Report of Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann notes the Report of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union entitled "Brexit: Implications and Potential Solutions", copies of which were laid before Seanad Éireann on 30 June 2017.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, for coming to the House today and I wish her well in her very busy new brief.

The report of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is the product of nearly 50 hours of public meetings with a range of important stakeholders and interest groups. Since the people of the United Kingdom made their fateful decision to vote to leave the EU just over a year ago, we have been hit by a wall of noise looking at the various impacts that Brexit will have on Ireland, the UK, the EU and the wider world. What this report seeks to do is to provide a selection of possible solutions to some of the problems that have been highlighted. The report deliberately does not prioritise or exclude certain solutions. Literally everything that was suggested by witnesses or through written statements has been included in this report. It is ultimately up to the European Commission, negotiating on behalf of all 27 remaining EU member states, to take on board what it deems feasible. As a committee, we took the decision that while some of the proposed solutions might be quite easy to implement, others might not be suitable, while it is aspects or parts of other suggested solutions that might be best placed to be used in the final agreement.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a few areas from the report that look at solutions that I believe are low-hanging fruit, issues where there are apparently simple solutions that will be mutually beneficial to all involved. The first of these relates to air travel. As was pointed out again by Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary, in the European Parliament just yesterday, it is vital that an early EU-US-UK open skies agreement is agreed. This must be done in advance of the actual Brexit in order to allow 2019 schedules to be sold into the market in 2018.

Another early agreement that can and should be sorted very quickly is a revised version of the existing tripartite agreement between Ireland, the UK and France covering the horse racing industry. It is also vital that all efforts are made to secure Ireland’s future energy requirements through the speedy completion of the proposed Celtic interconnector between Ireland and France.

While I know the suggestion met with a bit of push-back from the Central Bank, I still maintain that we need a more aggressive and co-ordinated approach to attracting financial services to Ireland from the City of London in the post-Brexit era. We need to attract as many of these jobs and companies as possible in order to offset the overall negativity of Brexit. The proactive role being played by the Central Bank of Luxembourg cannot be dismissed.

We on the committee would share the view of many that there is a deep challenge in making the Border with Northern Ireland work as smoothly as it does now. We were reassured by engagement with officials from the Department of Justice and Equality and others that while they may not be fully formed yet, there is clear scope for solutions to be found when it comes to the movement of people across the Border. How to make the movement of goods work is much harder. We know that no one wants the imposition of a customs border with all the trappings, and somehow we have to find a way to make it so. The committee looked at a number of different potential solutions, some of which may currently be seen as naive, but we would be clear that they all need to stay on the table, such as, for example, the UK, or at the very least Northern Ireland, remaining within the customs union or Single Market, or joining the EEA, either in the long term or the short term.

One theme that came through clearly is the level of uncertainty out there in which people and organisations are having to make decisions. The negotiators already have a very short time in which to complete their work and it is quite likely they will go to the very last minute. That is to be expected. However, it is unconscionable that people and organisations would live with this level of uncertainty for two years and then, within just weeks, have to implement radical change to their lives or to how they operate as organisations. Depending on the final solution, it seems only logical that the more radical the change, the more there would be a need for a transition period or a phasing-in period - the name does not matter, but there must be time for people to prepare properly. All sectors of the economy need to prepare. The committee believes that many of them are taking stock of their level of exposure but they also need to be helped to do that, which means appropriate supports must be put in place by the Government.

I am sure my colleagues from the committee will raise a number of key issues that arose from this report in the context of our work over the past few months. Before they do, I would like to place on the record of the House my gratitude to the committee clerk and her secretariat for all the assistance they have given to the committee over the past number of months, particularly as this was done on top of their existing work. To conclude, I would like to offer my thanks to the members of the committee and all the substitute members for the proactive and imaginative approach they took to this committee and the collegial manner adopted by all that allowed us to conclude our work with some ease.

I thank the Chairman for his great work on this issue. He has put in many hours of work in compiling the report and putting together the contributions of all the witnesses, which has been very beneficial to the House.

This report has highlighted issues that other committees have not been able to highlight and I want to touch on a few of those issues. One that came to our attention concerns the US airline industry. I was in the US Congress two weeks ago and found that the members of Congress have not discussed Brexit or how it affects the US. This is amazing, particularly given the position of the airline industry. US airlines use Heathrow as their hub and, of course, various EU airports such those at Paris, Berlin and Schiphol are trying to take all that business away from Heathrow. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of that industry to be moved away from Heathrow. This has a huge knock-on effect on the US in terms of the purchase of airlines and aircraft by its airline industry, but also in regard to US companies which sell not just to Britain, but to France, Spain and so on, products that are then sent on to Britain.

The lesson in that for Ireland is that we need to utilise our contacts in the US to make sure the US puts pressure on Britain to seek to make sure the status quo will be accepted, as best as can be arranged. What Britain is looking for, which is ironic in itself, is to make Brexit a success. This is diametrically opposed to the view in Europe, where the EU has to make sure Brexit is not a success because, if it is a success for Britain, then other members of the EU might say, "It worked so well for Britain, why do we not leave too?" I believe Britain will learn very quickly that Brexit is not going to be a success. In fact, the EU is going to make sure it is a failure. However, we have to utilise our connections in the US to inform the Americans not only about the effects of Brexit on Ireland, including the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, but also about the overall effects Brexit will have on the US economy in terms of its trade with Britain, its airline industry and its follow-on trade in terms of selling to EU countries that also trade with Britain.

The airline industry aspect is curious because, obviously, Ireland is one of the three issues that have to be resolved or advanced before there is any talk of a trade deal between Britain and the EU. The airline link between London and Dublin is the second busiest route between capital cities in the world, second only to the Taipei-Beijing route. Therefore, the open skies policy has to be part of that agreement, which would solve the overall European open skies policy. However, we will be left at a huge competitive disadvantage if our air bridge to London and, therefore, to the greater world is cut off or uncertain.

Second, it was amazing to see the Central Bank representatives sitting here in the House, telling us that, even though it had appointed someone 12 months previously in order to be Brexit-ready, it had no idea what other European central banks were doing in regard to Brexit.

It was adamant that, because of the financial crisis, it was no longer going to be an agency trying to sell Ireland as a location for financial institutions, and it was simply going to be a regulator. It did not know what the Belgians were doing or what Luxembourg was doing. They would have known if they had bothered to telephone anyone in the insurance industry or any other banks. The next witnesses to come in told us that the Government in Luxembourg and its central bank are actively selling their country as a location for financial institutions. Our Central Bank does not only not do it, but did not know what the others were doing. It is a shocking indictment that our own Central Bank - while we are talking about financial institutions - has not changed its policy. It is not a European policy, but its own policy. It has changed the policy and needs to change it again.

On Northern Ireland, we had the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality here talking about Northern Ireland and the Border. We discussed the issue of the free movement of people across the Border in the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is entirely up to Britain. It is up to Britain as to whether it puts checkpoints on its side of the Border. We do not have to and it is up to us as to whether we do. It is for the United Kingdom to decide what to do on its side of the Border. That is because Northern Ireland could be used as a backdoor into Britain and those concerned are fearful of people flying into Dublin, going to the North and then going to Britain.

The simple solution is for the UK to upscale Operation Gull. Operation Gull is a tragically racist policy whereby people getting onto aeroplanes in Derry and Belfast and the ships in Larne are profiled to see if they are likely to be non-EU nationals trying to get into Britain through the backdoor. Some 792 people have been arrested under that policy in Northern Ireland. We say that if the United Kingdom wants to secure its border, that is the place to do it. There is no point in trying to put 40,000 troops back on the Border again, such as in the Troubles. The Border could not even be sealed when lives were on the line. Now that it is an immigration issue, there is no point in stopping 40,000 people trying to go over and back across the Border to work and to school every day. Implement Operation Gull and do immigration checks between Northern Ireland and Britain, as was done between 1939 and 1952. For political reasons, the DUP says that it is not going to accept internal border checks within Northern Ireland. It is a simple solution to a practical problem but unfortunately, politics is the issue that might stop it.

