Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the UK from the EU on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019: Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

We will commence the meeting in public session. Apologies have been received from Senator Ned O'Sullivan. Given that the Tánaiste is here, we should proceed with public business first and dispose of private business when the engagement with the Tánaiste is concluded.

Today, we are meeting An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade , Deputy Simon Coveney, to discuss the general scheme of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the UK from the EU on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019. The Tánaiste is very welcome. I also welcome his officials and thank them for the briefing supplied in advance of the meeting. I also thank colleagues from the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs for accommodating this approach to this meeting. The format for the meeting is that we will hear an opening statement from An Tánaiste before we move on to a question and answer session with the members of the committee.

Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Members are requested to ensure that, for the duration of the meeting, their mobile phones are turned off completely as they cause interference, even when on silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee room.

Also, I remind members of the longstanding parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I call on the Tánaiste to make his opening statement.

I thank the Chairman and members for this opportunity to come before the committee, particularly in advance of next week when we will publish the legislation on which, hopefully, I can give them some information now. I thank the committee for the invitation to be here today to discuss the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019. I also thank them for facilitating me by hosting this session today. I appreciate the attendance of members of both the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence and the Joint Committee on European Affairs at this session. I very much appreciate their time and engagement as we bring forward this omnibus Bill to address a range of critical issues that may arise in the context of a no-deal Brexit.

While there are six weeks to go until Brexit formally happens on 29 March, the political process is continuing. However, as they have done since the decision to leave the EU was first taken, the answers lie with Westminster.

The EU remains committed to achieving an ambitious and comprehensive future partnership with the UK. Should the UK's intentions for the future partnership evolve, the EU will adjust the level of ambition of the political declaration on the future relationship. However, the EU has made it absolutely clear that it stands by the withdrawal agreement, and it is not open for renegotiation.

President Tusk and President Juncker reaffirmed this during the Taoiseach’s visit to Brussels last week, and they reaffirmed the EU's continued solidarity on the backstop. The Taoiseach also met Prime Minister May, at her request, in Dublin last Friday. Throughout, our focus has been on securing the withdrawal agreement which is the best and only way to ensure an orderly and managed withdrawal.

While we have been working to secure agreement, preparations for Brexit and the changes it will bring have been under way since the beginning. More recently with the impending approach of the Brexit deadline and the uncertainty in London, we have no choice but to ramp up our no-deal preparations. This Bill is one of the most tangible expressions of the deep and broad preparations that are under way across multiple Government Departments. Our work at national level is complementary to the significant work under way across the EU to be as prepared as we can possibly be just in case the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March. While certain areas of our contingency planning require legislation, many do not and a wide range of other measures are under way such as the recruitment of customs and sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, officials, preparations at ports and airports, and a range of financial and advisory supports for businesses to help them to prepare and plan for Brexit.

This omnibus Bill covers the issues in primary legislation that need to be addressed immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It also contains an amendment to the Interpretation Act which would be needed should the withdrawal agreement be ratified in order to facilitate a transition period. Measures relevant in the case of a no-deal Brexit were identified following a detailed screening by all Departments of legislation currently in force. The Government published the general scheme of the omnibus Bill on 24 January. The Bill contains 16 Parts, addressing primary legislative issues which would require immediate attention in a no-deal scenario.

This is a very wideranging Bill, but given the emergency nature of this legislation, the Government took the decision that progressing this through the Houses as an omnibus Bill is the most sensible way to ensure that we have the necessary legislation enacted on time before 29 March. This Bill focuses on protecting our citizens and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs, particularly in key economic sectors that are vulnerable. It will underpin the common travel area and help to ensure that the associated rights and entitlements of Irish and British citizens under this longstanding arrangement will continue in any circumstance. In the area of health, the Bill will provide for a range of existing reciprocal healthcare arrangements between Ireland and the UK to be maintained after the UK leaves the EU. The Minister for Health will be provided with the power to make regulations in a number of matters, including to enable persons from Ireland to access healthcare in the UK. In a practical sense what we are trying to protect is the ability of young children to come from Belfast to Dublin for specialist paediatric care, the many patients in Donegal who go across the Border to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry where Irish taxpayers' money has helped to put some of the infrastructure in place, and so on. We have particularly during the past 20 years found a way to co-operate in a pragmatic and friendly way to make the best of the infrastructure on both sides of the Border from a healthcare perspective, and we want to continue to do that, even when Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom is outside the European Union.

The Bill will also provide for the continued payment of 21 social protection benefits, including payments such as old age pensions, illness benefit and child benefit, in any circumstance. It also provides protection for workers whose UK-based employer might become insolvent. Currently, all these issues, essentially, are protected under EU regulations, derogations or directives. Many of us will know British citizens living in Ireland who get pension payments from the UK every week or every month. Certainly, many of us will know many Irish citizens living in the UK who continue to get their pensions from here. Likewise, there are parents who get child benefit payments and so on across the Border or between Britain and Ireland. It does not naturally follow that those payments remain intact in a no-deal Brexit scenario unless we plan for that.

We are doing two things. First, we are signing an agreement between Ireland and the UK to protect social protection payments but we are also putting primary legislation in place to make sure we can make that seamless transition, if we face this cliff edge at the end of March where Britain essentially crashes out of the European Union without a managed exit and all of the arrangements that should be in place for that.

Furthermore, the Bill will allow for Student University Support Ireland, SUSI, grants to be paid to eligible Irish students studying in the UK, as well as to UK students in Irish higher education institutions. I am a beneficiary of this, as I went to university in the UK and the British taxpayer paid for some of my education. There are many British students in Irish third level institutions, and they are more than welcome here.

We do not want to turn this into a situation whereby Irish students in the UK and UK students in Ireland would be obliged to pay foreign student fees. We certainly do not want a situation where we cannot support through student grants young Irish students going to colleges and universities in future, as we do today. Again, it requires practical legislation in education to protect that arrangement in the context of a no-deal Brexit, should that happen. I am of the view that such an eventuality unlikely but we must plan for it.

