Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Unfortunately, it looks like the nationwide 24-hour nurses' strike is about to go ahead tomorrow. It is the first time since 1999 that the country's nurses and midwives are going on strike across the health service. It will cause disruption to many patients because of the cancellation of appointments and the cancellation of elective outpatient surgery and it will have an impact generally on the health service.

Nurses and midwives in the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, and the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, have been seeking engagement with the State for some time. They have given plenty of notice. There is no doubt that the nursing profession is under pressure. I refer to nurses working in acute wards, in intensive care, in theatres and in accident and emergency departments. They are under enormous pressure and morale is low. There is a significant human resource issue and without question pay and conditions are central to the low level of morale, in addition to the impact hospital overcrowding has had over a consistent period on the working conditions and the pressure nurses are under.

It is interesting that agency nurses, for example, cost the health service €1.4 million a week. That tells its own story as to what is going on in terms of shortages. The recruitment and retention of nurses is central to the dispute. There are alternative views on the matter. The Public Service Pay Commission has said there is not a retention or recruitment issue but I have doubts about that. It is important to put down a marker in that we need to have more data on how many graduates are leaving student nursing colleges every year to go overseas. The numbers are significant. We must also examine how many nurses we are recruiting from overseas.

The system is out of kilter by any measure. Entire cohorts of students are moving to the UK, Canada, Australia and other countries. We then have to recruit huge numbers from overseas at significantly greater cost. I refer to the cost of nurses with third-level qualifications and, likewise, the cost of orientation and ensuring that people who come from overseas are properly equipped, sufficiently capable and so on. There are huge costs in that.

I read a very good article in the Evening Echo last week in which Ms Naomi O'Donovan, a midwife at Cork University Maternity Hospital, and Ms Margaret Frahill, a nurse manager in Mercy University Hospital, outlined their concerns regarding patients missing out on certain care. Their concerns are the result of the pressures involved.

The Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, held a hearing. The matter may now go to a full hearing of the Labour Court. The Minister seems to have indicated that he is anxious for the industrial relations machinery of the State to be deployed to help resolve this dispute. It has taken some time to engage that machinery. If the matter is referred to a full hearing of the Labour Court, will the Government abide by the outcome, just as it did in the Garda pay dispute some years ago?

I thank the Deputy. Before I begin, I wish to offer my condolences and those of the Government to the family and friends of the people who lost their lives on the roads in the week gone by, particularly the four young men in Donegal who lost their lives on Sunday last. I know that Míchael, Sean, Daniel and John were very much loved in their communities. Their deaths will be mourned across the entire country. Although their laughter may have been silenced, we remember their lives and the promise that has been cut short. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the Roarty, Harkin, Scott and Harley families at this time.

In answer to the questions the Deputy raised, the Cabinet discussed the pending nursing strike at its meeting this morning. We are very aware that the INMO, the largest union representing nurses and midwives, intends to engage in a 24-hour strike tomorrow. I certainly have no doubt about the depth of feeling on the part of nurses and midwives regarding their pay and their conditions. That was reflected in an overwhelming ballot in favour of strike action. I also have no doubt about the considerable public support that nurses and midwives will have should they choose to engage in strike action. Efforts are ongoing at the Labour Court to see if we can have a full hearing there, with a view to a recommendation thereafter. Obviously, if a recommendation is made, the Government will have to consider it. It would be very rare for the Government to reject a recommendation of the Labour Court, but we would certainly have to consider it if such a recommendation arises or if we reach that point.

Regrettably, I should say that in terms of patients and their care, the damage is already done. More than 1,000 operations and thousands of outpatient appointments have been cancelled. Even if the strike is called off at the last minute, it will not be possible to reschedule those appointments for tomorrow. Unfortunately, in the context of patient care, the harm has already been done.

We want to avert the strike if possible; we want to find a solution. That solution has to be affordable for taxpayers. It has to be fair to all public servants and it has to be fair to patients. When I say fair to taxpayers, what do I mean? A solution must be affordable for taxpayers. We ran a small budget surplus last year and we hope to run one again this year, although that may not be the case if we end up with a hard Brexit and no deal. It would not be fair to taxpayers to borrow money to fund pay increases. There are good reasons a country might borrow money, but borrowing money to fund pay increases is not good policy and only leads to pay cuts down the line. I do not want to subject anyone to that ever again. It needs to be fair to all public servants, other people working in the health service and individuals working in other parts of the public service. If we do a special deal for one group, it will not be possible to do the same deal for everyone. That just would not be affordable. We need to look at the wider picture and be fair to all public servants as well. We also need to be fair to patients. No matter how wealthy the country is, the health budget is limited. I would not like to see money being diverted away from new medicines, equipment or treatments to fund pay increases. We have to bear all those things in mind.