I thank the clerk to the select committee and all the staff involved, and all the witnesses who came in. We agreed with some and disagreed with others. Their information and insight are valuable. The airline industry matter is something that we need to use. We need to assist our colleagues in the United States, and to highlight to our colleagues there that we need to work together with them to ensure that the deal that Britain gets is in our best interests as a country, and in the best interests of the United States.

I ask the Minister of State to engage with the Central Bank again and for it to stop its high-minded, holier-than-thou attitude by engaging with the City of London and financial institutions which are looking to other European countries, and to compete with the central banks in Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, which are all going out to sell their countries. Ours is doing nothing by comparison. When we look back at this in a few years' time and ask why companies did not locate in Ireland, the critical issue will be that of the Central Bank not selling Ireland as a location.

In the 1950s, Britain was unable to retain control of the Suez Canal. That was its end of empire moment. Every country under its control was then able to say that Britain was no longer a world power. Brexit is now its economic version of a Suez Canal moment. Britain is no longer an economic power. It has done itself harm by withdrawing from the biggest trading bloc the world has ever seen, and has now decided to make Brexit a success. The tragedy for us is that while Brexit will not be a success for the UK, it will do serious damage to Ireland,. However, there are things that we can do now that are within our own capability and that we should do to make sure that we take advantage of what can be taken advantage of and bring what businesses here we can and to act where it is in our capacity to take advantage of Britain's failure.

I thank the members of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union for their work on this report. I particularly welcome the report’s focus on potential solutions and its efforts to point towards tangible outcomes. It draws on a range of views from a wide cross-section of participants and is an important contribution to the ongoing political and public debate on Brexit in Ireland. Engagement with stakeholders, including through the all-island civic dialogue, continues to form an important part of the Government’s response to Brexit. In this regard, I welcome that the comprehensive document published by the Government on 2 May was taken into account by the committee during its deliberations. This document brought together the findings and outcomes of the extensive preparatory work and consultations undertaken to date by the Government at EU level and on the island of Ireland and it demonstrates how this work would be brought to bear in Ireland’s approach to the negotiations. I am happy that many of the priorities and issues identified in the report resonate with the Government’s approach. The Government will continue to prioritise outreach and engagement as the Brexit process proceeds and I welcome the opportunity to address this House as we approach an important period of the Brexit process.

The report notes that the committee had to complete its work within a very tight timeframe. However, this relatively short period of months also saw an acceleration of developments with regard to the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. In this regard, I believe it would be useful to take stock of how the Government’s approach, as set out in the comprehensive document published on 2 May, has been implemented in practice and what has been achieved to date. As the House is aware, Ireland became aware earlier than most of the profound implications of Brexit for our Union, and of the unique and complex implications for Ireland. A key pillar of the Government’s approach has been to share our perspective with our EU partners with a view to ensuring that our unique priorities and concerns have been heard and understood. I think there is often offence that we are only dealing with one particular issue or area, namely, our priority of engaging with our European counterparts to ensure that we were part of the set of principles and guidelines that were outlined, but I do not think that has meant we have ignored other areas affecting our businesses, our domestic market and the international market.

During the course of well over 450 meetings at political and official level over the 12 months since the referendum in the UK, the Government has repeatedly underlined the importance of protecting the gains of the peace process and avoiding a hard Border on the island of Ireland. We have further emphasised the importance of maintaining the common travel area in the context of the Northern Ireland peace process and relations on the island of Ireland and with our neighbouring island. We have demonstrated the extent of our inter-connectedness with the British economy, with in excess of €1.2 billion in trade between the UK and Ireland each week, while 46% of all our food and animal exports go to the UK. We have highlighted the unique geographical position of Ireland, which means that many businesses are reliant on the UK as a land bridge through which they can export their goods to the rest of the EU. We have stressed that as an island, behind an island on the periphery of the EU, with one of the most open economies in the world, Brexit poses serious challenges to our connectivity, especially in transport and energy, which Senators have mentioned and which is vital for our trade and our economy. I welcome that these areas are also comprehensively addressed in the committee's report, including in its extensive chapters on the common travel area, on Northern Ireland and on key sectoral areas such as transport, energy, education and health.

I believe that this campaign of engagement has been effective and has delivered for Ireland. The EU’s negotiating position incorporates the goal of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, including the need for flexible and imaginative solutions to avoid a hard Border on the island of Ireland. It recognises the need to maintain bilateral agreements and arrangements between Ireland and the UK, including our unique common travel area. It acknowledges the need to take full account of the situation of Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland who will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens. It also recognises the need to address issues arising from Ireland’s unique geographic situation, including the transit of goods to and from Ireland via the UK. The EU’s lead negotiator, Mr. Michel Barnier, put it succinctly during his address to the joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas last May. He said that “Ireland's interests will be the European Union's interests”.

A further important matter raised and identified in the committee’s report, which has also been reflected in the Government’s approach, is the need to ensure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would not impact on the unique constitutional status of Northern Ireland. In this regard, at the European Council on 29 April, Ireland secured the acknowledgement of its EU partners that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism where a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means, and in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union.

Engagement with our EU partners will continue to be a central priority for the Government, not only in terms of promoting and protecting Ireland’s interests within the context of Brexit, but also in advancing another important goal identified in the committee’s report, namely, building new alliances and partnerships with our fellow remaining EU member states and countries outside the EU.

Looking beyond the negotiations themselves, it is clear our wider response to Brexit must also be set in a wider context of engaging with our EU partners as a committed member of the Union. The Government is determined that Brexit cannot and should not derail or dominate the important day-to-day business of the EU itself, which is so necessary to the security and stability of our continent and the prosperity of our citizens. The future of Ireland is very much at the heart of the EU and we will continue as one of 27 in our approach. This is an approach that clearly enjoys the support of the Irish people. Despite the challenges posed by Brexit, support for our membership of the EU remains exceptionally high, with the most recent survey stating it is 88%.

Over the past week, the contention by one commentator that Ireland’s best interests might be served by following the UK out of the EU has drawn some attention. I note that the committee, during its deliberations, also heard from one contributor with a similar standpoint. While many might not agree with the sentiment, it is not a question of dismissing such ideas out of hand. It is extremely important to have a continuing debate about our EU membership and listen to the opinions and views of others on what it does for us as a country. However, it is clear, not least from the report we are discussing, that our continued membership of the EU must lie at the heart of our approach to Brexit.

As the complexity, challenges and consequences of Brexit have become steadily clearer in the year following the referendum, it is noteworthy that at the same time support for EU membership has increased across all member states. We have seen this in national elections. The Government’s approach is delivering for Ireland but, as made abundantly clear by Michel Barnier last week, we are at the beginning of what will be an extremely lengthy and difficult process. The committee's report identifies significant challenges that face individual sectors, such as transport, aviation, energy and the environment. These issues are known to the Government, and we will continue to elaborate our understanding and response through the ongoing conversations we are having with industry and society, through engagement with our fellow EU partners, and through our internal Government analysis and co-ordination that involves all Departments and many of our agencies.

There is no doubt the implications of Brexit for our economy will be profound, and this is set out clearly in the report. The Government’s position has been clear and consistent. We want to see the closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK, including on trade. This objective is shared by the EU and the UK. However, it will take some time to conclude such an agreement and it is for this reason Ireland supports the need for an effective transitional arrangement that bridges the gap between a withdrawal agreement and a future relationship agreement, which is different to what Senator Richmond discussed, but as we move into phase 2 we will begin to discuss many of the issues raised by Senators. It is important that once the issues are addressed there is a smooth transitional period.

