Government's Brexit Preparedness: Statements

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.

I call Senator Ned O'Sullivan, whom I congratulate on his new position in dealing with foreign matters.

Go raibh maith agat. I welcome the Tánaiste back to the House and join him in condemning the car bomb in Derry at the weekend. Most of us lived through decades of violence in the North. We saw the futility of that violence, how useless it was and how it put many obstacles in the way of people of both traditions in trying to work together. Thanks be to God, we thought we had put it aside as we moved on from the Good Friday Agreement but where there is a vacuum in politics, there will always be evil, violent men and women ready to fill that vacuum. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to continue to work for political solutions to the difficulties that face us, not only in dealing with Brexit but also in other areas.

To date, the bipartisan approach to Brexit in Leinster House has been remarkable.

Politicians on most sides realise that the significance of Brexit allows no time for point scoring. I am very proud of the position adopted by my party and my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, in agreeing to extend the confidence and supply arrangement for another year. Certain commentators and other parties have attacked our position. There has been some criticism from within the party-----

Not from this Chair.

Indeed not. However, the longer the current impasse continues the more the public realises how irresponsible it would have been to destabilise the Government and add even further to the confusion in an already fraught situation. I believe the electorate, in due course, will adjudicate on the courageous decision Deputy Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil have made in that regard.

At the same time, the Government cannot take this consensus for granted, as it seems to have done from time to time. The language of Brexit is changing dramatically. In the beginning, the difficulties at Westminster were a cause for concern. They moved to becoming a very serious worry as it appeared that Mrs. May was not finding any way forward and could not get agreement even within her own party. We are moving very close to the deadline; therefore, the language in that regard has accelerated. There is general awareness among the public that there is a real crisis where Brexit is concerned.

The question in today's debate is how prepared are we for Brexit. It is no longer an academic question, just as it is no longer a question of preparing for a doomsday situation which, deep down, we do not expect to happen. We are down to the wire, with an ever-shrinking number of days left to get an acceptable deal over the line. To an extent, we have been a bit like the three monkeys. We closed our eyes and ears to what was happening right in front of us, but we can no longer continue to do that. We have to beef up our Brexit strategy on all fronts in the event that there is a no-deal scenario.

I acknowledge the hard work the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney; the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and their Departments have put into this project in recent years. I include Senator Richmond in that. Theirs has been no easy task but, as I said, they have enjoyed the support of my party through thick and thin in this entire period. I am asking the Tánaiste to come clean and tell us here in the Seanad Chamber the extent of our preparations for Brexit. When he went off script towards the end of his contribution, he gave us some indication of the legislative framework, which is welcome and news to me, but it was rather slow in coming and obviates the need for me to use a number of pages of my script, which he will be glad to hear.

People no longer want to hear vague reassurances. The public wants to know what is happening and this is the time and place for it to be told. It is very unfortunate that the action plan was announced on 19 December, just as both Houses were rising for the Christmas recess. We have not had a chance, as parliamentarians, to examine the Government's Brexit plan until now. We have been told that a raft of legislation will be needed. The Tánaiste has indicated a date for it and that we will have omnibus legislation reaching across a wide range of Departments and so on. The sooner we get it, the better. The sooner we see the heads of the Bill, the better. The Tánaiste might advise us when concluding on the level of the drafting of the Bill and whether there are difficulties attending it about which we should be told.

My party's spokesperson on Brexit, Deputy Lisa Chambers, set out our concerns at a press conference this morning. The Tánaiste has responded to her concerns and I hope there will be further clarification when the Taoiseach meets Deputy Micheál Martin and the other party leaders this afternoon.

Other European countries which will be far less affected by Brexit than Ireland have already promulgated necessary legislation, while we are still in the dark. There is also a great deal of confusion, misinformation and half information, for instance, on the employment of additional veterinary officers. We were told initially that up to 600 veterinary officers would be required. The Minister, Deputy Creed, contradicted thjis at the end of last year in saying he thought the figure would be 150. Farmers are worried about this. We need clarification and certainty on what will happen in the movement of livestock, for instance.

Road hauliers issued a statement lately to the effect that they were totally in the dark. We know that additional lands have been purchased at the major harbours, which is welcome. I hope the Tánaiste will be able to provide further clarification as we move forward.

To a certain extent, we have been distracted by the goings on at Westminster. What happens at Westminster is critical but, to a certain extent, it is a side show. It is impossible to understand the attitude of British politicians. Their bloody-mindedness has been staggering. The public in Britain were sold a bad bill of goods and the Tories have continued to compound the problem. I will never understand the political mentality of people like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Their capacity for ignoring the obvious is extraordinary. In any event, we must get on with our own affairs.

The Tánaiste might advise us of the position on the supply of pharmaceuticals. He has said he does not want people stockpiling medicines. That is usually a prelude to people stockpiling. He might tell us more about that matter. Also, what is the programme for time-sensitive operations in the transport of agricultural goods which will not last forever?

Already, the Dutch Government has employed 1,000 additional customs officials. We have hired only 200, yet it is far more important an issue for us.

Also, there appears to be a poor take-up in terms of business people's awareness of Brexit.

I raise the situation in the North, which is worrying. I note that the leader of Sinn Féin, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, stated this morning that bringing back the Assembly would not be a silver bullet in terms of Brexit. She used the same expression in terms of Sinn Féin people taking their seats at Westminster. I know I am going over time-----

The Senator has just run into injury time.

-----but apart from the unfortunate ballistic analogy, flip answers such as that will not suffice. Sinn Féin was very opposed to the European Union at all stages. Let it come up now with proper alternatives and show real cause in that regard.

We have to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. We must prepare for the worst. We have a great deal of work to do in that regard.

The next speaker is Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell.

I am not speaking yet.

I am sorry. I am giving the Senator a place as part of the Independent group. The next speaker, therefore, is Senator Neale Richmond.

I warmly welcome the Tánaiste who is a frequent visitor to the House and thank him for his remarks. As ever, they were very clear and give us a good idea of the position. They might cause a few people to pivot on their prepared scripts, but so be it.

I commend the Government on the preparations made so far in dealing with all of the possible consequences of Brexit. We should bear in mind that there is no such thing as a good Brexit.