On provisions in transport, we must see to it that cross-Border bus and rail services continue to operate thereby ensuring continued service provision for passengers and commuters on the island of Ireland. One would assume that getting on a train in Dublin and alighting in Belfast would be a fairly straightforward process. After Brexit, however, that train will leave the European Union, travel to a third country and then return. These are things that we do not think about but which require a legal base in areas such as the recognition of drivers and various other matters, including those relating to safety provision and certification. A similar situation arises in relation to bus journeys. We need to plan for, and in this case legislate for, many things that nobody thought about when they voted for or against Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland will be given additional enabling power to further support businesses through investment, loans and research and development and investment grants so as to assist Irish businesses in remaining competitive and resilient in the context of a no-deal Brexit context. This is one of the only areas in which legislation was likely to be brought forward in any event because Enterprise Ireland has sought this increased power. However, it makes sense to take this element out of the larger Bill we plan to take at some stage in the coming 12 months and put it into this legislation in order that we maximise the capacity for Enterprise Ireland to be able to support businesses, particularly in vulnerable sectors through what will be a very difficult transition for many of them in the event of a no deal Brexit materialising.

Since the publication of the general scheme of the omnibus Bill, intensive work has been underway between Departments and the Office of the Attorney General. On the basis of this work, there have been some updates and amendments to the draft Bill. These include new provisions which will introduce postponed accounting for VAT purposes in a no-deal scenario. This will mitigate against a potential cashflow burden faced by businesses post Brexit. This issue was highlighted by industry, and this is a practical measure which will support businesses. Put simply, we are helping businesses with cashflow. Unfortunately, because of new trading relationships on the back of a no-deal Brexit, businesses that import and export products back and forth from the UK on a weekly or daily basis will have to pay VAT on each consignment in future unless we legislate to facilitate better arrangements. Currently, businesses pay VAT every second month. In that kind of environment, we are legislating to ensure that businesses can continue to calculate their VAT and, from a cashflow perspective, pay every second month rather than on the delivery of every individual consignment that may have to go through customs checks, SPS checks and so on, especially in the context of east-west trade, whether that comes through Dublin Port, Dublin Airport or Rosslare.

Following consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, the original Part 16 of the draft Bill, which contained amendments to the Data Protection Act, will now be covered by statutory instrument. Similarly, certain health provisions which were in the original draft Bill will be provided for through secondary legislation. That is good news because it simplifies the arrangements.

While this Bill covers a range of areas, it is very much operational legislation to allow for many of our current arrangements with the UK to continue to function after it leaves the EU and becomes a third country. The Government has discussed this proposed legislation during its meetings in January and February. Its provisions are the subject of daily engagements between Departments and Parliamentary Counsel.

We expect to publish the full single omnibus Bill on 22 February and we will continue to work closely with the Business Committee to confirm timelines. We propose to bring the legislation to Cabinet on Tuesday where it will be signed off by the Government. As a complicated piece of legislation, it will then go back to the relevant Departments for a final check to ensure that it is correct and then it will be published. It will be published on time, as we said we would, next Friday, 22 February. I am happy to brief Opposition parties before next Friday before we publish the Bill to ensure that there will be no surprises and that everyone will understand what is coming. We must work together in respect of the legislation.

Once published, the Bill will go before the Dáil for Second Stage between 26 and 28 February; it will undergo Committee and Report Stages between 4 and 8 March. We want to do this via a committee of the House. Originally, we thought we would try to do it through this committee or combined committees. However, having spoken to all the political parties, there is a view that this legislation is important enough to bring it through a committee of the House so that no one will be excluded. As a result of this, no one will be required to be a committee member in order to contribute to the debates. Anyone in the House will be able to speak, ask questions and secure clarification. This will also allow us to bring in Ministers to take the sections of the legislation that apply to their Departments. There are nine Departments, including the Department of An Taoiseach, to which sections of the Bill relate. In the context of matters of education, the Minister, Deputy McHugh, will come before the House to answer questions and deal with any amendments that are relevant to his section. Similarly, the Minister of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, can deal with anything related to her area, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan can deal with anything relating to his brief and so on.

If all goes well, the Bill will be send for Second Stage debate in the Seanad on 11 and 12 March. That will be followed by Committee and Report Stage in the Seanad on 13 and 14 March. Many Ministers will be away in the build up to St. Patrick's Day but I will not be, or, rather, I will be away for part of this week but I will be around for the legislation. I will be visiting European capitals for obvious reasons. That is the timeline on which we hope the committee can work with us. Members will find me absolutely open in the context of briefings, reassurance and clarifications and any amendments they may wish to test. We can do it offline or online as they wish.

The country is in an emergency situation and this is emergency legislation. We need to get it done together in order to protect Irish people, whether pensioners, students or members of the travelling public. We can get it done in the timeline I have outlined. To date, engagement with other political parties has been very positive. There is nothing party political in what we are doing and we will work in a very constructive way with everyone on this process.

This legislation is an essential part of our whole-of-Government preparations for Brexit. Our contingency action plan was published on 19 December and an update was published on 30 January. I will continue to provide such updates. I appreciate the co-operation of all Members of the Houses and their assistance and co-operation in ensuring that we will be able to get this Bill - should it be needed - through the various Stages and enact it by 29 March. I hope that the Bill will not be needed, nor do not think that it will be. However, we cannot be sure and we would be foolish to take anything for granted in light of the unpredictable nature of the Brexit negotiations to date.

The potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland would be severe. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, recently outlined the potential macroeconomic impacts, and there would be negative impacts across a number of vulnerable sectors. Our preparations, including through our legislative proposals, are focused on minimising these impacts and protecting as many people and sectors as possible.

Ireland will remain an active and enthusiastic member of the EU. The Government is committed to working with the European Commission and our EU partners to minimise any disruption for our citizens and businesses and to forge a continuing positive relationship among the EU 27. Of course, we also wish to maintain a positive relationship with the UK, which is of great importance to me and the country in general. However, we will not follow the UK away from the European Union. Rather, we will remain a committed and enthusiastic member of the European Union, the Single Market and the customs union.

I thank the Chair and members for allowing me to outline some aspects of our legislative planning. I am happy to respond to any questions that members may wish to pose.

In light of the number of members offering, I will group questioners. I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, to be followed by Deputy Niall Collins.

It is important to acknowledge the amount of work that has been done and the way in which the Tánaiste and his officials have retained their sanity throughout the somewhat crazy past few months. I was struck by the suggestion of the BBC radio presenter interviewing the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, that Ireland would leave the EU and rejoin the UK. It was just another example of a lack of knowledge about and appreciation of Irish history.

