The Government condemns in the strongest possible terms Saturday's car bomb in Derry. I spoke to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland yesterday when I offered both our concern and assistance. The police investigation is ongoing to bring to justice those who are behind this act of terrorism. Such violence has been rejected by the people of this island again and again. The group that carried out this act cannot claim in any way to be acting on behalf of the Irish people. I know that Senators from all parties and none will share in this condemnation. There can be no return to the dark days of the past anywhere on this island.
The Brexit process in the UK is at a critical juncture. The Government regretted the outcome of last week's vote in the House of Commons on the withdrawal agreement, even if the outcome was not a big surprise. Prime Minister May yesterday stated her continuing commitment to the withdrawal agreement and said she would continue efforts to build the necessary support at Westminster. The British political and parliamentary process will take some time to play out. What we need is for the UK to make it clear on the basis of the outcome of that process how it proposes to move forward. Only then, in truth, can the EU consider how to respond.
As Senators know, the backstop is an insurance policy to ensure there will be no hard border on this island following Brexit. It an essential part of the withdrawal agreement and we continue to advocate for it. However, it is our strong hope a comprehensive and ambitious future relationship agreement will achieve the same end and ensure the backstop is never triggered or needed.
Our EU partners have been consistently supportive and understanding of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Their solidarity has been consistent throughout the negotiations. This was reaffirmed to me by Michel Barnier as late as yesterday and the unambiguous message remains that there can be no withdrawal agreement without the backstop. Lest there be any doubt, there should be absolute clarity also that the EU negotiates as one and that this united approach will remain intact until the end of the process.
Domestically, preparing for Brexit and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is a whole-of-government priority. Our planning began ahead of the UK referendum and in recent months has become more focussed on our no-deal plans. We are all deeply aware of the potentially profound political, economic and trade impacts of a no-deal Brexit. The Government is taking clear steps to mitigate these impacts, but given the scale and uncertainty surrounding a no-deal Brexit, we must all recognise that if such an outcome materialises, there will be significant disruption and change. I have said repeatedly that it will put significant strain both on the political mechanisms in this country and the economy.
That requires a response from the Government but also preparations by businesses and other affected sectors, with the advice and support the Government is giving. Since July 2018, the Government has made a number of key decisions on Brexit preparedness, including on staffing, ICT and infrastructure at ports and airports. In the light of the risks of a no-deal Brexit, this work is being accelerated and, where necessary, interim measures are being put in place.
On 19 December the Government published its contingency action plan, setting out its approach to dealing with a no-deal Brexit. Members will have seen the further intensification of preparations so far throughout the month of January where we have added significantly to the detail of that document.
We are working on the preparation of temporary sites and infrastructure at ports and airports and accelerated staffing plans through recruitment and redeployment, where necessary.
The Cabinet earlier this month and again today advanced work on the legislation necessary in a range of areas to mitigate the damaging effects of a no-deal Brexit. There are multiple issues, including students who travel between Britain and Ireland, rail services and other public transport services, healthcare, particularly cross-Border, and in the justice and social welfare areas.
As the House will be aware, it is proposed to group all of the legislation affecting different sectors in one omnibus Bill. The Bill will have 17 Parts focused on the broad themes of protecting the citizen and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs. It will be complemented by a range of measures by way of statutory instrument. Essentially, the legislation will be 17 Bills in one involving nine Departments, including the Department of the Taoiseach, and 28 statutory instruments or secondary Bills will be required to complement it. I look forward to providing all of the detail for the House shortly. I look forward to working closely with all parties and Oireachtas Members to ensure this necessary Brexit legislation will pass through the Houses in a manner which allows for necessary scrutiny but also ensures its passage and enactment before 29 March.
Our membership of the EU and the stability and solidarity it brings are central to our own preparations. The approach in areas of EU competence has included the publication of more than 80 separate stakeholder notices to assist businesses and citizens in their preparations.
The Commission contingency actions plans have provided some welcome reassurance in areas such as aviation and road haulage but they have also emphasised the significant disruption resulting from a no-deal Brexit. The plans have also helped to guide our domestic response. It is also important to say that while they are providing temporary solutions in areas that would otherwise be in crisis post 29 March in a no-deal scenario, particularly aviation and haulage, the solutions are only temporary, by and large, between the end of March and the end of the year.
Stakeholder engagement is also critical. We will convene a fifth plenary session of the all-island Civic Dialogue on Friday, 15 February, in Dublin Castle. The dialogues have been an invaluable opportunity to hear directly about the all-island implications of Brexit from a variety of stakeholders and across a wide range of sectors.
A no-deal outcome is not the one we want but given the ongoing political uncertainty in London, it is only prudent at this stage to intensify our preparations for a no deal. As the Taoiseach has repeatedly said, we are not preparing any longer. We are putting the pieces in place, hoping they will not be necessary but ensuring we can do everything possible between now and the end of March, just in case.
I am grateful for the ongoing support of all political parties. Parties with which we have a competitive relationship politically have been helpful when it comes to Brexit. That includes all parties represented in this and the Lower House.
Regarding legislation, we are proposing that we will publish the heads of the omnibus legislation on Friday. It will then go to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which has given a commitment to publish the Bill in its full detail on 22 February; therefore, its officials will have just over three weeks to do it. The following week, we will look to take it through Second Stage in the Dáil and the week after that, the week beginning 4 March, we will take Committee, Report and Final Stages in the Dáil. It will be the following week, the week beginning 11 March, that it will be brought to this House. That will be the week in the build-up to St. Patrick's Day.
Many Deputies will not be present, therefore, but there is no reason we cannot get the work done in this House, should it be necessary to do so at that point.
In general terms, my approach to this subject is not party political; rather, it is transparent and open. Senators who need detailed briefings on Brexit will have them. I am confident that we will all work together to ensure preparations which are necessary for Senators to do a professional job as legislators in passing highly significant legislation to protect citizens will be accommodated. If we need to pass such legislation, we have a proposed process that can allow it to be done in time.
Nevertheless, this is all contingency planning. The real negotiation concerns how we can achieve an outcome that will allow for the passing of a withdrawal agreement and a transition period of between two and four years to give everybody the time and space to plan for the new realities; that will avoid the kind of crisis many people will face in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit, that will provide the protections the peace process on this island needs, and that will provide the reassurance that no physical border infrastructure will be needed, regardless of the outcomes of the political debates in the next few weeks. However, there is little we can do to provide clarity in those negotiations until we get clarity from Westminster, of which we should have more next Tuesday evening. We might not have all the clarity we need but at least there will be votes on different options. I look forward to the Prime Minister's response to those votes and her proposal for a way forward to which, I hope, we can respond in a helpful way.
Let me be clear: Ireland does not propose any renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement or the backstop provision therein. That is the position of both the EU and Ireland and it was reiterated yesterday by Mr. Michel Barnier and in the past few days by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr. Donald Tusk. Despite yesterday's offer of an opinion by a Polish Minister who, it was subsequently clarified, was not speaking for the Polish Government, today in Brussels foreign Ministers lined up to reinforce the point that the position which I outline is the EU's position and that there is strong solidarity and unity behind it. I hope that reality will be part of the debate at Westminster as we look to find solutions for the future which, I hope, we can find in a new, changed and more ambitious future relationship declaration, on which the EU wishes to work with the United Kingdom, if the British Government wants to move in that direction. We will wait for a response at Westminster this week and next week, but the Irish position could not be clearer. It has been the same position for 18 months and will not change.