Engagement with Border Communities Against Brexit

Senator Joe O'Reilly took the Chair.

Today we have a series of engagements looking at the implication of the UK's withdrawal for the relationship between this State and Northern Ireland. Almost immediately after the vote, this emerged as an issue which would be of central importance to Ireland and how Brexit would work. It is core to how a significant number of citizens live their lives daily. It will also be a key part of the future relationship of the State with its closest neighbour. A number of witnesses we have had before us have referred to and made comments on this. The witnesses today will obviously add to the picture. We are trying to complete the picture as we move towards our final report. On behalf of the committee I welcome representatives from the Border Communities Against Brexit group, Mr. Damian McGenity, Mr. J.J. O'Hara and Mr. John Sheridan, to our meeting today.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her, or it identifiable.

With all of this out of the way, I invite the witnesses to make their opening remarks. They can decide the order in which they will speak. We will hear all of the opening remarks after which we will have questions in batches.

Mr. Damian McGenity

I thank the committee for inviting us to appear before it. It is a very good opportunity to explain who we are and what we would like to see done as a result of Brexit. I apologise on behalf of our main spokesperson, Mr. Declan Fearon, who is unable to be with us today due to work commitments. I thank the Clerk and the staff for co-ordinating the meeting.

Border Communities Against Brexit comprises ordinary individuals. Mr. Sheridan and I are farmers and Mr. O'Hara is involved in tourism. Border Communities Against Brexit has members from along the Border, from Derry right around to Dundalk. It came about mainly because there was no real voice in Border communities lobbying on behalf of the remain vote, which was 56%, in the North. It became very clear very quickly after the Brexit debate that there was almost a demonisation of people who wanted to fight to remain in the European Union. We are often called "remoaners" and this is something we have steadfastly stood against.

Our main concern is that as a result of Brexit there would be a hard Border on the island of Ireland. I was here with Mr. Fearon two weeks ago to listen to the EU chief negotiator, Mr. Barnier. We certainly welcome the high-level engagement Europe has had on Brexit. It understands very well the situation in Ireland. The Taoiseach and the Ministers have done a lot of work on this front. Our key concern following Mr. Barnier's address is the EU would seek to protect its borders. It is understandable that this would be the case from a European perspective and from the perspective of protecting European food consumers. The impact of a hard border, through its economic ramifications and the jobs it would potentially put at risk, is enormous, as well as the social impact of hemming in people away from their natural hinterland or with regard to visiting their families.

The Irish ambassador to the UK, Mr. Mulhall, has said that 2 million vehicles cross the Border each month. Approximately 30,000 workers cross the Border on a daily basis. The main sectors we have lobbied, having identified them as being to the forefront of the Brexit debate, are agriculture, agrifood and tourism. In the North alone, there are 100,000 people employed in the agriculture and agrifood sectors. Mr. O'Hara will talk about tourism, which is an all-Ireland sector. There are 260,000 people employed in that sector. There is huge concern in the South about the impact the Brexit talks will have on trade between the South and the UK, particularly in the beef sector, where 90,000 jobs are at risk. According to a report that was published by the Central Bank recently, 40,000 jobs could be at risk as a direct result of Brexit in the next five years.

The North has depended on EU support. The EU has been very good to the North. Billions of pounds have been invested, particularly in rural communities. Under the Common Agricultural Policy, approximately £240 million is provided in direct support to farmers every year. We have been told that Britain will leave the EU in two years' time. That is a huge risk. There has been no real detailed discussion on how Britain will be able to sell produce on the world market. Europe has trade deals with 60 countries. Given that Brexit is happening so soon, we do not know how the agrifood sector in the North can expect to get trade deals to sell products. We do not think it is possible. If Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal, we will be looking at WTO tariffs. As we have outlined in our document, such tariffs range from 13% to 60% in the agriculture sector, depending on the product being sold. Such issues are of huge concern to us.

Those who support Brexit have not yet set out in detail how they envisage that the problems which have been identified will be resolved. That is why we have called from an early stage for the EU and the Irish and British Governments to engage with the possibility of securing a special status for Northern Ireland. We believe this is the only way to protect trade and the movement of people and goods on the island of Ireland. The effect of this proposal would be to move the EU border to the Irish Sea. We do not think this would affect the constitutional position of the North in any way. We would like to discuss this proposal further with the committee today.

Mr. John James O'Hara

I thank the committee for this opportunity to address it on behalf of Border Communities against Brexit. Our main business is tourism. We have a bed and breakfast and a tour company, Irish Life Tours. I will explain what we see coming down the road for the tourism industry. Tourism Ireland, which was established under the Good Friday Agreement, markets all Thirty-two Counties of Ireland. It has important offices around the world. We work very closely with its New York office. The problem at the moment is that it has cut its forecast for the coming year by 6% because of Brexit. This is a fact. In 2016, tourism in the North of Ireland increased by 26% and tourism in the Border counties increased by 14%. It is the second biggest industry in the island of Ireland.

