To start the ball rolling, I call on the Minister to make his statement under Standing Order 45. The Minister is very welcome.
UK Withdrawal from the EU: Statements
First, I apologise to colleagues opposite for not being available to take parliamentary questions last week.
The Minister was very well represented.
I hear I was well represented. I do not intend on making a habit of being absent for my questions in the future, but it was unavoidable last week. I thank the House for its accommodation in that regard.
The Minister of State seemed very comfortable.
Great. She is more than capable.
I hope we will be able to do this at different stages as the Brexit negotiations proceed. It is good to keep the House, the various other forums and the public informed of our position because the enormity of these issues for Ireland in the future is such that this is required. We will have an all-island forum on Brexit on Thursday and I presume some of the other Deputies will be there.
I welcome this two-day debate on Brexit. It is an issue that deserves the attention of this House given the unprecedented economic, political and diplomatic challenges it poses for Ireland. The Oireachtas is playing a central role in furthering the public debate on Brexit and the implications thereof for this country. The address by Michel Barnier to the joint sitting of the Houses last May and Guy Verhofstadt's exchange with the joint committees last week were important milestones and provided a positive contribution to our work. We need to continue to intensify this work in the coming weeks and months.
The Brexit negotiations are entering a critical and more intensive stage. Issues unique to Ireland - protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, avoiding a hard border and maintaining the common travel area - are at the heart of the negotiations. This is the result of a sustained political and diplomatic effort that has won us the support and understanding of our EU partners. Sufficient progress must be made on these Irish-specific issues, as well as on the questions of citizens' rights and the UK's financial liabilities, before the second-phase negotiations can begin on the framework for the future EU-UK relationship. This sequencing was agreed by both sides at the outset and is about building confidence and trust. It is also about laying foundations for future decisions. With the exception of the Irish-specific issues, the economic and other sectoral issues of most interest to Ireland will not be addressed until the second phase when we talk about a transition, future trade relationships and so on. This makes it particularly important that the conditions for moving to the next phase are met. It will be for the European Council to decide that sufficient progress and when it has been achieved.
In this regard, the speech last week by Prime Minister May - particularly the constructive tone of her remarks - was welcome, and it is important we state that. We were pleased to note the Prime Minister's commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area and to avoiding any physical infrastructure at the Border. That has been said before by the British Government but it was said very forcefully last week in Florence. The pledge to seek transition arrangements for Brexit - and the acknowledgement that business should only have to plan for one set of changes in the EU-UK relationship - is also very welcome, and that has not been stated in the past as explicitly as it was stated in Florence. A status quo arrangement which would see the UK remain a member of the Single Market and customs union during this transition, with the associated rights and obligations, would be sensible and would provide much-needed clarity for businesses on the island of Ireland as well as in Britain. It may well prove necessary for the UK to seek a longer transition phase than the two years suggested by Prime Minister May, considering the amount of work involved in preparing adequately for the consequences of Brexit, but this was a useful update on British thinking nonetheless.
The broader UK position, and the worthy aspirations I have mentioned, now need to be translated into firm commitments across the negotiating table in Brussels. I hope real progress can be made in the next two rounds of the negotiations so that we can move into the second phase next month. However, this very much depends on the UK and its willingness to move on a number of the exit issues. To be clear, there is no demand or expectation that these issues be settled in their entirety before phase two can begin, but they have to be advanced beyond where they are today.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for Brexit, I am co-ordinating the whole-of-Government response to the significant challenges that arise for Ireland. In this capacity, I am working closely with colleagues across Government with policy responsibility in relevant areas in order to assist affected sectors and regions in dealing with the many challenges resulting from Brexit. This co-operation also involves the appropriate State agencies and, I would like to think, the Opposition political parties too in terms of suggestions, proposals and constructive criticism. As part of this co-ordination role, I am also stepping up the overall strategic oversight of Brexit-related measures being implemented across Government. This will involve building upon the extensive cross-Government research, analysis and consultation with stakeholders that has been already carried out, as well as ensuring a co-ordinated approach that facilitates the early identification of potential synergies across Government. New interdepartmental co-ordination mechanisms are currently being put in place to reflect the enhanced responsibility of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in this regard.
Ensuring that Ireland’s interests are reflected in the EU’s approach to the ongoing EU-UK negotiations is a central dimension of Ireland’s strategic response to Brexit. In this regard, our overriding objective is to work with our EU 27 partners to achieve the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK. The closer we come to this objective, the fewer negative consequences for Ireland and for the specific sectors to which many in this House are close.
Since the referendum last year we have prepared extensively to ensure that our priority issues - namely, protecting the gains of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, maintaining the common travel area, minimising the impact on our economy and a strong future for the EU itself - are advanced to the maximum extent possible. There have been three rounds of negotiations to date, with the fourth round taking place this week. In fact, it is my understanding the negotiations will be focusing on Ireland tomorrow. As this is the first phase of negotiations, and in line with the agreed sequencing, the focus has been on the withdrawal issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, more technical separation issues and, as I said, issues unique to Ireland. Both the EU and UK have used these early rounds of negotiations to clarify their respective positions, highlighting the areas of agreement and divergence.
Discussions on several issues have been reasonably constructive to date, with some progress being made in the areas of citizens’ rights and the other separation issues. However, it is clear that many difficult and complex issues remain, above all with regard to the financial settlement. It is in this area that the least amount of progress has been made, at least up until the Florence speech. The UK has accepted that it will have a financial obligation to honour on its departure and the position set out by Prime Minister May in her speech last Friday will, hopefully, help to advance the issue. The EU’s position is also very clear. Intensive work is now required around the negotiating table in Brussels to find convergence between the two positions.
The EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his task force are well prepared for these negotiations, which are based both on the European Council guidelines and the more detailed negotiating directives agreed in the spring. This is in addition to the extensive and ongoing consultations they are holding with the 27 EU member states. Our team speaks to the task force virtually on a daily basis, mainly through our ambassador, H. E. Declan Kelleher, in Brussels, but also sometimes from Dublin. We are appreciative of the level of support that both the task force and our EU partners have shown for Ireland’s unique concerns, with Mr. Barnier reiterating after his meeting with me on 4 September that Ireland’s interests are the EU’s interests. I have been working very closely with Mr. Barnier and his team, as have officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to ensure that Ireland’s position is fully reflected in the negotiations. We will continue to engage closely with them in the weeks and months ahead.