One of the EU's core objectives in these negotiations is to prevent legal vacuums on the day the UK leaves the EU and to address, as far as possible, uncertainties for our citizens and our businesses. Transitional arrangements will be vital to achieving this, especially for sectors such as aviation, financial services, health, energy and agriculture. Therefore, I welcome the select committee's findings and conclusions in this respect. While the Government will work hard with EU partners to achieve a close partnership with the UK, supported by robust transitional arrangements, we also need to be clear that Brexit, however unwanted, will have consequences. It is a UK policy and not an Irish or EU policy. Therefore, member states and businesses must be prepared. The Irish Government has been preparing for this for some time. We have already taken important steps to prepare our economy, including in budget 2017, in the Action Plan for Jobs 2017 and in our new trade and investment strategy. We have an investment of €150 million for our agrifood industry and for additional personnel in many key organisations to work with enterprises.

Brexit will be a critical factor in our longer-term economic strategy. A new ten-year capital plan is in preparation. We are revising our Enterprise 2025 policy and we are in active discussions with the European Investment Bank for a potential increase in investment in the country. We are also exploring existing EU measures that could potentially assist Ireland in mitigating the effects of Brexit on Irish businesses and economic sectors, while also making a strong case at EU level that Ireland may require further support that responds to the fact the UK's withdrawal represents a serious disturbance to the Irish economy. In this regard, one of the most recent surveys shows only 5% of Irish businesses are actively engaging on Brexit-proofing, so it is extremely important they engage with Departments, statutory bodies and organisations. If they do not know the right questions to ask we must work with them as closely as we can to ensure they are Brexit-proofed.

These are issues that are also addressed in the select committee’s report. As the Government prepares a further paper on the economic implications of Brexit, building on the recent Government strategy document released on 2 May, the proposals of the report will be a very useful contribution. While preparation at Government level to Brexit-proof our economy is extremely important, businesses, and in particular SMEs who trade with the UK, must also begin preparing. It is concerning that in a recent InterTradeIreland survey, 95% of businesses surveyed had no plan for Brexit. The Government is also seeking to support these businesses. The Government’s enterprise agencies continue to work with companies, helping them to deal with Brexit, making them more competitive, diversifying market exposure, and up-skilling teams. The Government has put in place a trade and investment strategy, Ireland Connected: Trading and Investing in a Dynamic World, while Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia have also been strengthened so they are better placed to assist food producers and exporters face the challenges of Brexit. I encourage companies to avail of the free Brexit services available from Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices and to start preparing for Brexit.

In terms of next steps in the Article 50 process, what is most critical in the immediate term is to ensure that the withdrawal negotiations proceed in a constructive manner that will enable sufficient progress to be made on the key issues identified for the first phase. I welcome that the negotiations formally got under way on 19 June, and that an overall structure for the first phase of talks between the EU and the UK has now been agreed. In this regard, I welcome in particular the creation of a separate high level dialogue on Ireland and Northern Ireland under the authority of the negotiation co-ordinators. It is encouraging that the resolution of these issues will be the task of the most senior officials in the negotiating teams.

It is critical this positive momentum is maintained so that progress is made as quickly as possible on the many complex issues facing the negotiators. By continuing this constructive approach, a successful outcome, in the interests of all, remains achievable. In particular, we must make progress on the priority issues of citizens' rights, the UK financial liabilities and the set of issues on Northern Ireland, including avoiding a hard border. The sooner progress is made on these issues, the sooner discussions can begin on future relationship issues, including with regard to trade and customs arrangements, as well as transitional arrangements.

The next round of negotiations will take place on 17 July, and will continue over the coming months in advance of the European Council in October where decisions will be made by the Heads of State and Government on whether sufficient progress has been made, including on Irish specific issues, and on whether the conditions exist to move to phase 2, opening parallel discussions on the future relationship issues. Over the coming months, I will support the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Taoiseach in their continued engagement with the process, with a view to securing the best possible outcome for Ireland. I welcome the continued support and engagement demonstrated by both Houses of the Oireachtas, including the valuable and detailed work of committees such as the Seanad special select committee, and I again acknowledge its report as a valuable contribution to our continued analysis and debate. I thank all of those involved for their work and I look forward to working with the committee on Brexit. We have done more than any other country and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure Ireland is impacted as little as possible.

The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. As I said to her at a meeting of the select committee last week, she has a tough job ahead of her. I know she is up to it and I wish her all the best. Much groundwork has been done by the Government on Brexit and as an Independent Senator I acknowledge this work. Perhaps the citizens would be well served if they were given more information. I realise little enough can be done.

When the committee was first proposed by the Independent Senators, we realised we were taking on a huge task trying to compress it into a very short period of time. With the help of the excellent officials in the Oireachtas at all levels, the committee was established quickly and it started its hearings. I compliment the Chairman, Senator Richmond, on pushing us through the various hearings in a timely fashion, ensuring we stuck as rigidly as we possibly could to the timeframe.

I wish to address the plight of the parents of EU citizens living in Northern Ireland who are not entitled to dual citizenship under the Good Friday Agreement, specifically ex-patriots who went there, some of them 20 or 30 years ago, to practise as doctors or university lecturers or to open businesses there. They number approximately 100,000 people and are extremely concerned that, post-Brexit, they will be isolated as British citizens with children who have freedom of movement throughout the European Union. When representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade attended the House, they did not see any huge difficulty in resolving that issue. I ask the Minister of State to commit to follow through on that issue. Those 100,000 people are entitled to be looked after by the State, given that their children are citizens of it.

There is much negativity concerning Brexit and probably rightly so. However, opportunities that may arise must also be considered. That will be occupying the Minister of State over the coming weeks and months. As she said, she will be considering how to minimise the impact of Brexit as much as possible. Senator Mark Daly adverted to difficulties in terms of air traffic. Dublin Airport is being developed, albeit there are some serious planning issues in that regard. There is an opportunity to make it the link between the Far East and the United States and that should be pursued with vigour. Why should that opportunity be allowed go to Schipol, Heathrow or anywhere else? It needs to be followed up on as hard as possible.

There are several deep sea ports in Ireland, in particular those in Waterford and Cork. European funding is available in that regard. The transport industry has some concerns about the length of time it will take to cross from Waterford or Cork to France but the cost of tariffs may determine the optimal route. In that regard, Members now need to consider how those ports can be developed rather than doing so in five years' time. As the Chairman of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Senator Richmond, and Senator Mark Daly said, the European Investment Bank is very much on message in respect of the availability of funding for investment in anything the State needs. There is also an opportunity to develop Dundalk or Drogheda ports for North Sea traffic and that must also be considered as best it can.

There are opportunities in education which need to be considered, as I learned while leading a delegation to Berlin two weeks ago. Once Brexit has been fully triggered, Ireland will be the only English-speaking country in the European Union and there is a consequent opportunity for teacher training programmes, which were discussed during my visit to Berlin, and exchange programmes. The idea is that Irish teachers of French, German, Italian and Spanish would be able to complete part of their training in those countries and teachers of English from those countries would be able to come to Ireland and, under the Irish Teaching Council rules, do part of their training here. Exchange programmes between students could also be facilitated. The greatest deficiency in our system in a post-Brexit world is the lack of language skills in the country. The Minister of State has travelled extensively. When one goes to a place such as Finland and a 12-year-old child tells one that he or she speaks Swedish, Finnish, German, English and Russian but his or her Russian is a little rusty, one starts to think about where Ireland's system has gone wrong. The State must start investing heavily in language education. That can be done in a partnership agreement. Other countries in the European Union are amenable to that.