The problem coming down the road relates to who will fund Tourism Ireland in the future. In 2008, its funding was cut by a certain percentage. The year 2010 was the worst for tourism in the history of the island of Ireland. The problem we have is that tourists are making up their minds today. We have to market two years in advance. We have been at meetings in Italy and Germany in recent months. The problem is that we do our marketing two years in advance. People consider the idea of coming to Ireland in the first year and budget for that idea in the second year, before coming to Ireland in the third year. This problem needs to be sorted out today because it is having an effect on the ground today. We cannot wait until Brexit happens two years down the road. We have seen the figures for EU visitor numbers in the first three months of this year. There has been a reduction of 5.5%. Brexit is already happening on the ground. The issues to which I refer are developing because of currency fluctuations and fear.

I will explain the main thing that is concerning us. This is what is coming up in our meetings across Europe. People want to know whether tourists will be safe if there is a border in two years' time. That is a big issue. It came up in Italy and in Germany. These are facts. We are here today to explain our problem. Tourism Ireland needs to know where it will get funding as it goes forward, and what level of funding it will get. Are the Twenty-six Counties to be marketed separately from the Six Counties? Will we be selling an island that is partly in the EU and partly out of the EU? This is a real problem for businesses on the ground. Tourism is the second largest industry in rural Ireland. Many of those who own farms are involved in tourism as a second business, for example, by renting houses, canoes or bicycles. We need to get answers for them.

The second issue I am here to talk about is funding. The North of Ireland has received over £7 billion in EU funding under various programmes. One of the main programmes is the Erasmus programme. It is a very big programme for young students across the North of Ireland. It gives them an opportunity to spend 29 days in various parts of Europe. Their accommodation, food and travel costs are paid. Are we saying to our young people that in two years' time, they will be unable to go to different parts of Europe under this programme? We have students from Italy in our own business at the moment. They are here for three weeks. Last week, we had students in from Poland. We work with colleges across Europe. The students from those colleges are selling our products on the ground in Italy, Poland and Germany. We bring students canoeing and we show them various places and things around us. They are treated well when they come here. When they go back to their own countries, they tell 20 people around them about their experiences. This is the best and cheapest way of marketing Ireland as a tourism product. Funding is a major issue. The Peace Bridge in Derry is one of the finest projects one will see. The tourism issues across the Border counties need to be sorted out sooner rather than later.

Mr. John Sheridan

I thank the committee for the opportunity to make this presentation. I would prefer to have questions on Brexit than to speak for myself. I am a farmer from south-west Fermanagh. My farm is one of a number that are managed together as Legnabrocky Farms, the chief executive of which is my son. I was worried from the outset that the referendum might go the way it ultimately went. I grew up during the Troubles on a farm that adjoined the Border. I had to go through numerous army, police and customs checkpoints to travel between the local villages of Blacklion and Belcoo. I used to meet mobile patrols on the road. Every time one opened a gate, one did not know whether one was going to go up in smoke. Therefore, the first reason I was concerned about Brexit was that Europe had helped to deliver peace to this country. My farm is involved in primary beef and lamb production. We have suckler cows and sheep. Those commodities, particularly sheep, will be most affected by Brexit. I can explain the reasons for that later.

"Consternation" is the best word that I can use about the result of a referendum that was based on misrepresentation at best and lies at worst. I say this as a citizen of Europe and an Irish person holding a European passport who exercised his democratic right and voted to remain, as did 56% of the North. Of the Border counties, Fermanagh and south Tyrone were nearly 59% in favour of remaining, Armagh was approximately 65% remain and Foyle was 78% remain. There was a very strong vote to remain along the Border corridor. I do not feel like being isolated in south-west Fermanagh with the only place I can go dictated by a 25 degree angle. I was brought up along the Border and have spent as much time in the South as in the North.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the whole economic island of Ireland deserves to be considered for a special designated status. As Mr. McGenity stated, this would not affect the Constitution. The Constitution can be left for another day. The island's economies are integrated, far more so than Britain's economy is integrated with Europe's. Those economies were built for efficiency and scale, which is nearly unique in the world. They have it down to a t. This is a food island and I would like it to remain that way.

I thank the witnesses for their heartfelt, sincere and competent presentations based on their immediate experiences. Three Senators are indicating that they wish to ask questions, which will be answered together before we take further questions. The order is Senators Mark Daly, McDowell and Ó Donnghaile.

I thank my colleague, Senator Paul Daly, for allowing me to speak before him, as I must return to the foreign affairs committee, which is meeting the Minister. The Brexit issue is looming large in that context as well.

My questions are on the special economic status that we are seeking on top of the ability to move seamlessly over and back across the Border. The research that we have seen on the special status of East Germany in terms of its economic ties with West Germany prior to the wall coming down shows that it was treated as though it were a member of the then EEC. Have the witnesses investigated this and made submissions on it? We have been told time and again, including when the Commissioner was in Leinster House and the European officials interacted with us, that the issue of Ireland must be dealt with first as one of the three matters that they want to have addressed before trade agreements are settled. They told us to go to them with ideas. One of the ideas that we are considering is using East Germany's special status prior to the wall coming down as a precedent for a special status for Northern Ireland and the Border counties, in that there would be an economic deal between Northern Ireland - not necessarily with the UK - and the Republic. Have the witnesses encountered this precedent and have they received any legal advice on it? We only have some information on it. Due to the nature of East Germany and West Germany and the amount of time that has elapsed since, it seems to have been an ad hoc structure, albeit one that we could use as a precedent.