On the Irish-specific issues, the high-level dialogue between the UK and EU teams is making some headway. Good progress has been made on the common travel area. There is a common objective to protect the gains of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts and while some progress has been made on this, much more complex work is required. In truth, when one looks at the Good Friday Agreement, in particular its North-South co-operation elements, the majority of those were written on the assumption, and in some cases refer directly to the assumption, that both North and South on the island of Ireland would be part of the same European Union in terms of the regulatory environment. What people are beginning to understand is the complexity of full implementation of all of the elements of the Good Friday Agreement while at the same time accepting Brexit.
I often give the example of an all-island approach on animal health. That makes perfect sense when farmers north and south of the Border both operate to the same Common Agricultural Policy, the same cross-compliance obligations, the same protection of the environment and water courses, the same animal health regulations and the same inspection systems. When Northern Ireland leaves the European Union and decides not to be part of the Common Agricultural Policy, or decides not to maintain equivalence with the Common Agricultural Policy, how do we in practice manage an all-island approach towards animal health in the case of, say, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease that may be just north of the Border but which certainly does not respect any physical border? These are the kinds of practical issues, and there are many examples like that. North-South co-operation works because there is a common regulatory model on both sides of the Border and it simply requires political co-operation to make it work in practice. Once the regulatory environment changes on one side of the Border, it becomes much more complex. That is why the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to which the British Government is absolutely committed, as are we, is actually much more complicated in practice in the context of Brexit than many people realise.
This is all to ensure the full implications of the UK’s decision to leave the EU are understood, including on important, tangible areas that affect daily lives on this island, such as the North-South co-operation to which I have just referred, which are the focus of pretty intense discussions currently. In the last round of negotiations, which concluded on 31 August, the UK presented a paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland. While the publication of this paper is welcome, the UK’s aspirations and statements of principle need to be backed by substantive commitments by the UK and clear links to workable solutions. The Government welcomes and supports the task force’s paper, "Guiding principles for the Dialogue on Ireland-Northern Ireland", which was published on 7 September. This paper builds on the European Council guidelines agreed earlier this year and reflects the priority Irish issues identified by the Government. It also sets out the principles on which solutions have to be based. The EU will now seek to agree these principles with the UK as a basis for the future discussions on the detailed solutions that are required. We will continue to work closely with Mr. Barnier and his team to advance Ireland’s concerns in this regard.
Beyond the negotiating process, the Government’s overall response to Brexit will continue to be structured around five principal pillars: first, sustainable fiscal policies to ensure capacity to absorb and respond to economic shocks, not least from Brexit; second, policies to make Irish enterprise more diverse and resilient, to diversify trade and investment patterns and to strengthen competitiveness; third, prioritising policy measures and dedicating resources to protect jobs and businesses in the sectors and regions most affected and threatened by Brexit, as has already been happening in the agrifood area; fourth, realising economic opportunities arising from Brexit and helping businesses adjust to any new logistical or trade barriers that may be predicted or may arise; and fifth, making a strong case at EU level that Ireland will require support for the recognition that Brexit represents a serious disturbance to the Irish economy.
Policy decisions in support of these objectives will arise across a wide range of policy areas and will continue to fall within the direct responsibility of other Government colleagues, including the annual budgetary process, the forthcoming national planning framework 2040, the new ten-year national capital plan, the review of enterprise 2025 policy, and sectoral policies and investment decisions in areas such as agriculture, enterprise, transport, communications and energy.
I encourage Members to engage directly with me if they want to, and I encourage them to be very much part of the forums to be set up. We will have an all-island civic dialogue on Thursday. We will have sectoral meetings, which I know that some Members have been part of, and we will also have stakeholder updates to make sure people are informed.
I will not behave in party political way on this issue. I hope that other Members will work with me in a constructive to try to find an outcome for Ireland that is workable in the context of a very complex environment. I look forward to working with everybody in that regard.
Deputy Stephen Donnelly will share time with Deputy Declan Breathnach.
I thank the Minister for the presentation and for the invite. Fianna Fáil and I will work to hold the Minister to account where we do not believe the Government is doing enough. We have every intention of working with the Minister, where we can, to try to get Ireland ready for Brexit and to turn it into an opportunity where possible.
At the start of a new Dáil term, with the German election just over and having heard Prime Minister May's speech in Florence, it is a good time for Ireland to step back and ask what is at stake for the country when it comes to Brexit. I will touch on three issues. First and foremost, jobs are at stake. Ireland's small and medium enterprises, SMEs, export 40% of their goods and services to the UK. Critically, those exports represent half of the export-related jobs in the State. Ireland's SME sector exports only one tenth of our country's exports, because the multinational sector is so big, but it employs the same number of people. There are as many jobs at risk from Brexit in our indigenous sector as are employed in the entire multinational arena in Ireland. Certain sectors, obviously, are especially at risk, such as tourism, basic metals, textiles and more. Agrifood is more exposed, as we know, than any other sector given that the beef and dairy areas are so closely linked to the UK market, east-west and North-South. Major disruptions such as the WTO tariffs pose what many describe as an existential threat to those sectors. Many jobs are at stake, particularly outside the main urban centres. Brexit will hit rural Ireland harder than it will hit urban Ireland and it poses a higher risk for jobs there.
Northern Ireland issues are also at stake. Brexit is already pulling the people of Northern Ireland out of the European Union. The EU identity is very important to both communities, but it is particularly important to the nationalist community. They live within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, but as part of their identity they can say they are citizens and participants in the European Union. A senior security officer in Northern Ireland recently gave me his opinion on the potential situation of the nationalist population being pulled out of the EU against its will, combined with the potential for a hard border. While we will all work to make sure a hard border does not happen, should it happen at the same time that the nationalist community feels that it is being pulled out of the European Union, the community will feel that a fence is being built around them. This, in the opinion of the security officer, poses a material threat to the peace process and could see a return to violence through the radicalisation of younger disaffected members of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland.
We do not talk much about the funding for public services also being put at stake by Brexit. How is Brexit linked to health care, housing and education in Ireland? Obviously the €62 billion of trade we do east-west and North-South, and the related jobs, creates very serious Exchequer revenues. Brexit will affect that trade to some extent and it will affect Exchequer revenues. At the same time, we will have to invest in infrastructure related to Brexit-proofing the State. Both of these combined will put serious pressure on Exchequer revenues in Ireland.
