Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Statements

I am grateful for the opportunity to again brief the Dáil on developments on Brexit. There have been significant shifts in British politics over the summer impacting on Brexit but before focusing on developments, it is worth recalling the priorities which have shaped the Government's approach to Brexit negotiations from the outset. These were: the need to protect the Northern Ireland peace process; maintaining the common travel area; minimising the impact on trade and the economy; influencing the future of the European Union and maintaining a strong Ireland-UK relationship. Throughout this process, we have maintained a remarkably consistent approach and have worked with a broad range of stakeholders, at home and across the EU, to minimise the impacts for our citizens and businesses as much as possible. It remains the case that Brexit presents a unique and unprecedented challenge for Ireland. Its impact, particularly in the case of no deal, will be considerable.

Turning now to the state of play in the EU-UK talks, in December 2018 the EU and UK agreed a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration. As it stands, the best way to ensure an orderly Brexit remains through that withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement is a fair and balanced outcome that addresses the key concerns of both sides. It also allows us to move on to building the strongest possible future relationship with the UK after its departure. Despite what we are hearing from London and elsewhere, the EU has demonstrated a significant degree of flexibility and compromise to date. We also always negotiated in good faith. The Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, has stated that he is seriously looking for a deal, along with his firm determination to leave the EU on 31 October. His visit to Dublin last week was helpful, as was his meeting earlier this week with President Juncker. We welcome the intensification of discussions between the European Commission and the UK. However, meetings are not enough. The UK must match its stated aspirations with actions. It is now vital that the UK side bring forward proposals for the EU side to consider. The UK has communicated its wish to remove the backstop but has made no concrete proposals on how to replace it in order to achieve the same outcomes, with the same legal certainty.

Ireland and our EU partners stand by the withdrawal agreement. However, we are also committed to finding a way forward. We want to be helpful. We are willing to consider proposals that might break the impasse so long as they provide the same operational and legal protections as the backstop. Ireland cannot move away from an agreed negotiated position to an unknown and untested solution. That is simply a non-starter. This approach is fully supported by our EU partners and it is important to recall that the backstop has had the support of a cross-community majority of the people of Northern Ireland since it was negotiated. The Government continues to maintain close contact with the Commission and other EU partners. I have had the opportunity over the past few weeks to speak with Michel Barnier and to meet with EU colleagues to reflect on where things are going. The unity of the EU 27 remains strong and intact. We continue also to engage with the UK. As well as the Taoiseach meeting the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, I have, in recent weeks, met the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, and Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, on many occasions, as well as with Michael Gove. While we have plenty to discuss, we are very clear with our UK counterparts that Brexit negotiations cannot be bilateralised and must be conducted with the Commission.

Much of the focus of the debate, particularly in the House of Commons, has been on the backstop. A key priority for Ireland, which is shared by our EU partners, has been the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement, and to protect the EU's Single Market and Ireland's place in it, now and in the future. In December 2017, the EU and the UK set out their shared understanding of what needed to be addressed regarding the Border, and they made commitments in how to address that. This was the basis for the backstop, contained within the withdrawal agreement, recognising the importance of avoiding a hard Border to the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the UK's red lines. It followed the intensive mapping of North-South co-operation and months of detailed forensic negotiations on isolating only the elements of the Single Market and customs union necessary to avoid a hard Border. The backstop is the only viable solution on the table that avoids any physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, fully protects the Good Friday Agreement and North-South co-operation and preserves the all-island economy, as well the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland's place in it. No one has yet come up with any alternatives aimed at avoiding a hard Border that match what is safeguarded by the backstop.

This is far more than an economic issue. It is a guarantee that there is a clear plan and commitment to engage temporary, minimal measures to preserve the delicate balance of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, if needed. The European Union set stable, predictable foundations for trade in goods and services, freedom of movement, questions of equality and of rights, citizenship and identity, cultural and educational exchanges and cross-Border co-operation on this island. Many areas of North-South co-operation expressly rely on our common EU framework and the avoidance of a hard Border, including related customs or regulatory checks and controls. In areas from agriculture, environment and transport to health, education and tourism, cross-Border co-operation and community ties will be undermined by a no-deal Brexit or by any approach that does not have the level of safeguards and protections provided by the backstop.

The idea of an all-island sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, area has been floated. The alignment of SPS rules should form part of any solution, but would clearly not be enough by itself. Agreeing to this limited approach would have considerable negative impacts on life on both sides of the Border, without the additional regulatory alignment provided for by the protocol. This is why the backstop remains an absolutely necessary part of the withdrawal agreement and the UK proposal to completely abolish the backstop is totally unacceptable to both Ireland and the EU. We saw this again in the European Parliament today in how they voted on the debate. As Michel Barnier stated in Brussels last week, the EU remains firm on its three core objectives, namely, avoiding a hard Border on the island of Ireland, preserving the integrity of the EU Single Market, and protecting North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. It is deeply disappointing that the British Government has decided now to step back from its commitments of December 2017. Equally, its stance on the future relationship, its wish to diverge from the EU and its rejection of level playing field issues make things more problematic.

We do not want a no-deal outcome – that is clear – but neither can we afford to take the chance of undermining the Good Friday Agreement or of putting ourselves in a position where our place in the Single Market is jeopardised by unproven solutions or, worse still, future promises. As we have said all along, the backstop is an insurance policy, and we have no intention or wish to trap the UK in any arrangement against its will.

As I have made clear on many occasions, in the absence of a withdrawal agreement, there are no easy solutions. Ireland is working closely with the European Commission to address our shared twin objectives of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, and protecting the Single Market and Ireland's place in it. I refer to interim arrangements we would need to put in place in the event of no deal that do not involve physical infrastructure at the Border. These are highly politically sensitive and technically complex issues, and more precise details will not be available until discussions with the Commission reach a conclusion. We are meeting representatives of the Commission again this week to discuss that. The goal is to reach an outcome with the Commission that enables us to provide reassurance to member states that Ireland is taking sufficient steps to protect the integrity of the Single Market, thus protecting our position within it. Any arrangements for the Border in a no-deal scenario will be temporary. They cannot provide the same level of protection as the backstop, and will result in significant disruption for Northern Ireland and the all-island economy. Only the backstop can fully protect the Single Market, avoid a hard border and protect the all-island economy, which is what it sets out to do.

A no-deal Brexit will unavoidably mean far-reaching change on the island of Ireland. North-South trade would no longer be as frictionless as it is today. Tariffs would apply. The impact of customs and SPS requirements and associated checks, necessary to protect Ireland's place in the Single Market, would be significant to the operation of the all-island economy. The need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process remains central, deal or no deal. The concerns of everyone in Northern Ireland - of all communities and backgrounds and who are deeply anxious about the impact of Brexit – are a matter of genuine concern to this Government. I am referring to unionists, nationalists and those who identify as neither. As the Taoiseach made clear to Prime Minister Johnson, it remains the position that the issue of protecting the Good Friday Agreement, including the issues relating to the Border, will need to be resolved in advance of opening negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship.

A no-deal outcome will never be Ireland's or the EU’s choice. Unfortunately, prudence means this is a scenario we must plan for. We have been clear since the beginning that every form of Brexit has negative consequences, and a no-deal Brexit is the worst-case scenario. The Government has been actively preparing for Brexit for more than two years to make sure that Irish citizens and businesses are as ready as possible for all scenarios. This has the highest priority across government, and involves every Department and key agencies, in tandem with the EU.

Our consistent message has been that a no-deal Brexit will have profound implications for Ireland on all levels. This is why we have published two comprehensive contingency action plans, setting out the impact of a no-deal Brexit and the work being done to mitigate these risks and passed key legislation to protect our citizens and support the economy, enterprise and jobs in key economic sectors. Other parties have played a key role in helping us to do that. We have held over 1,200 events relating to stakeholder preparedness in all key sectors. I will be at another tomorrow night in a Border county. We provided training and financial supports to increase our customs capacity. We included dedicated measures to get Ireland Brexit ready in budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019. We continue to implement the steps laid out in the July contingency action plan update - steps to be taken between now and 31 October. These measures are working, I am glad to say. Take the example of Revenue's trader engagement programme. Since July, Revenue has contacted approximately 92,000 businesses that traded with the UK last year. It wrote to all 92,000 and I understand it had follow-up telephone calls with about 44,000 of them. This has helped to foster significant growth in the number of businesses taking the key step of registering for an EORI number. Businesses registered for EORI numbers now represent 88% of the value of import trade and 96% of the value of export trade with the UK in 2018. This approach underlines why it is so important that exposed businesses, in particular, prepare for no deal. Many have, and we are working with companies, mainly smaller ones, to ensure everyone will be ready on time. To support businesses in this, we recently launched Getting Your Business Brexit Ready - Practical Steps, a campaign that focuses on the nine steps every business, large or small, should take now to help it prepare for Brexit pragmatically.

At this week's National Ploughing Championships, a dedicated Brexit hub has been engaging with business and citizens on steps they can take. I saw it in action earlier today and I was encouraged by the level of activity and people's awareness of the issues they need to prepare for. Funding supports for businesses have been an important pillar of the Government's preparations for Brexit and dedicated measures have been made available over the last three budgets. Budget 2019 included the introduction of the future growth loan scheme, with €300 million to support strategic capital investment for a post-Brexit environment, and over €450 million in supports in previous budgets. Budget 2020, which will be in three weeks, will be based on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit, which is necessary if we are to be prudent. In that context, the Government is considering the provision of timely, targeted, temporary measures for the sectors most exposed. We know what they are. They include the fishing, tourism and hospitality, farming and agrifood sectors.

The Government is prepared for a no-deal Brexit and stands ready to support the economy in such a scenario. There is clearly no perfect level of preparation. The more time we have, the more we can do, but we have done a considerable amount to prepare the country for the disruption it may have to deal with.

We welcome the publication, at the start of this month, of the Commission's Brexit preparedness communication, including proposals to roll over the timelines for existing contingency measures in certain key areas from an Irish perspective, including on air connectivity and international road haulage. The contingency plans for air connectivity have been rolled forward until the end of October and those for haulage until the middle of July of next year, I believe. Both sets of plans have been pushed back by approximately six months.

The proposal to extend EU-level financial supports in the case of no deal to support member states and affected workers is also welcome. At the same time, our work on securing the land bridge is continuing. There are some things we can influence and some we cannot but certainly in all the areas we can influence, we have been doing that. We have been doing it effectively. The land bridge will remain a strategically important link for Ireland in order to get our products to and from the Single Market, which we value. Brexit unavoidably means, however, that the way operators use the land bridge will have to change. Physical capacity at our ports and airports has been enhanced and additional staff have been recruited. We are working with our European partners to clarify their plans for the operation of the land bridge at their ports. Despite this, as we have said in the action plan, it is likely that there will be initial delays at ports in the early weeks. I thank France, in particular, for the commitment it has made, particularly at Calais and perhaps other ports, to separate Irish and British trucks coming off ships into lanes in order to ensure that ours do not get stuck in the queues in which many from the UK will certainly be stuck, at least initially.

I again state how much we appreciate the support and advice received from people all sides of the House in respect of these complex issues. We will continue to keep the House fully informed of developments relating to this matter, which has far-reaching implications for all of us. We regret the UK's decision to leave and we believe that both parties will be diminished as a result. The fact remains, however, that the UK is due to leave the European Union and we need to prepare for that. The Government will continue to represent and protect the interests of Ireland. It is for London to decide what it intends to do next. Time is very short. However, there is still time to find sensible solutions. This Government will continue to engage in good faith to find a way forward with all involved and with all who have a stake in the outcome. Regardless of the outcome, Brexit will, come what may, bring real and significant change for us all. We continue to prepare, but we are doing so with confidence as an active and committed member state of the EU. Let us not forget that our biggest contingency in all scenarios remains our ongoing EU membership and all of the support, solidarity, and security which it brings.

I am sharing time with Deputies Haughey and Troy. With six weeks to go until 31 October, we are facing the very real threat of a no-deal Brexit. We should heed the numerous warning from many EU leaders, including Jean-Claude Juncker who warned earlier today that there is very little time left and that the risk of a no-deal is very real. Despite the persistent political instability in the United Kingdom, it is important that Ireland keeps its cool during the increasingly tense few weeks ahead. Fianna Fáil will do its part and continue to act responsibly to help provide stability during these turbulent times.