Brexit will be bad for this island, the UK and the EU, regardless of whether there is a soft, hard, medium rare or a no-deal Brexit crash-out scenario. If I hear the phrase "managed no deal" one more time, I think I will go blue in the face. There is no such thing as a managed no deal. It is an absolute worst case scenario, about which everything is being done on both the European Union and the British side to avoid it. I hope that will continue in the fewer than 70 days until Brexit becomes a reality. Ultimately, when it comes to a crash-out scenario, those of us on this island can never be fully prepared. It would be unfair to assume that everything can be prepared for because there are so many variables that could come into the conversation at a later date but everything that can be done is being done. Regrettably, it is having to be done at this very late stage.

I speak regularly with colleagues in the UK but also across the EU. There is a maddening frustration among continental colleagues who believe this should have been sorted in July. Unfortunately, it was not and we are now in the position where we are edging ever closer to a crash-out scenario, however unlikely we all believe it may be.

I commend the Government's work and take on board some of the comments that have already been made. No doubt there are more such comments to come. We raised concerns about the fact that the action plan was presented on 19 December but we must be fair and recognise that it could not be prepared until the European Commission had outlined its plans. That happened on the morning of 19 December last. Where criticism is due, make it but be sure to be clear. People state not enough work has been done to ensure the statistics are right and there are those who bandy about the number of 1,000 officials hired in the Netherlands. That number is aspirational. They have not all been hired; the process has not been completed. When comparing and contrasting, it should be remembered that the Port of Rotterdam is the gateway to the entire Continent. That is not the case with Rosslare Europort. The comparison is unfair and needless. When we are trying so hard not just to be bipartisan but also to be multipartisan - we are all working together on this one - we need to be fair in our criticism, as well as our compliments.

In the context of multipartisanship - I am sure that is the wrong word but my English teacher will correct me in due course - I refer to the report prepared by the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and some of the recommendations made all the way back in July 2017. I thought the report would be dated and ancient history by now but much of the work undertaken in its compilation and many of the recommendations it contains refer to a stage we have not yet reached. Many will not arise until the trade negotiations that will commence soon after the UK actually leaves. I refer, for example, to those recommendations related to the common travel area. I welcome the work that has been done by the Government on that issue in the context of the withdrawal agreement and also the reference to the bilateral discussions last week, as well as the work that has been done on port infrastructure and discussions with the aviation industry. Much of it was underlined in the European Commission's preparedness, as well as in the context of trade. While the vista of a no-deal scenario is on the horizon and very worrying, despite its unlikeliness, the key issues the Government has pursued are in line with many of the recommendations made in the report by all members of the committee such as protecting the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, recognising the rights of citizens across the island, recognising the importance of protecting the European Single Market and ensuring the relationship between the EU and the UK is as close as possible post Brexit. I will touch on that issue as I conclude my remarks.

What will Irish-UK relations be post Brexit? Many have tried to say UK-Irish relations are at their lowest ebb. They must have very short memories or not know their Irish history to make comments like that. I know from the work the Tánaiste does with his counterparts, including David Lidington and Karen Bradley and yesterday with Jeremy Hunt, that the relationships on a personal, political and every other level are warm and strong. Those of us who meet colleagues from Westminster, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach has done via the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, know that relationships are still as strong as possible. I will travel to Westminster tomorrow to speak at a conference, at which there will be five or six MPs who support either leaving or remaining and who come from all parties. We will continue to have discussions. When we welcomed our colleagues from the North from all parties - unionists, nationalists, republicans and others - to our special commemoration yesterday, there was a warmness. It is unfair to state relations have reached to a new low - far from it. We can see that by looking at the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. We can map what will be the Anglo-Irish, North-South and east-west relationships after Brexit. The latter will absolutely be a relationship much closer than any other EU member state will have with the UK. That will allow Ireland to play a key role in the trade negotiations to ensure everyone in the UK knows we absolutely are its best friend within the European Union.

We also have a responsibility to look beyond Brexit to our role within the European Union which will then be a union of 27 member states. We need to double our efforts at our missions across the EU, whether it is with individual member states, within the Permanent Representation in Brussels or semi-State bodies such as Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. We have to make a financial and emotional investment in our diplomatic team which has provided us with such great service in the most trying of circumstances in the past five or six years. Within 12 months of the referendum, Irish diplomats, officials and politicians had held over 500 meetings with their counterparts. That has stood the test of time. We see it in the warm relations and the comments of President Juncker this morning, Michel Barnier yesterday and the German Federal Foreign Minister. They will stand the test of time beyond Brexit. We cannot let that slip.

I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this matter at every forum. I welcome the contributions of all Members. I know that all Members contribute in a positive manner. That is something we absolutely must maintain. As the Tánaiste stated, now is the time to keep calm and hold our nerve. The Good Friday Agreement will be protected by the Irish and, I hope and assume, British Governments in these testing weeks. We do not need to react to every kite or leak in British newspapers, whatever their hue.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Tánaiste. Tréaslaím leis an mhéid atá ráite aige ó thaobh na himeachtaí a thit amach i nDoire Cholm Cille le cúpla lá anuas. I begin by echoing the Tánaiste's words in condemning the events in Derry in recent days. My party's vice president, our MP in the area, our MLAs and councillors have been working hard, with many others, to offer a positive solution and an alternative to those who seek to bring us back to the past.

I thank the Tánaiste, as I have done consistently, for his committed attendance in the Seanad. I acknowledge his attendance to brief us and keep us informed in the best way he can of the situation as it plays out in the Brexit dynamic.

I will note a number of contributions. I agree with Senator Richmond about tempering our response to the agenda of some of those who leak certain red herrings to the media and who seek to further escalate the uncertainty and at times the very justifiable and understandable concern and panic within Irish political life and elements of British political life as this calamity plays out in front of us.

The most recent statement which has very firm credibility is from the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, in the North which has indicated that a no-deal Brexit would result in a loss of £5 billion per year by 2034 to the North's economy. So much for taking back control. That is the reality of the situation we face and which is being inflicted on our people against their will. I always make the point, because I was one of the majority of people in the North of Ireland who voted to remain in the EU, that when we think about all of this in its democratic context, it means that we are having this reckless danger inflicted on us very consciously and clearly against our expressed democratic will.

