Thursday, 26 September 2019

Questions (4)

Michael Collins


4. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Minister for Finance if budget 2020 will be based on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit; his plans to make provision for timely and targeted measures for the sectors most exposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39218/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Finance)

Will budget 2020 be based on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit? If so, does the Minister intend to make provision for timely, targeted measures for the most exposed sectors such as fishing and farming? Will he make a statement on how, if there is a no-deal Brexit, the Government will ensure adequate support for both vital sectors, given that they will be hit severely by a no-deal Brexit?

As I indicated earlier, the Government has agreed that, purely for budgetary purposes, the forthcoming budget will be based on the assumption of a disorderly exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. It will, therefore, involve a twin-track approach. We will fund and seek to improve services that we make available to the public and, second, we will support sectors and regions that are most exposed to Brexit related disruption. As a no-deal Brexit would represent a permanent change in the trading environment between Ireland and the United Kingdom, support must be timely, targeted and temporary and, in the case of SMEs, geared towards firms that are viable. I am working with my colleagues in the Government on what the detail and funding for the plans will be. I aim to bring that work to a conclusion in advance of budget 2020.

I have been talking to many fishermen and people involved in the farming sector recently. European and UK fishermen have shared fish stocks and fishing grounds for centuries. They have harvested limited resources, some 100 shared stocks that know no borders. The Irish relationship with our UK colleagues has always been grounded on understanding and reasoned discussion. A no-deal Brexit would destroy the agreement that was in place. Others will be like wolves at the door, ready to devour Irish fishermen and our seas, if there is a no-deal Brexit or no agreement. Where is the fund that was promised to fishermen, not just to Irish fishermen but to all who share this resource? Does the Government realise we will have only our own waters in which to fish after Brexit and that we have no rights to fish in French, Dutch, Spanish, Belgian, Swedish, Polish or German fishing waters? On the other hand, our coastline is freely available to the fishermen of these countries. Has the Minister been in discussions with Ministers from other European fishing countries that will be affected by a crash-out by the United Kingdom and, if so, will he explain the type of compensation package that is being discussed for the fishing industry?

I am well aware of the effect a no-deal Brexit would have on the fishing industry and the displacement effect that would be caused by fishing moving off our shores as a result. On the question about the engagement I have had with other Ministers for fisheries, that engagement is being undertaken by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and I am working with him on it. As part of our no-deal planning, he and I will ensure issues relevant to the fisheries sector will be considered as we conclude our work on budget 2020. I fully understand that if a no-deal Brexit takes place, the parts of the country and economy that may experience the most immediate consequences are the fishing industry and the fishing community. I take the Deputy's point in that regard.

It is vital that the Minister have discussions with the European countries, the fisheries of which would be affected by a UK crash-out. Perhaps he might elaborate on the type of compensation package that is being envisaged for fishermen who may well lose 50% of their income and whose boats could be tied up at piers. The same applies to the farming sector. It is going through a very difficult time, as we have seen with the beef crisis and the protests. A no-deal Brexit could destroy the livelihoods of many farmers. At a meeting yesterday the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, estimated that a €1 billion Brexit fund for market support measures was needed. Again, what type of compensation package does the Minister have in mind for Irish agriculture, given that it is going through a serious crisis, especially in the beef sector? It is volatile and fishermen and farmers must have a very strong voice as we proceed. Fishermen need to know what the position is. Fishermen from Castletownbere and along the coastline, fishermen on the bigger trawlers and even inshore fishermen are asking me about it. There is a serious worry that there is no package in place and that no proper discussions are taking place, but I hope that is not the case.

We are facing potentially volatile circumstances. As I said, I understand the risk of vessels being confined to shore as a result of what could happen in a no-deal Brexit setting and what the immediate effects would be on income and the industry. The Deputy will appreciate that the figures behind the funds which will be much needed by those who find themselves under great pressure owing to a no-deal Brexit ultimately must also be affordable to the State and the taxpayer in the short to medium term. I would love to get the balance right. As I have said throughout my answers to this question, I am well aware of the pressure fishermen could face in that scenario and the Minister, Deputy Creed, has raised it with me on a number of occasions.