ardaíonn an Bille seo roinnt ceisteanna eile maidir leis an gcóras leasa sóisialta agus an cód cánachais. Tá a lán eile sa reachtaíocht. Bhí mé ag lorg cruinniú leis an Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta chun féachaint ar impleachtaí na Breatimeachta don Roinn sin. Cé gur mhínigh an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Kyne, dúinn nach bhfuil mórán impleachtaí ag an mBreatimeacht don Roinn, níl mé cinnte gurb í sin an fhírinne. B'fhéidir gur cheart dúinn filleadh ar an gceist sin. Cén stádas a bheidh ag na EU directives, ar nós an habitats directive, nach stopann ag an Teorainn? Ós rud é go bhfuil an Bhreatain ag imeacht, beidh stop reachtúil ann seachas stop sa timpeallacht. Leanann an timpeallacht trasna na Teorann. Is cuma leis na héin cá bhfuil an Teorainn. Ní aithníonn siad aon teorainn. Ní aithníonn na crainn nó - go minic - na feirmeacha an Teorainn. Má tá dhá réimeas dhifriúla ar an oileán seo, cruthófar fadhbanna amach anseo ní hamháin ó thaobh na timpeallachta ach freisin ó thaobh coinníollacha oibre, pá agus ceisteanna eile a dhéanann tinneas dúinn.
Mar phoblachtánach, tagann ceist na Teorann chun cinn sa chomhthéacs seo. Tá roinnt de mo chomhghleacaithe tar éis na ceiste sin a ardú. Is cuimhin liom stair an Teorainn. Is cuimhin liom an tionchar ar fad a bhí ag Teorainn Shasana ar phobal an cheantair go háirithe, agus ar an oileán seo i gcoitinne. Bhí cead againn dul thar an Teorainn ag na ghnátháiteanna ina raibh bacanna móra curtha suas ag arm Shasana, mar shampla in Iúr Cinn Trá. Dhein daoine cliste a bhí ag iarraidh dul sa seans, agus nach raibh ag iarraidh suí i scuaine in Iúr Cinn Trá ar feadh uair an chloig, iarracht dul thar an Teorainn ar unapproved road. Bhí a lán bóithre den tsórt sin ann. Is cuimhin liom freisin tréimhse sna 1980í nuair a dhein an gnáthphobal iarracht teacht timpeall ar a lán de na háiteanna ina raibh arm Shasana tar éis blockages a chur trasna na mbóithre, poill a chur sna bóithre nó na droichid a phléascadh díreach chun an Teorainn a chur i luí i gceart i measc an phobail.
Is cuimhin liom na border-busters a bhí ann ag an am. Fágadh daoine Baile Átha Cliath ar bus gach uile deireadh seachtaine. Théidís dul suas go dtí an Teorainn lena gcuid sluaisaid agus a leithéid. Bheadh JCB ann chun bóthar a thógáil timpeall an bac. Taispeánann sé sin cé chomh mór is a bhí ghnáthphobal an cheantair ag iarraidh teacht timpeall ar an Teorainn chun a gcuid oibre laethúil a dhéanamh, mar shampla mar fheirmeoirí. Ní raibh na bóithre seo oiriúnach do trucks, busanna nó a leithéid. Bhí gnáthdhaoine ag iarraidh beithígh a thógaint ó thaobh amháin den Teorainn go dtí an taobh eile. Bhí siad ag dul go dtí an margadh. Bhí sé mar bhuntáiste i gComhaontú Aoine an Chéasta gur cuireadh deireadh lena lán de na bacanna sin. Measaim go bhfuil breis is 300 bealach trasna na Teorann idir an Stát seo agus an stát sa Tuaisceart anois. Léiríonn sé sin go bhfuil sé beagnach dodhéanta teorainn a bheith idir an dá stát ar an oileán seo. Ba chóir dúinn ár ndícheall a dhéanamh a chinntiú nach dtiocfaidh sé sin ar ais arís.
Léiríonn scéal na border-busters cé chomh díograiseach is a bhí na daoine. I mo thuairim, bheidís gach cuid chomh daingnithe amach anseo. Tá gnáthphobal na ceantair agus na contaetha atá gafa leis an Teorainn tiomanta nach rachfaimid riamh ar ais go dtí an tslí a raibh an Teorainn sna 1980í agus na 1990í, go háirithe. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil formhór na ndaoine ag impí go huile is go hiomlán ar Rialtas Shasana na haitheantais agus na cosanta cuí a thabhairt do Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus na forálacha sa Chomhaontú a bhain na bacanna ó cheantar an Teorainn, agus gan glacadh le haon Breatimeacht a chuireann Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta, agus an mhéid a tháinig as, i ndainséar. Má théann Rialtas Shasana thíos an treo sin, cuirfidh siad leis an Sasimeacht agus leis an éileamh atá ann an tír seo a aontú arís. I mo thuairim, ba chóir go mbeimid ag díriú isteach ar cheist na athaontaithe pé scéal é. Ní cóir go mbeimid ag díriú isteach uirthi toisc go bhfuil an Breatimeacht ag tarlú - ba cheart dúinn díriú isteach uirthi ar bhonn difriúil ar fad - ach déanfaimid é sin más gá.
Ba mhaith liom ceist mhór a lua nár chuala mé go leor trácht uirthi go dtí seo. Glacaim leis go bhfuil na hAirí, na hoifigigh agus na Státseirbhísigh ag déileáil leis go ciúin. Má tharlaíonn an Breatimeacht agus an éigeandáil lena bhfuilimid ag déileáil sa reachtaíocht seo, an bhfuil ciste ann chun cúiteamh nó cuidiú a thabhairt do ghnáthfheirmeoirí, do ghnáthtionscnaimh agus do ghnáthphobail na tíre seo a bheidh thíos leis? Muna bhfuil an tAontas Eorpach sásta cuidiú linn ar bhealach amháin nó bealach eile, beidh muidne thíos leis agus beimid ar ais san áit ina rabhamar deich mbliana ó shin nó b'fhéidir níos faide siar. Ba cheart go mbainfidh an chéad díospóireacht eile a bheidh againn leis an gcaoi inar féidir linn. Nílim ag rá go mbeimid spleách ar an Eoraip go dtí deireadh an domhain, ach go mbeimid spleách orthu muna bhfuil aon bhealach amach againn. Sa chás seo, agus an tóin ag titim as an margadh orainn muna féidir linn lastas agus earraí a thógaint go dtí an margadh, tá seans ann go gcuirfidh bacanna agus rialacha an Aontais Eorpaigh isteach orainn. B'fhéidir go mbeidh srian ar mhic léinn agus a leithéid amach anseo.
Táimid ag fáil cúiteamh faoi láthair. Tá cúiteamh ann tríd an globalisation fund má dhúnann ionad sa Stát seo toisc go bhfuil an comhlacht ag bogadh go dtí áit éigin eile san Aontas Eorpach. I gcás mar sin, is féidir leis an Stát airgead a lorg chun oideachas a thabhairt do na gnáthoibrithe agus cuidiú leo poist eile a fháil. Is dóigh liom go bhfuil a leithéid de globalisation fund na hEorpa ag teastáil sa chomhthéacs seo. Nílim ag rá go mbeadh deontais ar fáil go huathoibríoch, ach go mbeadh bealach éigin ann teacht ar airgead éigin chun cuidiú leis na háiteanna iargúlta, sa chuid is mó, atá i gceist anseo. Nílim ag caint faoi Bhaile Átha Cliath. Beidh daoine le monarchana beaga i gContae Liatroma, i dTír Chonaill nó fiú thíos i gCiarraí atá ag brath ar mhargadh an Aontais Eorpaigh, nó fiú ar mhargadh Shasana, thíos leis má theipeann ar sterling. Muna féidir leo an margadh a shroichint, beidh siad thíos leis. Measaim go gcaithfidh an tAontas Eorpach seasamh isteach. Ba cheart dúinn tosnú ag féachaint ar an gceist sin agus déileáil leis anois.
I compliment Deputy Ó Snodaigh on the way he spoke the native language. I was enthralled by how well he was able to do so without pausing. Well done.
Go raibh maith agat.
I am pleased to be contributing to the debate on this essential legislation. It is groundbreaking that we have to introduce such legislation because of the decisions of others. It is vital that we put in place a contingency plan for the possibility of the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union without a deal. Our preferred option is to have a managed and agreed Brexit. Even with an agreed Brexit, however, the exact consequences of Britain leaving the European Union are still a matter of concern. I am pleased, however, that the Irish Government has prepared for all eventualities. The Bill bears testament to that. A considerable amount of work has gone into it. While it is complex, I appeal to all Dáil colleagues to get behind it. The time is here for us all to wear the green jersey.
In Britain, the ground continues to shift regarding the direction Brexit will take. In many respects, we are spectators as the drama unfolds. While divisions are clear in the United Kingdom, the European Union has shown a united front during the negotiations. Members have reinforced the position that the fundamentals of the backstop are beyond amendment. The backstop is a mechanism that the Irish Government hopes will never be used, and we can only hope the upcoming votes in the UK Houses of Parliament will lead to an agreed deal rather than a disorderly departure.
With regard to my responsibilities, I am satisfied that all that can be done in the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has been done. In particular, the Department of Rural and Community Development has funded programmes and schemes that are vital in supporting urban and rural communities in managing the impact of Brexit. Uncertainty and the potential impact on local economies and communities reinforce the importance of building sustainability and resilience within communities. We must build greater flexibility into our funding programmes to respond effectively to the emerging needs. In that respect, the Department is committed to a strategic review of its funding priorities. This is a key consideration whether there is an orderly Brexit or no deal at all.
The impact of Brexit is uncertain but we are preparing and supporting regions that may be affected adversely. We are conscious of the consequences of a disorderly Brexit on rural communities. Agriculture, in particular, is likely to be significantly affected. Right now, more than 15% of Irish goods and services exports are destined for the UK market. This figure is much higher in the agrifood sector, where an average of 40% of exports go to the United Kingdom. Wherever there is greatest need, we will act. I very much welcome the commitment shown by my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who has been unequivocal in his willingness to offer significant and substantial support to all parts of our agriculture industry, including those facing the most acute threat from Brexit.
In particular, beef is a major part of the agriculture industry in my constituency of Galway East and it is important that we create resilience for the beef trade.
Agriculture is the lifeblood of our rural communities and we have shown commitment to support our farmers with a variety of pre-Brexit measures, in particular for the beef industry. However, it is equally important that we explore the new options and markets as a way of insuring ourselves against our reliance on trade with only a narrow range of partners. It is important that we look to the rest of Europe and Asia, specifically China, for further markets. I was on a trade mission to China two years ago negotiating beef trade and I am delighted that market has opened up. We need to explore more of these markets to make sure that we have other markets for our beef and we continue to thrive as one of the best producers of beef in the world.
We are seeking commitments and financial support from Europe to offset the economic impacts that Brexit may bring. Europe has also provided support to our communities in the form of LEADER funding and we have been able to use that funding for Brexit contingencies. For example, last October, we broadened the eligibility for the €15 million LEADER fund for small food businesses to help them face post-Brexit challenges.
In my role as chairman of the task force on the implementation of the Atlantic economic corridor, I know full well the impact that Brexit will have on the west, particularly in rural areas. The task force provides a forum on which we will build resilience and work together for the common good of the region. It is a target of the programme for Government that we achieve balanced development in this country and the Atlantic economic corridor takes on a significant role in ensuring we do this. Counties from Kerry as far as Donegal are important drivers in our regional balanced development and we need to push on with the corridor. I take on that task.
We need to create better connectivity. I was pleased with the comments of the Taoiseach this morning regarding the NBP. We need connectivity if we are to be resilient in rural Ireland. We need to ensure we have fibre broadband for every home, and we need to do that in a way that is fair and equitable so nobody is left behind. It is even more important that we meet that challenge with the advent of Brexit, whatever form it takes. We need to ensure that we have connectivity to make business better, more resilient and more efficient throughout the country.