It has to be affordable for taxpayers, it has to fair to all public servants, including other people working in the health service, and it has to be fair to patients. If the Deputy can find a solution in that space, the Government will be happy to be part of it.

One can say that about any additional expenditure or additional tax relief. Ultimately, the taxpayer has to pay for it in some shape or form. The Garda pay dispute some time ago was resolved by the Labour Court. The Government accepted that Labour Court recommendation ultimately and it did not upset or undermine the public service stability agreement and the public service pay norms. There are creative ways and mechanisms through which these issues can be dealt with because it is not today or yesterday that they were raised. I can go back to the time of the former Minister, Senator James Reilly, in the Department of Health, when there was an ongoing row with the INMO and he denied that salary was an issue then or that they were being paid worse than others in other English-speaking countries. It is not today or yesterday that this claim has been on the table. What has been lacking is a proactive, creative way of resolving it, unlike the approach adopted in the Garda pay dispute, which the Government contributed to in the end because I do not believe the Labour Court came up with its recommendation out of thin air. I believe the Labour Court got a nod on high that it could make such a recommendation.

The time is up, Deputy, please.

That is what happened then. The issue has dragged on interminably. We need a resolution to it and we need to prevent any disruption that may occur to patients as a result.

The Labour Court is a Government body and it is part of the State's industrial relations machinery. If there is a recommendation, Government will look at it with that in mind. It would be very unusual for a Government to reject a Labour Court recommendation. I have seen unions doing it. I am not sure I have ever seen Government bodies doing it-----

Or supervisors.

-----or if they have, it has been a rare occasion. No Taoiseach and no Government could commit to a recommendation they have yet to see. The Labour Court does not make its recommendations on the basis of it being mandatory on both sides. That is not the way our industrial relations machinery works.

The Deputy is incorrect to say that the resolution of the Garda dispute did not have a consequence for public sector pay; it did. It required a renegotiation of the existing Lansdowne Road agreement and had a knock-on effect across the public service, which resulted in additional costs for taxpayers of approximately €150 million that year. As the Deputy rightly said, as is the case with any public expenditure, there is an opportunity cost because of that.

Fine Gael did that.

Déanaim comhbhrón le muintir an cheathrair óig a fuair bás i dTír Chonaill ag an deireadh seachtaine. I want to join the Taoiseach and on behalf of Sinn Féin, to extend sincere and heartfelt sympathy to the families and friends of the four young men who lost their lives in west Donegal at the weekend and to all who have lost their lives on our roads. Our thoughts are with all of those affected. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.

I am struck by the very laissez-faire approach the Taoiseach is taking to the fact that in less than 24 hours, members of the INMO are due to commence industrial action in the first of a number of 24-hour stoppages over the coming weeks and his detachment from the fact that members of the PNA will also engage in industrial action. I am sure he knows, as I do, that strike action is the very last thing nurses or midwives, or any medical professional for that matter, wish to undertake but, regrettably, nurses and midwives have been backed into a corner and forced to engage in industrial action because of the action, or inaction, of the Government.

Every day, every week, as the Taoiseach will be well aware, procedures are cancelled across our hospitals. That is due not least to the recruitment and retention crisis affecting the nursing and midwifery professions, and the associated issue of pay is one of the most significant problems affecting the health service. It has been an ongoing issue for many years, yet the Government has completely and abjectly failed to address this and the situation has deteriorated. The Taoiseach cannot pretend that this is an issue that takes him by surprise.

Nurses, midwives and their unions have continually sought meaningful engagement to address the problem of staffing shortages as well as pay issues but he has brushed their concerns aside. It is our nurses and midwives who have acted in a responsible and mature manner. For his part, the Taoiseach has decided to disengage. Nurses make a significant contribution to the health service and to society. They deserve - and I have absolutely no doubt will enjoy - our full support in their demand for a better health service. Last April, we passed a motion in this House, which demanded that the Government engage meaningfully with the unions to draw a roadmap to full pay equality with an implementation plan to deliver same within a short timeframe, not the eight years that it has offered up.