On what basis does the Tánaiste think this legislation will not be necessary? The EU has been strong on Irish interests, but there is much talk about holding one's nerve and who will blink first. Is he fully confident that the EU will not blink first, particularly in the context of certain trade matters? An article published in The Guardian put forward the view that Prime Minister May wants to deliver the least worst Brexit for her country, that she wishes to do so as part of the Tory Government and that she is determined to avoid a no-deal scenario but will not be able to do so with only the support she has had to date and that of the DUP. Rather, she will require support from the Opposition. How confident is the Tánaiste that she will receive such support?

May I ask more than one question?

I thank the Tánaiste for his opening statement. I and my party will do everything we can to help to scrutinise and progress the legislation if necessary. There are only 14 sitting days between now and 29 March, which shows that time is tight. We are somewhat concerned that we still await publication of the detail of the legislation and that it is running down to the wire. In terms of preparedness in other European countries, the Netherlands published legislation in November, France triggered its contingency plan on 17 January, Spain approved its plan on 11 January and Italy announced legislation on 21 December. Draft legislation has been published in Poland and legislation is before the parliaments of Germany and the Czech Republic. We are a little behind the curve. The Oireachtas may require extra sitting days between now and 29 March.

I wish to flag certain specific issues to the Tánaiste. He may not be able to address them today but I wish to make him aware of them. He will be aware of the recent AIB Brexit sentiment survey which revealed that only 8% of SMEs surveyed had a formal Brexit plan in place in quarter 4 of 2018. The Tánaiste will indicate that the Government has been engaging with industry and SMEs on an ongoing basis, but it is very worrying that only 8% of SMEs have plans in place. That is backed up by take-up of the various funds that were put in place. Only 5% of the €300 million set aside for the Brexit loan scheme has been sanctioned to date and the Brexit loan scheme for farmers and fishermen announced in October and to which €25 million was allocated is still not open. I ask the Tánaiste to update us in that regard and provide an overview of contingency planning at that level because some of the figures that are emerging, particularly from the AIB sentiment survey, are quite depressing.

The Tánaiste referred to education and SUSI grants. While the clarity regarding SUSI grants will be welcome, as is the fact that the arrangements will continue, will that be the case for the remainder of current students' courses or will it continue into the foreseeable future? Is there any clarity on the fees to which Irish students who choose to study in the UK will be subject, particularly from the 2021 academic year onward?

The Tánaiste will be familiar with many companies in the medtech sector. Some are based in Cork and others in the mid west, with Galway a particularly popular location. The EU estimates that between 30% and 40% of medical devices in use and demand are approved through UK designated notifying bodies. I have been informed by members of the medtech sector that the UK-based notifying bodies will no longer be recognised by the EU after 29 March and that certified devices will no longer be in conformity with the EU directive. A significant problem may arise in that regard. Is the Tánaiste aware of that potential issue? Is it being worked on? It will have a sharp impact if we the calamitous event we are all trying to avoid comes to pass on 29 March.

A report published today by Reuters, a relatively reputable news agency, quotes sources in Brussels as stating that the Government may get a transition period or some temporary opt outs to avoid putting up a hard Border, and that it will soon be required to come up with a plan to protect the EU Single Market or face checks on Irish goods entering the remainder of the EU bloc. I do not know if the Tánaiste has seen or been made aware of that report. Given the possibility of a no-deal Brexit because of opposition to the backstop in Westminster, has the Government considered or been asked to come up with an alternative to the backstop? Has the Government been asked through the back channels to come up with an alternative to the backstop or has it had any discussions on an alternative plan for the Border?

On why I think the legislation will not be needed, we will need to get it ready to be enacted. However, I am of the view that a strong majority of MPs in Westminster do not want a no-deal Brexit and will act to avoid it, although I cannot be sure that will be the case. The reality is that any sane individual who looks at the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for Britain and Ireland in particular, as the two countries that would be damaged the most, as well as many other EU countries, would try to avoid it. A no-deal Brexit is unlikely, but it is possible. I believe we will find a way to prevent it. I hope the British Parliament can find a way to so do because, essentially, the problem is there, not here. The British Government signed up to a deal which took all perspectives into account, had taken two years to negotiate and involved compromise by all sides. The British Prime Minister defended it and, in my view, still believes in it. However, because of the political pressures and realities in Westminster, she has been forced to move in a different direction. The responsibility to come up with ways to solve the current impasse lie where the impasse is, which is London and not Brussels, Dublin, Belfast or anywhere else.

I believe a way can be found, but the only thing the Irish Government can do is continue to be respectful but firm and fair. It is not reasonable to ask Ireland to essentially undermine core commitments that were made to Ireland, North and South, to protect the peace process and guarantee the absence of Border infrastructure. Those guarantees were not time-limited and did not come with exit clauses. They were guarantees. By the way, the British Prime Minister repeated them last week, when she gave what I would regard as a quite generous speech in Northern Ireland. The problem here is politics. There is a fair deal on the table but there are some who want more, who seem to want to change the current deal to take out compromises that the UK has been asked to make but insist that the EU maintains all the compromises it was willing to make. One cannot negotiate on that basis and I do not believe the EU will negotiate on that basis. That is why I do not believe the withdrawal agreement will be reopened. Of course the EU will act and try to put together a package that will give reassurance and clarification to the British Parliament. We all need to work to try to do that. There is a lot of scope in the political declaration, which is of course open to discussion and change. That is a political ambition for the future. It is not a legal divorce agreement, which is what the withdrawal agreement is.

I am not comfortable with the language of a game of chicken or a question of who will blink first. We are all neighbours and friends here. One of the things that is so uncomfortable about this negotiation is the pressure that has been put on the Parliament in Westminster, and indeed the Government and Parliament here and in other parts of Europe. I refer to lobbying, undermining of people's positions and so on. Britain is a very close friend of Ireland. We are close neighbours with a very complicated and tragic history. We have to find a way through this and out the other side that does not damage that relationship and provoke tensions many people thought we had left behind. I ask people to think about that when they talk about playing games of chicken. That applies on both sides. One of the big mistakes made in London is the perspective that the EU needs a deal as much as we need a deal. First and foremost that is factually not true. However we do want a deal. When I say "we" I am talking about the EU. We want to be reasonable and fair about that. We want a future relationship with Britain which is positive, whereby there are not winners and losers in these negotiations. We want to find a compromise to move this process forward in a way that respects that relationship.