The Western Development Commission will also play a major part in development in the west. Our Department has granted more funding to make the commission more Brexit-resilient and to develop more jobs in the west. Regional assemblies are preparing their strategic plans for the next five years at the moment. They are preparing those by including Brexit issues and making sure that we deal with the issues now in a way that allows us to plan for the future.
The NDP has allocated €110 million for the next ten years. It is important that we make sure that funding is flexible and can adapt to changing needs that may arise in the next number of years.
Transport connectivity through our airports and infrastructural development must ensure direct connectivity with Europe. That must happen in a way that ensures that we get our TEN-T maps back to where they were and ensure we are in a position to draw down whatever funding is required. I am particularly talking about the western region, the western rail corridor and the roads and infrastructure in the west that need development to ensure we reach our full potential.
Ireland will be the only English-speaking nation left in the European Union post Brexit. We need to harness that potential and become the anchor for the world to reach Europe. We can easily do that by ensuring that our embassies continue to sell Ireland as the place to come in order to be introduced to Europe.
I was at the global telecommunications showcase in Barcelona last weekend. There were 27 Irish companies with stands displaying their products and doing business with the rest of the world. That is the type of forum we need to have to ensure Ireland remains a strong leader in the digital age. We will reach our full potential within Europe by doing that. While in Barcelona, I met some Ministers from other EU countries. They are totally behind us in everything we do. We have that European support. We have the full support of the people of this country and all politicians to ensure that the greatest challenge we have ever faced is met head on and in a unified way. I look forward to working with my Government colleagues and everybody in the House to ensure that happens.
In my role as Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and international development, I have been committed to maintaining strong relationships between Ireland and the communities of Irish emigrants and people of Irish heritage abroad. We cannot talk about our diaspora without recognising our extraordinary history of emigration, including in particular those who moved to the UK seeking to build a new life for themselves across the Irish Sea. Throughout history, Irish women and men have travelled in their hundreds of thousands to Britain to work, to learn, to teach and, in particular, to lead. From the Irish navvies who built the industrial infrastructure of London, Manchester and Glasgow to the many Irish nurses, doctors, teachers and business professionals who make their home in Britain every year, Irish emigrants have made, and will continue to make, a singular contribution to British society.
We estimate that today more than 430,000 people who were born in this State are resident in Great Britain while very many more British people possess some measure of Irish heritage. As a result of this great movement of people between our islands, thankfully our two societies remain closely linked through robust connections of kinship, culture and commerce. It is particularly interesting to note that the number of Irish directors in UK boardrooms has increased to a record number of more than 60,000 which is the largest grouping of non-British nationals on UK company boards. That is the level and extent of the business relationship between our two communities.
Modern communications, technology and social media have transformed the ways in which we interact with our relations and friends in Britain on a daily basis, dramatically reducing the distance that we feel between us.
One way in which the Government fosters those extraordinarily strong links with the Irish community in Great Britain is through our emigrant support programme, ESP. The ESP was established in 2004 to provide funding support to Irish organisations overseas and many of these organisations provide invaluable welfare support to the most vulnerable within those Irish emigrant communities, particularly the elderly. The ESP also supports cultural and sporting organisations which serve to maintain and strengthen those Irish community connections to Ireland and to promote Irish culture abroad.
Britain has represented one of the most important destinations of funds from the ESP since its inception. In 2018, more than €5.9 million in funding was awarded to 108 different Irish community organisations in Britain, 88% of which, or almost €5 million, was devoted exclusively to welfare support. As many established Irish communities in Britain are aging, the welfare assistance provided under the ESP is becoming increasingly important. The organisations which receive that funding represent a vital lifeline to disadvantaged Irish emigrants by facilitating their access to local services and combatting social isolation and alienation.
Over the past number of years, other major investment from Ireland into Irish communities in Britain has included £200,000 towards the redevelopment of the Ruislip GAA clubhouse. My colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and I recently announced the award of £1 million towards the redevelopment of the London Irish Centre which has been an extraordinary focal point for the Irish community in London for decades.
We look forward to seeing the outcome of that investment in the near future. This funding represents a significant increase on previous years’ funding. A total of €5.3 million was awarded to institutions in Britain in 2017 with €5.5 million awarded in 2016. Brexit is not going to alter the Government's commitment to our emigrant communities in Britain. Irish organisations in Britain will continue to be eligible for funding under the emigrant support programme. As the resources to this programme are increasing with an extra €1 million in funding secured for the coming year, I expect an even greater number of these organisations will benefit from this funding and support.
The common travel area between Ireland and Britain will remain in place regardless of the outcome of the Brexit process. The rights of Irish citizens to reside in Britain, to access British welfare services, to vote in British elections and to move freely and seamlessly between our two islands will be completely unaffected by Brexit. British nationals residing in Ireland will also, thankfully, retain their current rights. In recent years, we have seen increasing numbers of British people reconnecting formally with their Irish heritage through application for Irish passports and foreign birth registrations. We hope that for many of these individuals this represents the beginning of a new and deeper connection with Ireland. We fondly welcome our new fellow citizens.
Brexit will not attenuate the deep and meaningful bonds which have been developed between the peoples of our two islands over the centuries. We will remain as closely entwined together, as closely reliant on each other, in family and in friendship as we have in the past.
As this particular debacle continues, it is a pity that we do not have the date 30 February in which to park this legislation. Many of us hope the whole issue of Brexit will evaporate in the interests of all on these islands.
I congratulate the Oireachtas Library and Research Service on its work in presenting the facts relating to this omnibus Bill, as well as the officials in the Department who brought us, hurriedly but necessarily, to where we are today. I am conscious that Brexit will involve not just this legislation but bilateral agreements and memorandums of understanding to help the process.
The Bill deals with issues such as cross-Border health services and the Co-Operation and Working Together, CAWT, Partnership. The 1,500 people who travel to Britain for their third-level education, along with the 200 who travel from Britain to here, are catered for. However, I have to remind people that when they talk about the common travel area, they need to have lived near the Border. When the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, decided on her walking holiday in Wales to hold a general election, my response was that she should walk the Border because she might have realised the issues which might be resurrected. I was born in 1958 and lived through the early part of the Troubles. I lived in pre-European Union Ireland. There was much talk last week about motorists having to get green cards. I well remember the triptyque where one had to bond one’s vehicle to ensure one brought it back. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to myriad Border roads. There were 38 such roads in my county alone. There was always a clear sign at the top of a blue and white pole half mile before the Border crossing indicating that one was on an unapproved road. Young people in my constituency do not even remember the concession roads. On the N53 from Dundalk to Castleblaney, one was not supposed to stop when one went through Culloville.
I fear we will go back to this. These issues are not being debated with this Bill. Thank God that if there were no backstop, there would be no deal. However, if there were no deal, there would be no backstop. That is where the difficulty will arise. The head of the PSNI stated last year any attempt to return to a hard border would result in division and violence. I thought that was scaremongering at the time but I can tell the House that the natives are restless. It is inevitable that if Britain crashes out, there will be some forms of checks on the Border regarding goods entering and leaving our country.
On matched funding, the British Government has said it will guarantee certain funds up until 2020 and that it would deliver this through a UK shared prosperity fund. A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on this fund contains no mention of the Border counties that have suffered dereliction. The only mention of Ireland and supports relates to the Glens of Antrim, Strabane and Omagh. Will the Government make a clear commitment that it gets it in writing that the British Government will match funding for PEACE and INTERREG programmes?
Fishing seems to have gone down the river a wee bit and that we have the gunboat returning to Carlingford Lough. How will the fishermen in Clogherhead, Annagassan and along the Irish coast be affected? I did not mean to scaremonger when I asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the first all-island civic dialogue – I compliment the officials for organising this forum and its break-out sessions - what happens when a kilogram of Argentinian beef, bought in Newry, arrives in Dundalk? What will that do to our reputation as a green country? Some people need to be reminded of the outbreaks of BSE and foot and mouth disease that affected my constituency.
Dundalk has an all-weather horse track. How will we ensure that equine disease and related matters will be resolved for the horse racing industry in the event of a hard Brexit? What will happen to the environment? There is talk about Monsanto and Roundwood weed killer being banned. What happens if the EU decides to ban it and the British do not? Are we wasting our time? We say only our rivers run free. What is happening to water quality and waste management? In my constituency, one sees tyres discarded on the roadside. There is also the movement of domestic waste without licences. Where are the answers relating to these issues? What happens to river basin management plans for rivers which cross both sides of the divide?
The Irish Road Haulage Association has stated that, for every hour a truck will be left delayed at a Border crossing, it will cost €15 a tonne. I well remember what Dundalk was like in the days of customs clearance.
I know that will be an inevitable delay which will ultimately be placed on the consumer.
Continuing on the subject of transport, what about the taxi driver or heavy goods vehicle driver? Where is the clarity on non-Irish drivers, for example, taking a fare to Newry or driving a lorry across the Border?
On strategic transport planning, we were promised a high-speed train from Dublin to Belfast. Let us get a commitment that that will be delivered to the people of this island. Greenways have been developed North and South in joint co-operation and in memorandums of understanding. Will these programmes continue? I refer to the Narrow Water Bridge. If the British are so committed to leaving, why do they not provide funding matching that which was committed to by this Government and by my party?
What arrangement has been made to the free travel scheme for senior citizens? I ask these questions as there is no point in asking when all the memorandums, bilaterals and this legislation has passed.
What about trans-territorial co-operation and business development? The M1 corridor between Dublin and Belfast was launched recently. It is of great importance for the industries located along it. How do we ensure that the legislation allows for an all-Ireland economy?
One issue relating to health has been well covered. What is the position on organ transplants and the free movement of blood supplies?
Stride upon stride has been made in tourism. What will happen to people who arrive into either City or Aldergrove airport in Belfast, or Dublin Airport, who wish to travel in either direction and who do not have the necessary EU qualifications? Will they be prohibited from entering one or other jurisdiction?
On several occasions in this House I have raised the difficulties people in the Border region face with mobile roaming charges. This is not about the EU. It is about regularly losing calls when one goes over and back across the Border. There ought to be a clear arrangement before anything happens about mobile roaming and broadband infrastructure being shared North and South, which is something I have flagged. I might add the question whether someone can pull the plug on cables coming from America through the North of Ireland.
I refer in particular to justice. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney referred to all the nationals in England. There are 5,000 people here with British citizenship. What will happen to them in the context of the EU? There are issues around family law, such as the recognition of UK divorces or child abduction cases which are currently covered under EU legislation. Where is that being catered for? If someone living in Dundalk wishes to take a case against someone living in the North, that is not covered. That person will have to be sued, particularly if it relates to a civil matter, or the case must be taken in the jurisdiction of the individual.
The most important thing for me and the people I represent is the peace process. I referred to the head of the PSNI's comments. I do not want anything to upset the valuable peace we have. We refer to the UK as a nearest neighbours and our great trading partners, but we must protect the mechanisms for those collaborations, whether through business enterprise or politics, and whether at national parliament or local authority level. This House has the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly which operates very effectively in terms of relationships. Many of these need to be put on a stronger footing to ensure that whatever Brexit happens, we continue to build those relationships with our nearest neighbour.
The first thing which struck me when we saw this Bill last weekend was the very practical day-to-day nature of many of the measures which are impacted in the event of a no-deal Brexit. These are simple things that we take for granted such as bus and rail journeys, or simply driving over and back across the Border. On many levels, this Bill impacts on every aspect of daily life in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It is unfortunate that it has been left so late as there are so many things that will inconvenience people in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Yesterday the Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland referred to the necessity of a special green card to travel over and back across the Border. People will not know about it. We can only hope, and the signs are stronger this week, that there will be some sort of a deal or extension so that this Bill will stay on the shelf, it is to be hoped never to be used.
That said, Brexit is proceeding. The relationship this State has with the UK in terms of the EU relationship is changing forever. That will have huge implications. Amid all the ongoing negotiations, we must remember that this is only the first stage. We will have to engage in the nature of the relationship after the UK leaves the EU. That new relationship will have so many consequences for the country, including my own county of Mayo which has especially strong links to England, Scotland and Wales so for long, and for the island.