I welcome the Tánaiste's statement that there will be a reconvening of the all-Ireland Civic Dialogue. It is necessary, positive and useful and will be welcomed by the relevant stakeholders who have sought avenues to contribute and engage with the Government. The Government has been open to this in various forms in recent months and years. It is also welcome that Government representatives will attend the Ireland's Future conference taking place in Belfast on Saturday next. It will be a significant conference and an inevitable outworking and manifestation of the mobilisation of civic nationalism and how it has engaged with the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and their Government colleagues. It is indicative of the live dynamic, not only within broader nationalism in the North but which also permeates right throughout various sectors, traditions and classes as we face further into the uncertain and choppy waters of Brexit. It is important and right that Government representatives will be present and engaged at the event. I am sure they will go with a listening ear and absorb what they will hear from the people on the ground dealing with the realities. They are the people who will deal with the potential fallout from Brexit as we move forward, not least the danger of a no-deal, crash-out Brexit.

The Tánaiste is right when he says we in this House have come together in a very uniform and united way to respond. We have had differences of opinion, which is fair enough. The purpose of these institutions is to provide a platform for the expression of different and legitimate views.

I reiterate that it is not the time for party political swipes. It is the second time I have had to make that point in this House during the statements on Brexit. We do not need it. Regardless of Sinn Féin and our abstentionist policy - we all rightly celebrated abstentionism yesterday - increasingly people in the North see Westminster as part of the problem, not part of the solution. With the greatest will in the world - I am no mathematician - Sinn Fein's seven MPs certainly do not go into 230 seats, which was the number by which Theresa May lost her final vote, but sin scéal eile. That is a matter for another day.

This debate is about clarity on the Government's preparedness for Brexit. I have a few questions, on which the Tánaiste might reflect. I put them sincerely as they are being asked by people on the ground. The Government states it will defend citizens' rights in the context of Brexit and our citizenship rights as Irish and EU citizens, but one of the most basics elements of any citizen's rights is the right to elect democratic representation. With the allocation of the two additional seats to Ireland after Brexit, we had the opportunity to allocate those seats to the North to continue to afford citizens there the rights and the opportunities to have elected representation and have a voice at the heart of the EU institutions. We have fallen at that hurdle. The Tánaiste might reflect on this. I believe him when he says he does not want to see a hard border in Ireland. I take him at his word and know that he believes that. That is the outcome he has stated he would like but there have been remarks from the European Commission in that regard today. He might reflect on the matter and send a message in response to the people, not least those who live along the Border.

The Government has told us that it will defend, respect and uphold the Good Friday Agreement and I believe it. I take it at its word because it is far too important to do otherwise. However, on the other hand, the Government tells us not to look to the Good Friday Agreement and the potential lifejacket it offers us for a solution to Brexit in the form of a referendum on unity, for which there is an increasing demand, as displayed by the latest polls. If we are going to defend and uphold the Good Friday Agreement, we should also look to it and adhere to it in its fullest.

I wish to share time with Senator Higgins.

I welcome the Tánaiste back to Seanad. I am glad that there is continued engagement on Brexit with both Houses of the Oireachtas. It was not long ago that we were in this Chamber marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, but the closer it gets to 29 March, such debates become increasingly important.

We should not be partisan on this issue. I have said consistently that we need to give credit where credit is due. We have strong debates and disagreements in this House but it is important that we also recognise the significant time and energy being put into Brexit both by the Tánaiste, the entirety of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our diplomatic staff. We have managed to unite the entire EU 27 behind a common position on the importance of the backstop, but we cannot just assume that this was necessarily a given; it took months, if not years, of careful, intensive preparation. That should be noted and recognised.

The Irish position has been made absolutely clear and has strong support in these Houses. The backstop is crucial because it is, essentially, an insurance policy. It is a binding legal commitment that, no matter what future arrangements are made, we will not accept a hard border on the island of Ireland. I cannot emphasise this enough. Recent events in Derry, as the Tánaiste said, are extremely worrying and underscore just how important it is. On that basis, we also cannot afford to be complacent about where we go from here. I fully appreciate, for obvious diplomatic reasons, that we have been very careful in how we discuss what might happen in the coming months and years. We have chosen to emphasise the importance of a legally binding backstop, instead of dwelling on the implications of a no-deal Brexit that would not include such guarantees.

Recent events at Westminster make it clear that we need to work through these implications. We have had the firm support of the EU 27 but the depth of that solidarity will be seriously tested in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. Significant sacrifices were made by ordinary Irish people to avoid the collapse of the European banking system, for example, and it would be great to see similar support offered if we are facing the worst impact of a no-deal Brexit when we will need financial and other support. We may also be faced with the prospect of an external frontier of the EU running across this island, with demands to maintain the integrity of the EU Single Market, as well as similar World Trade Organization, WTO, obligations binding on both Ireland and the UK. Recent comments by the Polish Foreign Minister were quickly and rightly nipped in the bud but they emphasise that difficult conversations will be coming in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit.

We are currently waiting on clarity from the UK, specifically the UK Parliament, on how it wants to move forward. There is a very real chance we will not get that. Broadly speaking, I can see three main scenarios for the priority of avoiding a hard border. The first is that the UK decides to remain in the EU; the second is that the North of Ireland remains in some form of customs union in the general spirit of what is in the withdrawal agreement, while the third is that a border poll is held on reunification. Worryingly, the current parliamentary numbers at Westminster are threatening the first two options. I fully understand the need for sensitivity on the third, but it is undeniable that the potential for a no-deal Brexit significantly increases the possibility that a border poll may take place in the coming years. That is something we need to be able to talk about in a manner that includes everyone on this island and demonstrates a generosity of spirit and respect for diversity. There is no one narrative; there never is. We need to be able to speak openly and carefully about what a border poll would mean in practice. If people may be asked to vote on reunification, we need to be able to discuss what that would mean economically, politically, socially, and culturally for everyone in Ireland. It is not inflammatory to recognise this possibility and want to account for it in a sensitive manner. The Tánaiste said that he is a "constitutional nationalist", who would like to see a united Ireland in his lifetime, if possible in his political lifetime. That is an aspiration I share, but Brexit should offer a warning of what can happen when one plunge's head-first into a referendum without proper discussion, care, consideration and planning beforehand. We need to be willing to have these conversations.