The Government must be honest and transparent regarding its preparations for the worst-case scenario, namely, a potential no-deal outcome. We still have no answer to very obvious and genuine questions and the Government continues to keep citizens and businesses in the dark about what a no-deal Brexit will mean for the Border and for trade on the island. Fianna Fáil believes the backstop to be an integral part of the withdrawal agreement and that it must remain in place. The backstop protects the Good Friday Agreement, North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. It is incumbent upon Prime Minister Johnson and the British Government, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to protect the agreement in full and to honour the commitments given in this regard. Allowing the UK to crash out of the European Union without a deal does not erase those responsibilities and the UK Government will find itself back at the negotiating table still having to solve the Border issue, address citizens' rights, and settle the withdrawal bill.

There is also an onus on the parties in Northern Ireland to restore the institutions, to get back working and to put an end to the political vacuum that has existed for more than two and half years. From an economic, social, and political perspective, a no-deal Brexit would devastate the region. Warnings have issued from many quarters that a recession could be on the cards for Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Given the make-up of the North's economy, which is structured around small and medium enterprises and the agrifood sector, and the very tight supply chains linking north with south and east with west, the effects of a no-deal Brexit on Northern Ireland would be severe and damaging. It is therefore incumbent upon the parties in Northern Ireland and the British Government to protect the North, the peace process, and all the associated benefits that have flowed from it.

It is clear to all watching and studying Brexit that a solution specific to Northern Ireland is the key to unlocking the impasse that exists. The only way to avoid checks on the island of Ireland is to have regulatory alignment for trade between the North and the South. There is no way around this reality. We have spent the last three years searching for any such alternative. More than two years ago, Fianna Fáil proposed a special economic zone for Northern Ireland as a potential solution to the Brexit difficulty. The North would continue to be part of the UK constitutionally but would also enjoy the benefits of the EU market. This is essentially what is being proposed with a Northern Ireland-specific backstop, which is a bespoke solution for the North that would give it a clear trade advantage over Great Britain and even the Republic. This has, unfortunately, been rejected by the DUP, which is looking a gift horse in the mouth. While I can, to a certain extent, understand from where the DUP is coming and while I respect its right to have its own Brexit policy, I disagree intensely with its approach and believe it is not acting in the interests of the island of Ireland. I sincerely hope that the gap that persists can be bridged in the coming weeks.

There are also significant concerns about the relationships between Ireland and the UK and between the UK and the European Union. These relationships will undoubtedly change significantly as a result of Brexit. For the very first time, the UK and Ireland will go on very different paths. There will be an impact on the geopolitical landscape, as the UK seems to move further towards the United States. That impact will be seen in the coming decades.

There must be a step change in the Government's approach to preparing for Brexit and in how it informs the public about what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The argument for keeping one's cards close to one's chest, which is that it may undermine the State's negotiating position, is now defunct. With six weeks to go, people need to know. We cannot inform businesses, citizens and farmers as to how the Border may work on 1 November; we need to get that information today. It is evident that, since March, the Government has taken its foot off the pedal in terms of preparations for Brexit outcomes. We have been playing catch-up. Information received today by way of parliamentary question shows that, with six weeks to go to Brexit, 205 businesses with imports in excess of €1 million and 60 businesses with exports in excess of €1 million still do not have EORI numbers. This needs to be addressed urgently. We also know that the Government still has not tested the robustness of systems in place at ports and airports to see if they will work in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There is now insufficient time to do so and to rectify any potential problems. This oversight is unacceptable and inexcusable.

When we ask about the funding that will be made available to vulnerable sectors such as tourism, agriculture, and haulage - a question I have continuously asked over the past two years - we are told that budget 2020 will be based on a no-deal scenario and that the Government will make provision for timely, targeted, temporary measures for the most exposed sectors. We have absolutely no clarity, however, on how much will be made available, on whether these measures will be loans or grants, and on how soon after 31 October this money will be available. Given that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has stated that he will have to borrow to fund Brexit emergency planning, we have to expect that this funding will not be available immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit. These are obvious questions that the Minister continues to avoid answering. This lack of information is only compounding the anxiety being experienced by farmers, businesses, and citizens who are looking to the Government for leadership and support.

Reports last week from Ernst & Young suggest that while our cities will continue to grow in the event of a no-deal Brexit, albeit at a slower rate, rural communities could slip into recession. That is deeply worrying. Reports from the Central Bank of Ireland suggest that one third of farms could close down in the event of a no-deal Brexit and that we are looking at potentially losing 10,000 jobs in the tourism sector. In the west, for example, tourism and agriculture are the biggest employers. We cannot sustain job losses of this magnitude. We will need direct supports, not three or six months after the fact, but immediately.

Furthermore, there is still a lack of clarity regarding how the Government plans to ensure there is no hard border on the island while protecting the integrity of the Single Market, which we all accept must be protected. Earlier today, the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, stated that the force is ready for Brexit. Have additional resources been provided to an Garda Síochána or will current resources be redirected? Again, this is a reasonable question that has not been answered. This House also requires an update on the preparedness of our Defence Forces, particularly in view of the fact that the Government has cut the Permanent Defence Force to such an extent over the past decade that it is now a skeleton operation.

It is also questionable whether it would be able to respond to emergency Brexit scenarios.

It is essential that the Government be upfront and transparent with the Oireachtas and the public about the full implications of Brexit and its level of preparedness for every sector. We need to hear further details about what the Government plans to do to rebuild the relationship with the UK and to put in place new mechanisms for the continued work, exchange and dialogue between the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, Secretaries of State and Ministers. Today, the Tánaiste admitted that the mechanisms and forums available through the EU will obviously no longer be available. We need to know the details of what forums will be available to ensure continued dialogue and engagement with our closest neighbour and nearest market.

There has been a great deal of posturing on all sides in the Brexit process over the past three years, but we all accept that politics will have failed miserably if we allow a no-deal Brexit to happen. We simply cannot wear a no-deal Brexit. It would devastate our country, our economy and the rural communities that rely on the most vulnerable sectors. We must do everything that we can to ensure that a deal is done. I dread to think of the implications for our country if a deal is not reached. Food exports of in excess of 40%, with the beef sector already in considerable difficulty, tourism and the haulage sector will all be severely impacted. I urge all parties to the Brexit process to do everything they can in the coming weeks to ensure that a deal is delivered for all citizens in Ireland, the UK and across the EU.

At the outset, I will draw the House's attention to the political stability that we in this country currently have as we come to terms with the ongoing Brexit crisis. It has to be said that Fianna Fáil has played a major role in ensuring that we have that stability at this crucial time. There are undoubtedly many reasons this country needs a change in Government now. The housing and homelessness crisis and the numerous problems in the health service are just two. The failure to provide school places and to put in place adequate services for children with special needs is another. Until the outcome of Brexit is clear, however, the country will not be served by having a general election.

The position in the Oireachtas is in sharp contrast to what is happening across the water in Westminster. Parliament has been prorogued in unusual and controversial circumstances and it seems that the democratic institutions and political parties in the UK are at breaking point as they endeavour to respond to the Brexit crisis. All we can do is look on in disbelief. We have been aghast at what we have seen in the House of Commons night after night and at what is happening at Government level.

I wish to highlight the solidarity shown to Ireland by our EU partners. From day one, the President-elect of the European Commission, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, stood with Ireland on the backstop and the reasons for it to remain as part of the withdrawal agreement. I welcome the appointment of Mr. Phil Hogan as the new Commissioner dealing with trade issues. I have no doubt that he will play a crucial role if and when we get to the stage of negotiating a new trade agreement between the UK and the EU. The EU 27 Heads of State and Government have also stood with us. The latest demonstration of this was in the past few days when the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Xavier Bettel, outlined the position clearly. He is our new hero, so to speak. The European Parliament has stood with Ireland, and I welcome the motion it passed today.

As Deputy Lisa Chambers stated, Fianna Fáil believes that the backstop is an integral part of the withdrawal agreement and must remain in place. It protects the Good Friday Agreement, North-South co-operation and the all-Ireland economy. Will the Tánaiste update the House on the current state of play regarding the informal discussions taking place with the parties in Northern Ireland, in particular the DUP, with the UK Government, including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Julian Smith, the Brexit Secretary of State, Mr. Stephen Barclay, the UK foreign Secretary, Mr. Dominic Raab, and others regarding the possibility of alternatives to the backstop and an amended deal? What exactly is under discussion and what progress has been made in respect of these talks? Is something happening? Will the Tánaiste outline the Government's position regarding the DUP? I note that its leader, Ms Arlene Foster, is in Dublin this evening. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has stated that any Brexit solution must be supported by unionists. Farming and business interests in Northern Ireland clearly want a deal. In an interview in last weekend's Sunday Independent, Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP outlined the need to agree alternative arrangements to protect cross-Border trade and co-operation in the form of practical solutions. Are meaningful discussions with the DUP under way?

Like everyone else in the House, I believe that any alternative to the backstop must be realistic, legally binding and workable. Is it the case that a Northern Ireland-only version of the backstop is being discussed? Mr. Nigel Farage informed the European Parliament today that the deal was almost done and that it would be presented at the European Council meeting of 17 October.

Does the Deputy believe him?

Any clarification that the Tánaiste can give on that comment would be greatly appreciated.

That clarifies that, then.

I am sure the Tánaiste saw "Six One News" this evening.

The Oireachtas passed the Brexit omnibus Act earlier this year, but the Taoiseach stated yesterday that further legislation would be required to allow Northern Ireland's citizens to access EU emergency healthcare after the UK leaves the EU. He also made reference yesterday to other areas that needed attention. Will there be other surprises? Is the Tánaiste satisfied that all of the issues that will arise in the event of a no-deal Brexit have been identified and that adequate responses have been initiated? Is other legislation promised in this area? To reiterate Deputy Lisa Chambers's comments on Ireland's preparations for a no-deal Brexit, they are not what they should be.

In the midst of the chaos across the water, Ireland must remain calm during the increasingly tense weeks leading up to 31 October. Fianna Fáil has acted, and will continue to act, responsibly, providing stability and space to the Government to negotiate in the best interests of our country. It was positive to see the Taoiseach being so resolute with Prime Minister Johnson on the backstop when he visited Dublin. The backstop is not only important for economic reasons, but for social and historical reasons.

While no one wants to see a crash-out, which would be catastrophic, there is a real possibility that it will happen. Not only that, but all of the uncertainty is eroding confidence. Speak to any car salesperson or auctioneer and he or she will say that no one is buying. People are stalling on making investment decisions and the market is stagnant, which is damaging our SMEs. SMEs are the most important sector of our economy, one that often cannot afford to hedge or put in place risk measures. Small and micro-sized businesses account for 85% of all Irish enterprises exporting to the UK. It is for this reason that the Government needs to be open and honest with our SME sector and give it as much detail as possible about what a no-deal Brexit means and the likely next steps in terms of trading and the knock-on effects of the UK crashing out on 31 October. SMEs are the backbone of our economy and deserve an honest Government that is prepared to tell them the facts.

Estimates of Ireland's national level of Brexit trade-related risk exposure are in the region of 10%. The current advice being provided by the Government is poor, to say the least. Consider two pieces of advice that the Government provides in the Brexit document, Getting Your Business Brexit Ready - Practical Steps. First, people should be "aware of possible changes to transport & logistics for goods transiting via the UK". We are an island that relies on a landbridge, so of course there are going to be changes. What people need to know is what those changes will be and what alternatives will be in place. Second, people should know "more about the impact on your sector". They are looking to the Government to tell them more about those impacts, but they are not being told.

It is all there.

They are being told.

These are the categories in the Government's own Brexit preparedness document. What people need to know are the exact plans if the UK crashes out or if we have an orderly Brexit. They need to know what delays they are likely to face.

Businesses need to know where the checks will be made and what effect they will have on operating margins. How much time will be needed to go through checks? These are the questions that must be answered and this is the level of hand-holding the country needs as we waver through unprecedented times.

I asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, about the issue of the landbridge and the significant challenges in terms of perishable goods and the effects of delays. He was oblivious to these difficulties. When asked, he claimed that there is sufficient capacity and was confident that, if there is not, the market will respond in a timely fashion. I do not believe that it will.

On energy, although supplies may not be disrupted, a hard Brexit would increase electricity bills for businesses and homes at a time when we already pay one of the highest rates in Europe. What is being done to bring those costs down and provide alternative energy sources?

On State access to finance, there is continuous reference to the €60 million that has been ring-fenced. However, only 11% of that funding has been availed of. Small and medium enterprises are facing many unknowns. Given the many challenges they face, they may not be able to take out a further loan for which they may be personally responsible. Our SMEs need an update on the Government's discussions with the Commission regarding access to state aid and the relaxation of the rules in that regard. They need to know what EU funding will be injected into the various sectors that would be severely challenged by a crash-out Brexit. The Government was not prepared for a crash-out Brexit on 31 March. It now has a small window of opportunity and it must accelerate its efforts.