If Brexit is a failure of politics, and in part it is, the strength of the relationships on our island over the past 20 years illustrate the success of the Good Friday Agreement which owes much to politics and politicians getting on with work, knocking heads together and sticking with the thing until it was seen through. The positive changes of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in our island relationships have been transformative. I do not think that anyone would have stood here 30 years ago at the height of the so-called Troubles and some of the worst days of political intransigence and imagined how we would live our lives now on such a collective basis.
The context of the new relationship with the UK is essential. We must stay focused on the east-west relationship and its importance. Farmers and beef farmers in particular are in the vanguard of this. They will face some of the biggest challenges. They face great challenges anyway, as the world economy changes and world tastes change, but while our biggest market moves into a different economic sphere with different economic and trading rules, it puts huge pressure on them. Attention and focus must be given to the future of the beef and suckler sectors, not only in the context of Brexit but also of these changes. The Government must decide whether it wants these sectors, and if so, it must support them rather than offering them nice words and pats on the head. A proper programme to maintain a suckler sector is essential. It is part of rural regeneration and sustaining rural communities.
Similarly in tourism, to which Deputy Casey will refer later, and I defer to his expertise, we still have a great dependence on the UK market, with cultural links which go back decades and generations. We must reimagine those links and continue to improve our offering and continue the investment in greenways and walkways and projects such as the fantastic Center Parcs in Ballymahon which will bring people for an experience rather than a habit. This will bring people to experience our island and its welcome, while they spend money, but we must give them reasons to travel and we must continue to make capital investment in our tourism sector.
All our industries are dependent on the landbridge across England especially. It is essential to get access to the European markets.
In the context of the negotiations on the new relationship, particular focus will have to be put on keeping the landbridge as effective and as efficient as possible. Every block we put in and every check we put on adds to our cost base and our industries, including our multinationals, do not need that.
The Minister will be very familiar with the flight connections between Ireland West Airport Knock and England and the importance of those connections, economically and socially. They have to continue and the signals are that they will. They cannot be allowed to become a pawn in any negotiation about the future relationship and what the future relationship will be. There are so many things we take for granted that are now about to be up-ended as a consequence of a no-deal Brexit, and indeed with any type of Brexit. People hope a no-deal Brexit or an extension will move the problem on but it will not - it will just move the deadline. The problem still has to be tackled.
Many aspects of this legislation may come back into focus as we negotiate and implement the future relationship. We have to ensure that in negotiating and implementing that new relationship, the least possible disruption is caused to economic life, agricultural life, tourism and people's movements across the Border to connect to families and other people. I had a conversation at the weekend with somebody whose brother lives five minutes away from her. She goes back to visit her nieces, nephews and cousins and this is the normal pattern of family life in rural Ireland but the Border is between the woman and her brother. They are young and they have never had to worry about it but a Border would transform their family life and their daily activity. For that reason alone, people should understand why the backstop is so important. It is not a political thing. It is about maintaining our island and the relationships on our island. It is about maintaining freedom of movement and our day-to-day life, to which everybody across the world is entitled.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate. Brexit has rightly been described as one of the greatest challenges facing Ireland in recent decades. As we face into an uncertain future, I would like to start by reflecting on a number of things: on the very real achievements of the European Union over more than 60 years, on the benefits that membership has brought for Ireland since we joined more than 40 years ago and on why it is important that all of that continues. Like an increasing number of people in this House and the majority throughout the country, Ireland joined what was then the Common Market before I was born. For people of my generation it has shaped the world we live in.
What has membership of the European Union, previously the European Economic Community, meant for us? It has given us unfettered access to a market of more than 500 million people and has seen a dramatic increase in trade and foreign direct investment. It has supported job creation, with more than 700,000 jobs created in Ireland during the years of our EU membership. It has given Irish citizens the right to move, to work and to live freely throughout the Union. During that period, Ireland has been a major recipient of financial support from the European Union, through the Common Agricultural Policy, through structural funds and through many other sources of EU funding. More than that, Irish views and interests are now reflected in the policies of the European Union towards the rest of the world. We are no longer a small island on the fringe of Europe, but an active participant in the world’s biggest union - in the words of the Taoiseach, a small island in the centre of the world. So let us not forget the very real achievements of the European Union as it has grown from a union of just six member states to a union of 28.
The history of the European Union, initially founded with the Treaty of Rome and the European Coal and Steel Community, has been one of unparalleled peace in Europe and the European Union, including the United Kingdom, has played no small part in that. For many member states whose post-war histories have not been as benign as Ireland’s, membership of the European Union has been part of their road to freedom. That statement can also be underlined with respect to the recent expansion of the European Union into the Balkans. The European Union is rightly described as one of the great post-war peace projects. So it was fitting that, in 2012, the European Union itself was awarded the Nobel prize for peace. Why did it receive the award? In the words of the Nobel committee, it was because the Union and its forerunners had, for over six decades, contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
Like most people in Ireland I was disappointed that the UK, our closest neighbour, made the decision to leave. I respect the decision but it is difficult to accept in some regards, given some of the arguments that were presented during the referendum campaign. Like most people in Ireland, I believe the UK has been stronger because of its membership of the EU, and I believe that the EU has been stronger and better because of UK membership. Like most people in Ireland, I believe that the EU has been stronger because of UK membership, but we accept that the UK has voted to leave the European Union.
We are under no illusion about the nature and scale of the challenges posed by Brexit. While securing a deal is still the Government’s priority, we are continuing our preparation for all Brexit outcomes. As the House will be aware, the Government decided last December to give greater immediate priority to preparations for a no-deal Brexit. This work is being co-ordinated at the highest level by the Department of the Taoiseach, in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and involves all Government Departments. The Government’s contingency action plan, published in December, sets out comprehensive, cross-Government preparations that have been under way since even before the Brexit referendum in 2016. The plan covers over 30 issues, involving all Departments and many agencies. An update was published at the end of January outlining progress that has been made since the original plan was published. Given the proximity of the date of Brexit, contingency planning has moved to taking actions to mitigate the risks of a no-deal Brexit, without prejudice to the Government’s priority of finalising the ratification of the withdrawal agreement.
This Bill is a key element in preparing Ireland for some of the impacts of a no-deal situation. Its focus is on protecting our citizens and on supporting the economy and jobs, particularly in the sectors most exposed to Brexit. It reflects the Government’s focus on protecting the Good Friday Agreement and supporting North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. It enables the maintenance of the common travel area, which predates our entry into the European Economic Community in 1973. Ireland is working on preparedness and contingency planning as part of the wider EU27, with the full support of the European Commission and other member states, and with all the stability and solidarity that brings. Many of the actions aimed at mitigating the effects of a no-deal outcome will be taken at an EU level, as they involve sectors regulated by EU law.
The Commission published its contingency action plan in November and a further communication on contingency was published in December 2018. These set out guidance on planning for Brexit and outline the Commission’s approach in key areas. The Commission’s contingency action plan emphasises that it stands ready to engage with the member states that will be most affected by a no-deal withdrawal, which is something Ireland can take comfort in. It expressly states that it will support Ireland in finding solutions addressing the specific challenges of Irish businesses. Ireland is also in ongoing close bilateral contact with the Brexit preparedness group in the European Commission and with other seriously affected member states like France, the Netherlands and Belgium, who will face many similar challenges to us after Brexit, albeit that ours is a unique situation.
Turning again to our own preparations, dedicated measures to prepare for Brexit were announced in budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019, to ensure that Ireland is in the best possible position to respond to the challenges that Brexit will bring. Budget 2019 continues the overall approach of prudent financial management to strengthen the resilience of Ireland’s economy against the backdrop of heightened uncertainty, including from Brexit. It builds on other Government initiatives, namely investing in the future of the country through Project Ireland 2040, opening new markets for businesses through the Global Ireland 2025 strategy and developing policies to adapt to changes in the world of work through the future jobs programme. Budget 2019 ensures that the economy is prepared for the challenges of Brexit through continued prudent management of the public finances by balancing the books, reducing the debt burden, building up the rainy day fund, improving the competitiveness of our personal taxation system and continuing to invest in infrastructure. Budget 2019 also contains a number of specific measures aimed at making Ireland Brexit-ready, including increased resources across a range of Departments and offices, the introduction of the €300 million future growth loan scheme and a €71 million package to further strengthen the agriculture sector’s ability to become more resilient in addressing the challenges of Brexit. As a Deputy from County Limerick, I can tell the House that this is an area of particular interest for the people I represent.
The measures introduced in budget 2019 continue the process of ensuring that Ireland’s economy continues to remain competitive and resilient against the backdrop of heightened uncertainty, including from Brexit. The Government will continue to work for a withdrawal agreement but prepare for a no-deal scenario. A no-deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome and would not be in the interests of the UK, Ireland or the EU. As the Tánaiste said, it is a lose-lose-lose scenario. Managing a no-deal Brexit would be an exercise in damage limitation.
It would simply not be possible in a no-deal scenario to maintain the current seamless arrangements between the European Union and the United Kingdom across a range of sectors currently facilitated by our common European Union membership. This would have a major adverse impact on Ireland. As a Government, we will continue to prepare for all scenarios. I am sure all Members agree that the Bill is a key element of the preparation. I hope it will secure cross-party support.
Táim buíoch as an deis seo labhairt maidir leis an mBreatimeacht agus maidir leis an mbagairt atá ann don tír seo. Tá an Rialtas dóchasach nach mbeidh an Bille seo curtha i bhfeidhm ar chor ar bith agus go mbeidh sé fágtha ar an tseilf, mar a dúirt an Tánaiste. Caithfimid a bheith réidh do Bhreatimeacht gan socrú, áfach. Leis an mBille seo, beimid chomh réidh agus is féidir.
D'ardaigh an Teachta Connolly an pointe an tseachtain seo caite ag ócáid chruinniú cinn bhliana Chonradh na Gaeilge i mbaile Mhuineacháin nach raibh Údarás na Gaeltachta luaite sa Bhille. Tá an t-údarás ag comhoibriú i rith an ama le gníomhaireachtaí Stáit eile mar a bhaineann sé le cur chuige comhordaithe maidir leis an mBreatimeacht. Lena chos sin, tá an t-údarás ag obair as lámh a chéile le Fiontraíocht Éireann chun cinntiú go bhfuil na tacaíochtaí atá ar fáil do chomhlachtaí a thagann faoi scáth na heagraíochta sin ar fáil do chliaintchomhlachtaí de chuid an údaráis freisin.
Sa chomhthéacs sin, is fiú liom a lua go bhfuil meamram comhthuisceana i bhfeidhm le tamall de bhlianta anuas idir Údarás na Gaeltachta agus Fiontraíocht Éireann. Cinntíonn an meamram seo go bhfuil fáil ag comhlachtaí Gaeltachta ar scéimeanna éagsúla tacaíochta a chuireann Fiontraíocht Éireann ar fáil ar fud na tíre. De thoradh seo agus de thoradh an chomhoibrithe leanúnach idir an dá eagraíocht, beidh fáil ag cliaintchomhlachtaí Údarás na Gaeltachta ar na deiseanna agus na hacmhainní céanna a bheidh ar fáil do chomhlachtaí atá faoi scáth Fiontraíocht Éireann mar thoradh ar achtú an Bhille omnibus. Ní cáil dom a rá go bhfuil teagmháil rialta idir feidhmeannaigh an Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta agus feidhmeannaigh an Roinn Gnó, Fiontar agus Nuálaíochta faoin ábhar seo agus go n-aithníonn an dá Roinn an gá go mbíonn Údarás na Gaeltachta agus Fiontraíocht Éireann in ann na tacaíochtaí céanna a thairiscint dá gcuid cliaintchomhlachtaí faoi seach. Táim sásta nach gá an t-údarás a lua sa Bhille seo.