We all know of the problems. We must devise recommendations beyond just asking for a special status for Northern Ireland, even if that is exactly what we want. We must set out how it could be done, why it should be done and what happened in East Germany. Germany will be one of the key decision makers in this section of the negotiations.

I must give my apologies, as I must go to the other meeting, but I will read the transcripts.

I welcome our guests and thank them for their well-argued and well-supported submissions to us. I do not want to be presumptuous, but I believe that every committee member, including those who are not present, favours a special status for Northern Ireland. The principle is probably agreed and I hope that I am not being arrogant in saying that.

As Senator Mark Daly mentioned, the real question is about what that means. The paragraphs in the witnesses' submission on potential solutions refer to the special status as allowing Northern Ireland "to remain part of the EU". That is one way of putting it. There is another way of discussing a special status for Northern Ireland, and that is a special status for Northern Ireland "in relation to the EU". That is a slightly different idea.

The common travel area is safe and sacrosanct. No one will interfere with anyone's right to cross the Border on a train or bike or by foot. No one will ask who the person is or what he or she is doing. Rather, we are discussing the movement of goods, including agricultural produce. That is the crucial issue.

I will put an idea forward for the witnesses' consideration and ask for their views on it. We do not have to have a single special status with Northern Ireland, for all purposes and in every respect, being "in relation to the EU" in category A or B. It is possible to view agriculture as one aspect of the special status whereas dealings with aircraft components from Belfast could be in a different category. In other words, an all duck or no dinner approach to special status need not be taken. We can have a special status across a range of economic activities and goods.

I am in sympathy with the witnesses' view that, in so far as physical customs checks must be carried out, the most practical way of doing so is on the Irish Sea corridors. When Mr. Michel Barnier visited the Houses, he said that Europe wanted to protect its borders. I did not take him as having in mind hard border checks for all purposes. There probably is not a major problem with saying that the island of Ireland can remain an uncustomed area for the movement of most goods and that, in respect of certain goods only, custom checks can be done on the basis of electronic returns. For example, one would seek prior permission or be registered as a person who moves aircraft components, pharmaceuticals or whatever. When Mr. Barnier stated that the EU wanted an imaginative and flexible approach, I hope that he was thinking along the lines of this kind of suggestion and that the harder Brexit idea is not there.

I will throw those ideas out to the witnesses and seek their responses to same. Regarding special status as a principle, they are pushing an open door with us. The question is, what does it mean or can it mean many things.

I echo the words of welcome. Recently, I was part of a delegation that travelled to Brussels with representatives of Border Communities Against Brexit. They put in a Trojan amount of work engaging with European colleagues at every level from Mr. Barnier down. I share many of their frustrations and concerns. I also share most of the sentiments that were expressed by Senator McDowell on special status. Respectfully, I do not share his confidence about the common travel area and the movement of people.

I agree with the previous speakers on special status.

My party has outlined its view in documents about how that would look. Other scenarios will evolve as things move ahead.

Mr. O'Hara's contribution highlighted clearly the potential threat. What we need to do first is protect the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and the threat posed to it by Brexit. Mr. O'Hara observed that tourism is a critical, growing sector of the Irish economy, both North and South. He looked at its importance for job creation and the economy across the island, not least along the Border corridor, and the impact that Brexit will have on that sector. Then there is the question of the impact Brexit will have on Tourism Ireland and how it does its work, not only as a cross-Border body but also how it will promote the tourism offering in Ireland as a single entity overseas when one part of the island is in the EU and the other outside. Once again, it highlights how much Brexit permeates across every aspect of our lives and in a negative and detrimental way. That was highlighted very clearly for me.

It would be interesting to hear the witnesses' own views on special status as they have engaged extensively on the issue at home and overseas. They made this point in their own contribution but we need to hear a clear outline from the Government of its view of special status for the North and indeed for the South. As the Government has been mandated by the Dáil to argue for special status, one would hope that is its responsibility and intention. Have the witnesses had engagement with the Irish Government in this regard? What feedback have they given regarding their view on special status? What have they argued for, with whom have they been arguing and what is its likelihood in the future?

I will come back for more questions but to be fair to Senator Paul Daly, I will come to him in this tranche because he was gazumped earlier.

Sometimes decency does not pay because I let Senator Mark Daly go before me and he took my question. I am glad that the Acting Chairman let me in here, because I want to tease out the question of special status some more. I agree wholeheartedly with everything my colleague Senator McDowell said. Agriculture is my brief and I would like to get the opinions of the two agricultural representatives from the party and tease out the issue from an agricultural perspective. An all-island special status would be ideal in tourism, I cannot see any negatives there, and it would solve many of the agricultural problems, such as the cross-Border travel, milk, sheepmeat, cattle, pigs and so on. We are trying to come up with proposals, solutions and answers so I am playing devil's advocate here in trying to get to the root of things rather than being negative. On the bigger question of agriculture, the Twenty-six Counties cannot get any better status in its relations with the UK after Brexit than as matters stands at present under the European model. If, as a result of bargaining and horse trading, all-island special status meant that while the North remained in the UK, this meant there would be tariffs on their products going into the UK, how would the representatives feel about this? How would that work in the agricultural model? If that did not happen, how could the agricultural model work if beef from Belfast was going into the UK tariff-free while beef from Dublin went in with tariffs? I am not saying that it cannot work but it does not sound like something that would be very easily worked out. Ideally, we would love to wind back the clock and not have Brexit. However the aspiration coming from here is for all-island status, but it requires a lot of thought. It is not something over which we would immediately jump up and down while saying, "fair play Mr. Barnier, you gave us all-island status, we are 90% there". It could be a step back in some ways because we would have to collectively go back to the drawing board to see how this would work. There would be ramifications. What are the witnesses thoughts on that, especially from the agricultural perspective which is their brief?