I will be sharing time with Deputies Munster, Cullinane and Martin Kenny.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Seo muid ar ais tar éis saoire an tsamhraidh agus níl aon duine cinnte faoin mhéid a tharlóidh amach anseo maidir leis an Bhreatimeacht. Ach caithfimid bheith cinnte faoi seo: níor chóir go mbeadh aon teorainn no córas custaim i bhfeidhm in Éirinn. Returning to the Chamber after the summer recess, we are no wiser as to whether the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will take Britain out of the European Union with or without a deal. In spite of his claims, I fear he is, at best, agnostic on which option he should choose.

We must ensure that there is no form of border or customs checks in Ireland. Many citizens and businesses are frustrated by the ongoing posturing and indecision in London and the consequences this may have for this island. For those who are so frustrated and feel that there is no positive way for them to influence the situation, I wish to commend the approach taken by my party colleagues. I especially endorse the strong comments made earlier today by my colleague, Martina Anderson, MEP, who outlined a pathway for Ireland remaining in the European Union, protecting the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring that all the consequent benefits arising from it in terms of trade and enterprise are not squandered. Of course, that pathway is a referendum on Irish unity. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, recently came out in favour of unity as the way to keep all of Ireland within the European Union. There is a clear commitment from the EU that in the event of a successful unity referendum, Ireland as a whole could remain part of the European Union. We need the Government to join others and begin the preparations for such a scenario. I note that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, who is present, stated that he would like to see a united Ireland within his political lifetime. I welcome that sentiment; it is the expression and hope of most Deputies in this House. Regardless of one's age, ensuring something occurs within one's political lifetime requires imminent preparation and planning. A debate on Irish unity is needed as a solution to the Brexit chaos. We need it to be respectful of all the opinions on this island. In order for the optimum number of opinions to be heard, we need the debate to occur in advance of any proposed constitutional change.

We need the Government to identify exactly how it intends to deal with the worst-case scenario as outlined in the Operation Yellowhammer report. Recent revelations in the Yellowhammer document regarding health services show that the British Government is unwilling to listen to its own experts. Given the current rancour in the British body politic, it is difficult to have any confidence in assurances from Whitehall, let alone rely on them as part of our preparations for Brexit. That report is now a matter of common knowledge. I do not wish for the Government to take its lead from a report by the British civil service or any section of the British Government, but we need far more detail on the supports and assistance that will be available here. I join other Deputies in making that point strongly this evening.

Border communities want a far more proactive response from the Government to these latest concerns. That is not a criticism of what the Government has been doing with the support of all parties in this House but, rather, a clear expression of exasperation and fear at what may lie ahead. Those communities want their elected Government to be upfront and honest with them. They want to know what the Government is doing in preparation for what appears to be ahead of us. Ringing the warning bells in the final minutes of the countdown will not cut it. Many fear we are heading, Titanic-like, for the Brexit iceberg. That is not good enough. Our people, economy and island deserve better than the daily platitudes from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other Government spokespersons. It is time to spell out in detail the measures that will be introduced to help secure the interests of Irish business and people, especially those in the Border counties.

As representatives of Border areas, my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, and I are acutely aware of the damage that will be caused by a no-deal Brexit. Last year, the Department of Finance published a report which stated that any form of Brexit is likely to cause a structural change in the Irish economy. As such, any response needs to be structural in nature and cannot merely be about managing Brexit. Whatever form Brexit takes, it will affect the dynamics of Irish imports and exports.

In the context of infrastructure, Brexit will accelerate the current over-reliance on Dublin and its catchment area. We need a regional balance. Its lack is evident in County Louth, which I represent. Last week, I spoke to the head of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, who shared his deep concerns and frustration regarding the Dublin-Belfast and Drogheda-Dundalk-Newry corridors and the lack of information and practical business plans from the Government. We spoke about the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act. It is a preparatory Act which is now effectively out of date. Its purpose was to advise people on the preparations they needed to take. We are six weeks from a possible no-deal Brexit and we have not seen a practical Government plan for businesses. As all Members know, a no-deal Brexit would have catastrophic consequences for Border communities and counties, not to mention the entire island of Ireland.

People in the Six Counties voted to remain. The Border communities and counties, and the people of Ireland, will never accept any attempt to reinstate a hard border on our island.

In my town of Drogheda, people are sick and tired of the lack of effort and commitment the Government, and IDA Ireland, have shown to date to attract new jobs and investment for our town. To give one example, when Coca-Cola announced a review of its operations in January, I contacted the Minister asking her to do what she could to intervene to try to save the jobs but to no avail. Just last week, a US firm, MTI, closed its Irish headquarters in Drogheda after just two years. We need to see and feel the real benefit of both the Government and IDA Ireland's focused attention being put not just on Drogheda but throughout the Border counties.

I am disappointed but not surprised by the lack of progress from IDA Ireland so far. The threat of a no-deal Brexit only heightens the need for investment, not just in Louth but in every other county across the island. Drogheda has lost out on enough over the years and has had massive underinvestment as matters stand. This makes it even more imperative that we retain the jobs we have already. We need to invest to tackle the threat of Brexit but also to allow County Louth in particular to develop as a centre for jobs and education.

Brexit has exposed the incredible laziness of this Government, and previous Governments, in terms of planning in the State. The default position, which has been to simply pile everything within the confines of the M50 corridor and hope for the best, has to change. It is blindingly obvious that any action planned for Brexit must allow for regions to develop as that is the only sustainable project possible. That means investment, jobs and allowing communities to survive and thrive. It means a future for the main streets of regional towns like Dundalk and Drogheda.

We know that Brexit will be used by the Government, and Fianna Fáil, to withhold investment where it is most needed. It will do this because it is not interested in public service but private profit for the well connected. The challenge of Brexit is not only to mitigate its effects but to ensure it is not used as a Trojan horse for the further dismantling of our shared social services and infrastructure.

At a time when corporate tax receipts continue to exceed expectations, the State is in a position to invest in essential non-recurring projects needed across society. In no area is this approach more needed than the severe shortage of housing. The State cannot continue to be a cash cow for corporate landlords and speculators. We need to make rents more affordable and start building houses. Education and research are key to future productivity and growth. We need a jobs and investment plan from IDA Ireland that is more regional in scope than what exists today.

In June 2016, when we woke up one morning and found out that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, I do not believe any of us fully expected what would unfold over the two and a half years that followed. Many of us who watched the referendum campaign in Britain, and some of us who campaigned for the North to stay in the European Union and to keep the entire island in the European Union for all the understandable reasons, including to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border, knew what the implications would be for Ireland. We knew that the utopian Brexit that was sold to people in Britain was a pack of lies that would come crashing down around the ears of those who had delivered that message.

In many respects it was amazing to see what unfolded. When Project Yellowhammer was published last week, it referred to medicine shortages, food shortages and delays at ports in Britain. It stated that the most vulnerable in society would be the ones who would pay the biggest price. It refers to the consequences for Ireland and a hard border, yet there are still some people who believe that is the best option rather than facing up to the reality that the Brexit utopian dream they were promised would never be a reality.

Collectively, as politicians in this House and in the North where a majority of politicians favour a more sensible approach and argue for the North to stay in the customs union and the Single Market, we have had to deal with the various crises within the British Tory Party. I happen to believe, and I have said it on several occasions, that the Tánaiste has done a very good job negotiating with his European partners in getting the Irish protocol and the backstop. I am very proud that we in this State and certainly the political parties and the vast majority of politicians, although not all of them, did not support Brexit. A small number in this House were comfortable to support Brexit, albeit a different type of Brexit. If we contrast that unity and the approach that was taken here in Ireland with what is happening in Westminster, within both the Tory Party and the Labour Party, we can be proud of what we achieved.

The problem is that we were not always in control. We are veering towards a hard crash, not because of anything we have done or not done but because we have a British Prime Minister who is reckless and always knew that, rather than utopian, the outcome was going to be dystopian. Some are thriving in the chaos because they want people to believe that the people in Ireland, the Irish Government and Europe are at fault. According to them, the reason Brexit is being frustrated is not that the British people were sold a pup but the result of what is happening in Europe or Ireland. All of that is very disingenuous but it is also very harmful.

What we must do at this crucial time is hold our nerve. There is a great deal of pressure on the European Union and Ireland because people do not want to see a hard crash but the alternative is to have some sort of compromise that will not work. I do not believe one can compromise with Boris Johnson or the hard right in the Tory Party. They have to come forward with the solutions but they have not done so, yet we are the ones who are now paying the price.

There have been comments from both Fianna Fáil and from some of my colleagues about Brexit preparedness. The Government will argue its corner, while others will say we should do more. We are at a critical stage in this process. We have watched the drama unfold over two and a half years. We have all gone through this journey collectively and in an honourable way to get to the point we are at now. While we reach this critical stage over the next few weeks, it is very important that we maintain that political consensus while standing up for the interests of the people of Ireland and make sure that we are not the ones who will pay a price because of the foolhardy and selfish politics we have seen from Boris Johnson and his colleagues in the past number of years.

As the Tánaiste is aware, the Brexit situation is getting worse, not better. That is the general consensus. We saw the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, here in Dublin last week. His visit was all bluff and bluster. In the European Parliament today, Nigel Farage engaged in a very similar act, which played out as if his party's MEPs were in a theatre, rather than discussing issues that are affecting the lives of British citizens and citizens across Europe, particularly in Ireland.

The central issue in all of this is that Brexit was conceived and born in the British Parliament, yet the British Parliament has disassociated itself from it. It is everyone's fault except that of its own members. The problems we are most concerned about are cross-Border issues. I was given an example the other day when speaking to somebody in the health service here who was sending a person to Northern Ireland for a particular service that is not available here.

One of the issues they have at the moment is that the contracts that are in place are based on overarching EU contracts. For instance, the whole issue around data protection and patient confidentiality is uncertain in this regard in the event of a hard Brexit, which is only a few weeks away. These are real things which affect real people's lives here.

The whole issue of border controls is something that comes up all of the time. Speaking to people in the part of the world where I come from, nobody is prepared to accept border controls returning the way they were before under any circumstances. That is the clear view of people without anyone having any political axe to grind. They simply do not and will not accept it, no matter who or where they are. That is something that needs to be clearly set out.

The backstop is there as simply a minimum level of regulatory alignment which we can put in place in the absence of or until a full or comprehensive agreement is in place. While the British Government, the DUP and others are fighting this big battle about the backstop, the truth is that the backstop will never be necessary if they come to a proper agreement in its aftermath. It is all a false war. It brings us to a situation where we have to ask when we reach October and go into the new year, we may have a crash-out or we may not, but whatever we have we are going to have a Brexit, and it is not going to be good for Ireland.

There are going to be difficulties as we move into the future. As a society we need to be examining the future of Ireland, North and South. In that context, one of the things that the Government clearly needs to do is to set up a cross-party Oireachtas committee to look at what the future of Ireland will be and where we are going. What kind of Ireland would we like to see if and when we have a border poll, because clearly one is going to happen at some point. Everybody is talking about it, even if people in this House do not want to talk about it. It is coming. We need to sit down and work out what sort of transition arrangements we want to put in place. How will that be funded? Where would the European Union come into this? As it assisted with the reunification of Germany, how would it assist with the reunification of Ireland? How would we set out the kind of principles that would be in place to protect the identity of everyone on the island? These are the kinds of conversations that we need to start having now. It is time this Government put in place an Oireachtas committee to deal with those issues and to start that conversation which everyone else is having. It really has to be had, however, centrally here so that we can put in place something so that the Irish people can see that their future is secure. That security is going to be in a new Ireland in which we can all be part of a European Union.

Throughout the tortuous Brexit process, I have been heartened by the solidarity and support shown to Ireland by other members of the European Union. At the beginning, Brexit was potentially a challenge to the stability of the European Union itself. The economic strain of Brexit could have led to a breakdown of co-operation between some member states. It has become clear, however, that European governments and peoples are prioritising the long-term future of our Union over the short-term economic problems that virtually all member states will face in the post-Brexit situation. The EU's negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Heads of Government across Europe, have spoken eloquently and frequently about their awareness of Ireland's concerns about the backstop and the withdrawal agreement. They have insisted that a genuine solution must be at the heart of any settlement in ensuring a border-free island of Ireland.