The team, including officials in the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the drafters who worked late nights and weekends over a period, that produced this Brexit omnibus Bill is to be commended. It must be difficult to prepare legislation that one hopes will not be enacted but we are here to do that in order to ensure that we are ready for the unthinkable. I acknowledge the Brexit team within the Government, including the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy McEntee, which has served the country well at a difficult time. I acknowledge the cross-party support demonstrated over a long number of years on matters relating to Brexit.
I acknowledge and thank all our EU colleagues who value the principle of collegiality. It was stated at a committee at Westminster recently that the treatment of Ireland as a small member state is clearly of much interest. The recognition of Ireland wanting to be a continued and strong member of the European Union is something all member states have shown an affinity for, which must be noted as well.
Protecting the concept of a strong Europe, a haven of peace and prosperity, is something that is very important. It is regrettable that in the United Kingdom in advance of the referendum for a long number of years and perhaps decades, certain aspects of the print media only told a negative story about the European Union and the European Economic Community before that. It is regrettable that it was all one-sided in being negative rather than showing the positives that the European Union has brought to the United Kingdom and across Europe.
I was previously a member and, for a period, Vice Chairman of the European affairs committee - I worked with Deputy Durkan on it - at a time when it considered whether a referendum would take place. We were not sure of the position prior to the 2015 UK election. The potential for a referendum depended on the outcome of that election. We thought about what would happen if the UK voted to leave but Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales voted to stay. All these matters came to a head with the decision of the UK to exit the European Union. We regret that, although, as others have stated, we also respect the democratic decision that has been made.
We must remember that Brexit is not our policy, although it is having a major impact on this country in terms of uncertainty, consumer confidence and time spent preparing for it. We will have to deal with the extensive fallout from a no-deal Brexit. Even if a deal is secured, Brexit will mean that our position will never be as good as it is now. There is a possible impact on every sector of business and society, as reflected in the Bill, including security, healthcare, education and business. There is a serious implication for trading relationships that have delivered prosperity, security and an improved quality of life for millions of Europeans. The mechanics of trade have been threatened and the transport sector has been left scratching its head regarding the possible impact on and the implications for the landbridge to Europe through Britain. There will be extra costs and delays and there will be knock-on effects in respect of raw materials for manufacturing sector being delayed, with a resulting impact on our competitiveness and increased costs.
The possible impact of Brexit on agriculture is worrying and there has been a very serious drop in confidence in the beef sector in particular. The sector has always been difficult from a profit returns perspective but a no-deal Brexit would be an enormously serious blow to a vital sector, particularly in the west and some of its marginal land, but also nationwide. The prospects of tariffs damaging the competitiveness of Irish beef in our dominant market is almost unthinkable. Beef and suckler farmers are leaving the sector on a daily basis and a bad Brexit would only hasten that process. Beef and suckler farmers are concentrated on the west coast and the consequence of a collapse in the sector would leave a permanent scar on the communities in those areas. The experience is that once farmers leave the sector, it is difficult to get them back.
There would be considerable impacts down the line on jobs in the meat industry and service sector and there would be a disproportionate negative effect. These jobs are located in rural areas and it would be very difficult to replace them. If we lose the suckler herd on which the quality beef sector is based, it will be very difficult to replace it. I do not wish to labour the point but rural Ireland is very vulnerable to trade difficulties in all sectors, North and South, and in Britain. Local engineering and manufacturing companies would as a first natural step to export to Northern Ireland and Britain so they are vulnerable to sudden change. Even currency fluctuations during the Brexit process have brought hardship to many of those. These are often family-owned small and medium enterprises whose existence is crucial to their localities and any difficulty that arises will have a disproportionate effect on them.
I pay tribute to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the work done and resources provided to guard against the possible worst effects of Brexit. The work and preparation done on this Bill demonstrates the broad depth of issues at stake and the responses that the Government have provided to mitigate against the impact of a hard Brexit, which I hope we will not see. I acknowledge the cross-party support that has been indicated for the Bill, which I hope to see pass Committee and Report Stages next week.
I welcome this debate on the worsening Brexit crisis and the Bill to address key areas should a no-deal scenario come to pass.
Following the general election in 2016, little did any of us think that, within months, all the norms of our political system would be thrown into chaos by the decision of the British people to leave the EU. The triggering of Article 50 and the two years of negotiation have constituted a dark shadow over all our attempts to build a better Ireland for all our people and to ensure that our recovering economy benefits all parts of our nation. For over two years, Members of this House have been responsible and have allowed negotiations between the EU and the UK to proceed without interruption. However, we all have looked with growing horror at the unfolding mess in the UK's political response as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has become a plausible conclusion.
What does no deal mean for my constituency of Wicklow? Why has all this energy and focus been brought to bear on ensuring a managed Brexit, if indeed there is to be a Brexit? First, as a hotelier in Glendalough, I know what a hard border and a troubled relationship with the UK mean for our tourism sector. I remember my father working in the hotel in Glendalough when the bombs and chaos of Northern Ireland were at their peak in the late 1970s. Up to the time of the Troubles, Glendalough was a favourite destination for international tourists, including those from Britain, due to the iconic nature of the site and the beauty of the landscape. When the bombs and bullets began to fly, this business practically disappeared. For most people in the UK and across the world, Ireland was a no-go area. In fact, they believed Ireland was at war. The effects of the Border and the Troubles on our business were dramatic and prolonged and slowed the growth of our brand, our destination and, indeed, our entire tourism sector for decades. The past two decades of peace have allowed the Irish tourism sector to show its true potential. We cannot underestimate the value of tourism to rural Ireland. Anything that changes this will have a detrimental effect on the tourism industry. Regrettably, my father never got to see the end of the Troubles and the rebuilding of relationships between the people of these islands but I know he would have been delighted by and proud of the role of Fianna Fáil in delivering peace and prosperity in a new relationship forged in the Good Friday Agreement.
In business terms, visitors from the UK make up a third of all those who visit Glendalough and other areas of Wicklow, the garden county. When the referendum result was announced and sterling experienced a dramatic fall, the tourism sector was immediately affected. Overnight, a visit to Ireland became more expensive and the counter to that was that the UK became more attractive. The impact of no deal on sterling and the euro will be extremely negative. For hotels engaged in the coach tour business, it is very difficult to predict the extent of the damage but there will be damage. As yet, I have not heard what are the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's plans for this most important area. Rosslare Europort and Dublin Port are key entry points for coach tours and tourists that visit Wicklow. Where are the plans to ensure that Wicklow's tourism industry, which is vital to our economy and society, is protected?
The other essential element of the economic profile of Wicklow is agribusiness. Our agribusiness exports to the UK market are well known, as is the use of the landbridge to get our high-quality agrifood to our EU partners on mainland Europe. Farm families, agrifood industries and artisan food and drinks producers in Wicklow would all be endangered in a no-deal Brexit scenario. The very viability of their business models is being threatened by the damage to trade from a chaotic Brexit. As a businessman, I know how long it takes to plan the growth and investment future of an enterprise. All business models and all investment decisions taken require a degree of certainty in various areas such as securing finance, tax policies, logistics and supply lines and currency differentials. No business can make significant investment decisions that involve the UK while the Brexit process remains a complete shambles. Business owners come my office reporting this and asking for predictions. Neither I nor anyone else in this House can give a
prediction that can be banked on because across the water, the political leadership of the UK is totally failing in its primary task of ensuring stable governance in difficult times. We can take some pride as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our Parliament. As parliamentarians, we know what is our primary duty to the people of Ireland. That is why despite many of our problems in housing and health, we have provided stability to meet the grave danger that is Brexit. At this stage, I plead with our colleagues in the House of Commons, as fellow parliamentarians, to recognise the shared relationships between our peoples and the bonds of friendship that were so hard won and to ensure that a deal is achieved or that the British people are consulted again.
I wish to air a few issues. Taking up where Deputy Casey left off, I must state that this is not about clapping ourselves on the back. There is unity of purpose across the House, which is good. We all recognise that a no-deal Brexit could happen at the end of March. Hopefully, it will not. If it does and if the UK crashes out of the EU, it will pose a significant challenge. I have no doubt the Irish people will rise to meet that challenge.
For quite a long time, I have watched the debate in the British Parliament among the various parties. Some of the debate has been extraordinary and appalling. Some of the debate about Northern Ireland has been frightening, to say the least. Whatever our differences in this House, it is good that we are all focused on what could happen to us on 29 March.
There is no doubt that this is a colossal crisis. Other Deputies referred to the fact that, regardless of what happens on 29 March and even if the UK does not crash out, this matter will not go away for a long time. Brexit is not over. We see the damage it has done, particularly in the agribusiness sector. We see the depressed state of markets, the reduction in prices for livestock and the fear in the farming community. When we speak about that crisis in agriculture, sometimes we do not think about the number of jobs that are tied up in agriculture and agrifood and the strength of the agrifood sector. In fairness, the Government is giving grants to agrifood businesses as well. These businesses have become so important in creating employment in many parts of our country.
When we look at exports to the UK, we can see that agrifood exports were valued at €5.2 billion in 2017. This figure increased in 2018. In particular, the beef industry is hugely reliant on the UK market with almost 50% of beef exports going to the UK in 2017. In the event of a no-deal Brexit and the UK opening its doors to South American beef, which is a real threat, the situation for agribusiness in this country and the many thousands of people employed in it would be catastrophic. These people are employed in many parts of the country. We are less than 30 days away from the date when the UK is scheduled to leave the UK and at this juncture, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is a very real possibility. When, as Deputy Casey noted, new Members came into the House three years ago in February 2016, could any have guessed that we would be here on an evening like this facing such uncertainty in the context of what will happen in a few weeks?
If what we are discussing comes to pass and if Irish beef is forced to compete in the UK market against cheaper imports from other countries, there is no doubt thousands of jobs will be lost. It is not that I want to be negative but it is a stark reality we may have to face. Every effort must be made to safeguard the industry and the thousands of people employed in it, directly and indirectly. I urge the Government to ensure that sufficient contingency plans are in place, including a financial aid package. Such a package was announced two budgets ago for the farming community but it still has not materialised, even though it was promised.
Deputy Casey referred to tourism. In counties such as mine, where not many industrial jobs were created over the years, tourism has become a product on which we are more and more reliant. While agribusiness is the backbone of our local economy, there are many visitors to, for example, Lough Key forest park in Boyle, County Roscommon, known to many in this House, which attracts 80,000 to 90,000 people each year, and Strokestown House, which attracts 70,000 people each year. The figures have been growing significantly in recent years and many of those visitors come from England. It would be a severe blow if we were to suffer due to a no-deal Brexit.
On driving licences, we had a presentation yesterday on the green card. There is still confusion as to Irish people living here who spent many years in Britain and got their driving licence in Britain. Where do they stand? Some say they can flip over their licence and that they need to do it before 29 March but I am not so sure. The Tánaiste might be able to clarify that later or ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to do so.
I want to conclude with reference to the importance of the peace process. The Acting Chairman lived in an area on the Border and saw what happened over the years. It is such an important issue in all of this. I happened to be at a party function in Cavan recently and I saw the fear among people in the Border counties regarding a hard frontier and what might result from that. I grew up in a time when there was no local radio but every single morning we woke up to the headlines on national radio to the effect that, for example, five people had been killed somewhere in Northern Ireland, six people had been killed somewhere else, a garda had been shot, soldiers had been shot or maybe children were not allowed pass an area in order to get to school. There is a generation that does not realise what happened and what the Troubles in Northern Ireland did to us, as a nation. While the economy is important, if our peace process was to be shattered in any way, it would put us back a long way.
I hope that, at the end of next month, we will not have to come back and discuss this too much and that there will not be a crash-out. If there is, we will have a lot of difficulties with which to deal.
I welcome the opportunity to speak following the publication of this legislation, which, as has been rightly stated by many, none of us wants to see implemented. Nonetheless, it is legislation that is entirely necessary in order for the Government and the Dáil to be assured that, in so far as is possible, every eventuality which may affect the viability of many aspects of economic and social life is dealt with appropriately. There is some disappointment that this legislation was not brought forward earlier, particularly as other states have already introduced such legislation and in view of the fact that Brexit has the ability to affect our economy in a far more detrimental way than many other events. That said, there is still a short window of opportunity available and open to Members of the House to further scrutinise and analyse what is contained within the Bill. Those with specific responsibilities on behalf of their parties - and, by extension, the electorate - in the different departmental areas will do so in a way in which, I hope, will challenge the legislation to ensure that it is copper-fastened and ideally placed to meet the demands Brexit places upon us.
