Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (2)

Brian Stanley


2. Deputy Brian Stanley 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. [43656/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

This is my first question to the Minister since taking up this brief. I welcome the opportunity. I ask the Minister about the preparations or contingency planning being carried out to address a no-deal Brexit. As he will be aware, this will have a direct impact on rural communities. There will be some sort of Brexit. That is a fairly safe bet unless there is a second referendum in Britain but, unfortunately, the opportunity for such a referendum seems to be fading. The Border region will be especially impacted but it will affect all regions. The midlands, including the constituency of Laois-Offaly that I represent, will also be impacted. Rural areas will be particularly hit.

I am taking this question on behalf of the Minister. Preparations for all Brexit scenarios are being co-ordinated across government by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach. The Government’s detailed and comprehensive work across all sectors on no-deal planning is guided by the priorities and actions set out in the Government's contingency action plan update.  This update, published on 9 July, builds on the approach of the contingency action plan first published in December 2018 and reflects extensive work on a whole-of-Government basis and at EU level on no-deal contingency planning.   

The Government is very aware of the particular needs of the Border region in the context of Brexit, particularly in the event of a no-deal outcome. Mitigating the impact of Brexit and the importance of avoiding a hard border for people living in all the Border counties is a key Government priority.  Measures provided for in budget 2020 will make more than €1 billion of supports available in the event of a no-deal scenario. This funding will be available to address challenges including in the most affected parts of the country, for example, the Border region, should that prove necessary.  My Department and its agencies have fed into the contingency planning process at all stages, where appropriate, and will continue to engage across government and with our stakeholders in the rural and community development sectors.  

Anticipating and preparing for these possible impacts is a priority and the funding provided by my Department to build resilient communities across the country will become even more important in the event of a no-deal Brexit. My Department's focus continues to be on maintaining maximum flexibility in our programme of funding initiatives to enable us to continue to support all communities and to target available funding to those economic sectors and geographic areas most in need.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The concern is mainly about a crash-out Brexit but even if there is not a crash-out Brexit and the withdrawal deal is accepted, there will be issues. The deal is probably the best that can be done. We accept that. We backed the omnibus legislation and worked with the Government and other parties in the House to get it through. Even if the withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU is accepted, there may be interruptions to east-west trade depending on how future trade negotiations work out. Will the Minister of State outline the research his Department has carried out on the potential impact on rural Ireland? What role does he see his Department playing in helping rural communities to deal with the negative effects of Brexit? What role can the rural regeneration and development fund that was addressed earlier play? As the Minister said, it is an important fund. What role can it play in protecting jobs in the Border region and in the other regions that will be affected? Is there scope for supports for vulnerable businesses from the Department?

I reiterate that the Government will make more than €1 billion available in budget 2020 to be spent in the event of a no-deal Brexit. That funding will be used to protect Ireland from the worst effects of a no-deal Brexit and to help the businesses and people most affected, if and when they need it. This is on top of the grants and loans that are available for business and agriculture and ongoing Government expenditure on Brexit. To bring it back to our Department, we have been liaising with the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach to ensure issues relating to rural communities are taken into account in Brexit preparations. Funding under the rural regeneration and development fund, the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation scheme, the enhancement schemes, and all of the other schemes is available for all communities that need it. There is a particular focus on supporting communities in rural areas under various Brexit scenarios. Departmental funding and supports have the flexibility to allow for responses to emerging needs. Flexibility is crucially important as long as Brexit uncertainty remains. Funding to build resilience in communities to deal with any impacts of Brexit is a major priority for the Department.

The Minister of State referenced the rural regeneration and development fund. With regard to areas in which there may be job losses, can that fund be used to offset those losses to ensure that they do not occur or to avoid them?

We must try to limit the damage because Brexit is going to cause headaches for everybody. It is about limiting that damage. Recent independent reports from the Institute of International and European Affairs and the Department confirm that Brexit presents a doomsday scenario for Irish agriculture and the related food sector. It is having a huge impact on rural Ireland.

Industries are going to be under pressure, which the Minister and the Minister of State will accept, but new industries are emerging and one of the saviours for rural Ireland, including the counties the Minister, the Minister of State and I come from, will be renewable energy. Can a stream of funding from the Department be used for that to try to kick-start those new industries? There is a limited pot in the climate change fund but the Minister has a substantial pocket of money there. Is it open to us to use some of that funding to generate those new industries, particularly in areas with poor land that have been badly hit?

I repeat that the funding opportunities from the Department are there for all communities. They are flexible and are there to deal with whatever scenarios come up. If people have a particular project, they can always make an application and we will see if it can be accommodated in the funding streams available.

We have to realise that Brexit will affect different people in different places, but as the Deputy has said, rural Ireland is probably the most exposed. This is why our Department has liaised so tightly with the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach. The €1 billion fund is there to help us in a no-deal Brexit. I must also be clear that the funding is for all of the communities in Ireland. If communities feel that they must get some additional support, the schemes are flexible and are there to ensure we have support where it is most needed in the communities across rural Ireland, be it due to Brexit or other issues.