I have taken part in discussions with the nationalist community in the North and also with the unionist community who engaged in good faith and regularly asked what a united Ireland would mean, what would the impact be on their daily lives and what would change. We need to be able to account for elements such as the economic impact, recognising any cost but also the potential benefits of an all-island economy. That is something a parliamentary committee could do in a non-threatening, inclusive and sensitive manner, working on a cross-party basis. I would look to the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement where colleagues from all parties and none could engage with key principles of consent and parity of esteem, as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement, in this manner. I believe the attitude would be one of wanting to support the Tánaiste and his Department in such work. It is something we must consider.

Beyond this, we need to ensure our Brexit preparedness is not solely economic. This is something I have consistently emphasised at the committee. I think, for example, of the EU-supported PEACE programmes which have been responsible for incredible projects related to post-conflict recovery and counselling in the North. I think of the educational agreements needed to ensure the same opportunities for Irish students in the North. Post Brexit, how can we maintain crucial environmental protections, as well as human rights protections, both North and South? In terms of infrastructure, is there potential for increased capital investment such as new airport facilities, an issue on which the Tánaiste touched?.

These are issues that require a detailed debate. We must say very clearly now that we cannot have a single omnibus Bill presented here two days before Brexit, with hundreds of pages and no time to engage on it meaningfully. We need to be given time to do our work as legislators. Overall, I thank the Tánaiste and his Department for their hard work so far. I offer my full support in the months ahead and urge him to take the contributions made by this House on board.

A great deal has been said and in the short time available I seek only to add to two points that have been made. Others have commended the Government on the role it played in the negotiations and the right emphasis it has placed on the Good Friday Agreement and its importance not only as an internationally recognised legal instrument and agreement but also as something with an extraordinary democratic mandate from all across these islands. It is important we underscore this when we hear talk about democracy being used in some of the debates we have seen in the UK.

We have spoken about a hard border and although we have heard the assurance 100 times, we may need to hear it again in respect of ensuring we commit that in any and all negotiations with whatever parties, Ireland will endeavour to ensure we will not return to the hard border either of our own past or the hard borders we have seen in other parts of Europe. I do not believe that is something any of us want. Regardless of the scenario or whether there is a deal or no deal, that is something on which we will have to work.

An equally important part of the Good Friday Agreement is the guarantee of human rights which were given to citizens North and South. Some concern has been expressed in the past week in the House of Lords in the UK by the EU Justice Sub-Committee which noted there seemed to be some dilution in the language being used. The wording on the commitment to the EU Convention on Human Rights changed to "respecting the framework"-----

Senator Higgins's time is up.

It is, yes. I am sorry.

May I have just one minute to finish?

No. All speakers are running over time. I am trying to get a lot of speakers in.

I think we will still probably have time as I chose not to take an extra five minute slot.

The Senator can have one minute. We will have to call the Tánaiste to respond at 6.05 p.m. I must ask the Senator to wind up.

I will wind down. I urge the Tánaiste to address those concerns that have been expressed by the House of Lords about the commitment on human rights.

Lastly, in the legislative programme the Tánaiste set out for the omnibus Bill-----

I thank the Senator.

-----he neglected to include one Stage, namely, the return to the Dáil after amendment in the Seanad.

The Senator has gone half a minute over time.

I would like to be assured that there will be an opportunity for amendment in the Seanad-----

The Senator has gone half a minute over time.

-----and that that Stage will happen. It is important that we plan now, in January, for that to happen in March.

I welcome the Tánaiste and thank him for giving us the opportunity to debate Brexit preparedness with him. I begin, as others have done, by condemning outright the dreadful car bomb in Derry and commend the prompt action of the PSNI which had already started evacuation before the warning was even received and the actions of which clearly averted what could have been terrible tragedy.

I also wish to refer to yesterday's impressive and dignified ceremony in the Mansion House where we had our joint sitting of the Dáil and the Seanad and were addressed by the President. The ceremony was conducted with such dignity, in such an appropriate fashion and with such respect for different traditions on the island. It was in contrast to the shambles we have seen at Westminster and the shambolic debates there. Our Oireachtas proceedings are conducted with more decorum and more respect for the views of others. It is quite distressing sometimes to watch the jeering and sneering in the House of Commons on such a serious issue as this and to see a gendered, almost public schoolboy style of debate. That is most unfortunate. I speak as somebody who lived in London for many years and was born there to Irish parents. I love the place. It is unfortunate that the Brexit debate has brought out the worst in British politics.

We have also seen ironies and contradictions in the Brexit debate and the general political discourse on Brexit in Britain, not least of which is the irony that London, one of the most ethnically diverse places in Britain, voted so strongly to remain, as did Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is most ironic that the DUP purports to represent the people of Northern Ireland-----

-----but it does not. It does not represent them in terms of the view that Northern Ireland wishes to remain. Likewise, it is ironic that no Northern Ireland Assembly has functioned for two years, as a result of which there is a clearly a democratic vacuum and an absence of political voices that would genuinely represent Northern Ireland and its interests.

I commend the Tánaiste, his officials, the team in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and across government who have negotiated so hard on behalf of Ireland, not just on behalf of this jurisdiction but also on behalf of the entire island in the absence of a real forum for democratically expressing the views of the Northern Ireland electorate through the Assembly. That has been unfortunate and perhaps contributed to what has been notable from the British political system generally, namely, an ignorance about the potential and real impact of Brexit on this island, North and South.

With some notable exceptions, we have seen MPs and Ministers in Britain demonstrate a real ignorance about the impact on Ireland. There are exceptions of course. I might single out MPs such as Stephen Pound, the British Labour Party MP for Ealing North. Senator Richmond is aware that he gave an 80 second dissection of the Brexit impasse in September which went viral because he outlined very starkly what it would mean for Ireland. He said it was a matter of life and death for the people of Ireland. He pointed to the reality that the problem of a 500 km border with 282 crossing points could not be solved with cameras or surveillance. He said once a border was reconstituted, it would become a target. His words were deeply and depressingly prescient. He also said if one had a target, one had to defend it and that one must also protect the defenders. He further said that once one had uniformed officers on the Border the peace process would be undermined. The European Commission's confirmation today that a no-deal Brexit would mean a return to having a border starkly outlines the seriousness of Brexit, especially the implications of a no-deal Brexit.