As other speakers indicated, it is unfortunate that, after two years, we are still not in a position to understand the implications or to respond to those implications with a safety net of a withdrawal deal or, indeed, the prospect of future relations being agreed by the parties, that is, the EU 27 and the UK. An unfortunate by-product has been the implications for and the affect on Anglo-Irish relations, Anglo-Irish agreements and Anglo-Irish processes. That is something of which we have to be conscious. I am sure the Government is wholly conscious of it in terms of always seeking to provide for improvements in that regard, especially considering the difficulties that have been posed by the lack of a deal having been forthcoming from the parties. We are also conscious of the effect it has had on the ability of the Good Friday Agreement to provide the type of mechanisms that were envisaged, whereby there would be a sharing of interests, of focus and of unity of purpose by North and South. There is also the unfortunate collapse of the Assembly and the unfortunate failure on the part of those parties elected to it, in the main, to reach an agreement by which that could be up and running, and could also be contributing to a resolution and to the preparedness and readiness of this island to meet the demands that will be placed upon it. That is unfortunate but, again, it heightens the expectations on the part of others for the Dáil to be unified and to have that unity of purpose that is lacking elsewhere.
A by-product of arriving at that conclusion, and arriving at a juncture where the Dáil can be unified in such a way, is to have those like ourselves set aside what difficulties and failings there have been. There have been many, with some patently obvious in regard to the way in which the Government has implemented the programme for Government, for example, in regard to health and housing, among other areas. A decision was taken by Fianna Fáil, primarily, which is a very mature decision which puts at its root the interests of the island, of the economy and of our security. That has to be commended and acknowledged. I know many members of the parties opposite respect and appreciate that. Our patience has been tested by some comments by Members opposite. I am conscious of what the Taoiseach said last week, when he asked whether the bona fides of Fianna Fáil would be as we professed them to be if we were riding high in the polls. I am sure, on reflection, he would agree that was not an appropriate comment to make. Our intentions and bona fides are wholly appropriate. We have proven in the past that we put the national interest before party interest, to our detriment, some might say, in regard to the political return derived from that commitment to the nation and to the nation's finances through ensuring there was a pathway in place to deal with the gap between income and expenditure.
We recognise and appreciate that those in government are there as a result of a decision of the Dáil and not necessarily that of the people. It was a convoluted election result and the responsibility passed to us. The Government has a great privilege. I know all of the members of the Government treat that privilege as they should but I do not take kindly to comments made by a member of Fine Gael in this House last week during a Sinn Féin motion. He sought to bring up our association with Anglo Irish Bank and the banking crisis. That is despite an independent assessment finding that Fianna Fáil was not the cause of the crash. That crash occurred not only in this country but in many other countries in Europe and the world. Those comments were noticed. As somebody else said, however, when they go low, we go high.
I give my support to this legislation and commend the work done by the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee. I think they have done a great job. Coming from Dundalk, which is a Border town, it is important that the common travel area remains. It is a long-standing arrangement between Ireland and the UK that enables Irish and UK citizens to travel and reside in either jurisdiction, without restriction, as well as providing for associated rights and entitlements in both jurisdictions. These rights and entitlements include access to employment, healthcare, education and welfare benefits. All parties have made commitments to the continuation of the common travel area and associated rights. It is very important those commitments be upheld. That would mean that across many sectors, including health, there would be no change in the rights of Irish citizens. They will be able to move freely between North, South, east and west and work, study and access health and social benefits in the UK on the same basis as UK citizens. Reciprocal arrangements will also apply to UK citizens in Ireland.
Brexit is the main topic of conversation in every household in this country. When I get home tonight, the first thing my wife will ask is what happened with Brexit. Many people in my constituency realised there was going to be a debate on this topic in the Dáil this week. In fairness, there are also many people who do not understand what this debate is about. I am, therefore, going to go through the different parts of the Bill and try to explain it to myself and my constituents. Part 1 provides for the Title of the Bill, while Part 2 deals with healthcare arrangements between the UK and Ireland and the common travel area. Part 3 deals with proposals to amend the Industrial Development Act 1986 and the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998. This will enable Enterprise Ireland to further support businesses through investments, loans and grants and to limit the negative impact Brexit has on vulnerable enterprises. Enterprise Ireland does a great job in my own county of Louth and in Ireland generally.
Part 4 of the Bill deals with the transitional power to modify licence conditions concerning the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, Brexit and the single electricity market. Part 5 deals with student supports in higher education. At present, eligible students from Ireland who take up approved third-level courses in the UK, and eligible UK nationals who take up approved courses in Ireland, qualify for student universal support Ireland, SUSI, grants due to the UK's membership of the European Union. The purpose of this part of the general scheme is to ensure continuity of commitment 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. Part 6 of the Bill deals with taxation and amendments to legislation governing income tax, capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax and stamp duty. A provision on VAT has also been included.
Part 7 deals with financial services. This includes introducing legislative amendments to support the implementation of the European Commission equivalence decisions under the central securities depository regulation, CSDR, and extending the protection contained in the settlement finality directive to Irish participants in relevant third-country domicile settlement schemes. Part 8 deals also with financial services and makes amendments to the European Union (Insurance and Reinsurance) Regulations 2015 and the European Union (Insurance Distribution) Regulations 2018. This will provide for a temporary run-off regime, which, subject to a number of conditions, will enable insurance companies and undertaking intermediaries to continue to fulfil contractual obligations to their Irish customers for three years after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. These insurers and intermediaries, however, will no longer be able to write new insurance contracts or continue insurance distributions in respect of new insurance contracts in Ireland until they obtain relevant authorisation under the EU insurance supervisory regime.
Part 9 of the Bill relates to ensuring appropriate features and safety systems are in place where a foreign rail operator runs a service in Ireland. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, this part of the Bill also ensures Enterprise railway services will continue to operate without disruption. Railway services are not included in this Bill. Part 9 of the Bill also covers pilot exemption certificates issued by harbour companies. Part 10 deals with bus and coach services. This makes the National Transport Authority, NTA, the competent authority to regulate bus services between Ireland and third countries, with enforcement by the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána. The intention is that these heads could provide the backdrop to any future bilateral discussions to be held between the Irish and UK Governments regarding arrangements to facilitate bus services.
Part 11 deals with amendments to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. The aim of the suggested amendment reflects the Government’s commitment to maintain the common travel area between Ireland and the UK and to provide for the continuation of the relevant social welfare payments. Due to the unique nature of the common travel area between the UK and Ireland, and the associated rights conferred on Irish and British citizens in each country, the convention seeks to formalise the pre-existing common travel area and social protection arrangements in a documented agreement. Part 12 deals with the amendment of the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984. The draft withdrawal agreement between the EU and UK provides for the continuation of arrangements to deal with cross-Border insolvencies including the protection of employees. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will enact draft regulations to provide for pan-European insolvencies.
The situation of employees will depend on the particular context in each member state. Part 13 of the Bill deals with the amendment of the Interpretation Act 2005. This will seek to address the potential vacuum in the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario by making amendments to the Extradition Act 1965 to allow extradition between Ireland and the UK at the request of the Minister for Justice and Equality. Part 14 deals with amending the Immigration Act 2004 to give an immigration officer the power to take fingerprints from a person applying for an Irish or a transit visa, where that officer thinks it necessary for ensuring the integrity of the common travel area. Part 15 of the Bill is entitled "Miscellaneous" but is materially the same as Part 13 and deals with changes to the Interpretation Act 2005. Part 16 amendments to the Data Protection Act 2018 proposed in the general scheme of the Bill are not included in the Bill itself and the proposed Part 17, which deals with exchanges of immigration data with the UK, is also not included in the Bill.
A big concern among my constituents in Louth is the introduction of the international motor insurance card, the green card. As the Acting Chairman, Deputy Breathnach, will know, as he comes from Louth as well, many people in the county, and their families, work in and travel to Northern Ireland. The volume of traffic to and fro is immense. The Good Friday Agreement was probably one of the best things to happen to this country. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and I know what the Troubles were like. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement helped everybody on both sides of the Border. The last thing we want to see is the Border reintroduced. Nobody wants to see the return of customs depots, with members of the Garda on one side and army personnel on the other.
The last 20 years have been very peaceful for everybody in Ireland and that is particularly the case for those who live along the Border. As a former soldier myself, I know what it is like to patrol between Omeath and Cullaville. There are 38 Border crossings and I am familiar with all of them. I believe there are now many more than 38 Border crossings since the Good Friday Agreement. The people of Ireland did not seek Brexit. It is the UK that wants to leave the EU. In fairness to the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, he has often said he wishes things could go back to the way they were and we could have the relationship we used to have.
We still have an awful lot to lose. I commend the Tánaiste, who has just come into the Chamber, and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, on the fantastic work they have done so far. Many people have a lot of faith in the Tánaiste and, in fairness, he never once refused to talk to the media or tell the people what is going on. It is very important that we continue that here.
Many people in constituencies are worried and are scared. The 29 March deadline is fast approaching. Nobody knows what will happen. One week we hear that a deal will be done while the next week we hear a deal will not be done. We then hear that people are calling for another referendum. That is creating uncertainty. The main topic in every household in this country is Brexit. In fairness to this Government, it has not shied away from that. It has been upfront.
We have to respect Deputy Micheál Martin as well because he and the Fianna Fáil Party have stood up on this issue. In fairness, they could have taken the handy approach before Christmas and perhaps pushed for a general election. We would then have the same scenario as they have in the UK. I refer to Sinn Féin and all the other parties in that regard also.
I have been a Deputy for the past eight years and this is one issue that has brought the entire country together. It is a fantastic day. I hope that in the coming weeks and months we all stick together because the goal is to look after our citizens.
Like other speakers, I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation. It is not of our choice that we in this House are speaking on this issue. We did not initiate the events that led us to this particular situation but we have to acknowledge that we must deal with what is presented.
I acknowledge the tremendous work done by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee, and congratulate them on the way in which they have conducted the business of negotiating through the European Union and with the European Union. I acknowledge also the huge amount of support from the European Union and its negotiators. Never in the history of this nation has such solid support come from countries in the rest of Europe, all of which are members of the European Union and intend to remain that way, as we do.
We also have to acknowledge the support of all other parties in this House. It is a difficult thing to do, particularly when in opposition.
It is very difficult to do it.
I can see that some things are contagious across this House. However, some people may support this legislation with some difficulty but the fact is there is no other option; there is no alternative. It is in the interests of this country and its people that the political establishment here, and those who claim not to be part of the establishment, stand together in the national interest and wear the green jersey for this country. I believe they have done that to a great extent, and that must be acknowledged.
Some of us are long enough around this House to remember the early days of what is now known as the European Union. My first vote was on that particular referendum. One had to be a little older at that time - 21 years of age - to vote for the first time. I recall the people who advised us that we were voting on a crucial issue, and they advised us well. The decision taken by the Irish people then was a clear decision. To a certain extent, it may well have been a step into the unknown but the people who voted in that referendum knew what they were voting for, and they voted in their own interest and in the national interest. That is something for which we have to be grateful.
We are also long enough around to remember people like Pierre Pflimlin and other Members and Presidents of the European Parliament who set about putting in place their particular views on what Europe should be, and they did it well. They spoke with us at the time and explained to us where they were coming from, which was from a Europe when it lay in ashes and everybody was standing around after the most appalling war that cost 70,000 lives. It was a good time to concentrate everybody's minds, and everybody's minds were concentrated at that time, and to good effect. The decisions were taken to ensure that, hopefully, we would never again see ourselves in that position. It is with a certain sadness that we find ourselves where we are now.