In regard to Opposition support, I have been critical of the party in government in Westminster but also the party of opposition. Compare it to what is happening in our Parliament. We have been working with the main Opposition party and with Sinn Féin, parties that are in intense competition at election time and do not agree with each other's political approaches and perspectives in lots of areas. By and large people are willing to work together on this issue and try to find a way forward. It is regrettable that this kind of approach has not been possible, even now with 43 days to go. We still do not have a proper formal dialogue between the two main parties in the British Parliament. I say that as somebody who spent a lot of my life in England and is a product of the Anglo-Irish relationship. A lot of my family on my mother's side have British passports. I was in university there. I worked in Scotland. Britain is a great country, but we have to call it as it is. It is incredible, in my view, that the British Parliament has allowed it to come to this. That being said, I still believe there is a way to get through this process and have a managed, controlled and predictable Brexit. We have the basis for the deal. It is there, if people would just take it rather than trying to look for more all the time. Instead of trying to compromise with hardliners on both sides, if middle-ground sensible thinking took control of this process I think we would find a solution a lot more quickly.

Deputy Collins asked about the 14 remaining sitting days. We can get this done. The reason the Netherlands, France, Spain and others either have legislation in train or have passed legislation is that they have done it very differently from us. Their legislation is much more straightforward. In some cases they are essentially giving the Government powers to act by decree. In other words, they are giving emergency powers to a Minister or Ministers in certain sectors. We are not really doing that. We are actually passing more detailed legislation which primarily provides for the protection of a common travel area between Britain and Ireland, whereby British and Irish citizens are essentially almost recognised as citizens of each other's countries. In multiple areas we have much more comprehensive legislation than most other countries that passed short and punchy emergency legislation. Because ours is a much bigger piece of legislation, passing it weeks or months ago without knowing that we really needed to do so would have taken up an awful lot of parliamentary time and would have been unnecessary. However, we need to do it now.

On the Brexit sentiment survey I note that lots of surveys have taken place. The one thing we know for sure from speaking to Irish agencies like local enterprise offices, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, or the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation is that there has been a dramatic increase in awareness of Brexit issues over the past six to 12 months. I am sorry, but I just do not believe anybody who tells me that businesses are not talking about Brexit right now. It may be the case that the percentage of businesses with a formal Brexit plan is not high enough. That is true. However, many businesses simply do not know what kind of plan they need to put in place because they do not know what Brexit is going to look like. That is also the truth. Just because a business does not have a formal Brexit plan does not mean it has not put contingencies in place for different scenarios.

In regard to the Brexit loan scheme, we never expected a huge uptake of that scheme until Brexit actually crystallised. For example, if a company knows it will have to significantly invest in increased storage if Brexit goes the wrong way because it cannot rely on the just-in-time economic model that goes with the Single Market and the customs union, but it will have to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of euros to do that, it will not trigger that decision until it actually knows it needs to. Those Brexit loan schemes are important. There has been quite significant uptake of previous Brexit schemes for farmers. I think people are holding back from the current €300 million loan scheme until they get more clarity on what they need to do.

In regard to the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants, the legislation initially deals with 2019 but the intention is to renew it year after year. The key thing is that we will have the base legislation to facilitate that. This Government has no intention of removing the supports for young Irish students going to college in the UK.

This is a huge issue for the medtech sector. The truth is that medicines and a lot of medical devices are authorised and approved for the EU market in the UK. That authorisation is not likely to be available in the UK any longer. Businesses will essentially have to reshape their supply chains - where they get authorisation, where they take product and where they finish product - in order to get authorisation.

It also needs to be taken into account in the supply of medicines, in terms of where and how we will source them. The European Medicines Agency has signed off on all of the medicines produced and approved in the UK, where it is a significant industry. That certification may no longer be available in the UK, therefore, these supply chains will need to change. A huge amount of contingency planning has been done in the medicines, medtech and pharmaceutical sectors generally. Last night, I was at a Brexit meeting where I spoke to two pharmaceutical companies afterwards. They have been planning for this for two years. Six months ago, they signed off on assuming the worst. Much of the money has already been spent in terms of reshaping supply chains because companies cannot wait for political decisions given the time it takes to implement new plans. A significant opportunity has already been lost even if Brexit becomes a more controlled and managed process than it is threatening to be.

I am wary of Brussels sources, quite frankly. Every day, I hear rumours about Brexit coming out of Brussels just like I hear rumours coming out of London. Unless there is a name behind a source and a quote I am pretty suspicious of it. There is a lot of spin, manoeuvring and politics on this issue. We continue to talk all the time to the European Commission on contingency planning, where the EU must make decisions collectively and where Ireland has responsibility to make decisions. The sensitivity of the Border issue in Ireland is understood in the European Commission. As far as I am concerned, the British Government has made a commitment to Ireland not to make decisions that would result in physical Border infrastructure re-emerging between the two jurisdictions on the island and it has an obligation to follow through on this commitment. As countries we are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement in terms of its text and spirit. This is why the backstop emerged as the compromise solution. Deal or no deal, there is an obligation on the Irish and British Governments and the EU to try to work together to find a way to avoid physical Border infrastructure on this island. We have been very clear and firm on this and will continue to be so.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he gives us clarity or certainty that he is not coming under pressure to find an alternative to the backstop? Is this what he is saying?

It is the UK that is speaking about alternative arrangements to the backstop and not us.

Is the Irish Government coming under pressure from anywhere in the EU to find an alternative to the backstop?

No, I do not think so. The pressure is not on Ireland, it is on London.

I thank the Minister for giving us an outline of what will be in the Bill. I have read the general scheme of its provisions and I am somewhat acquainted with what it hopes to achieve. Whatever we can do to support the passage of the Bill we will do. I concur with Teachta Collins that it would have been better if the Bill had been published earlier. The Minister spoke about the Bill going to the Cabinet next Tuesday, being published the following week and going before the Dáil at the end of the month. This means it is three or four weeks before D-day. It would have been better to have had more time. The Minister appreciates it is a comprehensive Bill that will cover nine Departments. Spokespersons for these respective portfolios will want to have an input. Notwithstanding this, whatever support we can give the Bill we will do so to ensure it is passed because we need to plan for every eventuality.