We have heard some really good commentary from other MPs such as Keir Starmer and Hilary Benn, both of whom I have met, and Stella Creasy and Joanna Cherry from the Scottish National Party, SNP. I do not wish to condemn British politicians generally, but it has been most frustrating for the Irish side and the EU 27 to negotiate effectively in the dark not knowing what the British side is seeking and to see the split within the Tory Party deepening to the extent where we saw the enormous defeat for Theresa May's withdrawal agreement. Clearly, the withdrawal agreement was the best we could have hoped for in that context but it now seems to be dead in the water. As a Labour Party Senator, I very much welcome the significant shift from the British Labour Party last night. I hope we will see Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader coming out strongly to back a second referendum. Unfortunately, that voice has been lacking but we now see 71 Labour Party MPs, including leading figures such as Sadiq Khan, backing the people's vote in a second referendum. It may be that it would become a more likely outcome in the 66 days left. Many of us very much hope for this. In the absence of any clarity in that regard and in advance of the votes next week, about which the Tánaiste has spoken, it is correct that the Government is now preparing and planning for a no-deal Brexit.

My party leader, Deputy Howlin, raised in the Dáil, as others have done here, real concerns about a lack of preparedness and a laissez-faire approach to many issues. In particular, he has raised the three stark concerns he has about ports and ferries, the recent worrying announcement by Irish Ferries on the lack of investment at Rosslare Europort and the absence of sufficient infrastructure in ports generally. He has also raised a concern others have raised about the pharmaceutical industry and the availability of short-life medicines in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. I know that is a major concern for people in Britain also. He has also referred to the need for investment in infrastructure such as the electricity grid to ensure we will not be impacted on in that regard by a no-deal Brexit.

If there is a positive to be drawn, it is the unity of the EU 27 on the backstop. Others have spoken about the ostracising of the Polish Foreign Minister who broke the line and seemed to have been speaking very much on a personal level. The unity of the EU 27 on the backstop and the need for a backstop is very welcome, as is the unity of purpose nationally where we have seen political parties approach the issue in a constructive manner. Opposition parties have worked with the Tánaiste. I commend him for briefing the Opposition throughout the process. He can be assured of the support of the Seanad Technical Group. I think I can speak for them all, although not all members in the group are from the Labour Party. We will work constructively with the Tánaiste. We are very happy to co-operate on the timeline he has helpfully outlined for us for the Brexit omnibus legislation. We are pleased to see the plans for it crystallising.

I am also pleased to see the all-island civic dialogue. I attended previous sessions. It is very useful and helpful to hear stakeholders speak. There is some comfort and positivity to be gained from what is a very negative situation for Ireland from the unity we have had from our EU colleagues and within our own political system. However, there are serious questions about preparedness in specific areas and the need to ensure we will have adequate recruitment of additional personnel, where needed. Ultimately, while preparing for the worst, we must hope for the best.

A people's vote with a strong, dynamic and positive "Remain" campaign remains the best outcome for Ireland.

I welcome the Tánaiste. I thank him, the Taoiseach and all Ministers for the work they have done on this matter to date in protecting Ireland's interests. I also thank all those in the Opposition parties for the work they have done and their contributions. We have shown very much a united front in the way we have approached Brexit, which is important because we have also won the support, as some of my colleagues have referred to, of the other member states of the European Union in dealing with the many challenges we face as a country. I also acknowledge the important contributions of my colleague, Senator Richmond, to public debates in both Irish and UK media. Whether it was the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the Taoiseach, or Senator Richmond, they have very much come across as knowing the issues well and positive about the way forward in dealing with Brexit.

There are many challenges and the Government has made provision for new legislation. It will have 17 parts which will be comprehensive and cover a wide range of areas, including health, which is important. Senator Bacik referred to the challenges we face in this area, as did other colleagues. The legislation will also deal with the areas of finance, taxation, financial services and amendments to EU regulations. In addition to the comprehensive legislation we must now put through, we must also approve approximately 20 separate statutory instruments. They will all have to be carefully drafted to deal with the challenges we face. I thank each and every one of the Departments and the officials in each Department for the work they are doing in that regard because we face a significant sea change, with which we must deal comprehensively in the way we move forward.

We face a number of other challenges, for instance, the important issue of medicines. The Government has a short timescale to plan to ensure there will be no shortfall or delay in accessing them for those who require medicines. The Minister for Health, the HSE and the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, have done much work on this issue, but it is one area on which the Government needs to work and which it needs to ensure we will prioritise.

The transport of goods out of Ireland is another challenge. More than €21 billion worth of exports is transported from Ireland to other EU countries. It is important that at all stages Irish companies have access to the transport system to get their goods to their final destination in a timely manner. This is a challenge and something that must be dealt with. The Minister responsible is working on it but it is also important that he receive full co-operation from the various shipping companies, together with the transport organisations and the ports.

We have much work to do but I know that the Tánaiste, together with Ministers, is working on this issue. This is a new era because this is something we have not had to face previously and something on which we must all work together to ensure all the t's will be crossed and the i's dotted, no matter what the issue is. We must be ready for the situation which I hope will not happen where there is no agreement from the UK. It is challenging, but it is also one about which we need to be careful in the wording we use and the comments we make. It is important that the agreement negotiated by Theresa May be finally agreed at UK level and that an agreement be in place by 29 March. I again thank the Tánaiste for the work he is doing in this area.

I thank the Tánaiste. This is such a challenging unknown for all of us. Having spoken to people in my area, the issue is the uncertainty about what will happen. I welcome the all-island Civic Dialogue on Brexit to be held on Friday, 15 February in Dublin Castle because it will involve everyone working together to try to work on the serious issues that could face Ireland in the next few months. The greatest concerns relate to the Border, farming, businesses and employment. There is so much to be done, yet so much uncertainty.