It is also clear that if a solution to Ireland's concerns cannot be found before the UK leaves the EU, a solution will have to be found before the EU signs any future trade agreement with the British Government. It seems to be an impenetrable fact, the notion that people repeatedly talk in Britain about "getting it over with", "getting it done", as if magically, if they leave the European Union on 31 October, all of the problems vanish, no matter how many times it is pointed out that the issues remain unaddressed the next day and will be there in terms of any future trade agreement. That either has not penetrated or people have simply chosen to ignore it.

The North-South dimension of Ireland's concerns has rightly been prioritised for its impact on the outworking of the Good Friday Agreement and the disruption of people's lives and livelihoods that would be caused by any notion of anything that might approach a hard border again. As 31 October draws near, however, we also must attend to the huge economic problems that will result from the east-west dimensions of Brexit. Many colleagues have spoken about so far in this debate about Border constituencies, which obviously is of prime consideration to us. I live in a border constituency too. The border I talk about is between Ireland and Wales. My home in Wexford is closer to Wales than it is to Dublin. That is an important conduit of trade. East-west is also of great significance.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach was very coy about the level of economic analysis undertaken by the Government. He referenced some publications in response to questions I put to him which estimate that future job growth will slow by 40,000 to 50,000 jobs in future years. That is very different from the recent report by Fáilte Ireland, published earlier in September, that 10,000 existing jobs in tourism could be lost in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The slowdown in potential new jobs is a very different prospect to people in employment right now losing their jobs.

From talking to trade union officials through the summer who are at the coalface of industry, I am aware of manufacturing businesses that have already ceased overtime and have laid off temporary workers or workers on temporary contracts because of Brexit and are fearful about the future. I have said this to the Tánaiste directly before in the last week or so. Brexit is already having a jobs consequence in manufacturing. Repeatedly, even in the debate so far tonight, the obvious sectors of agrifoods and tourism have been focused upon. I am talking, however, about industrial manufacturing that has not been put in the spotlight in a way that it will be if there is a hard Brexit. The Taoiseach said yesterday that the Government does not have the equivalent of Britain's Operation Yellowhammer report analysing the economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit. It is simply not credible that the Government does not have a more detailed economic analysis showing the real potential job losses that would arise in our economy in six weeks' time. Have we not drilled down to know in exactly the same way as the British have, what the consequences would be right across every sector of our economy? This is an example of why the Labour Party believes that the Government and Fine Gael have been too passive in their impact analysis.

Every quarter, the Central Statistics Office contacts every employer with more than 50 workers, together with a selection of smaller businesses, in order to conduct the Earnings and Labour Costs Quarterly Survey which is tied in to the annual gathering of facts across our economy. A team of civil servants should already have telephoned the same range of businesses - in fact it should cover every business in the country - to ask them about their Brexit-readiness, if it is already impacting, and what they fear. Is it supply lines, export markets or currency fluctuation? We should know, enterprise by enterprise, what the impact will be. It is not too late for the Government to do just that. Is the Tanáiste indicating that the Government has done that already?

Deputy Humphreys's Department has issued a report into Brexit-readiness.

No, it has not. Writing to businesses-----

Assessing the impact is difficult until we know what type of Brexit we are going to have.

I welcome the interaction with the Tánaiste.

I have talked to trade union officials who have sat down with managers in these companies across the country, manufacturers who have told them that this will be the consequence but nobody has told them how that consequence is to be adverted. Asking people to register, inviting people to seminars and telling people there is information online is all well and good but it is not the same as having the real knowledge of every enterprise and the impact this will have. It is insufficient to expect companies to come to Government in a passive way. The Government needs to reach out actively and know about this on an enterprise by enterprise basis. We need fine-grained information so that we can build robust, bespoke solutions for the jobs that are under threat already and that will be vastly more under threat in the event of a no-deal Brexit. That is simply a reality. If we had that information, we would be better prepared. We would know what we need to deploy and how we need to deploy it.

The Taoiseach has been unforthcoming about the kinds of supports that will be made available. Yesterday, in his answers to question we put in the House, he talked about viable businesses being eligible for support. That is the phrase he used, but he indicated the nature of that support would be either loans to businesses or funding to support businesses to restructure. What does he mean by restructuring in that context? Does he mean reducing the size of workforces? If that is it, that is not an acceptable approach. As for debt and loans, many businesses in trouble cannot take on new debt, which would be attached to business owners on a personal basis in many instances.

We have a different approach to how we should support jobs during this difficult period. First and foremost, we need detailed information and real management information enterprise by enterprise. Second, we need to be clear on our goal, which must be to preserve as many jobs as possible through the inevitable difficulties that will arise in a no-deal Brexit. Third, we need to prepare direct financial supports to businesses that will need to keep their staff in employment. There are EU rules to be respected. I understand that but, equally, there are European precedents about emergency situations. The Tánaiste has repeatedly told us that the EU is in negotiations about these matters. We need to know what exactly will be agreed in regard to state aid rules, what exactly is the quantum of money that will be available and how will it be deployed.

It was wrong of the Taoiseach to talk about some businesses being viable and others not being so. There will be businesses that will be in trouble for as long as the UK remains outside the Single Market. That is an inescapable fact but that is not a fair measure of their viability or success because we can hope that we will have a new deal ultimately with the United Kingdom in coming months or, if necessary, in coming years. It is highly unlikely the UK will trade with the EU only on the basis of World Trade Organization terms for an extended period. I do not believe that it will sustain that for months, as the economic consequences for it would be very stark. We must assume, in any event, the UK - I hope rationality will ultimately be at play there - will return to the table for some kind of trade deal with the EU. It has to: it is a trading nation like ourselves and it needs to deal on some rational basis with the biggest trading bloc in the world. The Government should therefore be preparing to support jobs during what I would describe as a limited period of difficulty when the UK is outside the Single Market and not yet in a new negotiated trade agreement, assuming that the UK does crash out of the EU as Prime Minister Johnson has threatened again and again. There will be a time limit and a financial cap on the potential cost of the supports I am suggesting.

The Taoiseach said something yesterday with which I agreed, namely, that if we need to borrow money, it would be much better to borrow that money to sustain people in jobs than to pay for people on social welfare. However, there is a still a lot of detail to be clarified about the mechanisms we need to deploy to preserve jobs in this period of crisis. The Taoiseach is far from echoing Mario Draghi's very comforting and famous phrase: "we will do whatever it takes". The Tánaiste will remember our time in government when the advent of Mario Draghi was like a breath of fresh air because he was there to sustain our currency and, ultimately, ourselves. We need to be as unambiguous as Mario Draghi was. We should do whatever it takes to preserve jobs and to avoid a nightmare repeat of the job losses that followed the most recent economic collapse here.

Brexit will affect businesses in a number of different ways, each of which will require a different type of support. Most obviously, we export a huge amount of food to Britain, which may become subject to tariffs or even quotas: we do not know. Exports to Britain are also vulnerable to the UK opening up its markets to other non-EU sources such as cheaper meat from South America or elsewhere. The fall in the value of sterling and the risk of currency fluctuations is yet another concern. The tourism and hospitality sectors are obviously affected by the loss of British tourists. That may well become a real issue, particularly if sterling depreciates significantly. Some of our other overseas visitors also transit through Britain to avail of connecting flights.

Some businesses will be more badly affected by the potential for tariffs on imports from Britain. That will not only add to the price of well known brands on the supermarket shelves but many Irish manufacturers are part of international supply chains. They rely on British components as part of goods they process and finish in Ireland, either for domestic sale or onward export from Ireland.

Brexit will not only affect our direct exports to the UK. It will affect the wider economy in any number of other ways. The nature of supports businesses will need will vary accordingly. For example, one possibility would be a short-time working scheme, which we would negotiate with employers and trade unions to reduce hours across particular vulnerable workforces without making anybody redundant. The State's role would be to provide a payment to bridge the gap between the employer's short-time wages and the people's regular take home pay. That would work for some businesses. It was a model employed in Germany. We did not have the capacity to do it here but we should prepare for that now. Other businesses may need more specific support such as language support to help them access markets in Europe other than the ones they reply upon in the UK, or a scheme to lower the risk from currency fluctuations.

Labour is clear. The Government must do whatever it takes to preserve jobs. There are many regions of Ireland that still have not recovered from the economic collapse. That is quite obvious in some sectors of our economy, namely, the beef sector which is most in focus now and also our sheep sector. Rural areas and small towns are more vulnerable to Brexit related job losses than our cities, a point that was already made by previous speakers. That is why we need to reassure people that as a Parliament and a Government we will do what we can to keep people at work and to avoid any return to the dark days of mass unemployment from which we have just escaped in recent years.

I want to say more about the core issue of jobs because it is something that needs to be said. Contrary to some of the commentary coming from Government and echoed in some elements of the media, we have not reached full employment in this economy. The Irish market is highly precarious. Not everyone who wants a job in Ireland can get a job and not everyone who gets a job can afford to live because the salary scales are so low. Unemployment is over 6% in some regions and over 8% in my own region of the south east.

Over 100,000 people are working part-time and would like full-time hours. We also have a significantly lower employment rate than countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands. In particular, there is still a large gap between male and female employment rates, exacerbated by the high cost of childcare in Ireland because parenting duties so often traditionally have fallen on mothers.

Moreover, even in regions where unemployment is lower, not all jobs are good enough to justify any claim of full employment. No fewer than 23% of all workers are designated as "low paid" by the OECD. This is the third highest incidence of low pay in the European Union, and the highest rate of low pay in developed western Europe.

This is the state of our labour market in advance of Brexit. The economy has recovered somewhat from the devastating 2008 collapse, unemployment is no longer at extreme levels but we have not yet arrived at the point where there are sufficient decent jobs for everybody in the State who wishes to work. Brexit risks making the situation much worse. That is why it is so important that the Government gets a better handle on this jobs issue, in a detailed way and, I hope, guided by the way I have set out. The extent of low pay and precariousness in the labour market — regardless of Brexit — is why we need to have a renewed national wages policy and an employment policy. Regardless of Brexit, working people need a pay rise and people in precarious jobs - especially young people — need greater job security. If a hard Brexit occurs in six weeks' time, we must ensure that issue is not used as an excuse to delay making the much-needed improvements to workers' rights, pay and conditions as I fear the Government might well do.

We all hope that the worst will not happen but we need to prepare for it now. The signals coming from Westminster are constantly changing. I will be attending the British Labour Party conference this weekend and I hope to have detailed talks with the key players in that party. They will play their role, but we must do our bit to ensure that whatever outcome emerges from London - the ball, as the Tánaiste has rightly said, is in London's court - we are prepared here.

There are eight Deputies in three political groupings followed by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to conclude over the next hour and 20 minutes. I am conscious that Deputy Durkan is present. Any Member or group wishing to share time with Deputy Durkan might let me know. I call Deputy Bríd Smith.

Deputy Durkan is welcome to any time I have left because I do not believe I will use up the 20 minutes.

I thank the Deputy.

It is probably just me, but I find there is something extraordinarily ironic and surreal about this debate in this House tonight on the impact of Brexit on this country. We are talking about having to cut this and that, about how jobs would be lost and services curtailed and about the need to save funds. It is a bit like a throwback to the dire warnings of the austerity years. If only we had access to some sources of income to help us through this potential danger. If only we could get our hands on, for example, €14.3 billion, which is subject to a court case as we speak in Europe. I refer to money that is ours, that we were awarded, the so-called Apple tax. It has accumulated from €13 billion to €14.3 billion as it sits in the escrow account. We have spent more than €7 million on legal fees to defend this country against taking that money. How ridiculous do we look? In this period, when we are facing into all those dangers of job losses, farmers being hurt and Border communities being affected, we are saying, "No, thanks, we will defend Apple". We will defend the very wealthy 1% against the ordinary people of this country, North and South.

At the same time, the Government refuses to publish its plans. I do not believe, as other Deputies have said, that the Government does not have plans. I believe the Government has detailed plans and advice on what it envisages will happen in the case of a hard Brexit or crash-out. I believe they exist but that there is a refusal to publish them. For some bizarre communication policy of Fine Gael, just like it refused to publish details on CervicalCheck and other serious issues, it is refusing to publish the Government's advice and plans around the Brexit deal.

The British Government has published its plans. The British Government was forced to do so, and has published hard scenarios on its own people. The irony though - other Deputies mentioned the Yellowhammer report - is that all of the real hardship being suffered by the British people has completely gone under the radar for the past two years because of Brexit. Nobody ever hears mention of the housing crisis in Britain which, I believe, is deeper and worse, and more systemic, than ours; the health crisis; the crisis in education; the cuts to welfare; and the rise in suicide rates. There are deep issues at the heart of British society that we do not even hear about because of Brexit and I can understand why some sources in Britain want to get it over with so that they can start talking about the real issues that affect them.