I want to make a point on the general politics. The Minister is right to point out there is an agreed and consistent Irish position from the Government and the Opposition on this issue. I have been in Westminster several times in recent months and have met political parties, politicians and media. The commentariat in Britain is struck by the level of unity that exists in Ireland in comparison with the disunity in Westminster. It is quite striking to them and it is to our benefit that we have it. I want to point out it is not just in the South but also in the North, with the exception of the DUP, where the other parties have been united and have done a lot of collaborative work on supporting the backstop and having meetings in Brussels and Westminster. This has been for the good.

With regard to the politics, and to bring it back to the Bill, the Minister is right to say the solution to any problem should come from the people creating the impasse, which is the British Government. It is reneging on a deal that was already done. The Minister is right that we must watch our language and temper what we say because we do not want to end up, by accident or design, in a situation where we have a hard crash. If we arrive at a hard crash it will not be the fault of any politician in Ireland and that is for sure. If we arrive at a situation where there is a hard crash, and however unlikely people think that might be it is still a possibility, tough decisions would then have to be made and action would have to be taken by the Irish Government on the Border. All of the other provisions in the Bill are all very necessary and important but what happens at the Border in the event of a hard crash is the elephant in the room. I have heard the Minister say previously why he cannot answer this question but it is the question being asked. As the Minister knows, a very important event took place in Belfast at the Waterfront with 1,700 people from throughout civic nationalism, where very real concern was expressed about what will happen in that scenario and the lack of clarity on it coming from the Irish Government. It is something that is lacking. It is the biggest contingency that will have to be put in place but it is not at all covered in the Bill.

Border infrastructure North-South or east-west was never to be dealt with in the Bill.

I understand and accept this but my point is we do not know what contingencies will be in place in the event of a hard crash. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I understand the Bill is predicated on a no-deal scenario. Is this correct?

Apart from the very last section-----

Earlier the Minister mentioned that by and large-----

-----that essentially allows the UK to be considered a member state through a transition period if there is agreement on the withdrawal. All the rest of the Bill is for a no-deal Brexit.

Exactly. In a no-deal scenario my point is the biggest contingency we will have to deal with is what happens at the Border.

With regard to the process, I welcome the fact that the Minister is making himself available for briefings. It might be useful if other Ministers make themselves available to spokespersons with regard to their respective sections of the Bill. This might be necessary. It depends on the depth of the provisions and we will wait to see what is in the Bill when we get it. It seems that it will be substantial in some areas, which is good.

With regard to the provisions in the Bill relevant to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Bill speaks about further support for businesses, loans and research and development, all of which is good. It could be argued that it is necessary whether there is a soft or hard Brexit. IBEC and ISME have been calling for these provisions. There will be an economic impact regardless of whether or not it is a hard crash. Why is it only in the event of a hard crash that we would put in place these additional resources? Something that is not covered, which I have heard raised at meetings of the transport committee, is the insurance green card. Perhaps the Minister is in a position to answer questions on it. It has also been raised in the national media. Concern has been expressed about why it is not covered in the Bill. Is it something that will be covered somewhere else? How will the Government deal with the issue?

Will some of the provisions of the Bill require additional spending? If so, will the Minister identify from where the additional money will come and in what areas additional spending will be incurred?

While it is a given that investment will have to be made by the Irish State, what is coming through from the stakeholders I have met, such as the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, business groups and trade unions, is that Europe also needs to step up to the plate in respect of funding streams and easing state aid rules. Where is that in the context of this Bill? Is it being looked at separately with the European Union? What responses will be required of Europe in the event of a hard crash? I will leave it at that. Obviously Sinn Féin will critique and support some elements of the Bill. There will be amendments but we will leave that until later. We are not going to go into any criticisms or critiques now beyond what I have said. I look forward to the publication of the Bill.

I am grateful for this comprehensive overview. The Working Group of Committee Chairmen had another comprehensive briefing yesterday. I definitely sense full support from all committee Chairs in all parties to get this through in time. Deputy Cullinane is right to remark on the unity in the Irish political process, but we cannot leave out the clear unity in the European political process. It is a serious achievement to see 27 member states and the most powerful supranational institution in the world maintaining unity in the face of absolute chaos in Westminster.

Parallel to this Bill, the Commission produced its 19 legislative proposals on 19 December. What is the process of transposing them into Irish law? Is it under way or is it done through this Bill? The Tánaiste rightly says that it is immensely regrettable that we are even having to look at the heads of this Bill or have briefings. It is regrettable that it has come to this, and that regret is in no way the fault of the Irish Government or any European government. It lies with the confusion in Westminster. How much time has been taken up preparing this Bill and the crash-out measures on the Irish side? It is absolutely necessary given that we are less than 50 days away from Brexit, but it is an awful lot of very valuable time from very skilled individuals, particularly in our diplomatic corps, that could be put to better national use. I hope very much we do not have to use it but I regret that we have had possibly to waste so much time on something that is not in our control.

In response to Deputy Cullinane, we had set the date of 22 February in early January. I am comfortable that we can do this in time. If we introduce emergency legislation, it needs to be reasonably close to the emergency. If we had been doing this in November or December, it would have taken up a huge amount of parliamentary time. Many people might have predicted at that stage that we would have a lot more clarity by now. With the co-operation of others, I think we can get this done. The amount of legislation the UK will have to introduce in a no-deal scenario, or indeed even if there is a transition period agreed, is considerable. Even if the withdrawal agreement were signed off on in the morning, there would be a considerable number of weeks' work required in the British Parliament to bring in legislation.

On some of the bilateral arrangements around the common travel area and so on, we have worked very well with the British Government on trying to protect some core issues such as the Good Friday Agreement and all its complexity in the context of Brexit, the common travel area, cross-border healthcare and students. Without reciprocal arrangements on the British side, we would not be able to solve problems here. It is important to say that. While there is a lot of frustration across the EU and especially in Ireland that the Brexit issues do not have more clarity, in terms of some of this contingency planning there has been good co-operation.

