Since the Brexit Referendum, the then Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, attended meetings of the Competitiveness Council on 29th September 2016, 28th November 2016 and 20th February 2017. My colleague, Minister Breen, attended meetings of the Council on 30th November 2017, 12th March 2018, 28th May 2018 and 16th July 2018. The meeting on the 27th September 2018 was attended by the Permanent Representative and I attended the meeting on 29th of November 2018.
To date in 2019 the meetings on 18 February and 27 May were attended by the Deputy Permanent Representative, the meeting on 2 May was attended by an official from my Department and the meeting on 5 July was attended by Minister Breen.
State Aid rules did not feature on the agenda of these meetings. The Competitiveness Council is a consultative committee and is not a forum for direct representations from Member States. Changes to State Aid rules is therefore not part of the remit of the Council.
However, my Department and its agencies are providing extensive supports, schemes and advice to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit. My Department has been working closely with the EU Commission and DG Competition since November 2017 through the Irish/EU Technical Working Group on State Aid which was established following a meeting between my predecessor, Francis Fitzgerald and the Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager. The Group comprises senior representatives from DG Comp, my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Enterprise Ireland. Its objective has been to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules.
Through the mechanism of the Technical Working Group Ireland has fully utilised the provisions of the State aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit impacted businesses in 2018. Options available through the Agriculture Guidelines are also being developed to support large food companies.
Earlier this year I met with Commissioner Vestager. The focus of the meeting centred around the severe challenges that Irish businesses will face when the UK leaves the EU and the need for appropriate and timely State supports. It was agreed that Irish officials will continue to work closely with the Commissioner's team in addressing any State aid issues that may arise to ensure a rapid and appropriate response as the ultimate shape of Brexit and its firm-level implication become known. The Commissioner emphasised that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms.
Should further issues arise that require an approach that does not fit within the existing State aid rules, this will be raised as part of these Working Group discussions.