What I really want to talk about is the preparation that the Government has for a hard Brexit. We do not know about that but what we are getting drip-fed is the preparation for a hard budget. Perhaps we will not be able to increase the social protection payments that our colleagues in Fianna Fáil say they want to see given. Perhaps we may not be able to give the Christmas bonus. There may be cutbacks in other aspects of public spending. I think that this is a cover for having made a bags of public expenditure, particularly on the overspend on the children's hospital and the national broadband plan.

It is a shame that the Tánaiste has left the Chamber because I wanted to ask him to explain the disparity between his take on a hard border and that of the Taoiseach. There are two leaders of the Government not disagreeing with each other publicly, but giving us different stories about what they mean by a hard border being imposed on us by either the EU or the Government, when we sat here in the Chamber, on I do not know how many times, and listened to the Taoiseach telling us explicitly there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. We heard Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker tell us explicitly there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland but it looks as though we will be thrown under a bus by both the EU and the Fine Gael-led Government. The question I would have for the Tánaiste is, when is a hard border a hard border? Is it when it is 10 yd., 20 yd., 50 yd. or 100 yd., or maybe 10 m or 100 m away from the border? The Tánaiste says there may be need for temporary and emergency checks. If they are temporary, why do we need them at all? Then the Taoiseach told the British-Irish Chamber that there will be need for some level of checks on the Border. We need clarity on this point but we are not getting it. It is not even opposing parties who are feeding us different stories. It is the leadership of the Government. As was stated earlier on, tolerating a hard border cannot even be countenanced. There should be no return to a threat to our peace, stability and security on this island and any talk of putting border posts or checks along the Border, or even 100 yd. or 100 m away from it, cannot be tolerated.

Most importantly, the Government has to come clean on what advice, plans and impact analysis it has received from professionals, civil servants and legal opinion. The Government must come clean and tell the elected Members of this Parliament what it knows and perceives to be the case. The Government cannot keep it secret. There is a moral obligation on the Government to respect this House and let us know what it plans in the event of a hard Brexit. For example, a simple difficulty, which was pointed out to me by a friend who works in the milling industry in the North, is the question of how to find ways to stop a tariff being placed on flour from industrialised mills. There are three such mills in this country that mill flour on an industrial scale. Two of them are in the North and 60% of the output from the pair of them comes south. If there is a tariff of €172 per tonne to be put on that output, will we see a sharp rise in the price of bread?

What will the impact be for poorer families? The price of bread is notoriously and historically a trigger for all sorts of problems in an economy. Are we going to put that tariff on flour from Northern Ireland which produces our bread or are we going to locate the flour elsewhere and put a whole pile of workers in Northern Ireland out of work as a consequence? There are very detailed implications that we do not know about.

We do. We know there are going to be job losses in the North.

We do not know about them. The Minister of State has not said whether those plans are afoot. It is increasingly obvious that the Government is trying to use a no-deal Brexit as an excuse for punitive measures against ordinary people. It may not be able to increase social welfare, pay the Christmas bonus or honour the promises it has made to public sector workers, yet ironically it may be able to impose an increase in carbon tax and refuse the Apple tax. The Government is showing us that its interests are in stark contrast with what it says they are.

On the question of a border poll, Lord Ashcroft's recent poll in the North was conducted without any clause for "in the event of a no-deal scenario." While I am aware it is just a poll, it showed that 51% of the people across Northern Ireland would favour a border poll and a united Ireland. This is important. I am not trying to scaremonger among the unionist community. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement already state that if at any time it appears likely to the Secretary of State that a majority of those voting would express the wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the UK and form part of a united Ireland, then that border poll should be conducted. It is a slim margin. If Brexit turns out to be a disaster for the people of Northern Ireland, who voted against it - and we believe that will happen unless real action is taken - there will be an opportunity for us to do something real. In that event, should we not set out to win the hearts and minds of all people, Protestant, Catholic, those of no religion, all working people, all farmers, all industry across the community? We should say to them that we have common cause in conducting a border poll that may look for a new kind of Ireland, a united Ireland that would not reflect the existing one, set up in the interests of a minority of super rich, of a landlord class, of the elite, but that would function on both parts of the island in the interests of ordinary people, the real people who do all the hard work and who bear the brunt of all the policies of both Governments, North and South. We could show our commitment to that sort of justice and social equality by acting now and withdrawing from the Apple tax case. We should pull out of it before we have to pay any more legal fees, and take €14.3 billion home in our back pockets to help deal with the hardship that is going to be imposed on communities.

We are calling for honesty, full openness and full disclosure of the plans from this Government in the event of a hard Brexit. I believe the plans exist. Everybody is entertained by the carry-on in Westminster these days. We look so boring compared to them, but at least they published their full plans, whereas our Government is holding back up to the point that we are nearly facing a hard Brexit. This is not on. It is not fair to the people of this island, North or South.

As Deputy Smith has nine and a half minutes left, Deputy Durkan may come in.

I thank Deputy Smith for offering the opportunity to speak in this very important debate. I do not go along with some of the things said, although I agree with many of them. I particularly want to congratulate the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs on the manner in which they have handled the negotiations to date through the European Union and ultimately with our colleagues across the Irish Sea. I also compliment the parties of this House in general for holding the line of solidarity in such a way as to give a clear indication to anybody looking on from any quarter that there was a certain degree of unity. It might not always happen in this country. There was a certain amount of unity in what the Irish nation was asked and it was clear that the endeavour was to retain the island of Ireland as an economic entity, which it had become over the last 20 years. We have been dealing with a borderless island for the last 20 years. People traded and travelled North and South. There were no checks, borders, hold-ups or anything. Both economies were allowed to flourish at will and they did. There have been tremendous benefits to communities both in the North of Ireland and here as a result of that.

I did an interview some time ago with a UK-based news outlet and the question was raised about the backstop and how it had to go. I questioned why it had to go and the answer I got was because it is undemocratic. It is there to support the Good Friday Agreement, which came after 30 years of appalling strife in this country with appalling atrocities committed by both sides. After all of that, we had the long drawn-out peace agreement that many of us thought would never happen because of the nature of the arrangements. It had broken down several times and there were breaks of confidence and so on but eventually it happened. We were very lucky in this island that it did happen. The backstop is there to protect the Good Friday Agreement. When they say the backstop is undemocratic, the Good Friday Agreement is not undemocratic. It was resoundingly supported by 94% of the population of the South and 72% of the people in Northern Ireland. That is dramatically in contrast with the referendum in the UK to leave or stay, when there was only 2.5% of a majority. Everybody talks about the 17 million people who voted to leave but nobody talks about the 16.5 people who voted to stay and they also had a valid case and a valid cause. The degree of solidarity within this House has been very impressive from the point of view of the people in this country and also the European Union. The European Union suddenly recognised; they came, they saw and they inspected and familiarised themselves with the territory. That was a good thing to see. It was great to see a small country like Ireland achieve such prominence as to be able to bring our colleagues large and small throughout the European Union around to thinking about us and our future.

I was interested to hear the US President recently sent a message to the effect that the US was strongly opposed to the Irish situation and in favour of the UK leaving the Union. I seem to recall that there was a civil war fought in the United States to retain a union 150 years ago or so. Perhaps they have changed now. I wonder if they would have been as impressed if one of the states like California or Texas wanted to leave the union over there. It might not go down so well. We have many difficulties that we have still to confront.

The Government is doing everything possible to alert business and industry to what is likely to happen. In a worst-case scenario, everything can happen. All that can be done is to alert the stakeholders, the main players, as to what the options are and try to make alternative arrangements insofar as we can. It will not be possible in all situations but it will be possible in some. The danger if we get into a debate about the whys and wherefores on this part of the island now is that we might end up in a squabble about something, and suddenly the onus would be shifted from the main issue. We would then be talking about the minutiae of what is going to happen to the extent that the UK authorities would be able to say the Irish had already committed to a UK break-out and have already made the arrangements. We need to be very careful not to allow ourselves to be dragged into becoming part of what the UK wants to do in order to push itself towards a break-out. My belief is that the intention is to have a break-out, and that it was always the intention from the very beginning. Nigel Farage spent 20 years in the European Parliament working day and night to bring that about. He is very influential and has hijacked the Tory Party, sadly, as it did a lot of things that were important and constructive, and held up its point of view without being negative.

In the final analysis I am not so hopeful about an orderly Brexit at this stage, but I fear the travail and trauma that will visit the UK economy in the first instance, which will be colossal. Nobody realises the extent of the damage that is likely to be done to the UK economy, in particular the British people who were never informed. Brexit will do damage to this island, North and South. The best possible option for this island, North and South, is the line the Government has been following steadfastly over the past two and a half years.

I wish to share time with Deputy Broughan. We have ten minutes each, but I might not use all my time.

It is interesting that there is so much talk generally in this House about something we do not know about. We do not yet know what is going to happen, and what effect it will have. If we knew what was going to happen, I wonder if there would be as much said about it. That is the difficulty.

In fairness, I have sympathy for the Government. It is probably the only time I will say in here that I have sympathy for the Government. It is between a rock and a hard place. How can one prepare and talk about what is going to happen with Brexit when one does not know? None of us knows. Many Members have said we should prepare for a hard Brexit and have put it out publicly. We could do all that, announce plans for a hard Brexit and spend the next six weeks or so planning for it and then it might not happen. We would all give out about the Government having spent money preparing for a hard Brexit if it did not happen and that we did not need to do all that was done.

In fairness, the Government is between a rock and a hard place. The Government cannot talk about what will happen because it does not know what will happen. Likewise, we cannot talk about it because we might influence the outcome. That is difficult, across the whole of Irish society. I come from Donegal as the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, is aware. Very few people talk about Brexit in Donegal. I find that interesting. Perhaps it is because in Donegal things happen that we can do nothing about anyway and we do not expect the Government to do anything for us. Whatever happens, we will just make the most of it and get on with it. Everybody knows it will happen but everybody also knows they will have to live the day after it happens as well and that life will continue. That is the reality. We are in a very difficult position in terms of how we plan for Brexit when we do not know what will happen and what will be put in place. We will not know until it happens. We have no control over what happens in that regard. We have to wait for the Brits to make up their minds and decide what they are going to do.

From an EU point of view, it is the best situation it could ever hope to be in because the EU can leave the Brits to squirm, which it has done for years at this stage, to wrangle with each other and tie each other up in knots. It is only when it comes down to the last hour or half hour that the deal will be done and Brexit will happen. Then the EU will have to stand up and say what it has done and what will be. At the moment, it suits to keep the Brits tied up in knots and that is fair enough, but it still leaves us in Ireland unclear as to what we can do.

The one thing we can do is ensure that all businesses in Ireland have an economic operators' registration and identification, EORI, number, regardless of whether there is a soft Brexit, a hard Brexit or any other kind of Brexit. After Brexit, if a business is exporting to England or importing from England it will have to have an EORI number. We should make sure that businesses are registered. From the briefing we had last week I am aware that is happening, which is positive. That is what we need to do and that is all we can do at the moment in terms of preparation, namely, to make sure that all of our businesses put such measures in place and know what is likely to be involved. We cannot say what exactly the nature of Brexit will be, but all we can hope for is that businesses are aware of what they need to do. I have had dealings with a couple of small businesses in Killybegs which are now getting their EORI numbers, which is important. All businesses that are exporting need to know that they have to get a number. We must send out that message. We are having so many debates in here and talking about something we do not know anything about, but at least we can build awareness to ensure businesses know they have to register for the EORI number and then they can take it from there depending on what form Brexit takes.

I do not want to say much more regarding Brexit. It is going to happen. We are in a very difficult situation that is outside our control. We can only deal with what is handed to us at the time. We have difficulty maintaining the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and of the island of Ireland and also maintaining what is necessary for Brexit. I do not think they are compatible but we will have to find a way around that. I am sure we probably will in the end. All we can do is wait for that to happen and then do it. That is the reality. I do not know whether Brexit will take place on the specified date at the end of October or if there will be an extension of time. Mr. Johnson seems to be pushing for Brexit to go ahead and bringing it down to the wire is probably the best option for him in terms of negotiating and getting a deal done. We will have to wait and see what kind of Brexit comes out of it and then deal with it from that point onwards.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak briefly in the debate on Brexit. With just 42 days to go, it is fair to say that citizens are deeply concerned about the efficacy or effectiveness of the Government's preparations, especially for a no-deal outcome. We heard from the Minister for Finance at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight yesterday that budget 2020 will be formulated on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit by the UK at the end of October. That means the threats about Brexit and its imminence are directly affecting the lives of citizens and what they will do in terms of the social protection budget and the taxation plans, among others. The Minister said the 2020 budgetary strategy is to provide countercyclical support to the economy, including what he called "timely, targeted temporary measures for the sectors most exposed". In the no-deal circumstances the Minister is forecasting there will be a deficit of the order of 0.5% to 1.5% of GDP in 2020, with a hit to revenue of up to €6 billion. They are astonishing figures however one looks at them and will clearly have a very traumatic impact on the economy and society.

