Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Questions (46)

Thomas P. Broughan


46. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to increase the number of embassy and consular staff throughout the UK in the lead up to and months after Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36515/19]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

We are hurtling towards Hallowe'en and the very depressing prospect of Brexit. In terms of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, what resources are available to our diplomats and the secretariat in our embassy in London and in the consulates general in Cardiff and Edinburgh, given that our relationship with the UK may change so drastically in just a few weeks' time?

I thank the Deputy for what is a fair question. Managing Brexit negotiations and preparation has been a key priority of the work of my Department in recent years, both at headquarters and overseas, including in the UK, for obvious reasons. Since 2016, additional staff have been assigned to the key divisions at headquarters with responsibility for Brexit matters, including the EU division and the Ireland, UK, Americas, IUKA division. Additional posts have also been established at our embassies in London, Berlin, and Paris and the permanent representation of Ireland to the European Union in Brussels. Our embassy in London remains our largest bilateral embassy. The additional staff assigned to the mission since the Brexit vote reflects the priority of our relationship with the UK. The resources will remain under close review and will be adjusted as required. Closer partnerships with the devolved administrations in Cardiff and Edinburgh remain strategically important. Our consul general in Edinburgh engages closely with the Scottish Government to deepen existing strong political, economic, community and cultural ties. The reopening of our consulate general in Cardiff earlier this year will ensure Wales-Ireland relations deepen in the coming years, particularly in political and economic terms.

The wider Team Ireland enjoys a significant footprint in Britain with our trade, tourism and investment agencies making a positive impact. The Global Ireland initiative supports Government efforts to grow and diversify export markets, inward investment and tourism as we prepare for the impact of Brexit. It will ensure Ireland is better positioned to build the alliances necessary to advance its interests and defend its position in a post-Brexit EU, while helping to secure our relationship with the UK and its constituent parts. The strategy includes a commitment to open a new consulate in a third location in Britain. During the visit by the Taoiseach to Manchester in June for the British-Irish Council, he reiterated the Government’s commitment to opening an additional consulate in another UK location post-2019. We have not made a final decision on the location yet but Deputies could make a reasonable guess as to the priority cities.

In response to rising demand for passports, my Department has significantly strengthened the capacity of the passport office by recruiting approximately 300 additional staff.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This includes over 200 temporary clerical officers assigned to the processing of applications. These measures remain under review. The Department will allocate additional staff resources as necessary to further augment our level of Brexit-related supports across Government and across our network overseas.

We only have time for one brief supplementary question.

Passports are critically important because last year approximately 200,000 people from Britain and Northern Ireland applied for an Irish passport. We will have staff on the ground at ports to assist the movement of goods through the landbridge, if necessary. The Tánaiste referred to Team Ireland which comprises bodies such as Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and Tourism Ireland. We have seen a decline in British tourist numbers since the Brexit storm first blew up. In that context, does the Tánaiste believe that we have enough feet on the ground? According to its website, the London embassy only has around 20 key officials who must now deal with what is a massive challenge. The Tánaiste also mentioned consular offices in Cardiff and Edinburgh, which also have a relatively small number of staff. Is this something that will feature in the budget in October? Will additional resources be provided to our diplomatic staff and all of the allied staff in Team Ireland?

The Deputy's points are all fair. We have a brilliant team in London and we need it because the relationship between Britain and Ireland is under some strain at the moment because of the challenges of Brexit. We have a really good team in London, led by our ambassador, and they are doing a good job but if they need more people, we will appoint more. That is the truth of it. The relationship that we have with the UK is our most important relationship. That is why our consulate in Cardiff has reopened and why we will be opening another consulate in an English city to complement what we are doing in London and Edinburgh. We are constantly reviewing whether we need to add more people, just like we have done in Paris and Berlin. In Berlin, for example, we have added an arts officer because we believe there is a lot of work to do in terms of building connections with Germany around the arts, literature, music and so on. We are working with other Government Departments to make sure that our teams are appropriate for the challenges we face. Clearly, the biggest challenge we face at the moment is Brexit and trying to find a way forward through the diplomatic channels that we have in London, in particular, is a big priority for us.

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.