On no-deal planning, if there is a no-deal and Britain crashes out, Ireland, Britain and the EU will have a very difficult job to manage the consequences in the context of the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Our view has always been that if there are no agreed solutions, the default position is regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the areas necessary to prevent physical border infrastructure, for good reason. That was agreed in December 2017, long before the withdrawal agreement was signed off. It was agreed that we would resolve the border issues through one of three ways. The first of these was a comprehensive future relationship and trade deal. If that was not possible, the UK would offer bespoke solutions to Ireland to solve this problem, presumably in the shape of some form of technology or other ideas. If there was no agreement on the capacity of that bespoke solution to do the job, the commitment was very clear in writing that the UK would maintain full alignment with the rules of the customs union and Single Market in the areas necessary to prevent border infrastructure and protect the peace agreement. That commitment was given in return for the EU and Ireland allowing the process to move on to talk about the future relationship, which had not really been discussed at that point. As far as I am concerned, those commitments still stand.

We cannot just wipe the slate clean and have people making farcical arguments along the lines of "we do not want a border, you do not want a border, the EU does not want a border so let's just pretend it is not a problem". That is kindergarten stuff. To be fair to the Prime Minister, I think she has faced down that kind of thinking. There needs to be a legally sound, practical solution here. If there are alternatives to the backstop, they should be explored and tested. They have been, for two years. The best solution that people could come up with in terms of a guarantee, fallback or insurance mechanism was the backstop. Even in the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship declaration, there is a mention of alternative arrangements. There is mention of the fact that the backstop is a temporary arrangement that can be replaced by alternative arrangements but they have to do the same job. We need to be honest with people. I have yet to see another approach that can do the same job unless we have a future relationship agreement and trading arrangement that is so comprehensive it does not require border infrastructure. We will continue to try to work in a constructive way on that issue.

Ministers will be available for briefing. We will probably bring Ministers in individually for Committee Stage in the Dáil so they can deal with their sections and take questions, potential amendments and so on. If they cannot be there, we can make sure they can provide briefings separately and I will take the legislation for them in the Dáil. I expect that the Ministers will be there. On the Enterprise Ireland issues, as I said, Enterprise Ireland wants these powers anyway. We have essentially plucked this element out of an industrial and commercial Bill and put it in the omnibus legislation because we want it done quickly so Enterprise Ireland has the maximum flexibility in terms of offering loans and support to businesses in some of the sectors that would be under a lot of strain if there was a no-deal Brexit. That is the only legislation that we would be introducing anyway but we would not be introducing it by the end of March. It would probably be a year or so away.

We cannot legislate for the insurance green card issue because it is an EU competence. I will read the note on that to put it on record. Currently, all Irish motor vehicles travelling within the EU are covered by the terms of the EU's motor insurance directive. This allows motor vehicles to travel freely between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain as well as across other EU countries. Should a no-deal Brexit occur, the UK, including Northern Ireland, will no longer be party to the motor insurance directive.

The Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland has published advice for policyholders on when and how to get a green card, if needed, in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. Green cards provide proof of insurance and are part of an older system that pre-dates the European Union. Citizens driving their Irish registered vehicles in Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom will be required to carry a green card to prove that they have motor insurance. It is not that they will be stopped and asked for it, but if they are stopped, it is proof of insurance that will be accepted across the Border. The green card system does not affect motorists' cover. Where they are currently covered to drive in the United Kingdom, they will remain so under their policy.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has said Britain and Ireland could reach a bilateral agreement on the issue. I do not know whether that is right, but he has said it.

I would have to see the context in which he said it, but this is an EU competence and EU directive. Ireland cannot-----

Could a note on the issue be sent to the committee?

Yes. We cannot do our own thing. We have spoken to the Commission about it because the European Union could put in place a reciprocal arrangement with the United Kingdom, as it has done on a temporary basis for hauliers, for example, in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. However, from a contingency point of view, the insurance industry is doing the right thing just in case to ensure people will be able to continue to drive. There are hundreds of thousands of crossings of the Border every day.

On the cost of the Bill, to be honest Brexit is costing the country hundreds of millions in working capital facilities, loan facilities, upgrading the ports in Dublin and Rosslare, supports and incentives. This is not without a cost of time, money and political distraction. We would be doing many other things if I did not have to fill virtually half of every day with Brexit issues. However, that is the reality. This is not an Irish policy and not something we like or support. It is something our neighbours have chosen to do. We must respect that and I am very strong on it. Any country has the right to leave the European Union if it wishes, but I would like to think we have the type of relationship with the United Kingdom where it will follow through on the commitments it made to us in the context of its decisions.

On state aid rules, we have spoken to the Commission about relaxing them, if necessary. We have also spoken to it about protecting vulnerable sectors, particularly agriculture and fishing, through a combination of a relaxation of state aid rules and EU supports. We are fortunate that an Irish Commissioner has the agriculture brief in the Commission. That is not because he is in any way biased towards Ireland but because he understands the Irish agriculture industry and how vulnerable it will be in a no-deal Brexit should we have to trade with the United Kingdom on WTO terms, including tariffs and so forth. The impact that would have on the beef and dairy sectors would be very significant and we must respond to it. I believe the European Union will respond to it with the appropriate solidarity.

I have a brief supplementary question. I acknowledge the response on the easing of state aid rules and supports for the agrifood business from the European Union. That would be very useful. On costings, of course, Brexit is costing us. To be fair, however, if the Opposition brought forward a Bill, the first thing we would be asked is how much would it cost. As we are going to be asked to support this Bill, it is fair and reasonable to ask how much it will cost and from where the money will come. We can deal with that issue on Second Stage, but it could be dealt with today if the Minister has the figures. That would be useful.

First, nobody can give a figure today for what Brexit will cost. We simply do not know. The Bill is primarily about the maintenance of the status quo in being able to continue to give grants to students, facilitate travel, healthcare and so forth. In fact, the absence of this legislation would involve an increased cost too, for example, if we could not use Altnagelvin Area Hospital. It works both ways. Much will depend on what Enterprise Ireland does and the amount of money it has available to it. We can come up with an estimate, but most of the elements of the legislation do not have a significant financial cost attached to them. They are about protecting in law what has been facilitated until now by joint EU membership. However, there are other areas that could be very expensive in providing support packages for vulnerable sectors. That is why we are lucky we have set aside a rainy day fund. It is a significant fund which, if necessary, we could use in an emergency. That is the reason a supplementary budget will not be required.