The Minister outlined the actions the Government has been taking so far, namely, contingency action plans, the enhanced capacity at ports and airports and further support for customs staff. He also mentioned the budget 2019 allocations, namely, the €115 million in specific Brexit measures, including the €71 million for agriculture, €14 million for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and €5 million for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Yesterday, the Tánaiste told me about his plans to enhance our diplomatic staff across the island of Great Britain in the lead up to 31 October and afterwards. As we have seen with the avalanche of Irish passports being taken up by British and Irish people, our diplomatic staff and civil servants will be under tremendous pressure.

The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, also referenced the future growth loan scheme yesterday to support strategic capital. While those measures and Revenue's customs initiatives are very welcome, there is grave and growing underlying concern at the negative impacts on so many sectors of the economy. We are grateful for the briefings the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Tánaiste have provided to us but with 42 days to go there is still a nagging feeling that we may not be ready.

I will echo the comments of Deputy Pringle and others that we need the fullest possible picture. Deputy Pringle referred to EORI numbers. In a recent briefing, we heard that the vast bulk of businesses had obtained such a number but when will we have 100% compliance in that area?

The extension of time limits for the haulage and aviation sectors to 2020 in the context of licences for companies dealing with a third country is also welcome. I am aware of the additional spending of €30 million at Dublin Port and the preparations at Rosslare Harbour. Of course, it was also valuable to hear the Tánaiste's response to Deputy Lisa Chambers of Fianna Fáil regarding the landbridge and facilities at Calais for our trucks. However, it was disappointing to learn yesterday from the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, that most of the necessary funding to protect our economy against a no-deal Brexit will have to come from the Irish Exchequer. Commissioner Hogan has already said that whatever funding is available, many of the affected sectors will not be funded by the European Union Brexit fund, so perhaps that is something the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, could comment on. What kind of financial support should we be expecting? We have been net contributors to the EU for the past five or six years and we have been a staunch pillar of the Union in terms of supporting the euro and supporting financial measures. While the EU support for the backstop has been welcome and valuable, we will need very significant financial support, given the kind of projections we have heard, such as a €6 billion hit to revenue, for example. To try to fill that would impose significant further austerity on a country that is trying to emerge from austerity. This is an issue on which we will be expecting a strong response from Europe.

Of course, we have also had indications of a grace period for Ireland. It was welcome that we heard reports in recent days that whatever plans Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to be trying to cook up in his - what is the word? - very excitable brain, that may include a transition period in any new withdrawal agreement that would go to 2022. Obviously, that would be welcome but we certainly will need a significant grace period and full financial support from the EU in the first year or so of the post-Brexit relationship.

A Brexit withdrawal deal which totally avoids the restoration of any type of hard border must continue to be the absolute minimum settlement which Ireland and its 26 European partners could and should accept. The Financial Times reports that Prime Minister Johnson and his Government, at long last, seem to be proposing a common zone for agriculture and foodstuffs, maintaining the common electricity market, which we developed, and maintaining the common travel area. UK officials now seem to be reporting possible proposals on an all-island economic relationship to include customs, VAT on industry goods and some remit for the European Court of Justice. However, these slight advances, while welcome, seem to be measures to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and the EU rather than maintaining frictionless trade between all parts of our country and the European Union. If this is the case, the British Government at long last may be inching towards agreeing a special economic zone for Northern Ireland, which will be both inside the UK in jurisdictional terms and inside the European Union in economic and other terms. There seems an emerging idea for a new withdrawal agreement, which could be agreed by Hallowe'en and could extend to the end of 2022. The worrying aspect of current proposals, however, is that goods and services not covered by this emerging proposed all-island regime would still be subject to checks, even away from the Border. We know all the dangers this could have after the traumatic 30-year war we endured in this country, which damaged our economy and our people, and ended in the deaths of so many people. Even EU officials are concluding that the task for both sides in securing an agreement with six weeks left remains daunting, as the Taoiseach has said.

Some Irish commentators, like Mr. Stephen Collins of The Irish Times, seem to believe that the Irish backstop could be used by the EU as an insuperable barrier to prevent the UK leaving the EU. Obviously, British public opinion is divided but most give respect to the achievements of the EU, especially in reconciling France and Germany and helping so many EU member states to evolve into multi-party democracies. However, the focus of the Irish Government should simply be on protecting the all-island economy and the Good Friday Agreement and preventing the recreation of a border in this country, with the support of the other 26 EU states. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste must intensify their efforts, with our 26 allies, to secure a withdrawal deal before Hallowe'en which ensures that Ireland will not be pressurised in any way to create an EU frontier on the island of Ireland or in other words, that we will not be used by the European Union to try to coerce the British people.

Deputy Durkan spoke earlier about the American federation. Europe is not a federation and it remains a confederation, with certain important economic links. Commentators like Mr. Collins and Deputy Durkan forget the opposition of many of our people to the United States of Europe concept which is now being advocated by President Macron and his followers in the European Parliament, like Mr Verhofstadt.

It is also striking that in the vast economic area of services, there is hardly a single European market in any case. The Economist magazine, in its current edition, reports on the Single Market in detail and shows how financial services, banking, legal and medical services and other professional services generally remain nationally based in each of the 28 nations. For example, 85% of banking services in each member state are provided by national banks to local companies and there has been little effort by successive EU Commissioners to integrate professional services, which are still often dominated by local and national guild structures, such as the Law Society and the King's Inns in regard to legal education and training here. In Ireland, our constituents repeatedly ask why bank mortgage rates are so crushingly high and why the mortgage rates of Germany and Holland's banks do not apply in Ireland - in other words, why there is not a common market in regard to mortgage finance. In some ways, talking of protecting a single market in banking is largely a mirage. It is also notable that telecommunications and broadband services are also nationally based and that countries like France, Germany, Spain and Italy encourage companies to be national champions in those and many other service and manufacturing fields. In regard to the backstop, therefore, is it not the case that so many services do not require extensive Single Market protection because they have always taken place essentially in distinct national markets? Hence, despite protestations from Brussels, it should be possible to reach agreement on maintaining an all-island market in Ireland in the areas where we have a genuine common market.

Members have referred to the 52:48 vote in the UK. On the one hand, we have the extreme Brexiteers in the Tory Party and, on the other, we have the Liberal Democrats advocating opposite positions. The proposals today from Jeremy Corbyn, as reported in The Guardian newspaper, seem very fair and reasonable. After a general election, which, hopefully, the Labour Party would win, Mr. Corbyn proposes to negotiate a withdrawal agreement based on a new customs union with the European Union, a single market in fairly close alignment, guarantees in regard to workers' rights and guarantees in regard to the environment.

People are deeply concerned that this freewheeling, Singapore-type economy that Brexiteers and people such as Mr. Johnson, Mr. Gove and Mr. Rees-Mogg seem to want will be an economy in which there will be a total race to the bottom and in which workers' and environmental rights will suffer greatly, with impacts on us across the Irish Sea. There is a need, therefore, for an agreement based on the four principles Mr. Corbyn has outlined. He intends, if he is in a position to do so, to put such an agreement to the British people alongside the option to remain. The record of the Tory and Liberal Democrat Governments since 2010 has been appalling. They came in and imposed totally unnecessary austerity on the British people. The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and, later, the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government did precisely the same thing. There would be an opportunity for the British people under a Corbyn-led Labour Government to come to a relationship with Europe, whether in or out of the European Union, which would also enable our economy and our country to function as heretofore and to develop in a very positive manner.

As Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, I wish to acknowledge the work that has been done by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Ministers, the Minister of State included, and officials, who have been working diligently over the past three and a half years to ensure that Ireland's interests are a constant priority in the European Union's negotiations with the UK as a departing member. I also appreciate that during this time the Minister of State for European Union Affairs and the officials in her Department have taken the time to keep the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs regularly updated on the Brexit negotiations and preparedness. She knows I always acknowledge that. We know that a lot of hard work has been done on Brexit preparedness and contingency planning. In February, this House came together to ensure that the Brexit omnibus Bill was passed as quickly as possible. Everyone put their shoulders to the wheel and ensured we had at least the bare minimum of legislation ready, whatever way Brexit happens.

As Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, I have been following the Brexit process since the vote in 2016. Over the past three years my committee colleagues and I have met many people from across Europe, both formally and informally, and have had many discussions on Brexit. We have met officials from the EU institutions; MEPs, including Guy Verhofstadt; Michel Barnier; and members of the Article 50 task force. We have met parliamentarians from the UK, including Members of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Tomorrow the House of Commons's Exiting the European Union Committee is expected here again. All these discussions are important. We have also had the opportunity to engage with our colleagues from other European national parliaments, both at COSAC and during delegation visits to Ireland. We have been honoured to meet visiting delegations from Portugal, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark and Austria, all of whom came to Ireland to engage, listen, ask questions and find out about how Brexit will impact the island of Ireland. They were all clear, having visited, on the importance of safeguarding the peace process and avoiding physical checks of any sort on this island.

What I have learned from three years working on the Brexit issue with such a wide range of people is that we have the support and solidarity of our EU neighbours. The European institutions and the EU 26 have championed Ireland the whole way. I am confident that this will continue into the tenure of the new Commission President and the new session of the European Parliament. I rose in this House last November to express my support for the draft withdrawal agreement, which at that stage had just been published. I spoke then about the importance of the backstop. My views on Brexit have not changed since. As I have said probably 1,000 times at this stage, there is no such thing as a good Brexit - not for Ireland, not for Europe and not for the UK. However, we must move forward, make our preparations and focus on the future. This is now becoming urgent. Last November I was optimistic that a withdrawal agreement had been sorted. It seemed that the UK and the EU were on the same page and that there would be an orderly exit on 29 March. That was the path laid out. It was only a matter of getting the agreement through the British and European Parliaments.

It is hard to believe that that was nearly a year ago. Since last November we have seen the turmoil and all the antics of the Parliament across the water. The 29 March deadline came and went. The European Council agreed an extension for six months to allow the UK to prepare. Now the focus is on 31 October, which is only six weeks away. The only thing the House of Commons can get a majority for is avoiding a no-deal Brexit. It knows what it does not want but not what it does want. As parliamentarians, it is important for us to watch but it is not a productive way of doing business. It is time to move things on and to come up with solutions. It is also time to make sure we are now fully prepared if we end up with a crash-out Brexit on Hallowe'en night. We understand that negotiations between the EU and the UK are ongoing, with the British Prime Minister saying his aim is to agree a withdrawal deal at the European Council on 17 and 18 October. However, Michel Barnier said last week he was not optimistic that a deal could be done by the end of next month. The British Prime Minister has said leaving the EU with a deal is a priority, but he is also determined to leave at the end of October no matter what, despite being mandated by the UK Parliament to agree a deal or seek an extension by 19 October. A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for everyone. We know this. There are no benefits to a no-deal Brexit for anyone, here, in Europe or in the UK. I really hope a solution can be found which avoids a hard border, maintains the integrity of the Single Market, protects the interests of everyone on the island of Ireland and is agreeable to both sides. It is a big ask and there is not much time, but it is essential.

The events of the coming weeks will have an effect on the children and the grandchildren of today and the future generations in Ireland. I acknowledge officials in all the various Departments who are carrying out in a very determined way the political and background work to try to ensure we minimise the negative effects we will have here. It is so important for the future of all of us, but most importantly for the children and the grandchildren of the future, that we do everything we can to make sure there is an orderly Brexit, and that we try to calm the possible negative effects for all of us.

I too am delighted to make a brief statement on this matter. As the exit date is just over 40 days away, it is imperative that we have a clear sense of how we will address the massive problems Brexit will cause, and they are massive and very daunting. We hope the Brexit contingency action plan measures are sufficiently robust. We have supported the Minister of State and her Government all along. We know that the European Council has made clear that there can be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement, nor can the extension be used to start negotiations on the future relationship. The EU is willing to look again at the political declaration on the future relationship should the UK move on its red-line issues. However, since the UK Government has indicated it is not willing to move, it looks like a crash-out scenario is indeed upon us, sadly. It is in this context that I acknowledge and accept the Government's assessment that there is a significant risk of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, or thereafter. Accordingly, work on no-deal Brexit preparations should continue to be taken forward as a matter of priority across Departments and agencies. There is no doubt about it, then, that the stark reality of what Brexit means is fast closing in on us.