It must be very frustrating without an assembly or a Parliament in Westminster, but prior to the Assembly's dissolution and the election being called, what feedback were witnesses getting on the ground from their negotiations or from meetings and research they had had with those on the other side of the Border? As Senator McDowell said, anything the witnesses are saying pushes an open door here. We can only go on the public speeches by Theresa May but the witnesses are meeting people face to face, like-minded individuals and people in business who might share the same grievances or fears as themselves. What do they think is the feeling on the ground? They are strongly emphasising that the majority in Northern Ireland have voted to stay but unfortunately in democracy, it is the overall result, we cannot go on sectoral votes in present circumstances. I could argue that if all elections were based on the box in my little local village, I would be President of Ireland now. We have to take the overall result and unfortunately we are where we are. I would like to know what sense the witnesses are picking up in their face-to-face meetings on the other side of the Border. They will find nothing other than positive things here. We all share the one aspiration.

There are a lot of questions there so the witnesses may take them in any order, by any speakers who wish to do so.

Mr. Damian McGenity

I thank the Senators for their support and their comments. On the overall remarks on special status, I wish we had the answers. It would short-circuit the enormous problems of Brexit. I want to pick up on Senator McDowell's point on potentially having separate deals for separate sectors. While there may be traction in that, one potential stumbling block is the diverse nature of business and of European law and rules on a variety of sectors. It may be possible to get a deal in the agriculture and the agrifood sector, and that would have further implications for getting product into the UK market, as Senator Daly said, because Europe does not allow countries to do individual trade deals. In pharmaceuticals, for example, Almac gave evidence to the Northern Ireland select affairs committee in February. It is a big employer in Portadown and has its European headquarters there. It is at the very top end of medicine and much of what it does is research and drug trials. It said in its evidence that it had bought a facility in Dundalk, that Europe requires that the medicines are tested in a laboratory by a competent person within the European Union. Look at pharmaceuticals or, as the Senator said, the aircraft and other sectors. For instance, I spoke to an engineer and quantity surveyor last week. He is a neighbour of mine in the North and does a lot of work in Dublin. The construction industry is beginning to realise that to buy product from the North in the UK which has a CE certificate, when that is brought here to the South, he, as an engineer, will not be able to sign off on that project because that component does not have a certification. The answer is not simple.

There is a great lack of dialogue on Brexit. Unfortunately, there is no assembly now sitting in Belfast and those institutions need to be put back in place. In the absence of constructive dialogue and of a strand that we would like to see developed between London, Dublin and Belfast on the way in which these problems can be teased out, the way in which solutions can be put forward and on how people can engage in that discussion, we fear a solution will be imposed on us that could be very unworkable. Overall, we would like to have such a dialogue. The Irish Government has done an enormous amount of work. Its Brexit document is very good. The Minister with responsibility for European Affairs attended the General Affairs Council meeting on Monday. However, the deeper discussion required on what the solution to Brexit is and the feeding of that into the process is not taking place across all the political parties and the non-governmental organisations.

The feedback we have got on the ground, and Mr. John Sheridan will comment on this from the farming sector, and I also farm part-time, is that people are now beginning to wake up. This is only two years away. Representatives of the Ulster Farmers Union, UFU, appeared before the Seanad committee recently and they sat on the fence in terms of Brexit. My view and that of the Border Communities Against Brexit is that those in the farming sector were told that Brexit would be good for them and that they would be able to get deals on the international markets. We are a year down the line and no deals have been signed yet. The great danger is that if we crash out of the European Union, we would move to having default World Trade Organization tariffs in place and we would have no support in terms of payment because farming is simply not profitable. The UFU is now saying that Britain will have to trade internationally but its main competitor will be the European Union. The UFU is saying in debates such as this one that in terms of farmers who voted for Brexit to deregulate the sector, that its regulation will now have to be increased. When they go to sell their products on the international market, the first thing they will be asked by potential buyers is why would they buy a British product when they have a European product of a high standard. Therefore, farmers will have to provide a higher standard product for that market. Overall, this is very complex.

Our feedback from Downing Street is that they are all over the place on Brexit, that there is no consensus within the Cabinet, there is no clear thought, their advisers are out of their depth and the UK Brexit Secretary is not on top of his brief. Given the general election that is taking place, if there were to be a fracture in the negotiations on the issue of the bill that the EU is seeking from the British Government, that would not bode well for us. There is a great risk that the talks could break down at a very early stage.