The referendum in the UK took place 15 months ago. To give time for deliberation, the proposal needs to be in place in about 12 months' time. To date, progress and negotiations have been slow. I, and many people, expect the Commission to recommend that the EU does not move to the next phase of the negotiations until at least December, slowing down the process again. Progress, however, is not just slow in Brussels. I believe that progress has been far too slow in domestic preparations in getting Ireland ready for Brexit. This is something that we can do.
The Government and our diplomats deserve great credit for the diplomacy we have seen between Dublin and Brussels. The common travel area is being accepted all around. It is critically important and it may not have happened. It is easy for us to say that we would always have got that - perhaps we would and perhaps we would not - but the Government deserves credit for putting it front and centre.
Northern Ireland Issues have also been put front and centre. Again, perhaps this would have happened anyway, and perhaps it would not, but certainly everything I have heard from Brussels, London and Dublin is that the Government and Ireland's diplomatic corps have done well in putting the interests of Ireland, including the common travel area, front and centre in the first phase of negotiations. I want to recognise that fact.
While the Government has done well in that respect, I believe it has failed in other critical areas. East-west negotiations have been stressed, and I would say this is partly due to some unnecessarily bombastic proclamations by the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, at press conferences. I have been to London recently and they do not help. Diplomacy means we need to work with our friends. We need to have honest and tough conversations with them, but that sort of bombast is not useful. I do not believe that North-South diplomacy has worked well. We have been waiting since 2011 for a paper on reinvigorating the North-South institutions. They have not been functioning but we still await that paper. We must have a reinvigoration of the North-South and the east-west institutions as quickly as possible.
Contingency planning has not started yet, such as making sure there is a back-up energy legal framework should there be a disorderly exit. The Minister confirmed in the Chamber last week that the committees were meeting for the first time this week. It is 15 months since the Brexit vote. It is not good enough that the committees are meeting only now, for the first time, for contingency planning. I have previously said to the Minister, in the House and privately, that domestic work to support our industry has been lacking. Enterprise Ireland is working with its clients but there are many more people who work in Ireland than Enterprise Ireland clients. What is a company meant to do with a €5,000 Brexit preparation grant? With the threat facing the agrifood sector, Bord Bia was allowed to hire three people this year. IDA Ireland was given permission to hire ten people. At the start of 2017, it had hired one person and the Taoiseach has confirmed to me in the House that this figure has gone up to four. This is not demonstrating a sense of urgency. Ireland has great State agencies but they clearly are not operating on Brexit at the level they need to be.
Nobody is engaging with farmers. I attended the National Ploughing Championships last week. I was there to ask farmers and their representatives what they were doing on Brexit, how are they getting ready, how the Government is engaging with them, what supports are being put in place and if the Government is helping farmers to think about the French, German, Austrian, Italian and Spanish markets. It will take farmers several years to grow into those markets. The answer, pretty much all around, was "No".
The Government is not engaging with the tourism industry.
Tourist numbers are up, which is fantastic, but our biggest market by a country mile is the UK from which, as we all know, the figures are down. No one is working with hoteliers and those running bed and breakfast accommodation or the tourism sector in Wicklow, Cork or elsewhere to say how we can start to prepare for this. No one is working with the fishing industry. I met members of the British Government approximately two weeks ago. I put it to them that they were looking at taking some of their territorial waters back and, obviously, leaving the Common Fisheries Policy. The answer was "Yes". That poses an existential risk to our fishing industry as the Minister and I both know. Nevertheless, if one asks people in the fishing industry if anyone is helping them start to get ready, the answer is "No". No one is engaging with small and medium enterprises beyond what Enterprise Ireland is doing. I put it to the Minister that it is not enough. It is not that the time for words is over; there must be more words and diplomacy, but the time for action in our own domestic preparations for this must start.
As we all know, Brexit is not happening on its own. It is a threat from the east. To the west, we have a protectionist USA and to the south east, we have the common consolidated corporate tax base, CCCTB, and all sorts of new things going on in Europe. We face threats on multiple fronts at the same time. I put it to the Minister that on Brexit, risk mitigation is not enough. We need to use it as a catalyst to do something new. In the early 1960s, Lemass and Whitaker worked together on the first programme for economic expansion, which has served all of us well for decades. It has not all been perfect and some of our friends in the Chamber might say there have been problems with globalisation. While I agree, it has worked well for us. Now is the time for a second programme for economic expansion. There is a great deal of talk about India and China, which is fine, but our product and service offering is ripe for Europe into which we have very low market penetration.
If we are going to do this, we will need a national programme. It is not enough to tinker around the edges. The entire Government budget for Brexit this year was €5 million. Fianna Fáil wants to discuss a brave programme for economic expansion, which acknowledges that while we have been well served by the Anglo-Saxon world for many years and will continue to work and trade with it, it is time for us to move beyond it. That will require adaptation funding, the relaxation of State supports and the upgrading of capabilities across our sectors. That is what Fianna Fáil wants to see domestically in response to the threats from Brexit, the USA and some of what is happening in Europe.
This is my first opportunity to wish the Minister well in his role, which I do. It is a difficult position. I have always commended the all-Ireland dialogue, which I have attended to date. Unfortunately, I will not be able to do so on Thursday as I have other business in Jersey relating to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. That said, I note the lack of devolved government in the North. It is my understanding from dealing with both community groups and the wider sector up there, that this particular dialogue was to be an all-Ireland dialogue. A previous Taoiseach gave a commitment to take one of those dialogues to the North. While I accept that some break-outs took place there, the voice of the people in the North of Ireland and their anxieties and concerns should be heard. In the absence of devolved government, that voice has to come from us. I suggest some mechanism be found to bring their views to the table. They expressed them at the ballot box but it is important to note that they feel no one is listening to them. While I accept that quite a number of people came from the North of Ireland from industry and large organisations, it is the people on the ground who are going to be affected in the fragile peace process alluded to by Deputy Donnelly. I note also the position of the island communities. I visited the island community of Rathlin. Equally, there are island communities around this country who have not had an opportunity to have their say and who will be even more greatly affected than ourselves.