Another issue is the extent to which this country, as an island nation, is affected by the decision of our next door neighbour to decide to leave the European Union. If the information that is available now throughout the UK had been made available at the time of the referendum, we would not speaking in the manner we are speaking tonight. There is a lesson to be learned from that. It is always good to get the information that is most pertinent and to make it available to the people when they are making a decision. Nigel Farage, for instance, spent many years in the European Parliament undermining the European concept, undermining the European Parliament and promising to dismember it in one shape or another. That is what he did, and he can take credit for it. He might not be so happy to take credit for what happens afterwards, and a major problem will eventually emerge if Europe goes in this particular direction. If Europe were to fragment, as is the objective of some people - not in this Parliament, I might add - disaster will follow. It is no good saying that we have developed ourselves to such an extent that that will never happen again. That is not true. That is not the way things have worked in the past. That is not the way things have worked in other jurisdictions. That is not the way things have worked across the globe. It is in our interests to ensure we use our influence in a positive, constructive way to dissuade people who wish to break up the concept of the European Union.
Adenauer, Schuman, Monnet and the other people who were the founding fathers of what is now modern Europe set about their task all those years ago, recognising what had happened in the past and, from an informed position, deciding that these things should never happen again because of what happened.
As far as those of us in this Parliament are concerned, we have done all the things that had to be done, not only in Ireland's interest but also in the interest of Europe. It must be remembered that 500 million people is a huge market. A decision to leave that market should be taken into account very seriously. I do not wish to advise our colleagues across the water but it is no harm to remind everybody that moving outside what we have become accustomed to and worked with for several years is not moving back to the good old days, as some would see it; it is moving into the unknown. The world has moved on. Trade has changed. Telecommunications have changed. Transport has changed. Everything has changed since the 1970s, and in a positive way, as it has in this island as well.
We need to recognise where we came from and where we can go from here. In every way possible we can influence the course of Europe in the future, we should so do because we have benefited greatly from Europe. Our colleagues across the water may well say to us that it has not been that way for everybody. I am not so sure about that. Europe has progressed considerably and each country within the European Union has benefited greatly from the availability of that 500 million plus market.
In terms of the negative outcome of the referendum in the UK, it was supposed to be a non-binding referendum, which is sad when one thinks about it. It has suddenly become more binding than ever before, affecting a greater number of people than ever before, and also affecting the future construction and geopolitical mass of Europe. That is something we have to take into consideration and absorb.
On this island, we also have the Good Friday Agreement. We have come to know the all-island economy, North and South, working together and benefiting from European Union membership, from each other's existence and from the new trading arrangements that have progressed over the past 20 years. We thought this could never happen but it came in the wake of a war that went on for 30 years. Most wars in Europe go on for a much shorter time and have disastrous results, but the running sore that was effectively an internal or civil war on this island went on for 30 years. It took a great deal of negotiation by many people, parties and personalities to bring it to an end. Some of us thought for a long time that it would never happen and it would not be possible to achieve an agreement along the lines of the Good Friday Agreement. Unfortunately, the people of the adjoining island, albeit not all of them, have taken a decision to leave the EU. Sadly, the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland, who opted to remain, are now being told their preferences have been noted but they must go along with the majority which has decided to leave.
Incidentally, I am somewhat concerned about another matter regarding the non-binding referendum that took place in the UK. There are obvious signs that there will be another referendum. That would be the correct decision because there is much more information available now to people in the UK and across Europe than was available at the time of the referendum. Apart from promises made by people who were pursuing a particular political agenda, those issues have emerged now in a less positive way than they were presented at the time. To those who say the referendum is sacrosanct and we cannot negotiate around it, I say with all humility that if one applies that principle in general, one must conclude that, after a country holds an election, no further elections should be held because the people have made their decision. That is not a logical argument and I cannot understand why it is being used.
We stand on the verge in respect of the Good Friday Agreement and the all-island economy, for which we strove and which we achieved and have nurtured at great political cost. We should not allow it to be frittered away by anybody. In fairness to all sides of this House, due regard has been had for the achievements and benefits, North and South. It is now obvious that we have a common cause to ensure that our colleagues in Northern Ireland of both traditions have an even chance of prospering in the future Europe, whatever that may hold. We are all saddened that it has not been shown so far that we will see in the future the progress that we have had in the past.
To be fair to the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, she has endeavoured to achieve an orderly exit, not that Brexit will be of any benefit to anybody but at least it is orderly. Mrs. May has tried time and again to bring a plan through her Parliament and so far it has not happened. I hope it will happen because she has tried and we should recognise that. However, there are some with influence in the UK Parliament who obviously do not think that way. That is fine, but if every country in the European Union decided to pursue a similar course, Europe would cease to be and the Single Market and customs union would go. We must recognise that with that would go stability.
In the world in which we live now there is a certain amount of instability. Right across the globe, there is the emergence of individualism and a harking back to the so-called "good old days". I and others have stated in this House in the recent past that one has to look carefully to see what the good old days were. Presumably, people are referring to the early part of the 20th century. If one looks closely at those good old days, one will find that almost 70 million people died in two world wars. They were hardly the good old days from the point of view of those who participated and fought in those wars. They did not know at the time what they were fighting for at the time and to a great extent, we still do not know. However, they made sacrifices and, sadly, in many cases it was the ultimate sacrifice. All Europeans should remember that now and put aside their petty political ambitions and recognise for the good of all that we have a common cause and we need to stand together. We need to fight for, uphold and speak for that common cause. We must also act in accordance with the way we speak and vice versa.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle spent many years on the European circuit and knows it better than most. The participation of our representatives at European level is the reason Irish people are so readily prepared to accept the Europe that has emerged and of which we are part. I hope that will continue but if it does not, we need to recognise that our future lies with the Single Market, the customs union and access to a broadening market. In fairness, Irish people have shown repeatedly that they strongly support that, and rightly so.
Without the European Union, Ireland would have been less able to face the issues it faced over the past 40 years. In the past, we did not have the support we have received in the course of our membership of the European Union. Similarly, the European Union did not have the cohesiveness, single-mindedness, objectivity and vision that we as a small country provided for our European colleagues. We may well be only a small country, but those who have been involved, such as the Members of the European Parliament and various Governments, realise that we had a contribution to make. Maybe in the beginning it was not well recognised across the board, but we have done that. It is now generally recognised that we have made a positive contribution at European level, even though we were a small country. We have also have made an economic contribution, more so in recent times when we were called upon during the recession to dig deep both in our pockets and in terms of our commitment. We must once again stipulate our need to stay in the European circuit and to improve and enhance it.
Europe has also stood the test of time. From time to time, we all have raised issues that we felt would be better handled in a different fashion. That has always been the case. That is democracy and democracy is open and free. That is its strength and weakness, as has been shown in the past. The Europe we inherited from the original founding fathers was divided, impoverished and full of bitterness in the wake of two world wars. However, by virtue of commitment, conviction and dedication, Europe evolved into what it is today.
I am saddened, as is everybody else in the House, that people such as Nigel Farage saw otherwise. The Battle of Agincourt is a long way away and it has been a long time since it happened. There is no use living in that era and there is no use living in the past. We have to look to the future; we can influence the future but we cannot influence the past. In looking to the future we can learn from the mistakes of the past and we can vow never to allow them to be repeated.
I speak on this important legislation in the hope it will never be enacted or needed. I do not agree with those who suggest the Irish Government should have set out what it proposed to do on all of these issues far in advance. In fact, I strongly disagree. In a negotiating situation if we start setting out where we intend to go beforehand then there is only one place we can go. Anybody who has ever played poker will always know there is a time to hold them, a time to fold them, a time to walk away and a time to run. The fact of the matter is we are not in the business of running, we are in the business of being constructive. We are staying on board and sticking with the project. If we continue to do what we have done so far and keep our cool, reason will prevail and I hope that it does.
Tá áthas orm deis labhartha a fháil maidir leis an mBille tábhachtach seo, an Bille omnibus a bheidh ag dul tríd an Teach sa chúpla seachtain amach romhainn. Is mór an trua go bhfuil ar an Rialtas an Bille seo a chur os comhair na Dála agus a chur i gcrích roimh 29 Márta. I welcome the publication of this omnibus Bill, which deals with various Departments. It is important that it is in place and enacted by 29 March. It is unfortunate, as many speakers have said, that the Government must do this. It appears the House will unanimously accept Second Stage of the Bill because it is in the best interests of our country.
We are living through very uncertain times and, whether there is a deal or no deal, and I hope there will be a deal, Ireland will suffer and there will be serious implications that are nearly too horrendous to contemplate. Think of the manner in which we have done business with the UK over the years and the close commercial and business relationship we have with it. Since 1973, we have been a member of the European Union. We have had the customs union and the Single European Act. I can remember only too well during my early days in the House and prior to it when we were exporting from Donegal, trying to be in Lifford on time to get across to Strabane, and having the CU6 form filled in and approved to try to get a boat out of Larne to Stranraer before the late sailing to get perishable goods or otherwise to various parts of the UK and onwards to Europe. It was a nightmare but the Single European Act removed the economic borders, which meant we could go from west Donegal to the southern ends of Europe without any hindrance. It is frightening to think we will have to relive this again, in the sense that people going from Lifford to Strabane, from Bridgend to Derry, from Monaghan to Armagh or from Dundalk to Newry will have these as their first crossings. After that they will go into the UK and, if they are going on to mainland Europe, they will go from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, leaving a third country to go into the European Union, and it would be the same going from Dover to Calais or the many other crossings through the UK landbridge.
When I think of my county and the necklace of counties on both sides of the Border, there are 300 crossings along the 500 km Border. I remember only too well farmers who were trying to get from Donegal to Tyrone or Derry had to travel miles along approved roads to get from one side of their farm to the other. All this has changed dramatically. It could happen again but I hope it will not. It is quite possible that it could.
The Good Friday Agreement played an important role, as did the Single European Act and the customs union as a result of our membership of the European Union, which we joined in 1973. Subsequently we had the free market for our goods, services and people. As it is today, we have a market of 500 million. If the UK decides to exit Europe it will leave us with direct access to 435 million people. If we import or export to the UK through the WTO there will be tariffs, and it does not matter how low they might be as they will be an extra burden not only on us but on the citizens of the UK.
The European Union has played an important role in the peace process in this country. There are enough of us here to remember those days in the 1970s and 1980s when the European Union was a major donor to the International Fund for Ireland, together with the other countries that contributed. This was to help both sides of the community on both sides of the Border and the necklace of six counties along the Border. Subsequent to this, after the peace process, I recalled very well Jacques Delors, who was President of the Commission at the time, stating Europe would respond in a positive and practical way. The only positive and practical way it could do so immediately was to increase its contribution to the International Fund for Ireland and this is what it did. Immediately, it set about establishing the peace and reconciliation fund and, subsequent to this, the PEACE I, II, III and IV programmes. All of these played an important role, as did the Good Friday Agreement. We must ensure none of this is unravelled in any way.
It is easy to say now that the referendum in the UK should never have happened. I knew Nigel Farage when we were both Members of the European Parliament. On the night of the count he conceded defeat but when we woke up in the morning a decision had been taken by the people in the UK. On such a major decision the majority was only a couple of percent and I believe the majority of British people did not want it, particularly the young people in the UK. Let us hope there may be a second referendum and that it might be overturned. Perhaps this is too much to hope for.
The referendum followed the referendum the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, offered and held in Scotland on independence, which was rejected. He took a calculated risk in the best interests of the Conservative Party to give an opportunity to secure more seats. Of course, it backfired on him. There is an obligation on us, on the Government and on every Member of the House to support the Government and the Bill on Second Stage and to put the contingency plans in place. We hope, as many Members have said, that they do not have to be implemented. I hope they will gather dust on the shelves of the various Departments.