I refer to the issue of passports because it is one of the biggest issues in my clinics. I recently spoke to a British national who is married to an Irish woman and has children. Their children hold Irish passports. He inquired about the possibility of gaining an Irish passport but was told that while it was possible, he would have to live in Ireland for one year to qualify for naturalisation, thus citizenship. Can we ask a family to reconcile residency issues or ask them to move lock, stock and barrel to Ireland for one year? It is not practical. This man has an important job in England, as does his wife, and his children are all in school. I would like the Minister to clarify what is being prepared for these hard-working families who travel to Ireland regularly to see elderly relatives and family here. What is our contingency plan in that regard? I would also like to know what Brexit could mean for the right of UK citizens derived from Irish law under the EU freedom of movement legislation to come and live in Ireland without residency permits. These are all important issues. Another man to whom I spoke is English and has lived here for 42 years with his wife. He has children here. He has paid his taxes, including property tax, all his life. He applied for an Irish passport but he was told that for refugees and stateless persons, passports are free; for widows or widowers of Irish citizens, the cost is €200; and for others, the cost is €950. This man does not have €950. What does he do? He has lived here for 42 years, is married to an Irish citizen, has children and reared them and paid his property tax and other taxes. What are we going to do to help these people who need Irish passports?

I know that I only have five minutes. I ask the Tánaiste for more clarification. It is only 66 more days until we will know whether this will be good or bad for us. At this stage we must prepare. The Tánaiste knows the old saying, "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail". It is a true saying. If we are not prepared for a hard border, if we are not prepared to get Ireland back on track, we are in trouble because it is the Irish people who will end up paying the price. Perhaps he might come back to me with answers to some of my questions.

The next speaker is Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. She has eight minutes.

I will not take eight minutes.

All the better because-----

I will leave the rest to colleagues who do not keep to the time limits.

The Tánaiste has been an outstanding voice on this issue, both North and South, and given brilliant representation, both distinctive and distinguished. Much has been said about Brexit. As those who know more than me have spoken better and know the issues better, I will not rehash in any way what they have said. We have given our views in several languages and at all levels and all territories have been represented.

Speaking of territories, I would like to ask a question of my colleague from the North, Senator Ó Donnghaile. He spoke about citizens' rights. Sinn Féin MPs were elected in the North and are not in their seats. Would the Senator outline to us the Northern Irish people's citizens' rights in that regard? It would be interesting to find out what he has to say about that matter since he talked about citizens' rights. Furthermore, regarding the referendum on Irish unity, about which we have been hearing from some senatorial colleagues, when the parties cannot unify at Stormont, how do they expect to unify when it comes to cross-Border unification between the South and the North?

I have one question I would like to ask the Minister about the backstop. We know that it is essential. I know the arguments and that it is not up for negotiation.

However, can the Minister outline how far does the fact that it is not up for negotiation create no deal? How linked is the backstop to no deal? In other words, what is the momentary and continuing level of causation between the backstop and no deal? Are the Brexiteers calling the backstop something that it is not? Leaving everything else aside, this is the impasse, or so we are told. I do not wish to know about the 26 member states which voted for it because it is an impasse everywhere. What is the link or level of causation between the backstop and no deal? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question because the rest of what I have listened to in the last hour or so is just wallpaper from some Senators.

There are 14 minutes left before the Minister responds. I will allocate five minutes each to Senators Kieran O'Donnell and Norris and Senator Paddy Burke can have the remaining time.

I will not need five minutes.

That is all the better in letting other Members contribute.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is an example to us all for brevity.

No, but I believe we should have fair play. There have been many speeches and lots of wallpaper - cheap wallpaper at that - from some Senators but not from others. It is selfishness when it comes to time.

I welcome the Minister. He is in the cockpit and dealing with this issue daily. It is implicit in the Good Friday Agreement that there will not be a hard border. I would have thought that the UK, as one of the principal partners in that agreement, would wish to do nothing to undermine it. If there is a hard border, what impact will it have on the Good Friday Agreement? That is logical.

Second, the uncertainty Brexit is causing is as big an issue as the outcome. I see no upside to Brexit, particularly for us. Many of us follow the British Premier League and, consequently, watch British television channels. I find myself increasingly watching the news on Sky News and the BBC. "The Andrew Marr Show" is a weekly diet for me. I watch it in order that I can find out the thinking in the UK. The Minister can give his view on this but I have noticed a drift, certainly in the Labour Party, towards holding a second referendum. It appears to be a logical step on the basis that if a general election were to be held. it might not be specifically about the single issue of Brexit. A referendum is democratic. We hold referenda in this country. I support that because I believe the people are sovereign. What is the possibility of a second referendum being held in the UK?

Third, I welcome the Brexit preparations. I hope common sense will prevail. In the UK there is a danger that the British Parliament is playing the man rather than the ball. Members have found themselves in a position where they have no experience of what we have got used to by stealth, which is coalitions collaborating. Who would have thought in early 2016 that a coalition Government of Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, with the support of the supply and confidence agreement with Fianna Fáil, would have survived until now? That has been in the national interest. What the UK needs to consider is what is in its best interests. There is no upside to Brexit either for here or the UK. I believe a second referendum could provide a solution. It would be a decision of the people in the UK. I am not certain that people were fully aware of what they were voting for when the first referendum took place. It is now a question of finding a way that is ultimately in everybody's best interests. I do not foresee Europe being strong without the UK or the UK being strong without the EU. In our case, Britain is our major trading partner and for many in our indigenous business sector, it is their only trading partner.

I ask the Minister to give his view on the Good Friday Agreement, the impact of not having a hard border and whether it is implicit in the agreement. I also seek his opinion on whether there is scope for a second referendum in the UK.

As I have spoken at length on this subject, I do not intend to take long or repeat myself. I have referred previously to the insanity of placing such a politically complex matter before the most politically unsophisticated and illiterate public in Europe. I can say that as I am half English. I am not racist in this matter.

I admire the dignity that has been displayed by political leaders from all parties in this country in the face of ignorant and ill-informed comment from political figures in England. There were reasons the people voted in the way they did. First, they have shown themselves to be rather unsophisticated politically. However, a large part of the response was in reaction to the fact that governments all over the world, including in the United Kingdom, in the face of the economic crash opted straightaway to rescue the financial institutions that were criminally responsible for causing the crash in the first place. They allowed the people, the citizens, to go to hell. Of course, that caused a response, even though it was an unfocused and largely illiterate response.