The Minister must have read the Sinn Féin document.

With respect, I do not believe this was Sinn Féin's thinking.

The next speakers are Senator McFadden and Deputies Durkan and Haughey.

My apologies, Chairman, but I did not answer Senator Richmond's question about the 19 legislative proposals coming from the Commission. Most will either take direct effect or we will cater for them in the statutory instruments we are introducing. There is no issue of delay. Most are changing EU law or making an exception to EU law on a temporary basis. Most of the contingency solutions coming from the Commission are only temporary until the end of the year. Incidentally, if anybody thinks a no-deal Brexit can hold onto the contingency measures being introduced temporarily by the European Union forever, the idea of a managed no-deal Brexit is a fantasy. There will be a temporary set of contingency plans in place to facilitate basic movement and so forth, but there will be a need for the negotiation of a more permanent arrangement. In a no-deal Brexit scenario those negotiations would be very difficult.

I thank the Minister for taking the time to attend. I commend the work he, the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and all of the officials have been doing so far. It is great that the work commenced right after the referendum. They set to work to have us as ready as possible for something so unknown. The potential impact of a no-deal Brexit is very severe. The legislation is welcome to protect workers and students, including many Irish students, and to continue co-operation in the health sector across the Border. There is a logistical or practical matter that worries me. Should there be the scenario we all dread on 29 March, what will happen in practical terms at midnight or the following morning in the protection of workers or students? If the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be, will it continue flawlessly, as it were? I agree that the Bill should be brought through a committee of the Houses and it is welcome that all Members will have a chance to have their say on it in order that there will be a whole-of-government and Oireachtas approach. In so far as I can say, as Whip, the Minister will have the support of the Seanad in that regard. However, I would appreciate it if he could give us an idea of the practicalities involved.

I thank the Tánaiste for attending. I am a member of the other committee and glad to have the opportunity to be here.

I agree with the strategy, as I strongly believe it would be inappropriate to bring forward the contingency legislation in this country too soon.

Its existence at too early a stage could undermine any bargaining position and examination of alternatives and would facilitate a concentration on the no-deal, all out, Brexit we are ultimately trying to avoid. The strategy is correct and has been hugely important. I am sure it has been important to the Tánaiste. Unity among all parties on the island of Ireland is important in response to the proposal for a simple and good reason. It is not only for the purposes of unity, it also stems from the fact that there was no alternative on the island of Ireland for the business sector, the political fraternity and everybody engaged in trade. The options were limited and the only option we could in any way continue as best we could after the separation of our next-door neighbour from the European Union would be on the basis maintained by the Tánaiste, the Government and the Opposition parties, for which we should be grateful.

We should be equally grateful for the unity illustrated by our European colleagues, particularly the negotiators, without whose single-mindedness of purpose the process would have collapsed a long time ago. They are all to be congratulated for the way they have understood the Irish position, how they have maintained their position and how they have kept the European Union and its objectives in mind from start to finish. That is important and I hope it will continue.

I have two questions. It is envisaged that the common travel area can be to made work after Brexit, whether it is a crash out or whatever form it will take. Can any comparisons be made with the excise union on the island of Ireland, with a view to extending the latitude identified in the common travel area?

Given the massive interdependence north and south of the island of Ireland in the business, commercial, export and import sectors, is it envisaged that dialogue and contact can be maintained with our colleagues in Northern Ireland throughout the next six months, or more, or whatever length of time it takes? Can a means be found to have a consultation and dialogue with political and business representatives in Northern Ireland, given the fact that we share the island, have common concerns and positions and, particularly, that in Northern Ireland a majority did not vote to leave the European Union.

I thank the Tánaiste for his briefing on the Bill. I acknowledge the work of our diplomats in Europe who, as the Tánaiste said, have put a huge amount of work and effort in the past few years.

I will take up the point made by Deputy Cullinane about the EU motor insurance directive. It will come as a surprise to many motorists that obligations will be placed on them in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit both for Irish motorists in the United Kingdom and British motorists coming here. The Government will need to be proactive and put some pressure on the insurance industry, if need be, to alert motorists to their obligations. The insurance companies could be required to contact their clients directly to make them aware of their obligations in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. We need to be more proactive in that regard.

I presume the Oireachtas will pass this legislation which may not be needed. What will happen afterwards if it is not needed? I presume there will be commencement orders, or whatever else. Does the Tánaiste envisage the whole Bill being commenced? How will that work in practice in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit? Is it envisaged that there will be commencement orders?

The Tánaiste mentioned the budgetary implications. We have been told that there there will be no need for a supplementary budget this year. The Tánaiste also mentioned the rainy day fund. A no-deal Brexit will have devastating consequences for this country. It could impact on our economic growth, the public finances and so forth. Is it a definite commitment that there will not be a requirement for a supplementary budget this year in the event that Brexit takes place?

Will the Tánaiste assure us that the solidarity of the EU 27 is still holding? At one stage the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern made reference to eleventh hour wheeling and dealing in smoke-filled rooms. I presume there are still smoke-filled rooms in Europe. Will the Tánaiste assure us that the solidarity is holding and that we are not coming under any pressure to modify our position? There were comments from the Polish Foreign Minister which did not represent the views of the EU 27, but I would like such an assurance.

I know that the Tánaiste has taken an interest in the horse racing and bloodstock industry, particularly when he was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, but there was nothing in his contribution today about it. Is a lot of work needed to address the implications of a no-deal Brexit for the industry? Will the Tánaiste enlighten us on what needs to be done in that area.

What will happen on 29 March? We will have done everything we can by then and enacted legislation in time in order that, at 11 p.m. on 29 March, currently the time and date at and on which the United Kingdom will formally leave the European Union, this law will take effect. Students will be able to continue as previously. It may mean that cars travelling back and forth across the Border will need a green card on the windscreen, but, by and large, the common travel area will continue as it does today. That will not solve the problem for many in Ireland who do not have an Irish or a British passport. In the Irish economy there are 200 different nationalities and, while they will continue to be able to move between Britain and Ireland because there will be no barriers because of the common travel area, they may not be able to work the way they do now and they will not have the benefits of this legislation which applies to Irish nationals. It changes the relationship and causes issues.