That said, I want to record my view. It is not necessarily Fianna Fáil's view, in which regard it is time we had greater debate on this issue and what is happening. Last Friday, Theresa May gave an historic speech in Florence where she informed the assembled media that the UK would stay in the Single Market and customs union until the middle of 2021. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has suggested it may even be beyond that. That more or less ties the hand of the EU and puts a stay on Article 50, which would have seen the UK leave the EU in 2019 even if no agreements were in place. That was the so-called "cliff-edge Brexit". These is no doubt in my mind that Theresa May knew exactly what she was doing in stating the UK's intention not to leave the EU until mid-2021. She picked that date because it coincides with her obligation to have an election before 6 May 2021. What she did in Florence was to guarantee that the British electorate will have a ballot-box decision before any changes happen in the UK's working relationship with the EU. In my reading of it, that is a seismic change in the political landscape.
If Theresa May has changed the whole ball game, we in Ireland can change our approach and strategy also. I have said before that it should not be called "Brexit" but rather "Fixit". Even now, there is an emerging opinion in the UK that they may not leave the EU. In my opinion that view is gathering momentum. I have said it and on my head be it. For some inexplicable reason, Irish politicians do not feel comfortable making statements like "Brexit is not going to happen". There is a misplaced political decorum that makes us feel we cannot be seen to interfere in British politics. It is absurd to persist with such a stance. By voting to leave the EU, the British shot both themselves and us in the foot. The vote could wreck all the good work achieved in our fragile peace process. I know that and so do the Border Deputies. Nevertheless, we stand by and engage in the niceties with our British counterparts.
What has happened was inevitable and should have been Theresa May's position years ago. It is at last a solid affirmation that leaving the EU will not be the walk in the park the Leave campaign dishonestly peddled. Unfortunately, her speech made no advancement in terms of outlining a vision for a final deal or what the unique solution for Ireland will look like despite the fact that there is barely a year to go before a ratification process. The invisible border is not an open one. The one and only way to avoid a hard border is by staying in the customs union. Another solution may be for Northern Ireland to remain in the Single Market or in the EU or both. This would be difficult to deal with under world trading rules, but all of these ideas deserve exploration. Everyone agrees the common travel area must be maintained, but preparation needs to be made now and as a matter of urgency. We need clarity on what leaving the customs union means for trade. The Good Friday Agreement and the many strands associated with it, to which the Minister referred, could be used as a mechanism to reach a successful conclusion for all, in particular having regard to our trading issues.
I note that 98% of businesses are not prepared for Brexit despite the fact that moneys are being offered. Even the major consulting firms are struggling to sell their advisory work. If that is happening, there are a large number of people out there who believe it is a "Fixit" that is needed. We need to get real in that regard.
I wish to share time with my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
We have probably misread the British view on Brexit. Certainly, there was a view across the board that David Cameron would deliver on his proposals. He failed to deliver and is a man of the past. Last week, there was a significant build-up to Theresa May's speech in Florence. While the speech was loaded with rhetoric, it seemed very short on specific detail.
That is frustrating and difficult for anyone trying to follow what direction Britain will go in this regard. It did not reassure and, more importantly, did not address any of the issues facing Ireland. This is hardly surprising considering the British Government has consistently failed to address the key issues of avoiding a border, citizens’ rights and protecting the Good Friday Agreement. No matter what angle one comes from, it is clear Brexit is bad for Ireland. There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland, its people and its economy, North and South.
Sinn Féin's position is crystal clear. The entire island of Ireland must remain within the European Union. The Good Friday Agreement must be protected in all of its parts by the British and Irish Governments, as well as by the European Union. We believe, as does the House, that this can be achieved through a special designated status for the North in the European Union.
The threat to the Good Friday Agreement can be also averted if it is incorporated in full in a protocol in the British withdrawal agreement. I urge the Minister to examine this as a possible solution. There are solutions to many of the challenges facing us but imagination is needed. I am not sure if that imagination and those solutions will come from Europe. Many of them will have to come from ourselves. We are the ones who will have to step up to the plate with those proposals. It is clear little progress has been made in preventing the return of an economic border on the island. It is imperative to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts.
It is a concern that the Government, the EU and Britain are now all talking about avoiding a physical border on the island rather than avoiding border checks of any kind. Border checkpoints of any kind on the island, be they of goods, services or passports, must not be countenanced in any way. To build peace in Ireland, we need to remove borders, both physical and psychological. The Taoiseach must be prepared to use the Government’s EU veto against moving on to the trade talks unless the British Government comes up with detailed plans to protect the previously negotiated agreements and ensures there is no EU frontier across the island of Ireland.
Brexit will affect the whole of Ireland, not just the North. It will have a negative effect on companies in Ireland which export to Britain, but also on those which use Britain as a land bridge to ensure their products can reach other EU countries. We need not just to look at the percentage of our exports to Britain but also the volume. Mention has been made recently of the figures of 15% and 36% in this regard. Many of our exports to Britain come from labour-intensive industries. If they are lost, it will have a significant impact on jobs and local economies. To adequately respond to Brexit challenges, the Government also needs to update infrastructure, particularly roads and ports, and other significant capital spending. Again, there seems to be no preplanning on this.
Sinn Féin opposed the EU fiscal treaty which imposed harsh fiscal rules on EU countries. It is clear that to adequately respond to the challenges of Brexit, Ireland needs a derogation from the fiscal rules. The Minister must urgently seek as a priority the relaxation of the fiscal rules for Ireland. We need to start articulating this position loudly and clearly across Europe.
Yesterday, I attended a meeting of Committee A of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which deals with sovereign matters of relevance for both Britain and Ireland. Again, the committee examined Brexit. The Norwegian ambassador to Ireland gave some interesting insights into Norway's imaginative and unique border arrangements with Sweden and Russia. She spoke of customs co-operation and travel arrangements. However, the clear evidence is that Norway is not Ireland. While we can examine all sorts of arrangements, Ireland is not Norway.
One theme coming from these meetings we are attending is that there is a complete lack of any preparation by British and Irish companies, and more worryingly by both Governments, on the challenges facing us with Brexit. I know my Sinn Féin colleagues will discuss the threat to rural Ireland from Brexit later. However, they are significant and the Government must be more proactive in protecting and supporting rural communities. The point was made yesterday that Brexit may not impact the east coast, but the further west one goes, the more difficulties people will face.