There are a couple of issues of particular concern in the area of European trade. The British Government is doing what it does very well, which is prodding to see where it can find a crack. The recent announcement in regard to fisheries was a deliberate attempt to scare the horses to see if the resolve of the 27 could be broken. That is where the Minister of State and her colleagues in Europe will have to stick rigidly together. When such announcements are made by Westminster they will have to calm down whoever is scared by whatever issue is raised. The issue of fisheries can cause Ireland huge problems. I want a guarantee that the fisheries industry will be looked after post-Brexit. If that means European Investment Bank money is needed, given that the British Government is likely to close off 40% of our prawn or mackerel catch area, that needed to be worked on from last week and certainly not after it happens.

I will not reprise the impact Brexit will have on agriculture. We need to consider how we can diversify. Some of our agricultural output simply cannot be diversified as there is no market outside Britain and Ireland for certain agricultural products and we must therefore consider how to get such sections of the industry to change. For example, cheddar cheese has a limited market and there must be an exploration of what can be done to change that.

Post-Brexit, Europe has to be rock solid. There are a number of impediments coming down the road, one of the greatest of which is the lack of belief of citizens in the European project. The belief that people had in the 1970s when I was a young man and Ireland was entering the European Union and it sounded like a great idea has disappeared over time and the European Union has been turned into the devil incarnate and been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in every economy, whether that be in Britain, Ireland or elsewhere. Excuses have been made that the European Union imposed this, the European Commission imposed that and there is a directive on the other. Members must begin taking responsibility for what we negotiate and bring the message back to citizens. It is a tough message. I had to bring such a message to my union when I was president of the Teachers Union of Ireland and the first Lansdowne Road agreement was negotiated and thereafter I had to meet my members and explain that I had just negotiated a pay cut for them and it was the best deal I could get. Members must do the same in respect of negotiating with Europe.

It would give citizens great faith in Europe if a situation such as the cost of drugs in Ireland were addressed. I can go to Lanzarote and fill my prescription for the year at a fraction of what it would cost me in Ireland. The European project has to work across Europe.

I will finish on this point-----

The Senator should do so because he is in injury time.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I ask the Minister of State that by autumn of this year there be direct communication with citizens to reassure them of where Ireland is going. I am delighted that she is in her new post and look forward to seeing her getting on and off planes across Europe and defending Ireland everywhere she goes. She will do that well. I thank her for coming to the House. I also thank the Chair of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Senator Richmond, and the officials that supported it.

I acknowledge the significant hard work of the Chairman, the clerk and secretariat of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. I will not mention the members because self-praise is no praise but everybody contributed and-----

The Senator can mention me.

I might mention others before Senator Craughwell. Senator Mark Daly would get a gold star for being the most consistent attendee. It was a very helpful exercise and has produced a considerable body of work and taken on board the views of the many affected sectors. There is the potential for major economic disruption to Ireland and the UK, not to mention the rest of Europe, from Brexit. However, all Members know that Ireland will be uniquely affected.

Senator Craughwell has left the Chamber. I wish to set the record straight. The genesis of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union came from the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges and was proposed by Senator Paddy Burke. Senator McDowell proposed a rolling debate on Brexit from time to time but the establishment of the committee was the suggestion of Senator Burke and it has shown what the Senate can do it if it is put to work. That is aside from any suggestion in relation to reform.

The Seanad has much to offer, but that has not been fully explored. The production of this report is evidence of this.

The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, referred to an idea in Britain, that we should join the United Kingdom in leaving the European Union. We saw the manifestation of this in the British research organisation Policy Exchange which commissioned our former diplomat Mr. Ray Bassett to produce a report that refers to the big price that Ireland will have to pay, and suggests that we should leave the European Union. I would like to put a question to the Minister of State, which she might be able to answer. We see that the divorce bill the United Kingdom is being asked to pay for Brexit by the European Union is €100 billion. They are not too happy about it. Mr. Boris Johnson is on record as saying the EU can go whistle, but that is not unusual for him.

I would like to know what our divorce bill would be, and there is no mention of it, because it would cost us as much to leave the European Union as it would cost the British. That is aside from all the other issues. I know for the most part, the mainstay of opinion is that we remain in the European Union and equally the EU supports us in the difficulties that we will no doubt encounter in the process. We have already experienced difficulties in the mushroom sector, with the fall in the price of sterling and how that has impacted on agricultural exports. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

Does anybody have any idea of the price tag if we were to leave the European Union? Some simplistic ideas are being thrown forward, but let us face the fact that the Brits do not know what they are doing but want us to join them. That would be a case of the blind leading the blind, and it would be blind to join the United Kingdom at this stage.

I would like to refer to the Government's approach as outlined in the report. A number of recommendations in the report that apply to all sectors is a recognition that small and medium enterprises and agrifood trading companies will be impacted upon and that they will need financial and other supports to help them find new markets, to diversify their offering and to negotiate the rules around customs. I know from the evidence of the haulage companies that there could potentially be an additional charge of €100 on the cost of transporting each load of goods. One of the proposals put forward to address this is that we would seek a derogation from state aid rules, so that we could support businesses. Without doubt, there will be a fracturing of the Single Market. We will experience extraordinary circumstances and I think we need an extraordinary response.

We saw the setting up of a temporary framework during the banking crisis to address issues arising from that crisis. This can present itself as a crisis, notwithstanding all the very good efforts that are being made, which I wish to acknowledge.

I have two further points, the first of which is the issue of connectivity infrastructure. I know there has been consultation by the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on the mid-term capital review. We will need more fiscal space to invest in connectivity infrastructure. I mentioned Ireland West Airport Knock a number of times and we need to invest also in ports and roads that badly need to be improved. We will be more peripheral than ever with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. We need that sort of support and we need the support of our European Union neighbours.

We know we are constrained in the availability of fiscal space because we have major debts but nonetheless we have to take certain actions to try to assist businesses and the State in navigating these stormy waters. Is there a plan to seek a derogation from the stability support mechanism and the fiscal rules that are confining and to which we are adhering? We have been playing our part.

Will the Minister of State outline the strategic plan? I know a couple of the recommendations would take quite a while to get through. Are we going to do that? Is that part of our plan of action?

I call Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. The Senator has eight minutes.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as a bheith linn don díospóireacht thar a bheith tábhachtach agus suntasach seo a bheas againn faoi tuairisc an choiste speisialta den Seanad.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, for joining us for this important discussion.

I wish to take the opportunity at the start to thank the Leader for allotting time for this debate. It is critically important that we bring this important debate to the floor of the Chamber because under the guidance and leadership of our Chairman, as other members have said, we have put in a significant body of work in order to put the report together. I want to add to the words of thanks to Senator Neale Richmond, to the committee clerk and secretariat and to all the people who shared their very different views and experiences during the course of the committee's work.

I do not wish to rehash what has been said already. I say that respectfully. The opening statement says it all, namely, that Brexit is bad for Ireland. I do not say that to be overly simplistic but I say it because I think it encompasses the reality that has been forced upon us against our will. None on the island of Ireland has consented to Brexit and the negative implications that will result from it. None has consented to an alteration of the constitutional status or indeed very important agreements, as outlined in the report, which were voted on in a referendum and endorsed by people North and South.