One of the most unattractive prospects has been the sight of people such as Mrs. Theresa May violating their beliefs. Mrs. May believes in remain but she pushes leave policies. This is utterly disgraceful and to be condemned. It is not democratic. People ask if Members of Parliament know more than the people. Of course, they bloody do. If they did not, they would not be elected. If one thinks dustmen know more about financial institutions and the way the system operates, put them in parliament. By and large, however, they do not, although I was rather surprised to see a dustman winning "Brain of Britain" on the topic of James Joyce. He knew everything, including a great deal about Finnegans Wake.

The result was close and the people voted having been basted in a swirl of lies and deceit by the Brexiteers. It may not be politically correct to say Members of Parliament know more than their constituents but it is clearly common sense. English politicians should develop, at last, a little backbone and spine and stand and speak for the things in which they believe. They should develop some principle. So what if it costs them their seats? They are supposed to be there for the good of the people, not for their own or for the interests of their parties. They should be for the interests of the country. Nobody except a complete eejit would believe it is in the interests of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

I will conclude on the issue of a second referendum. People in England say it would not be democratic. That is absolute rubbish. It is the most democratic thing possible. They did not have a proper debate before it. We have only had the debate since they made their half-baked decision. Let us have a referendum now when people know the issues and about the cliff over which the political parties are determined to trundle them. I am a great admirer of Jeremy Corbyn but I wish he would get off the fence and do something proper.

I think Senator Norris is being very unfair to Prime Minister Theresa May. She is trying to do the best she can for the decision the people made.

She is violating her principles.

The British people decided to leave the EU. I think Prime Minister May is trying to carry out their orders in the best possible way she can. I congratulate the Tánaiste on the intense work he is doing over long hours to keep the Irish cause and the Irish position to the fore in Europe. I would like to ask a number of questions, the first of which relates to the possibility of a hard border with lots of checks and controls. When the EU Commissioner for finance came before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, I asked him specifically about who would cover the costs of border controls. He said a portion of the money collected at customs posts would go towards covering the costs of setting up and operating border controls. If the UK stays within the customs union and there is no great need for border controls, I am sure significant costs will still be incurred when collecting customs. The Irish Government will have to come up with the cost. It might not be in a position to do so through tariffs or anything else. Regardless of whether we have a hard border or the UK stays within the customs union, will the EU make a contribution towards the establishment by the Irish Government of European border controls? The Tánaiste has mentioned that legislation will come through both Houses of the Oireachtas in mid-February. In the light of the composition of the Seanad and the Dáil, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that this Parliament will disagree with the proposals made by the Government in that legislation. If significant changes are made to the legislation in question, will it have a significant impact on our position at European level? What would be the consequences of changes to the legislation to be introduced by the Government?

As no Senators who have not already contributed are looking to contribute, I ask the Tánaiste to bring the debate to a conclusion.

Perhaps Senator McDowell would like to speak for a couple of minutes.

Is the Tánaiste suggesting the Senator could prolong this debate?

He is still residing in 1919.

If the Senator were to speak until 9.30 p.m., we would not reach the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017.

I know to what I would rather listen.

I am afraid there is no filibustering on this one. Maybe that should be the new tactic.

There may be method somewhere in there.

Many questions have been asked. I would like to make a few comments to provide clarity. Some quite generalised statements were made to the effect that we were not sufficiently prepared or that there was not enough detail. I suggest anyone who has read the document we published on 19 December will see that while it does not have all the answers, it certainly has a lot of detail. We could not publish the contingency planning document until the European Commission had released a series of documents and memos on planning for a no-deal Brexit in areas of EU competence like aviation and road haulage, which it did that afternoon. It would not have made much sense for us to have produced a document dealing with up to 20 sectoral areas, in great detail in some cases, until we could show we had answers in the cases of sectors that would be vulnerable in the event that there was a no-deal Brexit. The haulage licensing sector is an obvious example. The temporary solution we have until the end of the year to enable EU hauliers to access the UK and vice versa involves the waiving of the licensing requirements that would normally apply to a third country. In aviation, the safety certification of British airports will be extended beyond the date of a no-deal Brexit, again on a temporary basis, to facilitate point-to-point access into the EU from the UK for non-EU airlines.

These are the kinds of practical things where there is real detail. Ireland cannot provide that detail on its own; it needs to be provided by the EU collectively. Approximately 80 contingency plan papers have come from the Commission at different times. Most of it is contained in our rulebook for contingency planning which is evolving and changing all the time. We built on the detail last week by bringing four memos to the Government, one of which dealt with access to medicines. As long as Britain retains its access as a member of the EU, between 70% and 80% of all medicines in Ireland will continue to come here from or through the UK. After Britain leaves the EU, many of those products will need to have a different route into Irish pharmacies and hospitals because they will no longer have the authorisation of the EU Medicines Agency in Britain. Therefore, we may have to look for alternative routes to market. Last week, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, provided a lot of reassurance inside and outside the Cabinet that there would be a continued supply of medicines beyond 29 March in the event that Britain crashed out of the EU.

We have also dealt with the complexity of the transportation of goods to and from this island. The vast majority of goods that come to Ireland come via the UK landbridge. Every year, approximately €21 billion worth of trade comes on and off this island via roll-on, roll-off haulage services. Helpfully, the UK has committed to signing up to the international transport convention which essentially allows a container to be sealed in Dublin, taken across Britain as a landbridge and brought back into the Single Market in France or the Netherlands without being checked. That does not solve a potential traffic jam in Dover which could be many kilometres in length. There is concern that we need to have contingency plans to get goods to and from this island, without being able to use the landbridge that is the UK, in as efficient and timely a manner as we do today. There have been detailed discussions between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and shipping companies to look at issues around capacity and access points, etc. Likewise, infrastructure is being put in place at Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and Dublin Airport, the three key access points into Ireland from the UK, to ensure we can, if we need to, comply with the necessary EU requirements for customs checks, sanitary and phytosanitary checks and health checks, etc. from 29 March. We are going into a great deal of detail on what exactly we are doing with regard to parking bays, inspection bays, staffing numbers, ICT systems and so on.