I will now refer to a number of specific areas, including fisheries and the marine. Fish do not recognise geographic or political boundaries. Over the years, we have had a good relationship with the UK, even before our membership of the European Union in 1973. The Common Fisheries Policy was introduced in 1983. We have always had the right to fish in UK waters but, as of 30 March, the UK could decide that all vessels that fish in its waters as a result of membership of the European Union will no longer have the right to do so. I hope this will not happen, I understand there is an informal arrangement with the UK whereby we will be able to fish for this year's total allowable catches and quotas.
However, there is great uncertainty in the fishing industry because fishermen are fearful that that agreement may not be upheld. I wish to placate fishermen by saying that I am confident that the agreement will hold until the end of the year. What is the result of that uncertainty? It is that fishermen are front-loading and trying to catch all of their quotas before 29 March. That is not good for the industry. It means that extra fish are going on the market, which is reducing prices, rather than the quotas being managed over a longer period. Let us hope that the European Union will come to an arrangement with the UK in regard to fishing in those waters. Ireland cannot come to a bilateral arrangement with the UK.
I am somewhat disappointed at the preparatory work done by the Government, particularly the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed. He has met representatives of the fishing industry on a number of occasions but there is an attitude that it will be okay on the day. Unfortunately, we must be much more serious about this issue than that. There is a lack of progress in the discussions between the European Union and the UK. When the EU's chief negotiator, Mr. Michel Barnier, came to the House, I discussed with him my fears for the fishing sector. I was very pleased when he indicated at that time that negotiations in regard to fish and trade would be inextricably linked because the UK exports its fish to mainland Europe and Ireland. It is to be hoped that there could be a quid pro quo regarding fishing in UK waters because UK fishermen must export to the European Union.
On 19 December, the Government published the Brexit contingency action plan, but it contained no reference to the marine sector. I received some clarification in that regard but I am not happy with it. It is little wonder that the marine and seafood sectors are getting edgy and nervous. They are worried about 29 March and whether all of the quotas should be caught by then. Some 60% of our mackerel and 40% of our nephrops - a valuable catch - are caught in UK waters. Some 30% of our overall fish catch is caught in UK waters. In that light, it is no wonder that the industry is very concerned. It must be protected. I called on the Minister at the time to establish a marine forum and I again call on the Minister and the Government to so do. The Minister met representatives of the industry in Clonakilty last week but no great progress was made. I want him to work with the eight coastal states in the EU which have similar problems to ours and which are working as one to try to secure the best possible deal.
The Tánaiste, as a former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will be aware of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. We have been told it will be available to compensate the marine sector. However, that is not good enough. That fund is already fully required. It must not be robbed to provide a Brexit fund for the fishery sector. Rather, additional funding must be made available. We have been told that funding will be made available for other sectors. I call on the Government to ensure that an additional contingency fund is made available for the marine sector in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In the past 800 years of history between Ireland and the United Kingdom, a boundary never existed in the Irish Sea. Of course, there was a Border between North and South and Members are well aware of the difficulties it created in regard to importing and exporting. If I were to choose the two most significant moments in the almost 40 years since I was first elected in 1979, they would be the peace process and the removal of the economic border. I remember travelling to Dublin through the years, crossing the Border at Lifford or Clady and again into County Monaghan. Over those years, there were long queues heading back to County Donegal. Overnight, all of those queues were removed. The peace process brought about the removal of the military and economic borders. I am not scaremongering, but I do not see how we can have a seamless Border if there is no deal, or even if there is a deal. I wish the Government, the Tánaiste, Mr. Barnier and all those negotiating at this late stage well. Perhaps it is because Brexit is only a few weeks away that people's minds are now being focused and they realise the pitfalls that might lie before us. It is to be hoped that an agreement will be reached in the coming weeks.
Some 67% of our marine exports use the landbridge through the UK road network to access their markets. I have referred to the difficulties that will be experienced going into and out of a third country en route to mainland Europe. I am somewhat worried that the marine sector is not getting the same attention as other sectors. The fishing sector has provided sustainable full and part-time employment to coastal communities in the most rural areas of this country where there was no alternative source of employment. We must ensure that it can continue to provide such employment.
On health, I was a Minister of State at the Department of Health from 2006 to 2008, during which period we had our first meeting with the then Northern Irish Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Michael McGimpsey. That meeting in Dundalk led to an agreement between the Governments to provide funding for a cancer unit at Altnagelvin Area Hospital. That was chosen as the location for the unit on the advice of specialists who told us that such a unit required a critical mass. Donegal and western Ulster provided that critical mass. Of course, many people from Donegal and other parts of the country now use the HSE treatment abroad scheme or the cross-border directive scheme which work well, provided that one can raise the cost of the procedure. One is then refunded by the very efficient HSE overseas office in Kilkenny which deals with those schemes. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, stated in his contribution on the Bill yesterday evening that there should not be any issue continuing those schemes. If a bilateral agreement is required to facilitate that, temporarily or otherwise, then so be it.
On transport, many residents in this country hold UK driving licences, which can be converted into Irish licences. My understanding, which was confirmed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, when speaking on the Bill, is that those licences must be converted before 29 March. However, that requirement makes little sense. Will the Minister, Deputy Ross, provide further clarification in that regard? Many people in this country hold UK licences. If those licences have not been converted by 29 March, will they no longer be valid? If there is to be a bilateral agreement with the UK in regard to driving licences, as there is with certain other countries, can that be made retrospective? It is to be hoped that that is possible. Every effort must be made to deal with that issue.
There are many other issues to which I do not have time to refer, such as cross-Border workers and the movement of livestock in Border counties. Those are issues that need to be clarified.
These are uncharted waters. In short, I wish the Tánaiste and the Government well in the negotiations in which they will be involved over the coming weeks. Let us hope that there will be a deal. From an Irish point of view, it would probably be preferable for the decision of the British people to be overturned and another referendum held.
We can be criticised in this country for referendums but at least when we have one, there is a referendum commission. The Irish are well aware of what they are voting for. The pros and cons are laid out before them. This did not happen in the United Kingdom. It is easy to be wise after the event but I am quite sure that if there is to be another referendum, the people of the UK will be much more wise and will, I hope, overturn this decision.
Everyone in this House and society will agree we need to prepare for Brexit but doing so is not a neutral class-free, agenda-free, ideology-free task, with the exception of dealing with the many legal formalities and so on. Making these legal changes is fine but the approach of the Government and the majority of parties in this House in preparing for Brexit involves a continuation of their general policy, which serves the interests of the capitalist class and big business in this country. This is primarily through the mechanism of quite neoliberal economic policies. This is what is new and what has substance in this Bill as opposed to necessary legal and technical changes. The basic thrust of the Bill is to give greater facilities to State agencies, without democratic oversight, to give subsidies to companies as a response to Brexit. That is the most essential new element of what is here. Crucially, it is from public money, without resulting in public ownership and a changed nature of the economy.
We agree absolutely on the need to prepare for Brexit but we look at this from a very different standpoint, namely, that of working-class, ordinary people in this country. It should happen at State level but my colleagues will have raised the point about having a conference of workers from across this island and Britain to prepare to resist any attempt to place the burden of Brexit on working class people. The objective would also be to protect jobs, conditions, etc. The same applies in terms of what we think a government on the left would do in preparing for Brexit. It would be different in that, instead of the thrust being increasing the capacity of the State to dole out public money to private companies, it would be to seek to say there should be no attack on workers' living standards, no unemployment and no redundancies as a result of Brexit. While public resources should be used, they should be used in a way that is linked to the idea of public ownership and a changed model of the economy, as opposed to the very unsustainable model we currently have. I propose a model fundamentally based on a socialist industrial policy and a planned economy. Some of the unsustainable aspects of the Irish economy are exposed in the current discussion.
I want to focus on a couple of specific areas. My colleagues have dealt with others. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn stated accurately that Ms Theresa May's Brexit is a "bargain basement Brexit". Unfortunately, it is a bargain basement Brexit that is supported by all the major parties in this Dáil and it represents a vision of low tax, low regulation and a race to the bottom in the interest of finance capital and a section of British capitalism. The basic approach of the Irish Government in response, definitely supported by Fianna Fáil but also by others, is to go deeper in terms of building a basement under the British Government's basement, which is extremely dangerous.
Let me draw attention to the impact of the influx of global finance companies into Ireland as a result of Brexit. According to a Financial Times special a couple of weeks ago, the Central Bank has received around 100 applications from financial firms to move here. As of January, 27 financial firms were definitely moving from London to Dublin, far ahead of Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Paris. Obviously, the Government sees it as a major success that we are managing to shift these companies to Ireland. What will be the consequence, however? The result will be a doubling down, as an economic model, of the idea of Panama on the Liffey, with the prospect of all the negative features of the so-called finance curse, like the oil curse, coming to be bear even more. According to Mr. Nicholas Shaxson, this is where an oversized financial sector comes to control the politics of a finance-dependent country and to dominate and hollow out its economy, displacing productive activities and giving great political and economic power to a small financial elite. It will also have the impact of exacerbating the housing crisis as thousands of highly paid executives move here looking for high-end rental accommodation close to the areas of the city where the jobs will be located.
We know from the banking inquiry, for example, that light-touch regulation applied to international banks in order to attract them to the IFSC was one of the major triggers for the deregulation of the domestic banks. In his evidence to the inquiry, banking expert Professor Gregory Connor testified as follows:
The IFSC … specialises in regulatory arbitrage and tax-type situations that are perhaps pushing the limits. That … is partly what offshore centres do, but it probably has been done to excesses in some cases in the IFSC. Furthermore, that tendency or philosophy washed back to the domestic economy. The regulation of financial markets in domestic Ireland was hobbled by the very light-touch approach that was one of the founding principles of the IFSC.
The former head of the banking supervision department of the Financial Regulator, Ms Mary Burke, confirmed this, explaining:
[T]he strategic decision that there should not be two different regulatory regimes - one for domestic firms and another for those in the IFSC - meant that a different approach was not taken to the domestic financial services sector. This decision was driven by a concern that the IFSC might otherwise be categorised as an off-shore centre with associated negative connotations.
Therefore, in terms of being Panama on the Liffey, there is a dynamic of pressure for renewed deregulation for the offshore sector. That pressure is likely to spread back into the domestic sector. Already in the United States, for example, most of the stronger financial regulation that was introduced in the aftermath of the financial crisis has been reversed, and there will be pressure for the same to happen here. It is likely that the same will happen here in competing for international financial investment. The IMF identified the relatively large size of the financial system, amounting to multiples of GDP, as an important reason Ireland and Iceland suffered worse financial crisis than elsewhere.
I am not saying the next crisis will be a carbon copy of the last one but it is certainly the case that Ireland's outsized financial sector, which will be even more outsized as a result of the Government's response to Brexit, makes the Irish economy more vulnerable to financial crises than less financialised economies. This whole approach is mistaken. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to make Ireland even more of a finance centre, we should take the finance and banking systems into real democratic public ownership under workers' control and utilise them as a public utility in the interests of the economy and society as a whole, channelling the resources that exist into productive, rather than speculative, investments. A publicly owned financial system could be the bedrock for planning in a democratic way the necessary transition of the Irish agrifood sector from the polluting, greenhouse-gas-heavy industry dominated by meat and dairy to a green horticultural economy, for example.
That brings me to my second point, which relates precisely to the agriculture sector, which is an example of an unsustainable model that is overly exposed. This applies to finance but it also applies to agriculture. The agrifood sector is most unsustainable in the context of the environmental crisis. The sector is the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the economy.
It is simply unsustainable to continue on the basis of 10 million cows in Ireland. It has also had economic consequences and has left that sector and the jobs associated with it extremely exposed with the likely collapse of beef and dairy exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
How can a conversion take place in our model of agriculture? The roles of public ownership and the State are central. We should take the major agrifood companies, such as Kerry Group, Total Produce, Greencore, Glanbia etc. into public ownership and use them to restructure the agricultural sector and point it in a different direction. We should also change the model of grants currently given out in order to consistently incentivise a shift towards a different type of farming without any loss of income for small and medium farmers.