In the midst of the economic, agricultural and societal difficulties, one has a very clear overt political threat hanging over the island of Ireland. It is unilateral and has been forced upon us against our will. What we need to hear is the understandable and right economic responses to Brexit, and we also need to have a very open and sincere conversation about how we will offset the real and overt political threats facing us in the time ahead. Senator Craughwell mentioned the threat from the status of non-EU migrant citizens, who are living in the North. I raised this under a Commencement matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality, who has responsibility for citizenship issues and while I respect the Minister's position and will engage with him positively in the future, I was not particularly encouraged by the response that I received on how we offset this particular negative on those people who wish to avail of Irish citizenship but because of a small anomaly they are not entitled under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement which grants citizenship to people born on the island of Ireland. This situation is more pronounced along the Border communities where people may have been living for 30 plus years, have raised their families and have set up businesses, contributing to the peace and reconciliation process and who view themselves as Irish and part of Irish life. Their children attend the Gaelscoileanna, play football and hurling for the local GAA club. The normal process for them which is referred to as naturalisation can be very bureaucratic, complex and costly. While I appreciate that it may not be the Minister's specific kick in that regard, it may be something that he will factor and talk to his Government colleagues about. I think we owe those people a duty of care alongside everybody else because of the pronounced uncertainty around their status.

I have touched on the issue of the agreements which I have raised consistently. The report reflects rightly and appropriately on the issue of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. The current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was very straightforward, overt, clear and concise in his public remarks on the imaginative and creative solutions to the question of the Border at the launch of the Good Friday Agreement committee's report on Brexit, sentiments which I share.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade who has special responsibility for dealing with Brexit issues was very clear that there should be no change in the status of the Border. I do not wish to appear naive or give the impression that I do not appreciate the complexities or nuances of this issue because I do. I do not want to see any border on the island of Ireland; I would like it to be removed, but in the meantime, as a state, a Government and in the Houses of the Oireachtas, we must do everything we can to ensure there will be no change to its current status. There is an onus on the Government to stand firm on the issue and look at the examples of other countries, not least Spain, in the further Brexit negotiations. Spain is doing what is best for its people and in its own national interests.

I share the Minister of State's desire to see the Executive re-established in the North. When the Executive was in place, the British Government was very much limited in its influence and ability to have a direct influence or say and often ignored, but there is now a different political dynamic in the North because the main unionist party champions Brexit, foolishly and recklessly. The Minister of State should be certain that the 56% who voted in the North to remain, of which I was one, look to the Irish Government to be their clear voice. They come from every walk of life, political, cultural and societal tradition and firmly look to the Irish Government. Tthat is why there has been a huge increase in the number of Irish passport applications from some of the most staunchly loyalist communities in the North. Just across from me is the Lower Newtownards Road, the birthplace of the UVF in 1914 or 1915 and the population of which is staunchly steeped in the loyalist tradition. The post office on it ran out of Irish passport application forms in the days immediately after the Brexit vote. It says something about people who do not have the greatest affinity with Irish citizenship that they want to retain their EU citizenship and status. We have an obligation to ensure that will happen.

I appreciate everything the Minister of State has said and do not envy her in dealing with the challenges she faces in dealing with this issue. The report is a significant body of work. If it does one thing, it is that it shines a spotlight on these difficulties. I hope it will go some way to showing the Minister of State and her colleagues in government how to find solutions in stormy waters, as Senator Michelle Mulherin noted.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber to discuss the report and congratulate her on her new post. A huge amount of work and consultation went into the report and I am delighted to see it before the House. I commend Senator Neale Richmond for his work in chairing the committee and offer special thanks to the organisations and individuals who gave of their time and shared their expertise with us in the past month which was of huge help to us in our work. I also say "a special thank you" to the clerk and all of the committee staff involved.

The report is diverse, offering over 100 potential solutions across a huge number of fields. One of my key priorities was ensuring the focus would not solely be on economic issues. The very significant impact Brexit could have on trade and investment has been very well documented, as many researchers have outlined. It is very important that we be prepared, but trade is not the only issue. As I do not think matters such as environmental protection had received enough attention previously, I am delighted that they are included so strongly in the report.

I am very passionate and adamant about the need to avoid a hard border, which is vital. CSO data show that about 15,000 people cross the Border daily. We have to make sure this flow is not disrupted. We are talking about people’s lives, their relationships, businesses and everything else that depends on moving from the North to the South and vice versa easily. We need to look at securing special status for Northern Ireland and making the need to avoid a hard border a key part of the negotiations.

It goes without saying that in all of this we have to make sure the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement will always be respected. The Agreement has been the bedrock of peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, of which any final Brexit deal needs to be mindful.

On cross-Border co-operation, many community groups came forward to express significant concerns that after Brexit, regulations and protections on either side of the Border might end up out of sync. We cannot allow this to happen. It is vital that we maintain common standards and approaches across the entire island in key areas such as environmental protection, health care, education and human rights. This is particularly clear when it comes to the environment. It seems very possible that post-Brexit the United Kingdom may no longer be bound by key EU environmental directives. This has caused a great degree of uncertainty. By their nature, environmental issues transcend borders. There is a big overlap in dealing with issues such as biodiversity, waterways and air quality. We need a co-ordinated and consistent approach across the entire island which should be treated as a single bio-geographic unit in realising rivers cross borders. The British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, has said the United Kingdom will remain a “leading actor” on climate change. We have to make sure this means that there will be no slip in standards.

Similarly, an “all-island” approach must be taken to human rights protection. If the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights, we will have to ensure they are not replaced with a Bill of Rights that is watered down and less far-reaching. We cannot row back on people’s rights. Human rights protections must be equivalent on both sides of the Border, as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement which we need to maintain.

There are also significant concerns about the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, as well as of UK citizens living throughout the European Union. We have to be humane and empathetic to the people concerned and their families during the negotiations. We cannot play with people’s lives and use them as bargaining chips. I urge both sides to the negotiations to remember this and make reciprocal rights a priority.

On education, it was clear during the hearings that so many opportunities, particularly for young people, were being jeopardised by Brexit. The committee heard that students from Northern Ireland might be excluded from programmes such as Erasmus or could end up having to pay tuition fees of up to €20,000 to attend Irish universities. They may no longer be eligible for key maintenance grants from SUSI which offer vital support in assisting lower income families into higher education. These changes could affect people’s lives and opportunities hugely. As such, we need to oppose them. Similarly, we should try to maintain strong cross-Border collaboration between Ireland and the United Kingdom in the area of scientific research. To date, researchers in Ireland have won EU funding of €386 million as part of Horizon 2020, but this funding may suddenly be jeopardised post-Brexit. This is a perfect example of the projects that might be threatened by a hard Brexit. The reality is that EU funding has been vital for many community services and initiatives in the North of Ireland. We cannot let these projects just fall away once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. This is particularly clear in the area of mental health services, an issue very close to my heart, as it is to the Minister of State's. As it stands, the EU-funded PEACE programme has provided over €2.2 billion for cross-Border projects in the areas of education, young people, shared spaces and relationship building. It has played a hugely important role in addressing the trauma and legacy mental health issues associated with the conflict. Unless they are properly addressed, they can be long-standing and do untold damage to families and communities.

I want to highlight some specific figures which really bring home the reality of what Brexit might mean for so many. As part of the PEACE III programme 6,999 people received trauma counselling; 190,000 attended events to address sectarianism, racism and conflict resolution; 45,000 attended events aimed at directly assisting victims and survivors; 25,000 attended over 2,000 conflict resolution workshops; while almost 3,000 participated in initiatives aimed at addressing physical and non-physical barriers to deal properly with the past. Cuts in public expenditure will impact on existing high levels of debt, the rate of unemployment, poor mental health outcomes and suicide rates. It is essential that the work done in supporting and empowering victims and survivors of the conflict continue as individuals begin to address unresolved trauma.

Despite the formal end of the conflict in the North, a substantial proportion of the adult population continues to suffer the adverse mental health effects of chronic trauma exposure. It is likely that the legacy of poor mental health associated with the conflict will endure for many years if not adequately addressed.

