Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Questions (2)

Martin Kenny


2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the preparations or contingency planning being carried out to address a no-deal Brexit for rural communities especially in the Border region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3142/19]

View answer

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Rural)

My question regards the impact of Brexit, even if there is a deal but particularly if there is no deal, on the entire country and particularly rural Ireland, which will be most badly affected. That is particularly true of the Border corridor. The INTERREG programme recognises border corridors throughout Europe as areas of economic disadvantage by the very fact that they have a border running through them. The Border in Ireland is a most unnatural border because it breaks townlands and parishes and cuts through the whole of rural Ireland. It runs through a very rural area. I seek an assurance from the Minister and his Department that plans are in place to invest in those areas in the context of Brexit. Those areas will need an absolute commitment that we can pour money into them to try and ensure the negative impacts of Brexit will be curtailed.

My Department has been undertaking appropriate planning for various Brexit scenarios, including a no-deal Brexit. As is the case for all Departments, this planning has fed into the cross-Government preparations being led by my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. Planning by Government and at the EU level, for all possible outcomes, has been ramped up and will continue. The Government published a contingency action plan, which my Department inputted into, on 19 December. This plan sets out the Government's approach to dealing with a no-deal Brexit. We are determined that Ireland will be as ready as it can be in mitigating any impacts from Brexit and of a no-deal scenario.

In the case of my Department the preparations in advance of Brexit have been focused on engagement and awareness in relation to our stakeholders in the rural and community development sectors. My focus is on anticipating and preparing for all such outcomes which may lead to impacts on rural Ireland and communities generally. I am very conscious that the potential effects of a disorderly Brexit on communities and on certain economic sectors, such as the agrifood sector, will have a major regional impact. Therefore, a key element of my Department’s contingency planning is to ensure maximum flexibility in our programme of funding initiatives, to allow for needed responses to emerging needs and to continue to build resilience in all communities. The funding provided by my Department to communities throughout this country will become even more important in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

What I take from that answer is that the preparations the Minister has made is that he will allow greater flexibility to exist in respect of funds. While I understand we need flexibility, and we will be looking for flexibility in funding arrangements in any case, we really need a plan to seek additional funds particularly from Europe because this is a European problem, not just an Irish problem, although Ireland will meet the biggest impact of it. We need to see from where we can get additional resources to support the small businesses that will be under threat in the Border corridor and, indeed, across the entire country as a consequence of Brexit. These are businesses in transport, agrifood and a whole range of sectors. I spoke to a man last week who is importing products. He feels he will face serious problems, particularly with VAT, because, if Britain is out of the European Union, he will have to pay the VAT when he imports goods, rather than when he sells them. That will have a huge impact on him and his business and he is not even prepared as to how to do the paperwork around that, let alone how he will pay for it. He spoke to the bank about it. Will he get the resources he needs? Will he get an extension of the credit he needs to do that? There is no answer there. It is on issues like that the Government needs to come in and show that it has the resources in place to protect these small businesses.

I can only speak for my Department, but as a member of the Government and Cabinet, I can say that preparations are taking place on a daily basis. The answer to the Deputy's question is that there is flexibility in my Department and there will be more flexibility. When the time comes and if there is a no-deal Brexit, which puts certain communities and areas in bigger difficulties than others, that is where I will have to target funding. I will do that and that is my plan. There is flexibility within all the schemes in my Department and that is a good thing. I will continue to leave that flexibility there. We will deal with the areas where there is the most need.

My Department is working with the Government. We have played our part with regard to the plan that has been announced and we have to wait and see the outcome of Brexit. My job, as Minister for Community and Rural Development, is to make sure that I am there to support rural communities. At Government level, I am there on a daily basis and I policy-proof whatever decisions are made to ensure that rural Ireland is protected. We have to wait and see what will actually happen but I stress the word "flexibility". My Department is flexible and we will target the areas that need it most.

I acknowledge that the Minister's Department is prepared to be flexible but the issue here is about more than that. It is about the additional funds that will be needed. I would like to hear from the Minister that the Government is working, through all its Departments, to put together a package of anticipated needs and then go to Brussels and put it on the table and say that, as a consequence of Brexit, we have many small businesses, particularly in the Border region but across the whole country, that will need additional resources.

We also need additional infrastructure to be put in place. The Minister's Department is key to that. I welcome the funding that came, for instance, to places like the Food Hub in Drumshanbo as small businesses in places like that will need additional resources.

The reason we are in this position is because of a conflict between a member of the European Union and the European Union itself. For that reason, it is important that Government seeks the initial funding that it requires.

If Europe is saying it is prepared to stand behind us when it comes to the backstop and all of these matters, funds must be put in place to do this. There is no good in saying that they stand behind us in poverty. That is the way it is going to end up in a lot of areas in rural Ireland where we do not have the resources or the capacity to build into the future.

The Minister's Department is key to this and he has a role in rural Ireland. As most of the Border corridor is very rural, he needs to come up with the goods in this respect.

I reassure the Deputy that all Departments, Ministers and the Government as a whole are working on the Brexit proposals. We published a plan on 19 December. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, have a fund to help small businesses prepare for Brexit. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has such plans, as does every other Department, including my own, for when the time comes.

We are not in a position to talk about funding yet, until we know the nature of the problem.

We all are still hoping that we will have a deal.

The Minister is whistling past the graveyard.

To be honest, I could point out a few small matters to the Deputy. He and his party would be a great help to us if they took up their place in Northern Ireland and their seats in the House of Commons. We would then have somebody to represent the nationalist view both in the North and in England.

The Dáil has just had a sitting in the Mansion House where we were talking about that.

The Minister, without interruption.

All I can say to the Deputy is his party is not afraid to take the Queen's shilling. They took the expenses but they will not go in to represent us. We need you now more than ever but you will not go in to represent us.

That is not the point.

I ask the Minister not to be inviting interruptions.