I want to make a couple of points about the political situation in Britain, which obviously has significance for how things play out and affect ordinary people in this country. Solidarity-People Before Profit has always said that the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Government with a leftist and socialist programme had the potential to transform the discussion about Brexit and reopen negotiations on a different basis. Different proposals would result in no borders to trading relationships and discussions being conducted in a very different fashion. Such discussions would reach over the heads of the likes of Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and Emmanuel Macron to ordinary people across Europe who oppose fiscal rules such as those in the Maastricht treaty and the austerity that has been imposed. Those people are also opposed to the militarism and the lack of democracy of the EU. They are in favour of agreeing a new deal across Europe and popularising ideas that are a part of a vision for a socialist Europe. That is the best possible outcome for ordinary people in this country as well.
The first thing that must happen to get to that point is for Theresa May's Government to fall and a general election to be called. That requires parliamentary manoeuvres and mobilisation from below by the trade union movement, Corbyn and others, to demand that Prime Minister May goes. The Labour Party needs to enter that election with a leftist programme without repeatedly conceding to the Blairites. In that context, the past week has been a bad week for British politics and therefore for politics here. It started with the Blairites walking away from the Labour Party, which was no problem. They were always out to damage Corbyn and chose the best moment to do so. Good riddance to them because they did not agree with the policies that Corbyn represented. The line taken started well and was that these people were elected on the Corbyn programme for the many, not the few, that they should stand down and there should be by-elections. Unfortunately, that narrative then shifted because of pressure applied by the Blairites who remain within the Labour Party and that was the beginning of significant concessions.
Two significant mistakes have been made this week and should be reversed. The first mistake was the shift in the Labour Party position to say it is now in favour of a second referendum with the option of remaining within the EU. That is a disastrous position because it potentially allows the Tory Party to present itself as the only party that will respect the outcome of the previous referendum. If a second referendum was to take place, regardless of the result, it would lay the basis for a deep alienation in British society and an opening for the far right. Corbyn should be uniting the working class, those who voted to leave and remain, behind the idea that the original referendum result would be respected while questioning the type of Brexit they want and in whose interest it would be. I refer to the point about a left and socialist exit.
The second mistake was Corbyn's move to suspend Chris Williamson, MP, effectively for telling the truth about the role of the attacks on the Labour Party and the mistakes made by a section of the leadership of the Labour Party in apologising and retreating. The reaction to that confirmed everything Chris Williamson was saying and that is disastrous. It shows that the Blairites and the right wing in the media and elsewhere will continue an unrelenting attack on Corbyn and a left leadership of the Labour Party because they do not want a left Government to come to power in Britain. It is a mistake to retreat and to suspend Chris Williamson at a time when the Blairites are the ones who should be suspended.
The ordinary members of the Labour Party who joined in support of Corbyn's left programme should be listened to, not the various backbench Blairites. I send my solidarity to Chris Williamson. The left, socialist, labour movement needs to mobilise to prevent what has been a week of retreats by the Corbyn leadership becoming a rout and a negative turning point for the prospects and potential of the Corbyn leadership and the popularity of socialist policies in Britain.
It did not take the Deputy long to turn against Jeremy Corbyn.
Let us get back to Brexit.
I thank Members of the House for their time and engagement over the past three days. Brexit poses an unprecedented challenge for Ireland and the ongoing uncertainty we are facing only serves to increase the scale of this challenge as we prepare ourselves for several possible outcomes. The unity and common purpose demonstrated by all the political parties in dealing with this challenge has been valuable to me, as someone who is trying to co-ordinate that response. I look forward to further detailed engagement by Ministers with Deputies on each line of the Bill in the course of next week’s Committee Stage. Afterwards the Bill will go to the Seanad for Second Stage. Committee and Report Stage are scheduled for the week of 11 to 14 March, which will also be a week when much may happen in Westminster. This timeline allows for commencement orders and other secondary legislation arising to be enacted in time for 29 March should that be necessary.
The Government’s focus remains on ratifying the withdrawal agreement that has been agreed between the EU and the UK. This remains the best way to ensure an orderly UK exit. Should the UK formally request an extension to Article 50, Ireland would be open to such a request. As part of the EU 27, we would need to carefully consider such a request, taking into account the reasons for, and duration of, a possible extension, as well as the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions throughout that period. Contacts continue between the EU and the UK on finding a way to facilitate the ratification process in Westminster. Notwithstanding this week's developments, given the ongoing uncertainty in the UK, we are obliged to continue to move forward with our no-deal preparations.
At home, in addition to the important debate in this House, this week saw the launch of a new Government Brexit information website, www.gov.ie/Brexit, which is a one-stop-shop for citizens and businesses who have questions about what they can do now to prepare. The negative implications of Brexit across a range of economic sectors in Ireland have been repeatedly outlined. All our preparations are focused on minimising to the greatest extent possible the negative impacts that we would face should the UK choose to leave with no deal. We have to recognise, however, that it will not be possible to eliminate or mitigate all risk. A vast array of work across sectors is under way at EU level. Ireland's preparedness work very much fits into this wider EU picture. This reflects one of our principal underlying mitigation measures, which is the fact that we are remaining in the EU. Business will continue to benefit from all the stability, certainty, predictability and solidarity associated with our EU membership and remaining in the Single Market.
With regard to mitigation measures not encompassed in primary legislation, in response to some of the main themes which emerged during the debate, I want to focus on physical infrastructure and related staffing measures, business supports, agrifood and fishing. The majority of contingency planning work in these areas is not directly addressed in the Bill for the simple reason that legislation is not required to carry out this work.
On physical infrastructure and related staffing measures, to ensure east-west trade continues as smoothly as possible, we are developing the additional physical infrastructure needed at our ports and airports. Work on temporary facilities is under way at Dublin and Rosslare ports. The Revenue Commissioners will have 400 additional customs staff trained and in place by the end of March 2019. It can recruit an additional 200 by the end of 2019. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is implementing the necessary steps to facilitate potentially increased sanitary and phytosanitary controls while deploying approximately 230 people as part of its Brexit response. The Department of Health is recruiting an extra 61 environmental health staff. We remain in close contact with other EU member states, including France, the Netherlands and Belgium, which will also be strongly affected by the UK’s departure. We have also engaged in depth with the European Commission and affected member states on the continued operation of the landbridge in all Brexit scenarios. Those contacts are continuing and are making good progress.
Several Deputies commented on the question of business supports and state aids in a no-deal Brexit context. While the Government has already introduced a wide range of supports for business, we know that a no-deal Brexit would have severe consequences for Irish businesses. In a no-deal scenario, the Government is committed to doing more to provide businesses and key sectors with the support needed to mitigate the impacts as far as is possible. There are signs of increased preparations by business for a no-deal scenario, with Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia reporting significant uptake in the level of engagement from business with the supports they provide.
Revenue advises there has been a 330% increase in customs registration economic operator registration and identification, EORI, applications in February 2019 over the comparable figure for January. EORI applications are currently at approximately 100 per day, a significant number.
On the question of state aids, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has been proactively engaging with the European Commission for some time to find solutions to assist Irish enterprises. A technical group was established and has achieved results which benefit our Irish businesses. Members should be in no doubt that the Government is continuing actively to pursue the question of further state aid flexibilities which would be needed in a no-deal scenario. Just last week, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, announced an amendment to the rescue and restructuring scheme budget from €20 million to €200 million. This scheme is an important safety net for Irish businesses and the increased budget is prudent as part of our overall contingency plan for Brexit. In a further welcome announcement last week, the European Commission gave state aid approval for national investment in an Irish cheese producing company, the Carbery Group, a company I know well.
As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, set out in his contribution last night, Ireland is in close contact with the European Commission, including the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, on the challenges for the agrifood and fisheries sectors. The Commissioner is keenly aware of the unique exposure of the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors to the threat of a disorderly Brexit. Ireland has stressed the need to deploy market response measures, including exceptional aid, under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, to provide necessary supports to Ireland’s agrifood sectors. When the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine met the Commissioner last month, he reiterated the EU’s readiness to respond and support Ireland. The Government will not abandon Irish agriculture in the context of Brexit, regardless of what happens.
Several Deputies raised concerns over driving licences. Holders of British and Irish driving licences can continue to use these licences to travel to visit one another’s countries, both North and South on the island and east and west with Great Britain. However, there is a specific issue regarding holders of UK driving licences resident in Ireland. They should now move quickly to exchange their British driving licence for an Irish licence before the UK leaves the EU, as there would be an issue if the UK leaves without a deal.
With regard to motor insurance, the industry has taken several precautionary measures to print and prepare a large number of green cards which may be necessary in the case of no-deal Brexit. This is a prudent contingency plan in the absence of a broader agreement.
Several Deputies noted the text of the Bill, as published, differs from that of the heads of the Bill published in January. This reflects the intense engagement between Departments and the Attorney General’s office in the interim. For example, all the proposed aims of the longer initial draft of Part 2 on healthcare are encompassed by the shorter version now proposed. Similarly, although there is no longer a Part dealing with rail transport on the island, work is continuing with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure the Enterprise train service continues to operate smoothly between Dublin and Belfast. Specific legislative provision at this stage, however, is not necessary. Deputies will have the opportunity to engage with the relevant Ministers on these issues on Committee Stage next week.
Deputies have noted the range of measures in the Bill to facilitate in an operational way the shift to the UK being a third country. Deputy Howlin made two points relating to Parts 2 and 6. I reassure the Deputy that the Bill and all its Parts has been prepared in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and on the basis of legal advice from that office. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, can address the Deputy’s concerns in more detail, if necessary.
Deputies Boyd Barrett and Bríd Smith expressed concerns about the tax measures in the Bill. These measures are not intended to create or extend so-called loopholes for multinational companies. Deputies will note that a limited number of corporation tax measures are being introduced in the Bill. These are focused on maintaining the status quo in the immediate aftermath of a disorderly Brexit for bona fide transactions entered into by Irish businesses.
Several Deputies mentioned the important question of recognition of professional qualifications in the context of Brexit. This will largely be taken forward, in the first instance, via the relevant Irish and UK recognition bodies. In one or two areas, specific issues have arisen which require legislative amendment. In this context, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Energy will introduce a technical enabling provision on Committee Stage to ground regulations for the recertification of companies and individuals working on fluorinated gas equipment under the EU fluorinated gas regulation. This approach is intended to be similar to that already included in the Bill in respect of pilotage exemption certificates in Part 9. It will ensure those working in this area can continue to do so and get the certification in law.
The Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and supporting North-South co-operation and the all-island economy have been key priorities in the Government’s approach throughout the Article 50 process. North-South co-operation arrangements bring tangible benefits to the daily lives of people in the Border region on the island of Ireland as well as contributing to economic opportunity and development. These priorities are reflected in the withdrawal agreement in the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. They also underpin several provisions in this Bill.
Some Deputies suggested this legislation should make reference to the Border. I can assure the House that the Government is not preparing for a hard border. There is no secret plan. Ireland and the European Union are at one on this issue. The European Union has been clear that it is determined to do all it can, regardless of circumstances, to avoid the need for a border and protect the peace process. If the United Kingdom chooses to leaves the European Union without a deal, Ireland and the Union will have responsibilities in ensuring the protection of the Single Market and the customs union. The United Kingdom will have its own responsibilities, including meeting WTO requirements. We will all have our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to ensure peace and stability in Northern Ireland. No matter what the outcome to Brexit is, Ireland will continue to be a full member of the European Union, with all of the benefits of the Single Market and the customs union. When the United Kingdom committed to the backstop in December 2017, it also committed to respecting the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.
I again thank Members for their time and engagement in the Second Reading of the Bill. The legislation is an essential part of our preparedness work. It will provide for continuity in key arrangements with the United Kingdom, protect Irish citizens and support the economy, enterprise and jobs in key economic sectors. To end on a more positive note, the Bill, very importantly, will also put in place necessary measures for the application of a transition period under the withdrawal agreement which we hope to see ratified by the United Kingdom, I hope as early as in the next few weeks. Only then will we be able to start work on the agreement that will frame our future relationship which we want to ensure will be as close and as comprehensive as possible.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
On Tuesday, 5 March.
Is that agreed? Agreed.