Mr. John Sheridan

Senator McDowell mentioned the phrase, "in relation to" a matter. Can he recall the point he was making on that issue?

I said that the special status of Northern Ireland in the European Union is mentioned in the group's document and it sounds almost like as part of the European Union. The alternative is to see a special status in relation to the European Union. Perhaps it is the lawyer in me but one has constitutional implications and the other does not.

Mr. John Sheridan

Senator Mark Daly, who has left the Chamber, asked the first question and I would like to respond to that. He asked about East Germany and the wall coming down between East and West Germany. The Border Communities Against Brexit took the attitude that we have a white sheet of paper in so far as we mitigate the impact of Brexit or approach a hard Brexit being imposed on us. As a group, we have believed from the outset that having a special status means nothing unless it is a special status within Europe. Anything else is only special status outside it. I would go so far as to say that we do not accept there is any form of a Brexit other than a hard Brexit. Any soft Brexit we would view as a Brexit by stealth over the years with layer upon layer of legislation being introduced which would once again lead to a hard Brexit.

Norway has its own deal with Europe. Switzerland spent eight years trying to negotiate a deal and has still has not finished but it still has a deal with Europe. Cyprus, north and south, is working as one island and has Britain's biggest military presence located in the middle of the island. There is also Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. There are several different special designated statuses and it comes down to how we interpret it. We have the good luck of having the Good Friday Agreement. It is one of our biggest accomplishments. It is an international agreement lodged in the Hague and it is there to protect every Irish and EU citizen on this island.

We have a heavy cloak upon us as a group. We have not looked any further than that, other than we know that special status is possible. It was a matter for us to highlight and we have achieved that with a special status for Northern Ireland now being talked about throughout Europe, in Britain and in Ireland. That is the first step.

There is a second step, which shows our accomplishment. Everybody who is anybody - any business, all the educational establishments and the health establishments - and all those people who have responsibility who were very quiet before the referendum are now coming out and saying they want things the way they were. It is a little late for that but not in this country because of the Good Friday Agreement. We can hold the status quo. Even though people are seeking that things will stay the way they were, some political parties, especially in the North, are saying that they want things the way they were but they want a few cherries on top. I am afraid those cherries are not there for the picking and that must be well understood.

Deputy McDowell referred to a special status for Northern Ireland and Mr. Damian McGenity more or less answered that point. The only point that was not addressed was the issue of a digital border. A digital border would still require a hub. It would involve self-regulation. A digital border cannot take cognisance of a container carrying a number of different commodities. Some of those would probably have to be checked and others would not need to be. A space for a warehouse and the parking of a lorry would be required. If a lorry with a container is carrying perishable goods and it takes two or three days to clear that container, those goods would be lost. If a customer needs a product from that container immediately, and the clearing of the container is held up for two or three days, that customer will not do business with that provider again. We have considered the issue of a digital border in many different ways and we believe there is only one place for it and that is out in the sea. We have a porous Border and it has always been like that, despite all the tools that were thrown at it to keep it in place. I have no doubt that Europe would protect its borders even more vehemently than Donald Trump would aspire to build a wall between America and Mexico. That is how much Europe values it markets. Europe will make sure that the integrity of its high-quality product, produced to a higher environmental standard and traceability, is not affected by any porous border. By that I mean, inferior product coming through a border on the one island, which would be crazy carry-on.

I am glad to see that members feel the same and are considering how that special status can come into being, in particular in terms of how it can be legally implemented, which is Senator McDowell's field of expertise. The need for special status needs to be pressed upon Westminster. As a unionist farmer who farms on the Border, I have always perceived the Good Friday Agreement as my protector and that my sources to go to were Westminster, Dublin and Europe. We have doors and avenues into all of those places. Unfortunately, to date, Stormont has muddied the waters. Certain parties decided to go over to London and take out a four-page wrap-around advert in the Metro freesheet newspaper to promote a vote for Brexit. Those parties now want things to stay the same. That beggars belief.

In terms of Senator Ó Donnghaile's question on the common travel area, CTA, I am worried that there could be a problem in terms of the common travel agreement but if there were special status for the island of Ireland to remain in the EU, that could hopefully be overcome and the CTA would certainly be let go. In a Brexit scenario involving a Border on the island, I believe Westminster would try to hold to its side of controlling immigration. At the same time, it is starting to acknowledge it needs these people to work in factories in the UK. Immigrant labour makes up 65% of the workforce in the processing industry in Northern Ireland.

In terms of the Irish Government reply, I must commend it on the seminars it has held. I attended a mind-blowing briefing on energy. I did not know anything about the way energy worked on this island. After the seminar, I felt that Brexit is a complete bonfire of money and that the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, was misrepresented at the dinner he went to in Downing Street at which it was said that Brexit could be nothing only bad for everybody. That statement is correct. The division of these nations will do nothing for anybody. It must be done in such a minimal way that as little money as possible is burnt. Ireland, Britain and Europe will have to work together to ensure that because everybody is going to suffer in this. It is a sad situation but it can be overcome. We want the Government to make one last effort to put the ball over the bar and come out clearly saying it is looking for a special designated status, this is how it is going to do it and to set out the parameters and a timeline as to how that will be done and how legal jargon will be brought into play. It needs to tell Westminster that it understands that the UK is leaving the EU. Ireland is a member state of the EU along with 27 others. It has international trade agreements with 60 countries. It must tell Westminster that, along with Europe, it will ensure that it is self-sufficient in energy, that it looks after its farmers, beef, milk and lamb, and the UK can leave the EU but Ireland, as an island, is firmly staying. That is the final thing we want the Government to say, whether that be the current Government or any that may succeed it.