At the 11th hour, with thousands of surgeries cancelled and with strike action due to commence in the morning, will the Taoiseach do as the nursing unions have asked and directly intervene? Will he intervene as a matter of urgency? Will he listen to what the nurses and their unions are telling him? They believe that this dispute can be resolved within the strictures and the conditions of the pay agreement. They want the Taoiseach, as the employer and as the Head of Government, to intervene, stop sitting on the sidelines, get involved and sort this out.

It is important to put on the record of the House once again that we have a pay deal already not just with nurses and midwives but with all public servants, and that pay deal runs until 2020. It provides for pay increases of approximately 7% over that period, full pay restoration for anyone earning under €80,000, increments,and special increases for the low paid and those recruited after 2012. That comes at a considerable cost - a cost of approximately €400 million this year alone.

I do not know where we will be as a country in ten or 12 weeks' time. If we end up in a scenario whereby we have a hard Brexit with no deal, that will change things. The Minister for Finance will produce figures later on what the Department of Finance's estimates are on how a no-deal Brexit could impact on our economy. They are similar to the figures produced by the Central Bank last week and they are less optimistic than those produced by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI and Copenhagen Economics earlier. They indicate that our economy will slow down. It will not go back into recession and it will not be like the financial crisis ten years ago, but our economy will slow down, and while employment will continue to grow, unemployment will rise as well. In ten or 12 weeks, we could find ourselves needing to find a lot of money to save people's jobs because there are people working in the food industry, agriculture, small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and small exporters whose jobs may be under threat in a few weeks. I have to be Taoiseach for the whole country and I have to bear in mind that in a few weeks or a few months, we could be talking about job losses in certain sectors of the economy and not pay rises, and it would be irresponsible of me not to admit that to this House and not to put it into this debate for discussion.

On intervention and engagement, we have a mechanism by which we resolve disputes such as this and we have State bodies that engage in dispute resolution. They are the WRC and the Labour Court, and the Government is part of those conversations. Disputes are always resolved in the end and this dispute will be resolved in the end, but there are parameters under which it can be resolved. It has to be affordable for the taxpayer, it has to be fair to all other public servants, including other people working in the health sector, and it has to be fair to patients.

Listening to the Taoiseach, one would never think this is the Government presiding over the construction of the most expensive hospital in the world, one would never think this is the Government presiding over €1.2 million of expenditure every week on agency nursing, a figure that is rising and will continue to rise, and one would never think the Taoiseach is the Head of the Government that has been comfortable with pay rises for politicians and gold-plated pensions. I could go on and on.

It is a new low for the Taoiseach to reach for Brexit to explain away his dereliction of duty and failure in respect of our nurses and midwives. Brexit is not of their making. Brexit or no Brexit, people need top quality health services. Brexit or no Brexit, people need their surgical procedures, outpatient appointments and so on. Brexit or no Brexit, we need to deal with these issues. Brexit or no Brexit, the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, ought to intervene directly, as the nursing unions have asked him to do, to find a fair and meaningful settlement for our nurses and midwives. I am very well aware of and familiar with the industrial relations apparatus of the State and guess what? The nurses and the midwives are too. They are also aware that the buck stops with the Taoiseach because he is the person in charge. He is the Head of Government. It is unacceptable for him to sit on the sidelines in circumstances where he knows that their pay claim is just and justifiable, and must be resolved.

The Deputy's time is up.

It is unacceptable for him to sit on his hands on the sidelines and do nothing. I put the question to him again: what does he propose to do as Taoiseach to intervene now, albeit at the 11th hour, to sort this matter out, and not just to try to avert the strike action tomorrow but the strike actions that will surely follow in the weeks and months ahead?

In terms of the facts, the national children's hospital will not be the most expensive hospital in the world; Karolinska in Stockholm alone will cost-----

It is not even built yet.

Then ours will be the second most expensive hospital in the world.

-----between €2 billion and €6 billion.

The Taoiseach's researchers worked hard to find that one.

Please allow the Taoiseach to respond.


I do not think that correcting a factual inaccuracy should cause such laughter and controversy. It was a factual error.

Ours will be the second most expensive hospital in the world.

Can the Taoiseach be so sure of the final costings?

The Deputy must be aware at this stage that back in 2013 Ministers in the then Government decided that they would not accept any pay restoration and have not done so. I am not sure that is true of Sinn Féin TDs by the way.