One concern to me about Brexit is the serious threat it poses for health care provision on this island. We all know partition has been a disaster for this island, not least in the area of health care. It makes no sense to have two different health care systems on this island. Instead, we should have one truly public Irish national health service. It should be a service to provide health care on the basis of need, not on who one is, where one lives or how much money one earns. It must be a system funded by progressive taxation. There was a hope the Good Friday Agreement would help develop the whole area of health care with huge strides. That, however, has not happened. The majority of people across Ireland realise health care must be developed on an all-Ireland basis. The growth of shared services is an acknowledgement that it makes sense to operate health care on an all-Ireland basis. The success of shared services to date is living proof of that. However, Brexit could derail all of this positive progress. Brexit means that not only our current shared services are under threat but future services are too, as well as being reliant on negotiations. We have worked too hard improving such co-operation and services to let a Tory British Government fixated on privatising health care derail all of this and cripple the potential of improving public health provision on this island. Protecting our health services from Brexit and building a truly public all-Ireland health service should be a priority.
We must also look at major reform of the EU. Sinn Féin remains deeply critical of the EU and the direction it has taken. We know many people are critical of the EU, which is expressing itself in various ways, not all positive, and in elections across Europe. The Europe we want to see would be more democratic, demilitarised and a peaceful Union which would embrace economic and social justice, international solidarity while working to end poverty. However, the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, recently outlined the solution to these issues facing the EU, stating we should just carry on doing the same, only faster with less democratic oversight. He wants a new EU president, EU finance minister and an EU army. Inexplicably, no one, except an unknown source in Iveagh House, offered any comment on this disturbing and alarming speech. Several countries spoke up but there was a lack of leadership from Ireland. If the EU follows this path, it is heading towards a cliff and inevitable breakup. It will throw a lifeline towards the far right across Europe, which is already growing at an alarming rate in some countries. While Juncker’s European model might be shared by some of the elites in Europe, it will inevitably lead to the breakup of the European Union and a realignment of European politics as we know it.
Last week during an exchange with Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator, I told him that the economic consequences of Britain’s decision to leave the EU were already being felt in Border communities such as my own in Cavan and Monaghan. It is common knowledge that some of the weakest economies on the island are along the Border and, therefore, require the most protection against the negative impacts of Brexit. I told Mr. Verhofstadt of the palpable fear held by so many that certain sectors, particularly the agrifood sector, will be significantly reduced and jobs lost without solid economic supports.
Their fears are not unreasonable. Agrifood sector exports were an estimated €570 million less than they would have been in 2016 as a result of the weakening sterling in the wake of the Brexit vote.
I asked him if, in solidarity with hard-pressed sectors of our economy, the EU would respond with assistance and supports for struggling Irish enterprises. His answer was vague, to say the least. It is on the record of the meeting of the joint committees, which was chaired by the Ceann Comhairle. It will come as no comfort to those who fear their jobs could be lost in the future.
The ramifications of the Brexit vote are also being felt by local businesses in the Border area as a result of the euro-sterling exchange rate. Sterling has been down 15% to 20% against the euro since last year’s referendum. The weak pound is driving shoppers north of the Border in search of cheaper prices and this has been to the detriment of local retailers and businesses. That is not unique to Cavan and Monaghan and I am sure my colleague, Deputy Breathnach, will be able to confirm it from the Louth perspective. A recent article in The Irish Times reported a car dealer north of the Border saying that there has been an 18% increase in used car sales to customers from the South. This is another indication of the trend and the traffic.
The disastrous consequences of Britain’s decision to leave the EU are limitless. It is important to recognise that its impact is already being felt in Border communities. Certainly, the future ramifications are stark. However, I believe it is incumbent on the Government to push for EU assistance and supports for Irish enterprises that are already struggling. If we wait until after the conclusion of negotiations, as Mr. Verhofstadt appeared to indicate last week, and then examine the situation that is presented, many of these businesses will already have gone. Theresa May’s speech in Florence last week came as no comfort and confirmed that the British Government does not have any solutions to the issues affecting Ireland as a result of Britain's decision to leave the EU. In that context, the Government should not allow the Brexit negotiations to move to the next phase. We must hammer this down, step by step.
It has been said time and again that Brexit has the potential to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the rights of Irish citizens in the North. It will undermine our economy and is already doing so. It is worrying to note that the narrative has now changed to talk about avoiding a "physical border" as opposed to avoiding border checks of any kind. Sinn Féin has provided solutions. We have consistently called for the North to be given special designated status within the EU. We are also calling for the Good Friday Agreement to be inserted as a protocol in the final withdrawal agreement. This would provide legal protection for the agreement, which was so hard won. The effort to implement the agreement in its entirety has been strenuously and eagerly pursued over the almost 20 years since it was signed.
None of this will be achieved if the Taoiseach and the Government do not up the ante. They have a responsibility to stand up for the interests of Irish citizens. The Taoiseach must harness European and Irish support, stand up for Ireland and argue for designated status for the North within the EU. I commend such an approach to the Minister.
It is evident that there is a new sacred cow in Irish politics. The traditional sacred cow of the establishment has been our corporation tax rate. It could not be touched and was the cornerstone of anything good that happened in this country. The new sacred cow is the received wisdom among the political parties and political commentators that Brexit, by definition, is a bad thing for people in Britain and for ordinary people in this country. I do not accept that received wisdom. I certainly believe it could be a bad thing. The Brexit Theresa May has in mind - a so-called bargain basement Brexit - would be disastrous from the point of view of ordinary workers in Britain and in this country, particularly if the Government responds as it appears to be responding. However, I do not accept that this is predetermined or that there is no alternative exit possible. I refer, for example, to a left-style exit that could open the door to a serious discussion in Europe about what type of Europe we want and that could assist in a struggle for a different, socialist Europe that would put the interests of working people first.
In order to have a real discussion about Brexit, there must be clarity on what the European Union is and on the European Union British people voted to leave. One would get the impression from many of the discussions in this Chamber that it is a land of milk and honey, peace, prosperity, democracy, human rights and so forth. That is very far from the truth. The European Union is an undemocratic land of authoritarian neoliberalism, war, militarisation and misery for millions of people in crisis. It is racked by substantial crises. It is worth noting the events of last weekend. Many within the establishments across Europe breathed a sigh of relief when Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France. They thought that by dressing up neoliberalism in new suits and socks the collapse of the extreme centre had been stemmed. However, that illusion has been contradicted sharply by reality. Last Saturday, 150,000 people were on the streets of Paris to oppose Emmanuel Macron undemocratically pushing through his so-called labour reforms by decree, which will pave the way for zero-hour contracts and a complete decline in working conditions in France. He has the lowest opinion ratings in history at this stage in his presidency. They are lower than those of Donald Trump. The movement against Macron and the rise of Mélenchon's La France Insoumise are the positive sides of the crisis, the left expression of the crisis of the extreme centre in the European Union.