We simply cannot have a situation where those cross-Border, community-building initiatives fall away because EU funding is withdrawn. We have to ensure that these projects are maintained.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and congratulate her on a very important appointment at a crucial point in the history of our country. I wish her well in the role and I know that the Taoiseach would not have made this appointment lightly. I also thank and pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Richmond, for his chairmanship of the Special Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, which he carried out with great professionalism. I was proud to be one of three Fine Gael members on that committee. Along with all of the other members, we worked extremely hard. It was a good committee and the work was well done. The gravity of the issues concerned and of the impact on the country was not lost on any of us and this affected our approach to the committee and our attendance at it.

I represent the Border community of Cavan-Monaghan, which stands to be particularly adversely affected by Brexit. Every day an estimated 30,000 journeys are made between the North and the South for reasons of work, school, hospital appointments, or kinship. There are many reasons people travel up and down across the Border. Agricultural produce is sourced by processors on either side of the Border. Where I live in Bailieborough, for example, Lakeland Dairies processes milk sourced in Northern Ireland. One finds this right across the area. Pigs travel from the South to be processed in the North and vice versa. There is a lot of interplay and business connection across the Border, with many people travelling for business.

There is also a lot of farming across the Border. Overall, the sector most vulnerable to Brexit is agriculture because of the level of agricultural exports to the United Kingdom. That sector is so important for jobs, be they on or off the farm, and is effectively the main employer in the area. Therefore, this is a crucial debate for my area and it is crucial that we get the right outcome. There are two elements to this outcome. The first thing that is needed is the maintenance of the common travel area and all that goes with it. People need to be able to travel across the Border uninterrupted and in a normal, seamless fashion. This needs to be maintained, North and South and east and west. There is great confidence at this stage that we will achieve that, and let us hope that this confidence is well-founded. This is the first leg of the operation.

In that context, I add that one of the great achievements of this Government is that it has created in Europe an acceptance and understanding of the Irish position and a willingness to prioritise it. As a member of the main Government party, I am particularly proud of this. I recently had the privilege of leading the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe and when I met people from right across the continent I could recognise that there is a very high consciousness of our domestic position here. That is a great achievement and one that the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, will no doubt build upon and maintain.

The first important element is, as I said, the maintenance of the common travel area and the seamless Border. What is also important, however, is the customs area. We need to maintain a free trade situation and avoid the imposition of customs duties. This is slightly more problematic. We need to resolve this and to preserve the unique position of Ireland, North and South and across to the UK. Let us hope that a free trade arrangement can be made between the UK and EU, much like the Norwegian model. If we do not achieve this there will have to be a relaxation of fiscal and competition rules within the EU so as to give special support right across the country, but particularly to Border areas such as my own. Areas like Cavan-Monaghan will need special support for indigenous industry and processing and so forth to be able to maintain jobs in a hard Brexit situation. Let us pray that that does not arise. If it does, however, we will need the necessary supports and relaxation of rules.

Our main objective is to maintain the status quo to the greatest possible degree. The shifting political sands in Britain may also help. If we do not succeed in maintaining this status quo, let us hope that we get support from Europe in this very important area. I am interested in hearing the opinion of the Minister of State on that specific issue of European support in the event of a hard Brexit.

I also welcome the Minister of State and congratulate her on her appointment. I also join in congratulating and complimenting the special committee Chairman, Senator Neale Richmond, and all of the committee members. As the Chairman mentioned at the outset, we sat through more than 50 hours of meetings. More than 99% of the dialogue was of a pessimistic and negative nature, which may have affected all of us. Very few positives were predicted by our witnesses, if any. That is very daunting and frightening. As has been mentioned here today, we inherited Brexit. It was neither our decision nor of our making, but we are the nation that stands to lose the most and is most affected by the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. That applies to every single sector of society and community across the board. While there is the possibility of international banking companies coming to Ireland, as highlighted by my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, we do not seem to be acting very positively to enhance this opportunity or encourage them to come here.

Like Senator O'Reilly and others, I am most interested in the agrisector. There is no need to rehash old figures, but we export 37% of all our agrifood to the United Kingdom. That figure includes 50% of our beef, 26% of our dairy, 90% of our mushrooms and 80% of our cheddar cheese. Our report is now complete and the talking is over. Our potential and proposed solutions have been flagged in this report. The time for talk is over and it is now time for action. I hope that the action we take will be more pro-active and effective than has happened in the past. Other than the United Kingdom itself, we were the first nation to be affected by the vote of 23 June last year. As I have already stated, we export 90% of our mushrooms to the United Kingdom. In the months immediately after Brexit, we lost €7 million and 130 jobs in the export sector. No action was taken on this whatsoever. If our record to date is anything to go by then, I am not overly optimistic over how we are likely to handle Brexit when it kicks in properly.

Bord Bia has stated that the agricultural sector lost €570 million in 2017. If sterling were to hit 90 pence, and as of last night it stood at approximately 89 pence, we stand to lose €700 million a year as well as a possible 7,500 jobs. This is happening today, in the here and now, and to be quite honest I do not see any action. Bord Bia has been allocated four additional staff and the Department of agriculture has been allocated three. These are within existing resources. Given the figures I have mentioned, this matter is not something that will kick off if and when the divorce proceedings are over. It is already happening. The agriculture sector was already in crisis before the Brexit vote in the UK.

The actions that the Minister mentioned were taken in last year's budget and are proposed in the context of this year's budget in regard to the agriculture sector in particular were badly needed irrespective of Brexit. We need to take more serious action into the future. The Minister mentioned that in terms of Brexit Ireland has had more dialogue and done more than any other country, and rightly so in the sense that Ireland is the most exposed to Brexit. We have had kind words, recognition and sympathetic remarks from all contributors on the Brexit scenario but of what good will these remarks be to the people who are suffering. At the first meeting of consequence on Brexit, Spain got a veto on Gibraltar. All we got was kind words, sympathy and recognition of our uniqueness in terms of Brexit.

The time for talking has come to an end. What action is being taken by Government on the issues flagged by the witnesses to the committee as priorities, including State aid rules and Northern Ireland special status? What negotiation is taking place in that regard? As mentioned previously, Ireland has a tripartite agreement with France and the United Kingdom in relation to the horse racing industry. What has the Government done to ensure this will be maintained in light of the fact that this is not a matter of concern to any of the eastern European countries?

Since publication of the report, the United Kingdom has announced it will be withdrawing from the London fisheries convention. I appreciate that Ireland is one of 27 countries. I would like to hear how the negotiations with the other 26 countries are going.

With regard to fisheries, there are land-locked countries that have no interest in fisheries. What will Ireland have to give in the negotiations to get the best deal for us? How will we get the best deal possible for Ireland without that deal being seen by the remaining 26 countries as the best deal possible for the United Kingdom? In my opinion, following on from the result of the elections in the United Kingdom, the remaining 26 countries see it as being in a weak and vulnerable position and they will probably be tempted to go for the jugular and we will be the big losers. I would welcome more detail from the Minister of State on where we are in regard to Brexit. Brexit is not something that will happen at the end of divorce proceedings it is already happening and I would like to know where we stand in that regard.

I commend the Seanad committee on its tremendous work in terms of the number of hearings it held and in regard to the compilation of this report. I particularly welcome that the report calls for special EU status for the North of Ireland and for the Good Friday Agreement to be protected.

I would like to focus my contribution on the announcement by the British Government that it intends to withdraw from the London fisheries convention, which will be a two-year process. This was an intentionally provocative move, which is of major concern to the fishing communities around our coast. This is a wake-up call for the Irish Government in terms of how Brexit will proceed. I was surprised by this announcement in some respects, but not surprised in other respects. The election result in Britain did not endorse the desire of some within the Tory Party for a hard Brexit. As the Tory Party did not get the endorsement it wanted, I thought it would have had some reflection on that. On the other side, the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, MP, who made the announcement is a Brexiteer. As I said it was intentionally provocative. It is clearly part of the UK's negotiating ploy. For us, it is a reminder that we need to be steely in defending the interests of all of the Irish people.