There is a way by which Government intervenes to resolve industrial relations disputes. It is done through the Workplace Relations Commission and if that fails, it is done through the Labour Court. Those talks are ongoing at the moment and the Government representatives are there and deeply engaged.

It is easy for Deputy McDonald to be populist-----

The Taoiseach does a fair bit of that himself.

-----and just promise everything to everyone, every interest group, and promise it now. The buck does stop with me and that is why I have to be honest with people. There are parameters under which we can come to a solution and there are solutions that are beyond those parameters. It has to be something that we can afford as taxpayers----

An amnesty for Bloomberg but not for ourselves.

-----and it has to be something that takes into account that there are other people working in the health sector and there are other public servants, and we cannot afford a special deal for everyone, so we have to bear in mind things that do matter. Can taxpayers afford it? What will the impact be on other public servants-----

The Taoiseach's time is up.

-----and their claims, which Deputy McDonald has said nothing about today, and also how can we make sure that we are fair to patients?

I think the Taoiseach is out of kilter with the rest of the country but that is not unusual. There is massive support for the nurses and if they have to go on picket duty the length and breadth of the country tomorrow, they will be joined by other groups of workers, by members of their community and by hundreds of people who will be beeping horns and showing them support because they want them to win, not because they want the sort of headlines that we see in the newspapers today, that the average staff nurse is earning €53,000 that will rise to €55,000 by next year, which are lies, damned lies and statistics used against the nurses at this 11th hour to try to condemn them on the picket lines. I hope none of this is coming from the Taoiseach's spin machine. We have all read the INMO submission regarding this dispute which shows that the starting salary of a staff nurse is €29,000 a year and only goes up to €45,000 after 15 years. That goes to the nub of why we are here having this argument.

I want to say, on behalf of Solidarity-People Before Profit, that we fully support the nurses if they go out on strike.

I hope that they will not be put down by spin machines and propaganda that tries to make them out as being totally selfish. The Taoiseach and his Government are standing up, all macho, and shaping up to the nurses. They have a hard neck to think they can blame them for taking action when Brexit is happening. How dare he mention Brexit in the same sentence as their strike. These people do not want to go on strike, have not done so for 20 years and have only done so once in their 100-year history. I will read from the submissions given to The Irish Times by many nurses. One starts: "I love being a nurse." The statement continues:

I don’t love living at home because I can’t afford to save and pay rent. I don’t love that my brother makes more money as a waiter. I don’t love missing breaks because we’re short staffed. I don’t love having to cancel any plans I had after work because I’m so exhausted. I don’t love telling my patients there is a 10-hour wait to see a doctor.

The Taoiseach should read it. He should know, having been involved in the health service, that these are the lives that they lead. Unless this dispute is resolved by putting pay at its centre and treating them justly, the Taoiseach cannot continue to stand here, earning six times what a nurse earns. Is he worth six nurses? I think six nurses are worth much more. We cannot contain that situation forever. Pay has to be put at the heart of this and Joe Public knows that is the reason because Joe Public wants a better health service and knows that unless we pay and retain nurses, we will continue with 3,000 children waiting to see a psychiatrist for the first time, a trolley crisis, and a health service that is creaking at the seams. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health cannot resolve it unless they deal with pay for nurses. The Taoiseach may end up dealing with it but he should not blame the nurses with regard to Brexit or for the cancellations that may take place because of tomorrow's strike or next week's strikes.

I have absolutely no doubt about the depth of feeling of midwives and nurses about their pay, terms and conditions. I do not doubt the considerable public support which they will have over the coming days and weeks, if it comes to that. Deputy Bríd Smith is in a different position from me. She is a populist. She stands up in the Dáil every day of every week and supports everyone's cause all the time and everywhere.

We do not support Apple getting its money back.

Her support for nurses and midwives is insincere because it is meaningless, because she supports everyone's cause. That is not a realistic position. I have to be honest with people. Department of Finance projections indicate that in the event of no deal on Brexit, unemployment in Ireland will rise. The Central Bank said the same last week. This is not made up and is not a matter of blaming anyone. It is about being honest with people. We could be in a situation in a few weeks where some people may lose their jobs.

Do not waste a good crisis.

We need to bear that in mind with any decisions we make as a Government. Efforts are under way in the Labour Court to resolve this. We want to resolve it and to avert the strike tomorrow. We do not want to have industrial action next week or the following week which adversely affects patients in any way but any solution we come to has to be affordable for taxpayers or it will not be sustainable. It has to be fair to all public servants, including the other people who work in the health service and in other parts of our public services. It is not possible to meet everyone's demands and it would not be fair to do a special deal for one group and then tell the others that we have nothing for them. It also has to be fair for patients. Those are the parameters within which we are working in the Labour Court to come to a resolution.