A no-deal Brexit will be an unprecedented event, bringing with it disruption and severe negative economic impacts. It is also deeply disturbing to read that there are likely to be significant job losses in the most exposed sectors in a no-deal scenario, with an estimated increase in unemployment of 50,000 to 55,000 after the UK leaves the EU, which is shocking. This is probably a conservative estimate. All of this is creating significant fear and uncertainty, especially for the agricultural sector, which also now has to contend with the beef crisis, and the Mercosur deal and the inevitable disaster that it will bring in its wake for the beef trade. We are in real trouble. I am disappointed, as the farmers are still protesting at the gates, that the Ministers and Taoiseach will not engage meaningfully with them instead of threatening them to move off, always being on the side of the beef barons and beef moguls. In real terms, we know that the agrifood and fisheries sector are Ireland's largest indigenous industries, contributing 7.7% of Ireland's gross national income, and act as a primary driver of the rural economy.

A no-deal scenario would not protect the peace in Northern Ireland. This is a fragile peace and we have seen too clearly in recent times how fragile it is. We will work hard to avoid it. On this, we can certainly all agree. However, this is now a surreal scenario. It seems that nothing can be offered to assure us that we will be able to emerge from this process without significant and ever-increasing damage being inflicted. The much dreaded outcomes are here. I stress that the Government will find co-operation from this side of the House, from the Rural Independent Group, on matters where there is a genuine need to be constructive. More needs to be done along the lines of the Brexit scorecard issued by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. These measures will allow us to mitigate as much as possible some of the immediate effects of a disruptive exit of the UK from the EU. As the Department makes clear, despite the uncertainty, Irish companies can and should take immediate action to mitigate the potential risks and position themselves to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. These actions will increase a business' resilience and make practical business sense, irrespective of Brexit outcomes. There are profoundly challenging times ahead. We must work together to navigate these historic times if we are to ensure that our communities and our businesses survive without catastrophic damage.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute because this matter concerns and worries so many people all around County Kerry and the country. Whatever way England leaves, if it does indeed eventually leave, Ireland will not be as good a place to trade or to live because things will never be as good again as they have been under the regime that we have had for many years. There is already considerable worry and concern that our economy will slow down and that it will affect agriculture, tourism, haulage, small businesses and exports. They have no idea how tariffs will affect them or how we will get our agriproducts out of the country. Will there be tariffs when going through what we call the landbridge of England? What costs will there be? We are an island country and everything we export to Europe has to go through or else around England. It will be a greater cost and a significant inconvenience for hauliers not to be able to go through England. They are very concerned and are asking me what rates they will have to pay. Is that being ironed out at present? If the UK leaves, as it insists it will, with Mr. Johnson being prepared to leave at any cost on 31 October whether he has his clothes on or off, it will have a severe impact on things that people are maybe not thinking about at all. Will hauliers need one or two drivers to get from here to Germany? Will they need three drivers if they are going to places such as Finland or eastern Europe? They are asking all those kinds of questions. The hauliers will have to shoulder the extra burden and cost and they are concerned about it.

We appreciate all the work that the Government is doing and it has the support of the House to do its bit for Ireland. Many people are confused when they hear the Taoiseach saying there will have to be Border checks while the Minister, Deputy Coveney, says there will be no Border checks, though he supplements it by saying that they will not be near the Border, anyway. What does that mean? People need clarification about that. The British Parliament has said that it does not want to go without a deal. What is the deal? It is clear that it does not want the backstop. What else does it want or not want? If we went to the fair in Kenmare long ago with bullocks, when we went to the top of the town, we knew what we wanted for the animals. We did not go in hoping for some fellow to say what he would give us. One had to know what one wanted. It is not clear that the UK knows what it wants. It will affect agriculture, tourism, haulage, small business and everything, and we are all concerned about it.

Deputy Eamon Ryan has kindly offered a minute or two if I go over my time. It is my pleasure to contribute to these statements. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on the excellent work they have done in this area. They have performed well and I thank them. This withdrawal presents challenges for Ireland over and above challenges that face other EU members, particularly with regard to the frontier which exists on this island, which is of concern. This frontier will be between the EU and the UK in a post-withdrawal era. It was created in 1922 following the War of Independence. It resulted in the Civil War between 1922 and 1923 and has shaped Irish politics ever since. It is a sensitive area.

The frontier has been painstakingly dismantled over the past 20 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, resulting in the invisible Border that we have today. We cannot return to a visible Border, with all the potential political, economic, social and security problems which would result. What we have achieved over the past 20 years has to be protected. It was possible because Ireland and the United Kingdom were part of the European Union, and that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement, of which Ireland and the United Kingdom are co-guarantors. It is an international agreement that has brought peace to our island and that we cannot give up under any circumstances. We cannot go back to that era again. The UK withdrawal referendum did not take any cognisance of this.

None of this was taken into account.

A solution had to be found to ensure the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement was maintained and that the seamless border we have today was protected. We also have to protect the Single Market and the customs union. The backstop was devised as insurance against the development of a hard border in the event that, in the post-EU withdrawal period, a system of trade and political alignment did not ensure an invisible border. A frictionless border must be maintained. The backstop is absolutely essential to a successful withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement, negotiated for a period of 20 years, takes all this into account and militates against divergence. That is the purpose of the backstop. A no-deal Brexit was not to be the manner of the UK withdrawal. Neither side wants no deal, but this appears to be a strong possibility because the United Kngdom cannot agree on what it wants or the type of Brexit it wants. Alternatives to the backstop have not been forthcoming and although it is something for the future - I hope will never be invoked - it is, unfortunately, a barrier to the present and an orderly withdrawal from the European Union.

We have concentrated on issues related to the Border, but there are other issues of importance in the withdrawal agreement such as citizens' rights, regulatory divergence, supply chain difficulties and future trading relationships. Health is a case in point. The common travel area, in the introduction of which predated the entry of Ireland and the United Kingdom into the European Union, should protect against some of the shocks of a no-deal withdrawal, but it will be difficult to predict and manage in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. In the past few years the Joint Committee on Health has examined how we can mitigate the effects on health services. Many health services operate across the borders of Ireland and the United Kingdom and frameworks of co-operation are provided in international agreements, national legislation, service level agreements, memorandums of understanding and formal and informal arrangements. It is essential that these frameworks be protected.

All preparations related to health services have been negotiated on the basis of an orderly withdrawal. A no-deal Brexit will throw all of these carefully negotiated arrangements into disarray. There will be problems with cross-border access, particularly in the context of the cross-border directive, and the treatment abroad schemes which involve citizens from the United Kingdom, Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union accessing services in other countries. These may be disrupted if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a deal. There may be difficulties in seeking access to medications which will leave people vulnerable and there will be shortages of some products, with delays due to transit problems through the United Kingdom and customs checks and shortages of drugs which have a half life and require refrigeration, as well as biological agents which are time sensitive. There will also be divergence between UK regulations and standards and those in EU countries and there will be a problem in the recognition of qualifications of health professionals such as nurses, doctors and others. This will have profound effects on manpower in the health service.

Co-operation is absolutely essential to provide a seamless health service across the Border between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Food and sanitary controls will also have an effect on health services because of the need to control disease. The Department of Health and the HSE need to be extremely vigilant in mitigating and managing all of these aspects of healthcare. Citizens' rights to healthcare in the European Union and the United Kingdom need to be protected and guaranteed in the event of a no-deal withdrawal in the same way that they were maintained and guaranteed in an orderly withdrawal. It is of the utmost importance that health services not be affected by the UK withdrawal, whether with or without an agreement.

I wish to call for a quorum. Given that this is such a serious issue, I cannot believe how few Members there are on the Government benches.

The Deputy cannot call for a quorum.

I can. I am calling for a quorum. It is shocking.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

We should not read too much into the fact that there were not banks of Members here: I did not expect them. One reason for this is that we are united in this House on a core point in this Brexit issue, namely, the core principle of what we stand for. When we all voted in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, to remove of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, we were voting for a flexible constitutional approach to what happens in Northern Ireland, including in respect of the right of people to regard themselves as Irish or British, or of multiple identities or none. That is the actual backstop we all hold to. It is why this House has been united in the position it has taken and supportive of the Government and the EU negotiating position.

This debate might not have been as exciting as some of the debates in the House of Commons in recent times but that is because there is less excitement here. There are genuine worries, nerves and fears but we are united on the core principle. Through that unity, I hope we can help to achieve a deal that protects the peace process, as referred to by the Tánaiste in his opening remarks, that maintains a common travel area, minimises the impact on the economy, maintains our strength within and unity with the European Union and, perhaps most important, retains and protects our good relationship with the people of the United Kingdom. Those who say there is a binary choice have a right to leave the European Union based on the Brexit vote, but it should be noted that the deliberate shading of the constitutional arrangements in the North to allow people the flexibility to identify as Irish or English, or neither or both, is fundamental.

In addition to acting on the desire to protect the vow we made, we need to meet other objectives. It is not as if the peace process is perfect and that one could say the current arrangements are a brilliant example of politics in action, although we might say that on the international stage. Maybe it is like being in a marriage that is going through difficulties in that one puts on the bright face for the outside world when there is a lot of work to do to make the marriage or flexible arrangement work. More than anything else in what happens next, we must maintain a good relationship with our unionist and nationalist friends and those who have a mix of all sorts of identities in the North. I hope there is a deal before 31 October. I am sure the Government has the support of the House in ensuring this. The greatest risk is north of the Border. Irish agriculture will be affected and Brexit will be really difficult in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth but it is in the North where the effects will be worst. If we can secure a deal that is island-only, the Government will have the clear support of the House in making the necessary arrangements and ensuring the final flexibilities, as long as we protect the key principle or vow. I refer not only to protecting the Single Market and customs arrangements but also to protecting the multiple identity we have agreed to in the North. If this can be achieved, those concerned should go for it.

Ironically, it may be easier for our unionist friends to regard the withdrawal agreement itself as a better option if a deal has to be made. While the Tánaiste, Taoiseach and British and Irish officials signed off in November 2017 or December 2017 on an all-island arrangement, it is clear from the detail that the withdrawal agreement is possibly a preferable arrangement for the unionist community. This is because an all-island arrangement would have to have some sort of customs arrangement for goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland. A withdrawal agreement would remove that necessity. From a unionist position, I imagine that would be preferable. Even if under an all-island customs arrangement the North had the best of both worlds and could trade into Britain and the South, I could understand how there could be sensitivities over identity being affected by it. I do not know whether it is at all possible for the House of Commons. We cannot tell the House of Commons what to do or the United Kingdom its constitutional position. Determining such matters is its right but the withdrawal agreement has a couple of advantages. The first concerns the impact in respect of the need for customs arrangements pertaining to the Irish Sea. Given the timelines and the statement from Brussels to the UK Government today to the effect that there is now two weeks to get a deal in place, another advantage of opting for the withdrawal agreement, given its detail and complexity, is that we know it could be agreed at the Council, even at the last minute. The British Prime Minister has voted for it already. It is clear at this stage that we are entering a very fraught few weeks so the advantage of being able to agree something is worth considering. Whether it would get through the House of Commons is a different matter. If the DUP was on board, it would be worth considering. I am fairly sure when I listen to Labour Party Members in the United Kingdom that there are about 30 of them who would sign an agreement of the kind in question, even if the party did not provide a Whip for it. I am quite sure the 21 rebels who were expelled from the Tory party would also back such an agreement, as most of them have done already. If the British Prime Minister were minded to have a deal — there would be a loss of face in terms of the withdrawal agreement having been turned down three times — and if there were a democratic majority in the House of Commons, the loss of face would not really matter. It would be restoring the primacy of the House of Commons and expressing its will. At this stage, from a distance, I believe it would be a great relief in the United Kingdom in that it would be out of the process it got itself into for three years. In thinking about how to assist with the all-Ireland approach, I have come full circle to thinking the withdrawal agreement is still the best option if the United Kingdom is to leave with a deal. Therefore, we should not rule it out.

If our first objective is to maintain our relations with our good friends in the North of every political view, the second is to retain our good relations with the people in the rest of the United Kingdom, but not just those in the political system. I have ten first cousins in the United Kingdom. I am sure everyone else here has a similar scattering. I have friends in the United Kingdom who voted to leave and I do not want to fall out with them. We have developed a relationship with the United Kingdom through the political and administrative systems and as people. We get on well with the people in Britain. It is weird how the world has turned.