The other negative and frightening side was also on show last weekend in Germany with the entry into parliament of Alternative for Germany, AfD, as the third party, with 94 members of parliament and 6 million votes. It is the first party of the far right to enter the German Bundestag in over 50 years. The basis for that rise was laid in the austerity imposed - before anybody else in the European Union was talking about austerity - in the form of the Hartz IV laws introduced by a Gerhard Schröder-led SPD government and the propaganda campaign of the German establishment and large elements of the media blaming lazy Greeks for what were actually bailouts of German banks. We stand with those who are mobilising now against the scapegoating of refugees, racism and AfD.
Those events more accurately characterise the EU than the image people have of it. It is fundamentally undemocratic, as was seen in the soft coups against the Italian and Greek Governments and when it acted with an imperialist character against countries internally, such as Greece, and in terms of its so-called trade partners, with economic partnership agreements in Africa. It is also racist. The fortress Europe policies have turned the Mediterranean into Trump's border wall and a graveyard for refugees.
The direction of travel is further in that direction. Emmanuel Macron made a speech a couple of hours ago in which he spoke about accelerating the rhythm and said that no country should be excluded but no country should block. That is in line with Jean-Claude Juncker's state of the Union speech in the European Parliament. They have a definite idea, post-Brexit, of going further in terms of militarisation, with the establishment of permanent military headquarters and moving towards a security and defence union, and moving further in terms of economic integration, with Emmanuel Macron referring to a strong common budget at the heart of Europe. That is the Europe people in Britain voted to leave.
The real question is not about whether it will be a hard or soft Brexit but whether it will be a right-wing or left-wing Brexit. That is not predetermined. Consider the election results for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. It almost won the British general election. He could win a future election, which could occur at any time.
If he is not sabotaged by the Blairites in the Labour Party who want to turn back the clock on the changes that have taken place and the struggle inside the Labour Party, he has the possibility of implementing a left-wing Brexit. What would that look like? Speaking on "The Andrew Marr Show" at the weekend, Mr. Corbyn stated:
We need to look very carefully at the terms of any trade relationship because at the moment we are part of the Single Market, obviously. That has within it restrictions on state aid and state spending. That has pressures on it, through the European Union, to privatise rail, for example, and other services. I think we need to be quite careful about the powers we need as national governments.
This statement hits the nail on the head. If we want to implement left-wing policies and, for example, build homes with the money in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the National Asset Management Agency, we have to break the fiscal rules. If we want to nationalise industry, which will be necessary if we are to turn the economy on a different basis, we have to break the rules. If we want to invest in public services, we have to break the rules of the entire fiscal straightjacket imposed by the European Union. Such an exit, in which workers' needs are put first, would create the best possible basis for resolving the issues that present on this island. This means having no hard border and defending the right of people to free movement.
It is vital that workers feature in this discussion. We hear IBEC, ISME and all the rest clamouring for wage cuts and attacks on workers' rights to place the burden of Brexit on workers. Workers should come together across Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England in a conference of trade unions to discuss a response to these issues.
A key question is what will be the response in the event of a Theresa May or bargain basement Brexit. The response of the Government is to build a deeper basement and engage in a deeper race to the bottom, which goes nowhere. Instead, we need the opposite response, a socialist industrial policy based on public ownership and massive public investment. This is precisely what is ruled out by the European Union rules. It is precisely why change will not come from the EU and why we need a different, socialist Europe.
It is important, when considering the issue of Brexit and what is happening in the European Union more generally, that we do not lose sight of the wood for the trees. We are always in danger of doing precisely that on a whole range of issues and certainly on the issue of Brexit. We will try to focus on issues that I fully accept are very important for the many who are affected and the economy. However, we look at them in a narrowly empirical and technical way instead of understanding that what we are faced with in Europe is a very serious political crisis, one which flows from an economic and social crisis in Europe as a whole. This fact was recognised to a certain extent at the time of the Brexit referendum when there was an acknowledgement that Europe should look to itself. It has since gone out the window, however, and we have entered a game of politics. Theresa May is playing politics, as is the European Union, and it is now all about the mood music. The question is whether Theresa May said something in Florence that was different from what she said in her previous speech, whether Michel Barnier's speech was slightly different from Guy Verhofstadt's speech or whether there has there been a slight change in tone. It is, therefore, a case of playing politics.
Not only does it not make sense to have a hard border between North and South or east and west between this country and Britain, it does not make sense for anybody. It does not make sense for Britain or Europe to have tariff barriers between them and it does not make sense to have such barriers on the North-South axis. I am sufficiently optimistic to believe, notwithstanding the politics and politicking that is taking place, that even business interests understand that this is not a sensible proposition.
A previous speaker stated that consultancy firms are not getting a great take-up for advice on how to deal with Brexit. The point, however, is that we do not know what Brexit is because it will be decided by politics. We should, therefore, think a little about the deeper politics of the issue. As Deputy Paul Murphy stated, the deeper politics of it are becoming very alarming against the background of the election result in Germany at the weekend. In the bastion of stability and economic success, the model and anchor of the European Union, the fascists and Nazis have entered parliament, taking 13% of the vote and almost 100 seats. This is part of a wider wave of growth for openly fascist, neo-Nazi, far right nationalist political forces across Europe and beyond and it is a development that should worry us.
There are a number of ways to deal with this development. One is to bend to these forces and their vile, racist, Islamophobic rhetoric which tries to explain away economic and social problems by scapegoating vulnerable people and minority groups. I will give credit to the political establishment in Ireland on one point. Notwithstanding all of our differences, from the centre right to the radical left and pretty much everything in between - certainly in terms of those represented in the Oireachtas - we are a bright light in that none of us has bought into this racist nonsense. I am very glad of that and we must maintain that position and refuse to capitulate to this nonsense. We also need to go a little further and ask why this obnoxious stuff is rising. There is a direct correlation between the rise of racist, extreme right, nationalist forces in Britain, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Sweden and any other country one wishes to name, and deprivation, unemployment and poverty. These are the common denominators that are all increasing as a result of the austerity policies pursued by the European Union and the Tories in Britain.
