Thursday, 24 September 2020

Questions (129)

Johnny Mythen


129. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action taken to protect small businesses particularly along the Border counties in view of the potential damage that the UK Internal Market Bill poses to the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland and the economy here; and if the relevant Government bodies have engaged directly with ferry companies and ports, including Rosslare Port, to ensure Ireland can maintain the continuity of incoming and outgoing goods with European partners in cases in which problems arise with a no-deal Brexit scenario and the UK land bridge. [26156/20]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

On 9 September the Government published its Brexit Readiness Action Plan which supports and promotes the necessary preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period. With less than 100 days to go until the end of the Brexit transition period, it is vital that businesses step up their preparations for the range of changes that will definitively take place on 1 January, 2020. From that date the UK will be outside the Single Market and Customs Union and this will have profound and immediate implications for every business who moves goods to, from or through Great Britain.

Government Departments, enterprise agencies and regulatory bodies have made available a range of business supports, including financial, upskilling, and advisory supports to assist in preparing for the end of the Brexit transition period. More information on these supports, including to businesses in the border counties, is available in the Government's Brexit Readiness Action Plan.

The Border Enterprise Development Fund (BEDF) was launched in January, to assist businesses in the border region. The BEDF is administered by Enterprise Ireland and provides support for collaborative, enterprise capability building projects, to advance entrepreneurship, productivity and innovation in the border region. The aim of the fund is to improve the international competitiveness of enterprise in the border region in the context of Brexit and other market challenges, which now also includes COVID-19. The Fund is part of a €28 million economic stimulus package announced earlier this year for the six border counties of Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal.

It is important to note that the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between the EU and the UK and will apply in all scenarios from 1 January 2021, ensuring that many of the changes arising in our trade with Great Britain will not apply to trade with Northern Ireland. The Common Travel Area will also continue to operate as it does today.

Together with EU partners, the Government is closely monitoring developments in relation to the UK Internal Markets Bill. We have outlined to the UK Government our very strong concerns about the Bill. Any unilateral departure from the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement is not acceptable.

Trade connectivity between Ireland and continental Europe, both via the landbridge across the UK and via direct routes, is of major strategic importance to Irish businesses.

The efficient and effective functioning of the UK landbridge is a priority for Government. While the landbridge will remain a route to market for EU traders after the transition period ends, new procedures will apply. Businesses should familiarize with these new procedures immediately. Businesses should also be aware that ports will experience delays following the end of the transition period with Dover-Calais identified as a likely bottleneck.

These new procedures will not apply to goods that move directly to the continent. The Government remains in contact with shipping companies regarding direct maritime connectivity to continental Europe, including through Rosslare Europort. In consultations with shipping companies, they have indicated that sufficient capacity is in place on direct routes and that they expect to be able to respond to any additional demand for direct services. So far this year, we have already seen a number of new direct services commenced from Irish ports to continental ports, including a new service from Rosslare Europort to Bilbao.

Where feasible, traders moving goods to or from EU markets through the UK should consider direct maritime services as an alternative to the UK landbridge. I would encourage early engagement between all parties – traders, hauliers, ferry companies – to discuss needs and options.