The majority of people in the North of Ireland did not vote for Brexit. As part of the Good Friday Agreement, we insist that the status of the North of Ireland remain the same until the majority of the people of the North say otherwise. We insist on the majority dictating the future status of the North, but yet in this case we ignore and resist it. I welcome the findings of the committee and the recommendation of special status for the North, which I believe respects the wishes of the people of the North of Ireland as democratically voted for. We need to be more bolshy on this issue. If the Government had any doubt about whether soft diplomacy in terms of the British Government was not working, the announcement in regard to the London fisheries convention points to it.

Last night, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture Food and the Marine I discussed the London fisheries convention with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and pointed him to the need for a review of the common fisheries policy. Of all the sectors in our economy, the fisheries and agriculture sectors are the most threatened by Brexit. We need to open up the discussion of what the UK's proposed withdrawal from the London fisheries convention means for the common fisheries policy. At that meeting senior Department officials were about to tell us the level of catch by Irish boats in UK waters, which is very substantial and worrying, but, alarmingly, they could not tell us the level of catch by the Irish fleet in Irish waters. They could not tell us the overall percentage in terms of catch from Irish waters by fleets from other members states of the EU. This is a huge issue for our coastal communities. They feel they were sacrificed in the past for what governments regarded as the greater good. They do not have confidence, in light in particular of this announcement by the British Government, that their interests will be protected.

I ask the Minister of State to give a commitment that in co-operation with her colleagues she will defend the interests of our fisheries communities around the coast and to confirm that regardless of what emerges from the Brexit process, including the UK withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, the Government will seek a better deal and a fairer deal for our fisheries communities than was secured for them in the past. I again commend the committee on its excellent work.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and I wish her well in her new brief. I echo Senator Mac Lochlainn's point regarding the importance of the fisheries sector in terms of Brexit. I commend and applaud Senator Richmond on the excellent job he did as Chairman of the committee. I had the pleasure of substituting for Senator Black at the last meeting and I thought his leadership was superb. Senator Richmond mentioned that this was an evolving document, which I will hold him to later.

On the London fisheries convention, Britain showed its teeth. We were all shocked. It did so on a Sunday when we least expected an announcement to be made on fisheries. The announcement sent a shockwave throughout Ireland. The issue of fisheries has not been addressed sufficiently in the report. In fact, it is not addressed at all. It is one of the many moving parts involved in Britain's withdrawal from the EU that should not be overlooked. Fisheries for Ireland within the Brexit debate centres on two core issues: continued access to British waters and securing Irish fishing quotas there. With 32% of all Irish landings occurring in British waters fishermen are right to be concerned about whether they will have access to these stocks following Brexit.

In regard to the UK's withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, we do not yet know the extent and scope of the framework with which the UK will replace the EU common fisheries policy. The concerns of fishermen are real. In the case of mackerel, 59% of our total quota in 2015 was taken from outside the EU's exclusive economic zone, EEZ.

While fisheries has a unique set of Brexit challenges on access and quotas, it still faces overlapping issues as outlined in this report, including trade to Britain, the second largest EU destination for Irish sea food. These and other issues were raised at the meeting with the Minister yesterday. The Minister was present at the meeting to hear the concerns of fishing communities, but following the UK announcement two weeks ago we seriously need to consider making an addendum to the report to address specifically the issues of fisheries and Brexit. I call on Senator Richmond to consider facilitating this move.

Another issue of concern for myself, my group, Civil Engagement, and my party, the Green Party, is the area of environmental protection. I am very grateful to my colleague, Senator Black, for her work to ensure the inclusion of this issue in the report. The worst-case scenario for the island of Ireland and the UK would be to see the United Kingdom begin a race to the bottom on environmental protection. Greens on either side of the Border will work tirelessly to ensure that this does not happen and that the fruitful co-operation that has resulted from the Good Friday Agreement will continue.

Senator Richmond said it is an evolving document. As such, I would appreciate if the issue of fisheries were considered as well as fishing communities and the impact of Brexit on their livelihood.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, to the House. I wish her every success in her new job and role. It is an important position that she now occupies and I know she is very much committed to it. I know from talking to members of the EPP last week in Minsk that they are very impressed with the way she has handled her brief. I commend the Minister of State in that regard.

I wish to pay tribute to all members of the Brexit committee. They took on their role responsibly and participated diligently in the process. The report is testimony to the work they did on a cross-party basis. I thank the members of the committee for their work and endeavour. As Leader of the House, I wish to acknowledge and compliment Senator Neale Richmond on his stewardship of the committee. It is easy to put together a committee. The difficult task is to compile a report and ensure that the basic rudimentary aspects of a committee are acted on in terms of due process, fair hearing, an extensive witness list and an outcome that all people can live with. Senator Richmond has done that and I commend him for it.

From watching and observing the Brexit committee and from reading the report, I gathered a sense of the extraordinary interaction and engagement, wide consultation and the willingness of so many who wanted to participate. This is a significant step for us as a Parliament in shining a light, as all Members have said, on the potential consequences and ongoing consequences of Brexit. It is important to build on the sectoral committee work that is being done.

As Senator O'Sullivan said in her speech, the committee and report are evolving in nature and perhaps we should not simply shelve the Brexit committee in its entirely, even though its terms of reference have expired in terms of its work. On a different day perhaps we can look at how we can use the model that we employ in this case on Europe with a view to ensuring that the House can hold future debates on Council meetings. There are reports in the Dáil on this matter. As Leader of the House, I am very much of the view that we should have regular contact with the Minister of State and An Taoiseach regarding the issue of Europe. Certainly, we need to look at the debate on the future of Europe and the issue of EU scrutiny. In the past when I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health, EU scrutiny was part of our remit. As part of the new Government, the new Minister of State might look at how we can change that interaction. I wish to pay tribute to the former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, who did extensive work before the change of Ministers of State. I thank him for his work in Europe as well.

The Government is very much committed to the consideration of Ireland and its unique position. That is evidenced by the outcome of the 29 April declaration in respect of the ongoing commitment of Government. We need to put that in perspective.

Many Senators made observations and remarks on agriculture, tourism and fisheries. The Government has been very proactive in these areas. We should also pay tribute to the Iar-Taoiseach for the way in which he travelled across the continent of Europe pursuing the Irish question and impressing the need for Ireland to be recognised with especial status as well as for his work to ensure the acceptance and understanding of the Irish position.

It is critical that we do not simply park Brexit now, but that we continue to shine a light across the continent of Europe. We need to ensure an awareness and understanding of the unique position of the island of Ireland. Central to this is the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. We have had extensive discussion on that already today. It is critical that we inform rather than assume and that we go out, as we have done in recent months, to push hard across Europe. I have listened to the Members on the potential consequences and they have been articulated. However, to say that Government has not been engaged or involved is wrong. There have been some 450 plus meetings across Europe, extensive consultation and a declaration recognising the importance of Ireland. The EU Council, EU Heads of State and Council of Ministers were not simply drinking coffee and thinking that Ireland was a great place or whatever. They were told. They were listened to and cajoled by the Iar-Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Taoiseach. We must continue to do that. We must continue our charm offensive across Europe and build on the capital earned and delivered by Deputy Enda Kenny.

Fine Gael has always been as a member of the European People's Party and has been a party of Europe. We have stood in the centre of Europe, fighting for our country and its interests. We will not be found wanting. I am confident that the Minister of State will play a key role in that regard. I wish her well. Mar fhocal scoir, déanaim comhghairdeas le gach ball den choiste as ucht a chuid oibre. Tá an tuarascáil seo ar fheabhas ar fad.