That is not what is happening in Germany.
It is exactly what is happening in Germany I am afraid. The areas where the far right has grown are the poorest parts of east Germany where services have been cut, unemployment is higher, de-industrialisation has taken place and jobs have been lost. That is where the far right grew.
There are 14 million people unemployed in the eurozone and 18 million unemployed in the wider European Union, with the figure having increased by 100,000 in recent months. Across Europe, 27% of children are living in households classified as poor. More than one third of the populations in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece are suffering from social exclusion, while one in three Spaniards is living on an income of less than €8,000 per annum. I will not cite all the statistics. In Britain, the areas where the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, and Brexit received a high proportion of the vote were those that had been devastated by Tory neoliberal and austerity policies.
That is not true.
It is a fact. The problem is that if we do not recognise what people are feeling, they will look for nastier alternatives. If we state clearly, however, that the problems of inequality, poverty, deprivation and the growing gap between rich and poor need to be addressed and if we identify what policies created these problems in the first place, we can win over the allegiance of people who are alienated and disenfranchised and who, in desperation, look to far right forces.
Only 33% of the people who voted for the Alternative für Deutschland - the Nazis - said they supported AFD policies, with 66% stating their vote was a kick against the establishment. Why did these voters want to kick against the establishment? Was it because the establishment is serving their interests so well or was it because it is letting them down badly while pretending everything is fine and Germany is a rock of stability and sense? It is not the case that people are stirred up by populists, as the German Government would suggest, but that they are experiencing real problems of alienation, anger, deprivation and high levels of unemployment. Unless we recognise that Europe has failed to deal with these problems, the frightening growth of far right, nationalist and, God help us, openly neo-Nazi forces will continue.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. For those of us who live in rural Ireland, the deal that is ultimately reached will be vital. From speaking to the news addicts around the country who watch "Six One" or the news at 9 p.m., I have noticed that they are getting tired of hearing day in, day out - like a boat rocking on the sea - about something happening with Brexit today and something different happening tomorrow. It is like taking one step forward and two steps back. People are fatigued listening to this debate. It seems to be playing out in the open. It is like two boxers who talk about beating each other up before their fight begins, but the real horse trading has to start when they knuckle down.
Sometimes, I listen to comments from both sides - not just one side - that I would class as unhelpful. One side claims that the other does not seem to have an idea about what it is doing and the other side throws the same snowball back. While all of that might be down to tactics and trying to get the upper hand, people are getting fed up with it. That is not a good thing in light of the fact that Brexit is of the utmost importance to our people and our country.
In fairness, the Government has been involved in talks behind the scenes. That is welcome. Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, who spoke in the Dáil Chamber last week, went to Monaghan to see the Border where cows were eating grass. When he referred to how he stood with one foot in Northern Ireland and the other in the South, he asked how the cow would know. The cow would not know for sure.
Not for sure.
I have listened to the likes of him and others in Europe saying that Ireland is a special case, which it is. I have listened to the UK saying the same. I welcome some of what Prime Minister May said a few days ago. However, what I cannot understand is, if we are the cherished child and such a special case, why they do not eliminate this side of it and settle on Ireland because of the Good Friday Agreement, which is important, the trade between the UK and Ireland and how we have become intertwined down the years. We might have fought the UK for a long time, but we still export a great deal to it. That is especially the case for rural Ireland, be it in terms of milk, beef, sheep, poultry, pigs or whatever. We are intertwined in terms of our exports and imports.
People are holding us up as the trophy kid and we are caught in an awkward situation. Everyone knows that this is one country with an invisible line. We will be back where we were years ago trying to get stuff across fields in the middle of the night. That should not happen. If the UK wants to have that relationship with Ireland and the EU believes that we are so special, the first step should be for everyone to recognise the Good Friday Agreement, to keep it in place and to ensure all trade between the UK and Ireland regardless of the outcome for those countries that are not on islands and are a bloc away. If we are to believe what is being said by both sides, then that appears to be the part on which there is agreement. Why, therefore, do we not nail it down?
We must put it up to Europe. When this deal is finished in 2019 and there is a lead-in period or whatever, the Irish people deserve a say on it. If matters do not work out as they must, we cannot afford to have a border or not to trade with the UK. We may have more exports to Europe and the rest of the world in money terms, but tonnage creates the most jobs in rural areas. It is vital that we stand up. I worry about the idea of a majority vote on the deal, which is the direction that the EU seems to be going in order to leave the troublesome kid behind so that it does not have to listen to us.
It is not helpful that the group in Europe with which the Minister's party is affiliated, the European People's Party, EPP, has stated in recent weeks that reform of the CAP budget should be put off until 2023 because we do not know where we are going. The EPP also stated that we did not know what commitments needed to be made to the so-called new European army that has been envisaged. This is not a helpful message to be sending out. As a member of a party that has Irish representatives in the EPP, will the Minister quell this talk once and for all?
People can reflect and ask why all of this happened. In my opinion, Europe lost the run of itself. When we joined the EU and traded goods, it was a great thing, but it basically went from that to trying to own people. When we were in trouble, we saw who our friends were. The UK and other countries gave us money, but a gun was essentially put to our heads by the same so-called friends that we have today. If a dog bites once, people should always be wary of it. We need to be wary of all of the nice, fancy talk that we are hearing.
Were Europe good to Ireland, it would do a deal to give us a special rate on our debt. I am not saying that we should not repay it because that debate is over. Rather, we should get a special rate over, for example, 100 years. That would help us, particularly in light of the current uncertainty. Our repayments would be reduced and we would be repaying both the principal and the interest. I put this suggestion to the Department of Finance during the Government formation talks. It would give us room to deliver on housing needs, which Deputy Boyd Barrett and others know is crucial, and hospital services around the country. These two issues are pulling the country down. We would have money or fiscal space while staying within the so-called fiscal rules to which we signed up.