In regard to whether we would be prepared to pay tariffs if there were an all-island status, let us look at the market for milk. The UK is about 65% self-sufficient in milk. However, two-thirds of the UK's milk exports to international countries, including Thailand in particular, are from Northern Ireland. International trade deals have been built up over the past 20 years. In 1995, milk commodity was trading at around £1.2 billion. Over 20 years, that has been built up to £2.23 billion. Dr. Mike Johnston, Northern Ireland director for Dairy UK, stated that in a Brexit situation, those he represents would be in competition with Europe and to hold those international markets, their product would have to be made sexier and more built into it. A lower price may have to be taken for it because UK producers would be competing with the EU and known EU standards and would not be able to give any standard for exports from the UK. There would be a new British standard that will not yet have been accepted by any other country. The same situation pertains for every commodity.

Mr. O'Hara will confirm that we were considering the Saudi Arabia frozen beef market. It is a big market for beef. There is already much live shipping to Turkey. There is not a huge problem in beef. Intervention could be used if Britain does not want to buy our beef. However, it should not be forgotten that Britain has always used Ireland as a bread basket and it will not be able to source the amount of beef it needs from any country but its next-door neighbour. It will therefore be knocking on our door and looking for that beef, tariff or no tariff. The lamb industry would fall off the top of a cliff. Britain has half the sheep-breeding population of Europe. It is approximately 75% self-sufficient in lamb but still exports 40% of that lamb to France. One thousand lambs per day go from the North to the South for processing and then on for export to France. After Brexit, to get 400 pence on the Rungis market, we would have to take a tariff of around 56%. Farmers in this country would achieve 226 pence, a little over half of the price in the North. Farmers here are already complaining that they are taking prices for lamb that they were taking 20 years ago.

I am not afraid to pay a tariff to Great Britain because while it is threatening that Ireland needs it as a market, I would say Britain needs Ireland as a source of food. Three million people per year get food from food banks in Great Britain. They include nurses and policemen. From where will the UK get its food? There is no guarantee from the British Government that in a Brexit situation they would look after food production sufficiently. It has said it would fund agriculture for one year post-Brexit. However, even that one year is ambiguous because it depends on the time when a claim is made. Some politicians have said that the Common Agricultural Policy was going to end in 2020 anyway. That is not correct. The current CAP reform was put in place until 2025 approximately with a mid-term review in 2017 approximately. It will be in place until 2022 or 2023 at the earliest. There is much misrepresentation of facts and figures.

I am happy to answer any questions members have. If I was mistaken in quoting any figures, I will stand corrected. We have relied on accurate figures from different sources, notably Andersons farm business consultants, which we will give to the committee after the meeting.

We might take the next speakers before Mr. O'Hara replies so that we can move towards a conclusion. The responses have been excellent, very detailed and very welcome.

I am sorry that I was not present for the witnesses' oral presentation. I was away on Oireachtas business at the time.

I have been watching the witnesses' progress ever since they appeared before our committee. There is no doubt about the amount of work they have done and I commend them on it. They have done an exceptional amount of detailed work. I know Mr. Sheridan spends his time watching social media and takes any chance he gets to push forward the agenda.

There are a few things in the document with which I take issue. I am a democrat. I live in a democratic society. In the democratic society in which I live, there are four provinces. At no stage will we ever allow a province to break with the rest of the country because it votes against something. Regardless of whether we like it - and many of us do not like it - Northern Ireland is part of the UK and the UK took a decision to leave the EU so we cannot use phrases like "opinions are not being respected" because the same would apply to Scotland, Wales or the Isle of Man. I do not accept that and I do not accept that the witnesses have been disenfranchised at this point. In respect of the argument made by the witnesses, particularly Mr. Sheridan who has made these arguments very well any time I have listened to him, the Good Friday Agreement is the solution to our problem. I would be interested in hearing the witnesses' view on this. In their document, they rightly point out that 1.8 million citizens in Northern Ireland can apply for and are entitled to be provided with Irish passports. That makes them different to their counterparts in any other part of the UK and or the EU. What we are effectively saying is that 1.8 million European citizens are being denied the right to participate fully in the European Union. This is where the Good Friday Agreement kicks in. We cannot have bilateral negotiations with the UK despite our several hundred years of history but we can talk under the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement. We can have arrangements under the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement which we could bring forward to the EU and request that it rubber-stamp them for all intents and purposes. I met Michel Barnier, Guy Verhofstadt and various other people when I was in Brussels. I do not care what anybody says, there is a huge willingness to find a solution to the problems of Ireland. We cannot have a situation post Brexit whereby beef is being sold on the world market as "northern" or "southern" Irish beef, with two different standards applying. In such circumstances, I completely accept what the witnesses are saying to the effect that the Border must be somewhere in the Irish Sea. There must be free travel across our 270 or 280-odd roads. We must be able to move trucks up and down and transport milk. Milk is going to Roscommon and then goes back to Belfast when it has been processed. Sheep are coming from Northern Ireland to be killed. I was going to say "executed" but "killed" is the word. The meat is processed and sent back. Bacon from the South goes to Northern Ireland. When I look at my Ulster fry, which I will be looking at tomorrow morning, I am never quite sure where any of it comes from. Our economies are totally interlinked.