If I am a populist with nurses and a population that relies on them, I am proud to be so. The Taoiseach must feel ashamed to be a populist as he sits with the elite in Davos and defends the fact he is not taking the €13 billion of Apple tax. How popular is that? It is popular with multinational corporations that do not pay their taxes and with bankers but it is certainly not popular with the psychiatric nurses and those who will be on the picket line tomorrow. It is not popular with the majority of people. Please do not be a hypocrite and use Brexit as a stick to beat the nurses with. We should use the Apple tax as a stick to beat the Taoiseach and his Government with because what he is doing is outrageous. Tomorrow, on the picket lines, I call on all communities and workers to show solidarity.

If they mount a demonstration outside this House in a couple of weeks, and if the hard-nosed, macho Government insists that those in a workforce with a majority of women do not deserve the pay rise they are looking for, we should bring this country to a standstill because they are out defending the health service not for selfish reasons but for every single one of us. It would be nice to see the Taoiseach on a picket line in the morning but he certainly will not be because he will be eaten, beaten and thrown up again unless he is willing to pay the nurses. We will be on the picket lines, showing solidarity with teachers, ancillary workers and other workers and even nurses who are not members of these unions but who say they will not pass the pickets. The Taoiseach should go to the picket lines tomorrow if he is genuine-----

The Deputy's time is up.

-----about what he is saying, but we all know he is not. He will be defending his position on the Apple tax rather than defending our front-line services.

I call the Taoiseach to conclude on this matter.

I will again outline to the Deputy the facts, for what they are worth. All €13 billion has been collected from Apple-----

It is all sitting in an escrow account.

-----and will stay in the escrow account until the European Court of Justice decides who the rightful owners of that money are. That is-----

Why did the Government not decide? Why did it not take the money?

The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to respond.

If Deputy Bríd Smith does not know that, she is-----

The Government appealed the decision. It is fighting it in a court.

-----really not following this issue very closely at all. To answer the Deputy's question, if I am permitted to, the €13 billion-----

-----from Apple has been collected, is in an escrow account and will stay there until the courts decide who the rightful owners are.

It is important to bear in mind that it could be taxpayers in other parts of Europe.

Britain, absolutely no one else, is to blame for Brexit. I am not interested in beating anyone with sticks. That is entirely the Deputy's language. I am interested in trying to find a solution. This is why we are working in the Labour Court to try to come to a solution. I am certain that, as is the case with all industrial relations disputes, this dispute will be resolved. I want to see it resolved in a way that limits the harm to patients, is affordable for taxpayers and is fair to all public servants, including other people working in our health service and people working in other parts of the public service, who also have demands. It is not possible to meet all these demands in one year.

The Taoiseach will pay the nurses then. Good on him.

I join the Taoiseach in expressing condolences to the four bereaved families in north-west Donegal on their recent tragic loss.

I also wish to express my total solidarity and that of my Independent colleagues with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, whose members must begin the first of their 24-hour strikes tomorrow. As others have said, looking at nurses' pay scales and the ongoing problems of recruitment and retention of nursing staff in our health system, it is little wonder that 95% of INMO members voted for the action. The Taoiseach should take any steps necessary to prevent this strike from happening.

Last week, as the Taoiseach will be aware, the European Medicines Agency said farewell to London and the staff are now moving to Amsterdam. Their departure reminds us once again that we are now only 59 days away from Brexit. I think we were all heartened over the weekend by the comments of the Tánaiste and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs that the agreed backstop will not be renegotiated. We also saw over the weekend the clear wishes, as expressed in various polls, of our people North and South that no kind of hard border will be allowed to return to this island. I note that the Tánaiste has indicated that a codicil might be added to the political declaration regarding the backstop. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the 21 articles of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement will be fully adhered to, especially given the presence of Articles 17 and 20? Can the Taoiseach also confirm that no works of any kind are taking place anywhere along the Border on roads or lay-bys to facilitate the installation of any hard border apparatus?