I listened to last week's speeches from the EU claiming that everything was hunky-dory in the garden again, we had gone through a tough period and everyone was back to believing that we were the greatest thing since sliced pan. While polls might show the case to be different in many countries, we could get a different answer if we spoke to people on the ground. Some good things were done, but if a parent punishes a child badly enough, the child will not like it and there will be resentment. I see it on the ground. Perhaps the west coast has more resentment but, from speaking to people, opinions waver.
The EU thinks it has ridden the wave and that it is away again and can do what it likes. It might have a lot of different stuff coming at it. There is one thing the Minister has fought for and always stood up for. If the EU thinks it will control our tax system and if it goes and takes what we are doing away, the game will be up for us. We will have a decision to make then. Every country should have control over what it does. Let us argue about the rates and what we do. Why do we need a Dáil if the EU starts trying to control everything? I worry about that coming down the road. I know the Minister is doing his best out there and I am not criticising him in any way. The smaller countries or the countries that were branded the PIGS at one stage need to stick together and not let the bigger boys in the class do what they want. When one looks at television and sees Macron and Merkel in Italy, it is obvious that they think they control the whole show. That is not good and people start resenting it. The electorate in Germany went to the polls and said they would give them a bit of a shock but not because they liked someone else. That will happen in other countries. We need to ensure we get a few countries that will work with us.
I ask the Minister to address the situation with the CAP because it is worrying. It is a statement that was made and a proposal. The uncertainty for the farming community needs to end. Ultimately, the farming community relies a great deal on CAP. It is our own money we are dealing with. We are now paying more to the EU than what we get. Let us not be the beggars who go with the bowl. It is our own stuff we are sending in. As a result of the uncertainty in that and in light of Brexit, clarification is needed. I also encourage the people who are doing the negotiation to sit down and start talking and not to play it out in the media every five minutes or by means of tweeting. If they are in tough negotiations, it should be man to man or woman to woman, whatever way it will be played out. It is not helpful because sometimes someone will say the wrong thing and it could put the whole process back, which is not helpful to anybody.
There are about six minutes remaining.
I, too, am happy to speak on this very important issue. We had our guest speaker here last week to address Members of both Houses in this Chamber at a meeting chaired by the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. We all welcome the Taoiseach's request to Prime Minister May that the UK urgently clarify what approach it is seeking to adopt regarding Northern Ireland. It is beyond time that we had this clarification and certainty about what is happening. The British cannot have their cake and eat it. They have decided by majority to leave, so they need to think of the consequences for their nearest neighbour. We might not always have been their dearest neighbour but we are their nearest. We need to have that respected and acknowledged. The former Taoiseach made great political capital out of his relationship with Europe. Now is the time that we need those in Europe to stand shoulder to shoulder with us.
The EU, through the work of its chief negotiator, has made it absolutely clear that the work of resolving the so-called Irish question falls to the UK. That is not so. It is a case of them and us - Europe and the UK. We cannot leave it to one or the other. I am delighted by what the Taoiseach said to Prime Minister May. We have to ensure Europe sees to it that we are not innocent bystanders or bridesmaids at a wedding when the wine runs out and there is no one to make any more. It will be all water. We will have no wine, as happened at the feast at Cana.
The EU Commission has stated that among the key issues that need to be addressed are those which will ensure the interlocking political institutions on the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, established by the Good Friday Agreement, continue to operate. That is vital because the Good Friday Agreement is in enough peril without being undermined further. It is very important that co-operation, in particular North-South co-operation, is protected across all relevant sectors. It has to be. We cannot have a situation whereby there is any semblance of a border. We were promised seamless borders. I put the question to our guest last week about the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was built with EU money in recent years. They can tell us they have a seamless border. How has this been built in the past three or four years? It is a fortress. The queues of buses, cars and trucks at that border go back for nearly half a mile. I was on a bus and every passport was taken and checked. That cannot be allowed to happen here. I cannot see how they are saying it will not happen on this side of Europe when it is happening on the other every minute of every day.
A full account must be taken of the right of the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as British or Irish, or both. I would prefer both. We might see a change to the dynamic there at some stage but not for the foreseeable future. The European Commission also says that in light of Ireland’s unique situation in the Brexit negotiations, a unique solution is required. It is time now, as Deputy Fitzmaurice said, to get down to serious negotiations. It is also time that we got engagement, rather than rhetoric, sound bites and spin. We need to know for certain. This is all well and good but, unfortunately, what we are increasingly witnessing is a hostile negotiating battle between the UK and the EU. That appears to be more about political egos than getting a deal that would be to the best advantage of us all. It is very true. We have had too much. I said it last week to our European guest, an MEP whose name eludes me. It was Mr. Guy-----
I put the question to him and asked about the attitude of senior Commission people when the UK decided to have its vote which was very hostile, derogatory, threatening and intimidating. We went on to say last week that we had gotten a few little wallops, as the former Taoiseach said one time. I said it was more like a kick he got. He sustained that wallop. Tá sé imithe anois. He is gone off into the sunset. Our own man I am talking about now - the man from Mayo. I thought the curse on the football team might have gone with him but, unfortunately, it is still hanging over them. Sin scéal eile.
Mr. Verhofstadt spoke about how other countries held votes recently, how their electorates had sent a warning message and how they will be listened to more. Dúirt sé go mbeadh a béal dúnta agus a cluasa ag éisteacht, but I do not know about that. Look at what happened in Germany. People are angry about what is going on and about the diktats from the EU. Many Irish people are also angry. We all meet them on a daily basis and they scratch their heads and ask if the British were right. That is out there and the Minister must be aware of it too because he does not live in a cave. Those in Europe are not able to deal with the ordinary nuances, worries and issues of member states such as Ireland. This is a huge problem. They need to be able to listen and engage. They must be able to rectify that and put robust systems in place. They have to deal with all eventualities, seamless or steamless or whatever kind of a border it will be. By hell, we do not want to go back. I remember it when I was courting in Northern Ireland-----
I have to interrupt the Deputy because we are out of time. I ask him to propose the adjournment of the debate.
I propose the adjournment of the debate.
We will resume it tomorrow. We have to move on to the next item
The Deputy was just going to tell us about his courting.
We can look forward to that tomorrow. We move now to-----
The lights have gone out while recording is going on.
We will move on to Private Members' business, which is a motion regarding flooding in County Donegal. I will call Deputy Charlie McConalogue. It is a rather romantic sort of setting we have here.
I propose we suspend for two minutes to check that the electrical systems are functioning.