I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. While there remains significant uncertainty around the means by which the UK will leave the EU, the Government has worked to put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for business to suit all Brexit eventualities. The most immediate consequences of a hard Brexit are likely to be currency movements, supply chain constraints, delays, duties and tariffs, all of which will place strain on the working capital position of businesses. The €300 million Brexit loan scheme is designed to address working capital challenges brought about by Brexit. For businesses with fewer than ten employees, loans from Microfinance Ireland will also be available to provide liquidity support.
A rescue and restructuring scheme with a state aid approved ceiling of €200 million is in place to allow us to respond rapidly to provide support for undertakings in difficulty and enterprises experiencing acute liquidity needs, if needed. This scheme was developed as it was considered prudent to have contingency measures in place so that my Department can respond swiftly to changing circumstances, as necessary. These financial supports are operating alongside a suite of advisory, mentoring, training and awareness supports offered by my Department and its agencies. More recently, my Department in association with the Department of Education and Skills, and key industry partners, also launched a new support measure, Clear Customs, comprising a training programme and financial support to help customs agents, intermediaries and affected Irish businesses develop the capacity to deal with the additional customs requirements due to the UK’s departure from the EU.
In relation to state aid, in November 2017, a technical working group was established comprising representatives from DG Competition, my Department, Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the objective of scoping and designing schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with state aid rules. Through this group my officials are engaging in ongoing and open dialogue with DG Competition on Brexit issues. Earlier this year I met with the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, who assured me that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms. With the deadline for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU fast approaching, the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit continues to represent a significant challenge for businesses in Ireland. I want businesses, particularly those most impacted by Brexit, to know my Department and its agencies are here to help.