The Taoiseach, in his introductory remarks, referred to the work of Mr. Michel Barnier as the EU's chief negotiator. He outlined that Mr. Barnier had given a detailed report at the Council meeting on the negotiations with the British on the withdrawal agreement and the Ireland–Northern Ireland protocol. I was glad the Taoiseach stated that Mr. Barnier had in his contribution laid particular emphasis on peace in Ireland. He is not a new convert to peace in Ireland. I was a colleague of Mr. Barnier on the Council of agriculture ministers from 2007 to 2011. At that time, he always displayed a great knowledge of, and interest in, Ireland. He had been regional affairs Commissioner in the late 1990s or early 2000s and he was very familiar with Ireland and the potential for all-Ireland development and to develop the economy on an all-Ireland basis.
He was very supportive of the then Fianna Fáil Government's applications for structural funds for infrastructural development, particularly in respect of projects of a cross-Border nature. He is very familiar, knowledgeable and interested in ensuring that we have a lasting and stable peace in our country. He fully understands the damage that Brexit can do to our island.
The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has been transformative for the entire island. It has been particularly transformative and beneficial for the region I represent. I have had the privilege of representing two Border counties over many years, including in the bad days prior to the Good Friday Agreement and in the more positive days in which we have enjoyed so much political progress. Michel Barnier understands the progress that has been made. He has reiterated on many occasions the need to ensure that that progress and also the economic progress that have been made for the people North and South are not lost.
The word "Brexit" has been in our political lexicon since January 2013, when the then British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, announced that his Government was proposing to hold a referendum on British membership of the European Union. That referendum was held on 23 June 2016. Unfortunately, the decision was made at that time to leave the European Union. The issue has dominated political debate here. The second deadline of 31 October 2019 was missed and Brexit continues to dominate our political discussions. To the credit of both Houses of the Oireachtas and all of the committees over the past number of years, particularly since 2016, people of every party and none have given an extraordinary amount of time to working on and dealing with the Brexit issue, mindful of the impact that it can have on our island.
It has been heartening for everyone, particularly those of us who live in Border communities and have the privilege of representing those communities, to witness the progress that has been made since 1998. We have had the development of the all-Ireland economy, with, for example, enterprises located in our State going on to develop interests in Northern Ireland. Similarly, businesses in Northern Ireland which only had a presence there prior to 1998 now have a strong presence in our State as well. In so many instances, those companies have developed into all-Ireland operations, creating jobs for people north, south, east and west. This has been facilitated by the Single Market and the dismantling of the Border. Thankfully, in effect, the Good Friday Agreement dismantled the Border infrastructure on our island.
Last week, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I instanced the central Border area, comprising Cavan and Monaghan in the South and Tyrone and Fermanagh in the North, as being the least developed area on the island. These four counties are heavily dependent on three particular sectors - namely, those relating to agrifood, construction products and engineering - to generate employment, in the context of economic development and to generate earnings from exports. Those sectors are heavily dependent on the Northern Ireland and British markets. The imposition of tariffs on products from those sectors going to Britain, our primary market, will create major problems regarding the viability of those enterprises and their ability to remain competitive. We have the double negative of sectors that are the primary economic drivers in the least developed regions being the most heavily dependent on the British market to export their products to in order to generate earnings.
I have appealed for a deal to be reached on numerous occasions. In the event of there being no deal, and these sectors being very exposed, Government assistance must be targeted at the areas to which I refer. There is massive interdependence in the Border economy, North and South. I can instance it. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, knows my county and County Monaghan well. He will know the enterprises I am speaking about, some of which are situated on our side of the Border and their sister companies on the Fermanagh side. These are companies are interdependent, part-manufacturing in one jurisdiction and part-assembling in the other. There will be unbelievable complications and additional cross-Border issues if we do not have a deal. This is why a deal is particularly important. The messages from Westminster in recent days in the context of the UK wanting to forge ahead without a deal are very worrying. Like Deputy Haughey, I thought the Taoiseach was somewhat optimistic that a deal can be reached. We sincerely hope that it can be achieved because it is absolutely necessary.
The progress that has been made will be knocked back incalculably if we do not get an agreement. At the first committee meeting following the British referendum in 2016, I stated that the decision of the British people to leave the European Union knocked the stuffing out of Border communities. Those of us who lived there through the bad days saw the complete change whereby communities came together, regardless of whether they were located on the northern side of the Border or on the southern side, be it in Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan or Tyrone. These are huge stakes for our communities and for the entire island.
The Taoiseach stated that, understandably, the commentary by all of the Heads of State and Heads of Government at the Council meeting was very sombre in regard to Covid. I have said on many occasions in this Chamber that we need an all-Ireland approach to dealing with this pandemic. We need the restrictions to be comparable North and South and for those restrictions and other measures to be implemented in a similar way as well. Imposing restrictions and not implementing them on one side of the Border will not help us to eliminate this virus from our island.