This is the first opportunity for the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to come before the Seanad. I congratulate her on her post.

I commend Senator Richmond and all his colleagues on a comprehensive report. It is wide-ranging and cross-party and it is the way a report should be. The implications for Brexit are significant. We have the unusual situation at the moment whereby if a vote took place in the UK, then, more than likely, Brexit would be turned down. We have a situation whereby people are not fully aware of the consequences. It is a little like an old mainframe computer with 1,000 wires coming out of it. No one actually knows what is going to happen. We have to prepare for all eventualities. I hope that reason will prevail in the UK and that the people in the UK would be allowed to express another view on Brexit. Brexit was turned down for a variety of reasons. People in the UK did it for their own reasons. However, I believe that on balance there is a belief that the majority in the UK now believe Brexit will not be in their interests.

There is a danger that we are looking to reinvent the wheel and that several years from now we suddenly find that the wheel will be a different brand but still the same wheel. We have an unusual situation in the UK politically at the moment. Let us work through all the areas, including trade, the common travel area, health education and energy. The implications are astounding.

The EU is negotiating on our behalf with the UK and there is a long lead-in period in terms of getting to a point of formal negotiations. What I would like to see is that there might be some level of responsibility among the political classes within the UK to allow the people, if they wished to have another say on the matter, to be granted that.

I thank the Seanad committee and its Chair, Senator Richmond, for all the work it has done on this issue.

Echoing what Senator Buttimer had to say, the Government has done a considerable amount of work on this issue. Lest Senator Paul Daly be under any illusion otherwise, it is reflected in the communications from both Europe regarding Brexit and the letter from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to Europe on her plans for leaving the EU in terms of the special mention of Ireland and the special relationship, and the special difficulties that this creates for this island and for our Republic as well.

We know the big issues include agriculture, agribusiness, tourism and many other challenges, as my colleague, Senator Kieran O'Donnell, has just pointed out. However, there are opportunities. One of those opportunities that immediately springs to mind, and was in the newspapers today, is the European Medicines Agency. I see our colleagues in Holland are making their play for this agency. To my mind, we are a natural fit for this agency. We are the only remaining English-speaking country, if one excludes Malta, in the EU. We have a long history and a well-respected Irish medicines agency, now called the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA. On top of that, we have a well-educated young population and we have two sites on offer where it could be located. The one which I would obviously have a preference for is at Dublin Airport where we already have planning permission for four large office blocks, each capable of housing 1,000 workers. Clearly, it has the connectivity to the rest of Europe and the United States with over 100 flights a week in that direction. It also has considerable connectivity nationally because of the motorway network.

Obviously, for those who would be leaving the UK and looking forward to settling in a new home, this location would provide an easy place to move to and, with the early morning flights and connectivity to so many different airports in Britain, allow them to remain and not have to move their families move for some time until they can meet the necessary arrangements. We have the educational facilities. We have excellent universities, such as DCU, UCD, RCSI and Trinity, and many other facilities around Fingal and the Dublin area which would be very attractive. I could not let the opportunity pass today when we are discussing Brexit without mentioning this, as I saw that report today.

On a broader note, we have had many meetings on Brexit at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. We invited in all the various stakeholders, as did the Seanad. I was here at some of the meetings in the Seanad as well.

There clearly are challenges. The Government is alive and alert to them. It has done a significant amount of preparatory work but we can never be sure what the future holds. Therefore, we must remain alert and that is what the Government is doing.

I commend my colleagues on the Seanad committee. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to the Seanad in her new role and wish her well. It is a serious challenge ahead, but one that I am convinced she is more than equal to.

I believe that we do not take anything for granted. We must be alert to the problems and the challenges coming, but that focus must never remove our vision for the opportunities that will come our way.

Senator Richmond has three minutes to respond.

I will attempt to get everything in in the three minutes but the Cathaoirleach will forgive me if I go a minute or two over.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, for her engaging address to the Seanad. I also thank the other members of the committee and other Senators present for their kind words which are embarrassing and unnecessary. I commend the entire committee membership and substitutes for their proactive approach to this body of work over the past few months.

As regards a few of the specific issues that were raised, I just have to make a small point. Senator Paul Daly will forgive me. To pick up on the issue of mushrooms, it is worth noting that the Government has made available €150 million worth of low-interest loans to the industry. Some €2.6 million has been provided to Bord Bia to allow for market diversification and a €5.4 million capital investment has been made by the Government in horticulture, particularly regarding the mushroom industry.

It is a little unhelpful to compare the situation of Spain, Gibraltar and the UK with the Good Friday Agreement, which is an internationally binding legal agreement. We spent a great deal of time rightly focusing on this document and it is the cornerstone of Anglo-Irish relations going forward. Something on which we must reflect is that there is a reason it is in the top three issues for both the UK and the EU going into the negotiation process.

I welcome the forthright response of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to the disappointing announcement by the British Minister, Mr. Gove, on the UK's decision to withdraw from the 1964 London Agreement on fisheries. I suppose that opens up a wider issue on fisheries but also Anglo-Irish relations in general in the future. We find ourselves in a unique situation. Ireland is obviously, as Senator Paul Daly stated, the most affected of the member states, including the UK, by Brexit. The further east one goes, the less Brexit becomes an issue and it becomes all about Russia, the migrant crisis or the refugee crisis. We are in that unique position that we can institutionally lean on and discuss with the UK where other member states cannot, through the British-Irish Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I would call on the Minister of State, as we mentioned in the report, to take back to the Government that these meetings need to become more regularised and more formalised. Prior to 1973, British and Irish diplomats, officials and Ministers met sporadically. Now they meet at least once a month at the European Council or Council of Ministers. We need to see the British-Irish Ministerial Council meeting once a month. We need to see the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting more often and we need to see greater interaction between parliamentarians from Westminster, the Oireachtas and all the devolved Administrations.

I suppose a disappointing aspect is that the committee is being disbanded. It is being stood down. The document has been laid before the House. However, that cannot stop the discussion about Brexit in this House or in the wider Oireachtas in the future. I call on the Minister of State to make it her business after the recess to commit to coming back to the Seanad to take statements on each European Council and to take regular updates on the negotiating process. That is something we would all welcome. We are not all members of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement or the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. We can use this Chamber for its rightful purpose.

Senator Mulherin mentioned a potential Irish exit and what the cost might be. The up-front cost might be, I suppose, €10 billion compared with the bill that has been issued of €100 billion to the UK but the cost is far greater for a smaller county than just the initial divorce bill. The cost is our membership of the European Union which gives us access to the wider world. It allows us, a small peripheral island country, to be part of one of the largest economic trading blocs in the world. It allows us to be powerful. It allows us a seat at the top table, at the G20 and at the G8. It allows us to be able to look to entities such as Germany, France, Spain and Poland, saying they are our equals.

One of the phrases the Minister of State used is that Ireland is often seen as "an island, behind an island". It is a phrase that absolutely cuts the marrow because that is one of the exact phrases used by the then EEC to dismiss the original Irish application to join the ECC in the early 1960s. Ireland could never be considered for joining the European project initially because the UK did not want to. Now we are at a point where the UK, for whatever reasons, has made the decision to leave the greatest peace project in the history of humanity. We are no longer an island behind an island. We are an established equal member of the European Union. Our future is at the heart of that Union and we must commit to that Union in the strongest manner possible, consistently engaging with other member states and consistently engaging with the wider world and, indeed, the United Kingdom, as part of that Union.

I commend this report to the House. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence and I wish the Minister of State and the entire Government all the very best over the coming weeks.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 3.40 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.