Those old certainties do not hold. If England were playing soccer against Azerbaijan, one would be up for Azerbaijan no matter what. That does not apply anymore. I play cricket. I celebrated that remarkable fourth day in Headingley as if it had been our own team playing because it was such a fantastic game. We are very close. When the lads are holding up the shoes and celebrating, I think "fair play to you". That is part of our culture too. We are really close to them. It is not just in sport, it is in every aspect of life. We are good neighbours and good friends. We are relations to each other. We should not let ourselves fall out no matter what happens in the difficult period ahead.

We must retain our relationship with the House of Commons no matter what difficulties arise or what hard courses the House takes, as difficult as that may be. We have to listen to it and respect MPs' English nationalist intentions, although, as I have said, we should try to steer those intentions as best we can to minimise the damage caused by whatever they decide to do.

We have to retain our solidarity with the European Union. I believe the various political groupings have done that through our European colleagues and our colleagues in the European Parliament. That is particularly important because in the next phase, if there is a very difficult crash-out no-deal Brexit, we will need a certain flexibility from the European Union when it comes to the immediate arrangements to be put in place.

I have heard some people being critical of the Government, and one might well argue the case for what they have said about the need to be more transparent about the arrangements. They were worried that sufficient arrangements are not in place. I will be honest. I do not believe that is the key criticism at this time because one of the things we will have to do is to hold our cards close to our chest right until the very end with regard to the necessary arrangements. This is the case because we do not know what will happen and because we will have to negotiate these arrangements with the UK. Even if a no-deal Brexit were to occur, it will take months for some of the arrangements to be put in place. We will have to get some flexibility from the European Union. The Commission will have to give us a bit of room because this is really tricky stuff. I will not criticise the Government if it has not made all the arrangements three, four or five weeks - 42 days - before a no-deal Brexit. I believe it has the support and trust of the House in respect of the broad approach it is taking. That should extend to whatever those final arrangements might be.

Similarly, and this may be the most difficult issue, if there are tweaks that can be made to get either an all-island arrangement or the withdrawal agreement back in play, they should be considered. I understand the reality the Government faces. If Ministers are out on the front pages tomorrow announcing a possible solution, in the mad feral sort of debate being carried on there is a real risk that the Government's best idea would be gobbled, chewed up, and spat out as a result of this incredible blockage to which proceedings have come.

I talked to my English and Welsh colleagues yesterday. We are in regular contact. That is especially useful. I support the Green Party of England and Wales in its desire for a second referendum in which it would clearly support the remain position. That is a different position from that of the Liberal Democrats, which I understand said at its conference that it would revoke Article 50. I do not know how it would do that. I prefer our party's position to that of the UK Labour Party, which seems to have articulated today that it would also hold a referendum but that it would seek to have the best of all worlds to suit both the leave voters and the remain voters. It is a case of "whatever you're having yourself". I have a particular concern about that approach. I do not want to lecture or look down my nose at any other party but, in the past two years, I have been puzzled by the Labour Party's opposition to the backstop because I understood it was that party's position to support the backstop. I fear that it has become a proxy in the rows in the House of Commons between hard Brexiteer Tories and soft Brexiteer Tories and between Labour and the Tories as a whole. I hope we can avoid becoming the football in the middle of those complex political developments.

Come what may, whether there is a hard Brexit, whether an all-island arrangement is reached, or whether a withdrawal agreement is ratified, we have to position ourselves for the long run, both for the long and extensive period of trade negotiations that will be necessary and to maintain collaboration. In maintaining collaboration, we must not join the race to the bottom or adopt what I see as the fundamental flaw in the Brexit process, the idea that we can tackle climate change together, which we must, while lowering standards to attract investment and business to one's country.

Tackling climate change together requires us to share energy, to monitor and manage the seas together, to swap digital technology and all the latest innovations, not only with the UK or the rest of Europe but with the wider world. I do not agree with the position Guy Verhofstadt seemed to hold at the liberal conference, which is that a European empire is opposing some other empire. I do not believe that. I believe we are moving towards a more global solution. It is not globalisation in the sense of a race to the bottom but globalisation based on common goals and common challenges that we all face together. The European Union works well when it works together, not as fortress Europe, but by sharing technology and common goals with the outside world to save our planet. That is the big risk in our time.

I will take time to pay particular credit to the officials and diplomats in the Taoiseach's office and in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who have really stood up to the plate. Let us keep that tradition of calm, rational, collaborative, and international negotiation that is global in outlook but that comes back home when it comes to the Fermanagh-Leitrim border or to east-west trade to Holyhead. We should maintain that.

I was joking with some of my English colleagues. I have used a metaphor many times in respect of Brexit, an image from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The big monster, Gulliver, is held down with small little wires. In the metaphor these are the fibre optic cables that connect us and the electricity cables through which we swap renewable power and share our planet. The UK is not going to sail off into the North Atlantic. It is not going to buccaneer. It is part of our region and area. It is going to be part of the collaboration we need, regardless of the outcome of Brexit, over a ten or 20-year period. The world is not going back in such a way as to need a Singapore in north-western Europe. It is not going in that direction. We need to maintain our good relations and maintain civil dialogue with all sides. We must recognise the UK's constitutional right to leave and not force it into any awkward position while also protecting our country, our island, and our vow to allow North and South to be different, yet the same, and to hold all sorts of identities. That is not a contentious subject and it will not draw a big crowd. This House is not divided on this question. We are united and we should stay that way.

As the Tánaiste outlined at the beginning of this session, and as many speakers have agreed, there is a significant risk of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, particularly given the prevailing political uncertainty in London. We are, however, hopeful and are working towards positive engagement between the EU and the UK throughout the next few weeks. The UK has said it has difficulties with aspects of the withdrawal agreement, especially the backstop. In response, the EU's ask has been clear and always consistent. It has asked the UK to send written proposals which provide the same legal and operational certainty as the agreement we reached in December 2017. The EU is very open to finding a solution, but without this, it will be difficult to make substantial progress. Against this backdrop, we have to do everything we possibly can to prepare. This has always been Government policy and we have always been clear that a no-deal Brexit would result in huge disruption and severe negative economic impacts across this island. Many reports have outlined this, including the Copenhagen Economics report, reports from Revenue, reports from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and sectoral reports dating back to before the referendum even took place. That is why Government has been planning for Brexit since before the referendum took place. It is also why Government took the prudent decision last December to prioritise no-deal planning across all Departments and agencies.

It is not possible to mitigate against a no-deal Brexit fully, but we have been actively preparing for Brexit to try to ensure that Irish citizens and businesses are as ready as possible for all scenarios.

Our 2019 contingency action plan, which was updated in July, demonstrates that the challenges of a no-deal Brexit will be felt on many levels and will require engagement at EU level, responses by the Government and engagement by business and citizens. I do not accept that insufficient information or supports have been provided across the country. We have held more than 1,200 stakeholder preparedness events. These cover sectors ranging from construction to tourism and issues ranging from customs requirements to currency fluctuations. This advice is coming from Departments, Government agencies, county councils and individual sectors. A large number of funding schemes have been made available. Mention was made of €60 million, but we have made €600 million available through two schemes alone. More than €70 million is available through Enterprise Ireland. While not all of these funds have been drawn down, a large portion has been approved. We cannot force people to draw down money when they do not feel they need it just yet, but that funding is available to them.

Budget 2020 will continue the approach of budgets 2017, 2018 and 2019. There will not be cuts in this year's budget. We will have more than €2 billion in additional spending, €900 million of which will be new funding. We will provide dedicated measures to try to get Ireland Brexit-ready.

As one of the UK's closest trading and business partners, Brexit will mean changes for all Irish businesses regardless of location, size or sector. It will have a significant impact on businesses, particularly those relying on goods traded with the UK. As the Tánaiste outlined, however, businesses representing 96% of the value of export trade and 88% of the value of import trade have their EORI numbers. It is not only goods that will be affected, though. Businesses that have contracts with a UK service provider will also need to review their positions.

I attended the ploughing championships yesterday. Many Deputies were there yesterday and today. The Government's Brexit hub there was busy all day. A series of briefings is taking place over the next few days and staff from various agencies are available to take questions. These are just some of the events that are happening and will continue over the next month. While much took place in advance of 29 March, we have been developing and increasing our engagement, not just on a one-to-one basis, but in terms of our online platform and portfolios and in helping agencies to maintain this level of engagement and host various events. We have a wide range of advice for citizens and businesses on how they can prepare. This advice is available at www.gov.ie/Brexit.

Many Deputies referenced the landbridge. The question of how the UK landbridge will function in the event of a no-deal Brexit is causing significant concern. It is an important route for goods travelling to and from Ireland to mainland Europe. Given its importance, the Government has been working to try to facilitate its functionality post Brexit as far as possible. In particular, we have been engaging with our colleagues in France, Belgium and the Netherlands on ensuring that Irish goods can be transported through them and can have access as quickly as possible without being held up in the same traffic experienced by our UK colleagues. That is much more difficult to do in respect of the UK landbridge itself, though, where we will not be able to predict the delays or what the UK Government will do. It is important to be aware that use of the landbridge after Brexit will not replicate the status quo for operators and will depend on traders being compliant with the new requirements under the common transit convention and in line with EU requirements. Targeted information campaigns in that respect are under way to ensure that operators are aware of the steps that they must take and the supports available to them. As we noted in our July 2019 contingency action plan update, operators should also be prepared for delays at UK ports, given the general disruption that a no-deal Brexit would cause.

Many Deputies have asked about Border checks. Businesses and citizens are concerned about what measures might be in place to ensure the integrity of the Single Market on the island of Ireland and how this will impact not only on trade, but on Border communities. The Government has been clear about our objectives since the UK decided to leave: protecting the Good Friday Agreement; preserving North-South co-operation and the gains of the peace process, including protecting the all-island economy; and avoiding the emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland. They will continue to be our priorities. These objectives are delivered by the withdrawal agreement, which includes the backstop and is the only solution currently on the table that delivers the outcomes that everyone, including the UK, wants to achieve. In the absence of the withdrawal agreement, there are no easy solutions. As we stated clearly in our contingency action plan, "There should be no illusion – a no deal Brexit would result in far-reaching change on the island of Ireland." The Government is working closely with the European Commission to meet the shared twin objectives of protecting the Single Market and Ireland's place in it. This work is looking at necessary checks to preserve Ireland's full participation in the Single Market and the customs union.

Any arrangements in a no-deal scenario would be suboptimal to the backstop and would have profound implications for North-South trade, including through the impact of tariffs, checks, additional costs and administrative burdens. Should the UK decide to leave the EU without a deal, the risks for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement are significant. This is not something with which we are playing games. These are very real risks and threats.

It is important to remember that Ireland is working on preparedness and contingency planning as part of the EU 27 with the full support of the European Commission and other member states and all the stability and solidarity that that brings. Many of the actions aimed at mitigating the effects of Brexit will be taken at the EU level, as they involve sectors regulated by EU law. Versions of many of these actions have been published by the European Commission, even as recently as two weeks ago. The EU has put in place a number of contingency measures aimed at mitigating the impact of a no-deal scenario in a range of sectors of particular importance to us, for example, aviation, finance and road transport. Furthermore, the EU has published more than 80 Brexit preparedness notices, which provide guidance for businesses and citizens. We undertake all of our work in line with the work of the Commission.

Brexit presents an unprecedented challenge to Ireland. It is only by the Government, business and citizens working together and with our EU partners that we can aim to mitigate as much as possible the implications and impacts of a no-deal Brexit and ensure that we are as prepared as we can be for the changes it will bring.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank Deputies, not only for their contributions this evening, but for their broad support for the Government's approach to the Brexit negotiations and for their support in March for facilitating the passage of the Brexit omnibus Act, which is ready to be deployed in the event of there being no deal.

On Monday, I was in Brussels at the General Affairs Council where I met all 26 of my European colleagues. Throughout the negotiation process, the solidarity that we have received from member states and the EU as a whole has been strong, consistent and unwavering. That has not changed this week. In my time as the Minister of State with responsibility for EU affairs, it has been a positive reminder of what our EU membership means. We face this challenge as one of 27 member states working together, something that has clearly been to our benefit and perhaps something that others did not expect. I have accompanied many of my counterparts on visits to the Border region, as they have wanted to see at first hand what Brexit means for the island of Ireland.

Membership of the EU has been transformative for Ireland. Our continued EU membership and all the certainty that brings form our best defence in dealing with a no-deal Brexit.