There is a problem with having the Border somewhere in the Irish Sea. I would be interested in hearing the witnesses' solution in this regard. While the nationalist community and the citizens of the Republic would have very little difficulty with that, it is my view that we would have to deal very sensitively with our unionist brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland who see themselves as British. What right have I or anybody else to tell them they are not British?

I thought the witnesses were a bit hard on the UFU. I think it is walking a delicate political pathway in respect of trying to hold on to what it has. In respect of the €2.3 billion in financial aid between 2014 and 2020 mentioned by the witnesses, it is my firm belief that the British Government will not honour its commitments to 2020. It is also my firm belief that as soon as the negotiations begin, the British Government will take all funding off the table because it is its view that the UK is leaving. I am putting a scenario to the witnesses that we should go forward as the economic island of Ireland, about which Mr. Sheridan spoke about a few moments ago. However, that would mean that the European aid provided to the farming community in the South would be matched by the British Exchequer in Northern Ireland. In other words, there would no difference in the supports available to the farming community because I think it drives most economies in this country. If a farmer is getting subvention for cattle in the South, an equal subvention must come from Westminster for farmers in Northern Ireland so that farmers are playing on the same pitch and with the same supports and problems. Standards on the island of Ireland would have to be maintained to the EU standard, or higher if the British come in with a higher standard. I would be terribly afraid of what Mr. Sheridan spoke about, namely, the importation of cheap beef, bleached chicken and lamb from New Zealand, although I am not knocking its standards. I would be afraid of those things. We must hold the standard and in holding that standard, we must be sure that the farming communities on both sides of the Border have the same supports.

I would dearly like us to steer away from the notion that we have disenfranchised people in Northern Ireland in some way or that their views are not being respected. Unfortunately, when people live in a democracy, they do not always get what they want and certainly Northern Ireland did not get what it wanted from Brexit. I would be interested in hearing the witnesses' views on that.

I will be brief. The witnesses' presentation was excellent, very clear and precise. Obviously, I am very concerned and really pick up on the anxieties. It is very scary - terrifying actually - particularly when I hear that Westminster is out of its depth and does not know what is going on or how to deal with it. That really concerns me. The fact that I am not sure that Northern Ireland is a priority is very concerning. I do not think it will be top of the British Government's priorities. I think Northern Ireland - particularly in terms of Cushendall, Cushendun, north Antrim and Rathlin Island - is probably one of the beautiful parts of this country. The tourism industry was really devastated during the conflict. I used to travel up to my father's home in the North with my family. I could not believe there was no tourism there back then. One could understand why this was the case in light of the conflict but it started to come back and I see that now. I go back up there all the time and I see the southern-registered cars, in particular, and also cars with British registrations. There is no doubt that it has picked up. My concern is that this would be impacted upon again. Coming from a farming background with family in Northern Ireland, the impact would, from a farming perspective, be devastating.

I have a very simple question. I know we talk about special status for the island of Ireland. Recently, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government spoke about working towards a united Ireland in one of his campaign speeches. What are the witnesses' thoughts on that? Would it be beneficial? I know that when we are looking at special status for Northern Ireland, it will be very complicated. In addition, I understand that if we ever did work towards a united Ireland, that would also be very complicated bearing in mind the fact that the Good Friday Agreement is very important and plays a huge role. What are the witnesses' thoughts on working towards a united Ireland? Would it help in any way or be beneficial?

We are not going around again but Senator Ó Donnghaile wants to make a very short interjection.

They are very quick and concise observations more than anything else. While we all agree with the sentiment relating to special status, we must concede that one of the key components must be the retention of our membership of the Single Market. As has already been stated, there are different views regarding the common travel area and how that will work out. In the context of the economics of it, if we lose that, then táimid i bponc and we will be in big trouble.

It is not very often that I disagree with Senator Craughwell but I believe that we have been disenfranchised.

The reason we have been disenfranchised is, ironically given the point he made, the Good Friday Agreement. When people both in the North and the South endorsed the Agreement overwhelmingly, it was agreed and accepted that there would be no change in the constitutional arrangements, unless it was consented to by the people. The people who had an opportunity to vote in the referendum voted to remain within the European Union. The Committee on Constitutional Affairs of the European Parliament has indicated that, in its view, the Good Friday Agreement will have to be altered as a result of the Brexit vote. Therefore, we have been impacted on uniquely and it is because of the Agreement that Northern Ireland is not like Scotland, England or Wales. The primacy of the Agreement, North and South, means that we are being disenfranchised and the constitutional status is being altered. Therefore, the Agreement is being subverted against our will. I do not necessarily want to put the organisation on political ground because I know that it tries to avoid it. However, for me, the most logical special status would involve an outworking of the Good Friday Agreement, that is, reunification, which would allow us all to retain our place within the European Union. That is not to simplify the issue, but nevertheless it should be part and parcel of moving forward.