We have also outlined what is needed in terms of legislation. By the way, this is not being done at the last minute. The Cabinet signed off on the heads of the legislation today. As nine Departments are involved, some presentational work is required before it can be published as a collective Bill. That will be done before the end of this week. The legislation will then go to the legal draftsperson. The target date for its publication is 22 February. I was asked whether we were factoring in enough time, in the event that amendments were made in the Seanad, to allow the legislation to be brought back to the Dáil to be finalised. That is a perfectly valid question. We hope to conclude Committee, Report and Final Stages in the Seanad on 13 and 14 March. That will provide enough time to go back to the Dáil the following week, if necessary, to finalise the legislation in order that it can be signed before the end of March.

We have factored in a little cushion room at the end, but we need to be disciplined as a Parliament in both Houses to pass emergency legislation, if necessary.

There are some experienced legislators among the Senators who will understand what we are doing. An example of the situation is the current conditions of cross-Border healthcare, where people from County Donegal go to Altnagelvin hospital and children travel from Belfast to Dublin for specialist paediatric care. We need to ensure we protect that kind of normalisation which we have created on this island, where we share health infrastructure in a way that makes sense, both north and south of the Border. That seamless relationship of health provision which works for everybody is the kind of matter for which we will have to legislate because we will no longer operate in a Single Market, customs union and shared Union in a way that does not involve borders for goods, services or people.

The issue is the same for students. We must ensure the Government can continue to support Irish students going to university or college in the UK, British nationals coming here and so on. Likewise, basic services such as cross-Border transport, including rail networks and the train service from Dublin to Belfast, will travel from the EU to outside the EU before returning. We take these circumstances for granted in a union but we will need to legislate for them in the context of a no-deal Brexit.

In important areas such as welfare provision or pension provision, many people in Ireland receive part of their income from a British pension, while many Irish people in the UK receive part of their income every week from an Irish pension. That is all part of EU common recognition, the necessary EU directives and so on, but we will have to replace some of those measures with legislation in both the UK and Ireland and a bilateral understanding to ensure a continuation of income post Brexit. People do not even think about these matters but they have a significant impact on everyday life and we will have to legislate for them. There are also other complex financial areas such as the central securities depository for the buying and selling of shares, where we rely on a UK-based system and will need to legislate to facilitate them in the future.

I could go on because there are many other areas but we will have an opportunity to debate them with detailed explanations. I reassure Senators that there is preparedness for a no-deal Brexit and what we call a central case scenario. The latter is still the most likely scenario, where there will be a transition period of somewhere between two and four years followed by a Brexit which will result in changes that we will all have to learn to live with, legislate and prepare for. Either way, legislation will be needed. If that legislation must be passed in an emergency way on 29 March, however, we will accelerate our state of preparedness to be as ready as we can be.

No matter how good we are at no-deal contingency planning, however, we will not be able to create a situation where the status quo persists through a no-deal Brexit. It will be an extremely demanding time for Ireland - for many across the economy, for many vulnerable sectors that rely on seamless trade between the UK and Ireland and for the fragile peace process, North and South, in the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland, which is unlikely to be back up and running by 29 March. I hope I am wrong in that regard and we will work to break the current political impasse in Northern Ireland.

I will finish with one other aspect of the Border issue because it has been raised by a number of Senators. I have missed a number of other matters, but I will be happy to return to them if Senators wish to discuss them with me afterwards. To give clarity on the Border issue, the Government is not preparing in our contingency planning for physical border infrastructure between the two jurisdictions on this island and we will not start doing so either. We have a deal that took two years to put in place, that addresses all of the complexity of both the politics of the issue and the legal, regulatory issues thereof, and that has found a way to prevent in a worst-case scenario the requirement for physical border infrastructure by creating regulatory alignment and putting a customs arrangement in place. That deal was done and signed up to by the British Government, EU institutions and EU governments. To Theresa May's credit, she insisted on doing that, despite pressure not to do so, and continues to defend the need for a backstop, in spite of many others making a political football out of the issue and describing it as something it is not, namely, a threat to the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland, although, unfortunately, that has become the narrative on the backstop.

I have also noted that the absence of a backstop and a deal creates a complex and challenging situation for the Government to work with the British Government and the EU institutions to find a way of avoiding the need for physical border infrastructure on the island of Ireland. The idea that we would throw away a solution which took two years to put together and to which everyone has signed up because it has become something at Westminster that it is, in fact, not is very frustrating. The focus should be on asking those who advocate doing away with the backstop to answer the question of how they would solve the issue because they also advocate for no border infrastructure. They make the simplistic argument that because they, the Irish Government, the UK Government and the EU do not want it, there is nothing to worry about. As Theresa May, the Taoiseach and I have said many times, the issue cannot be wished away. Rather, a legal, regulatory mechanism that is agreed to by all sides is needed to reassure people that we do not face border infrastructure in the future as an unintended consequence of Brexit, given our obligations as an EU member state to protect the integrity of the EU Single Market and the customs union, of which we are a part and because of which we thrive.

Deal or no deal, we will insist on finding ways to avoid having border infrastructure on this island, but that job will become highly complex and difficult if we do away with an agreed mechanism to solve the problem and create the time and space for a future relationship agreement which, I hope, can be so close and comprehensive that the backstop will never be required to be used. Let me be clear: we continue to defend the withdrawal agreement in full, including the backstop, because nobody has alternative solutions to the problem in London, Dublin or the EU. The only solution is through regulatory alignment and those who talk about technology on the physical border do not understand the problem or the need for a level playing field to protect an all-island economy, whether for farmers, fishermen or those manufacturing a product, north or south of the Border.

I look forward to returning to the House. I hope I will not have to return with the legislation but if I do, I look forward to Senators' co-operation and talking to party leaders in preparation for it to ensure all of the information is available in order that nobody will be asked to rush matters and that, if necessary, we can pass emergency legislation for the sake of the country in a timely and efficient manner.

I thank the Minister and wish him well in all of his endeavours in the next few months. I am sure I speak for all of us.