The real impact will be felt in sectors such as agriculture. We sell approximately €2 billion worth of beef into the United Kingdom each year. I do not believe the United Kingdom will leave without a deal, but, if that were to happen and it decided to implement full the WTO trading arrangements, something for which some are openly advocating in the British Parliament, it would mean tariffs of up to 65% on beef and approximately 43% on dairy products. The commerce and trading environment for important sectors in Ireland would be changed dramatically. That is also true in the United Kingdom. We buy approximately €3.5 billion worth of food and drink from there each year. All of the complexities of the relationships, north and south on the island, and figuring out solutions in a short period of time would exert pressure. It would be difficult, from which there is no getting away.

We are preparing as best we can. The European Union is putting practical contingency plans in place, but it will put Ireland under a lot of strain. In my view, it will also put the United Kingdom under enormous strain. It will cost jobs and damage the economy. We have many contingency plans in place to reduce the damage, but it will be difficult.

In response to Deputy Durkan, we have very strong EU unity. That will continue. The EU wants a deal; it wants to manage Brexit. It is watching in astonishment how the debates are progressing in Westminster but it is what it is but we have to accept that and we have to be respectful of that, even though it is frustrating. I do not believe the EU is in any mood to sacrifice Irish interests to get a deal. We are a member state that is staying and that is committed to the EU. I have never experienced anything like the solidarity with Ireland on this issue in my political life. I have been in the European Parliament and I have been in multiple different Ministries and in different positions in respect of the EU. The solidarity we have got from countries a long way from us geographically is extraordinary and I think it will hold.

We cannot extend the latitude of the common travel area to include trade because trade is an EU competence, we are part of an EU Single Market and customs union and the Border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is an EU border as well as a border between the UK and Ireland. We need solutions that involve the British Government and the EU. We will have an All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit again tomorrow in Dublin Castle, which will bring everyone together. Everyone is invited. Some people will not be there but that is their choice. I am a regular visitor to Northern Ireland. I will travel to Belfast tomorrow following the civic dialogue.

In response to Deputy Haughey's questions, the insurance sector has been proactive on the green card issue in letting its clients and customers know but we may well have to shift gear on communication if it looks like this will happen. I also suspect, however, there will be some recognition that it will take a few weeks to adapt to the new realities and so on but I take the point on communication.

On the commencement orders for this legislation, they will be introduced section by section. I am sure Ms Ní Choigligh will correct me if I am wrong but if there is a deal and there is no need to enact most of this legislation, and if we move into a formal transition period consistent with the withdrawal agreement, only section 13 will be enacted because that effectively redefines in law the term "member state" to apply to the UK outside of the EU but in a transition period with us. The status quo will be maintained through transition in all the different areas where EU law applies. The rest of it would not be necessary.

I am told there will not be a supplementary budget. I have spoken to the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach about this. If the UK were to crash out without a deal at the end of March, in April and May there would be implementation of contingency measures supporting vulnerable sectors and so on and then we are quickly into the summer and there will be another budget in October. There is not any likelihood that there will be a supplementary budget before the summer. We are fortunate. Ireland is back into surplus. It means that we will have to borrow more money and that the outlook for economic growth will change and, therefore, the budget arithmetic will change but we will not need to introduce an emergency budget or anything like that.

Earlier this week I spoke to the horseracing industry, which is one of several sectors that is vulnerable. Even with the all-island approach to horse racing, 7,000 thoroughbreds cross the Border each year for breeding purposes to places such as Down Royal for race meetings. It is an industry worth €1.85 billion to the economy each year. Every county in the country has an interest in it and it relies on a seamless relationship between the UK and Ireland. Brexit will interrupt that particularly east-west in terms of veterinary certificates and management of disease. We have seen an example of that even in the past week with equine flu in the UK, which has been managed well there and here to keep it out of Ireland. There is uncertainty for the horseracing industry, as there is for other sectors. The industry does not face the same tariffs that the beef and dairy sectors could have to face. The tariff is approximately 11% on the sale of a horse, which is still significant, but nothing like the dramatic tariff impact on dairy or beef.

I thank the Tánaiste for his detailed presentation. As Senator Richmond said, we received a good briefing from him yesterday at the meeting of committee chairs. I was very glad, on a quick perusal of the draft Bill, that many of the issues that affect constituents of mine, such as those who worked in Britain or came from Britain and who access pensions here, and people crossing the Border to the North or coming South for employment purposes or to access education and health services, will be protected going about their daily business. We welcome that.

The Tánaiste mentioned that there is a willingness at EU level to relax state aid rules and, hopefully, market support measures for the agriculture and agrifood sectors will be activated to help deal with the difficulties facing the beef sector and, if there is severe market disturbance, additional measures will be implemented and activated to help that sector.

Deputy Cullinane referred to the cost but we cannot quantify the cost in any way because I know from my area, and the Border region in general, uncertainty has set in and there has been damage to business and commerce. Some enterprises that were planning to expand put those plans on hold. There is uncertainty and a great hesitancy to invest or expand. Deputy Durkan used the word interdependability. As we all know there is great interdependence in the agrifood sector, construction products and engineering sectors in the economies both North and South. The Brexit referendum result has impacted negatively on all of those sectors so far.

I welcome the members of the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN and the east Border region who have joined us in the Public Gallery. They represent local authority public representatives in the Border region, North and South. They were with us earlier today at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement where they outlined the difficulties that the area faces now and the need for additional investment. They put a good case about the large-scale and widespread co-operation that has existed, particularly since 1998, and we do not want that damaged. We want it to continue. I compliment those at local authority level, supported by their officials, on the good positive work that has been done to support the Good Friday Agreement as well.

I travel around my constituency regularly, into Fermanagh from parts of Cavan and Monaghan, and internally in Cavan and Monaghan.

In the past few weeks in particular, quite a number of British citizens who have been living in our State for quite a long time have become concerned about their pension entitlements and their rights. I am glad that this will be underpinned by legislation and that those people will continue to have their entitlements, which is very important. All of the party spokespersons stated that everybody in the Oireachtas will be very supportive of the legislation. I want to assure the Tánaiste of the committee's co-operation in the context of any legislation with which it will be obliged to deal.

I thank the Tánaiste for his detailed presentation and for his good engagement with all of the members. We will now go into private session.

The joint committee went into private session at 5.31 p.m. and adjourned at 5.35 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 20 February 2019