I am here to assist in the consideration of the general scheme for parts 9 and 10 of the miscellaneous provisions (withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill. The general scheme was approved by Government for publication and has been submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General for formal drafting. This Bill is commonly known as the Brexit omnibus Bill.
Before proceeding to consider the draft general scheme, it is important to recall some of the core principles set out in the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the withdrawal agreement. The protocol is aimed at protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the important gains of the peace process, by underpinning continuing North-South co-operation, by guaranteeing that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, and by protecting the all-island economy. All this provides a critical backdrop to the discussion we will have here about the rail and bus parts of the Brexit omnibus Bill.
These rail and bus parts form part of our contingency planning arrangements. We are all aware of the strategic importance of keeping channels open and maintaining ease in flows and linkages between people, communities and businesses across the Border. Public transport provision is an important component, especially when we recall the symbolism of the Enterprise, a well-used rail service linking Dublin and Belfast daily. Bus services are also key in linking communities. Parts 9 and 10 of the omnibus Bill were developed to help ensure the continuation of the Enterprise and cross-Border bus services under future scenarios. I am grateful for the support these parts have received so far. I trust that we can continue to work together to advance the necessary legislation.
These parts set out the changes proposed in primary legislation to cover the future continuation of rail and bus services between Ireland and the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The committee will agree that the regulatory framework applying and the provision of rail and bus services operating in this country are of the highest standard. This will not change. However, post Brexit, the UK's changed status from member state to third country will mean that rail and bus services between Ireland and the UK will need to be managed under slightly different legislative arrangements. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, there is a need to consider the appropriate legislative basis to allow for rail and bus services between Ireland and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, given the new context where the UK is no longer a member state of the EU. As members will be aware, we need to make a small number of amendments to legislation to facilitate the running of public transport services into and out of a third country.
These proposed legislative changes will provide for the operation of cross-border rail services, principally the Enterprise service on the Dublin-Belfast line, and the operation of bus and coach services between Ireland and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. My Department has engaged with stakeholders, including public transport operators, the Commission for Railway Regulation and the National Transport Authority, NTA, as well as with the European Commission. These discussions have served to underline the importance of consistently complying with EU law while exploring and searching for pragmatic solutions to address new scenarios. Some issues are being considered at an operational level and practical answers may emerge at different levels. While it is clear that providing necessary underpinning legislation for new scenarios is an important step, it has also become obvious that other stakeholders have roles to play in progressing this critical agenda. My Department will continue its engagement and oversight to help ensure that any necessary contingency plans are agreed and advanced.
I will speak for a few minutes on each of these parts, starting with bus and coach services. Part 10 addresses bus and coach services. A significant number of cross-Border bus and coach services support the needs of businesses and the surrounding communities. These will rely on provision being made for the future continuation of cross-Border services once the UK leaves the EU. I am advised that daily, between Monday and Friday, more than 300 cross-Border bus journeys are authorised by the NTA. These services range from daily regular services to Local Link services. They are operated by both private and public companies. This figure does not take into account the occasional journeys which capture the once-off community-related bus and coach services. These would include instances such as a GAA or rugby club near Clones, for example, which brings a team to participate in a Saturday morning blitz taking place across the Border. In total, the number of cross-Border passenger journeys in 2017 is estimated at just under 2 million. Members will agree that a significant number of people are relying on us to ensure continuity of service and to continue to take steps to ensure the highest safety and quality of service standards are maintained.
Legislative changes will be needed to allow for the future continuation of bus and coach services between Ireland and the UK as a third country. Following Brexit, Ireland will be allowed under EU law to enter into a bilateral agreement with the UK for bus and coach services, as long as no existing bus agreement exists between the UK and the EU. It is anticipated that Ireland will need such a bilateral agreement to allow public passenger bus services to cross the Border. The heads in part 10 will lay out the rules so that a competent authority may regulate services to and from a third country. Those rules would then be considered as a backdrop once Ireland begins formal negotiations on a bilateral agreement for buses with the UK.
The NTA is currently Ireland's competent authority for regulating bus services with other member states. These heads will make the NTA the competent authority to similarly regulate bus services between Ireland and third countries. Similar to rail, the intention of this part is to maintain the strong regulatory regime that exists for the purposes of bus and coach services between Ireland and the UK. The heads in part 10 propose amendments to the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009. Engagement with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel regarding the bus heads has commenced. It may well be that further amendments will be identified as needed. For example, it is possible that there will also be a need to reference the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to expand the statutory functions of the NTA.
With regard to rail, the heads proposed would provide in statute that a bilateral or cross-Border rail agreement may be entered into to facilitate continuity of the daily Enterprise rail services running from Ireland into a state that is no longer an EU member state. Article 14 of EU Directive 2012/34 sets down provisions on making a cross-border rail agreement between an EU member state and a third country. The rail heads in the general scheme provide powers for the Minister to make a bilateral agreement and provide for the Minister to make regulations.
I highlight for committee members that discussions between the Department and the Parliamentary Counsel regarding these provisions are ongoing. When engagement with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel regarding formal drafting of these rail provisions commenced, some matters came to light which required further consideration and legal advice. Analysis is ongoing with a view to establishing whether these rail provisions are best made in the form of primary legislation or whether secondary legislation might be more appropriate. Given the high priority attached to all Brexit-related legislation, we are deeply engaged to determine this. Pending that, work is also taking place on the development of draft secondary legislation to address the contingency that a statutory instrument may also be required to supplement the provisions in the current heads relating to rail.
Our main goal here is to ensure that an appropriate safety regulatory regime can apply in the case of rail services into the North post-Brexit. I am committed to maintaining the same level of safety as currently applies to the now EU-regulated cross-Border rail services from Dublin to Belfast. As I said earlier, it is evident that the Enterprise rail line is recognised as a symbolic and strategic cross-Border corridor, a key link between North and South. Legislation is one of the important building blocks as we aim to ensure that this important rail service continues. However, I can assure the committee that a range of measures are under consideration in the context of wider contingency plans.
The intention of these parts in the omnibus Bill is to provide robust primary legislation which in the event of a disorderly exit will help ensure the future continuation of rail and bus services between Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as between Ireland and Great Britain. As I have said, given the Brexit timelines my Department is giving clear priority to working closely with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to confirm a shared understanding and to advance the drafting of this general scheme as well as any other legislative provisions which are deemed to be required, whether primary or secondary. I thank the Chairman for inviting me to make this presentation and look forward to hearing the views of the committee and to responding to any questions members may have.