We will now hear concluding remarks.

Mr. John Sheridan

I will answer Senator Craughwell and in calling him Gerry I am not being formal. That is just the way we are, unless he insists otherwise. I thank him very much for his kind comments.

I feel as if I have been disenfranchised. First and foremost, when the referendum campaign started, we were told that £18 billion was the sum that was going to the European Union from Westminster. Whereas those in England did not quite get a buck for their pound, in the North we received approximately £1.50 or £1.60 for every £1 put in.

For the one debate held in the North, organised by the Ulster Farmers Union, UFU, on agriculture, two people were asked over: the former Secretary of State, Mr. Owen Paterson, and a former president of the National Farmers Union, NFU, Sir Peter Kendall. On Brexit, the encompassing body of the NFU for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland took the attitude that the United Kingdom should remain. Because of politics and its lobby which it had to protect, UFU sat on the fence on the issue. I asked Sir Peter Kendell to please tell us the truth. The former Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, said that after everything was taken off, £6.3 billion was the net cost to Westminster of its contribution to the European Union and that £300 million was the sum that went to the agriculture sector. There was the figure of £350 million a week on the famous red bus which was multiplied by 52 weeks to give £18 billion, but it was an absolute and outright lie and a misrepresentation. For that and many other similar reasons, I feel as if I was disenfranchised.

I am sorry for others such as those in Scotland who do not have a Holy Thursday agreement. However, I am well aware of the Good Friday Agreement which was made and lodged in the Hague. It was made following years of thought. It was not a knee-jerk reaction in a referendum. For that reason, I do not believe I am wrong in saying I was disenfranchised. We should not forget that Ireland gave up its claim to the North in the Agreement and that Britain stated the North was entitled to self-determination. It gave those of us in the North that right. That is another aspect that has to be looked at.

I chair the National Beef Association in the North of Ireland. The association has thousands of members throughout Britain and hundreds in the North. I never asked to be put in this position, but I am in it now and have a responsibility to stand up and speak from the heart and about what my head sees in the future for my family, community and country which I love with a passion. I have to speak my mind and I think the UFU feels the same. There is a responsibility on it to look after its members first, regardless of its lobby. It is rather disconcerting to see it sitting on the fence and stating it wants things to stay the way they are when it knew from the start they could not. That is my retort to Gerry.

Mr. John James O'Hara

The one thing that is missing from this argument is real people. We come from rural Leitrim, a beautiful place. It has always been involved in different conflicts. In my house a man was hanged for treason because he had taken in people who were part of the Spanish Armada. There is the home place of Seán MacDermott and the Border along which roads were blown up. There are 277 Border crossings. This is the real thing. Having talked to farmers, if there is a hard border, a real farmer will have to travel 11 miles to get to another part of his or her farm. There are houses that straddle both sides of the Border.

Tourism Ireland is a good example to use to showcase the benefits of an all-island economy. Special status is the only way to go to solve the problems I see. There is a simple but important point. If an American tourist has a visa to enter the European Union, will he or she look for a second to cross the Border?

In July last year the car hire companies came together and added an extra €40 to the cost of car hire to travel across the Border into the North of Ireland. That is fact. They are looking at taking the money now. That is an extra cost to the tourist in Ireland.

Senator Frances Black is doing brilliant work. From a tourism point of view, she is right: having a hard border would make a major difference. We are developing an all-island network and will give the details to the Seanad. It is called Irish.network and is a 32-county network. It is about business and community regeneration. Given what we see happening on the ground, it has to come from the people up. It does not matter where we stand in political or communiy terms. That is why Border communities are working well together. We meet Deputies from different parties and are trying to bring the project along on an all-island, all-party basis and it is working. Listening to us, special status would be major, but the Border needs to be extended to the Irish Sea. That is the only way forward.

Mr. McGenity will have the very last word.

Mr. Damian McGenity

I thank the Acting Chairman. I also thank the Seanad for its invitation and, in particular, taking the time to look at what is a crucial issue - Brexit. In preparation for this meeting I discovered that Senator Mark Daly had done some work on the issue. There are other committees working on it, including the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the British-Irish committee which we hope to meet in the future.

While we do not quite know how the committee system operates here, we urge arrival at some cross-committee or cross-party consensus on gaining special status and what it might actually mean. As we state in our document, it is fundamental that dialogue opens up between the Governments in Dublin, Belfast and London. If that tripartite could travel to Brussels with an agreement on the status we are seeking, it could be delivered. That is the message we want to leave the Seanad with today.

I thank my colleagues for their input. I also thank the three delegates for their very detailed and well thought out presentations and their very thorough, fact-based answers to questions. This has been an extremely good session. We are very grateful to the delegates for coming.

In the context of the forthcoming discussions on tourism, members will be interested to know that the CEO of Tourism Ireland will appear before the committee in a few weeks' time.

Sitting suspended at 11.55 a.m and resumed at 12 noon.
Senator Michelle Mulherin took the Chair.