Events at Westminster tonight and over the next four weeks will, I hope, produce a much softer Brexit than that which we rightly fear. Like other Deputies, I am grateful for the work of our civil servants and indeed the Government in producing the contingency action plan last December and for the heads of the omnibus Bill last week. I think the Taoiseach told us that the full Bill will be ready in three or four weeks. The 17 sections prepared by the nine Departments seem fairly comprehensive, although I notice that areas such as fisheries, which are not covered in the withdrawal agreement, are still missing. Are all the relevant sections of the December contingency action plan and the 87 European Commission preparedness notices all addressed in the omnibus Bill or must we wait for the secondary legislation? Constituents have noted that, given a possible no-deal Brexit, much of the proposed contingency legislation - on health, education and pensions, for example - protects the rights of UK residents and citizens in the Republic. Is the Government aware of any similar UK contingency legislation being prepared to protect the rights of our people in the North and in England, Scotland and Wales?

The Taoiseach told me a few months ago that bilateral negotiations on legislation with the UK would have to take place regarding the common travel area, which many legal scholars say, of course, is just based on precedence. Will those bilateral discussions involve all the other crucial areas in order that there is full reciprocity for all our people on this island?

Will the Taoiseach seek derogation from state aid rules to offer support such as the future growth loan scheme to our exporters? Given that we are a significant net contributor to the EU budget, have the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance begun the negotiation framework for a financial support package for Ireland as the member state which will be by far the most impacted by Brexit?

I am glad the Taoiseach has told us that the Minister for Finance has done some costings, which he is prepared to produce as those of us in opposition have been calling for. Is it the case, even with a much softer Brexit - and let us hope it is not a no-deal Brexit - a second budget will be needed for 2019?

Everyone in the House will acknowledge that it takes less time to ask questions than it does to answer them, and I think I counted approximately 11 questions, but I will do my best to answer as many as I can.

I acknowledge the recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives is a problem and an issue. We are struggling to recruit in large parts of the public and private sectors at the moment. It is, in part, a feature of the fact that we are almost approaching full employment. It is also a feature of the fact that, when it comes to healthcare in particular, we live in an international labour market in which people with healthcare skills are highly sought after. England, Scotland and most of Europe pay less than Ireland does, but even parts of the world that pay more, like the Middle East and Australia, are also struggling to recruit healthcare staff. It is not just a simple issue of pay.

Notwithstanding that, there are 3,000 more nurses and midwives working in our health service now than three years ago. Comparing like with like and month with month, 800 more nurses were working in our public health service last December than the December before that. The impression that is sometimes created to the effect that there are more nurses leaving than coming in is not correct.

There are a hell of a lot more vacancies than there are applications.

More people are joining the health service than leaving, with approximately 5% leaving the profession every year.

The Taoiseach is including agency staff in the statistics and that distorts the truth.

The turnover rate is 15% in Australia so people are three times more likely to leave the Australian health service than the Irish public health service. Those figures come from the Public Sector Pay Commission and are independent and can be accredited.

As I understand it, a codicil is a legal amendment after the fact to a treaty or agreement. We have seen no proposals from London or anywhere in respect of a codicil. I am conscious votes will happen in the House of Commons later. I was in touch by phone with Prime Minister May earlier and we intend to speak again after those votes happen. We will take it from there in terms of the next steps.

I can confirm that there are no works happening on or around the Border to facilitate the imposition of physical infrastructure. Any works that are happening are road repairs, I imagine, or improvements to roads.

To maintain the common travel area and all the benefits that flow from it, which are about much more than travel, we will need a memorandum of understanding, MOU, with the United Kingdom, which we have been working on for some time, a convention on social security which the Minister, Deputy O'Doherty, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ms Amber Rudd, have worked on, and legislation in both countries. We have shown the House the heads of legislation which covers our side of that and that will be published on 22 February. The UK will have to do something similar.

I mentioned the issue of bilateral arrangements and discussions with the UK. Our distinguished journalist, Mr. Fintan O'Toole, says that geography is destiny. Is it the case that other countries that will be impacted by Brexit, like the Netherlands, France and Denmark, are beginning to make bilateral arrangements for a no-deal Brexit? The French Government is making arrangements with regard to UK-French trade and travel and the Dutch are also taking steps with the UK to protect their agrifood sector.

While the comments Ms Sabine Weyand made yesterday are welcome, do these bilateral moves by some of the other 27 member states echo recent slippage in the unanimous support I thought we had among the EU 27 for Ireland's backstop and the Good Friday Agreement? I refer to recent comments made in the Bundestag and by the Polish and French Governments.

The Taoiseach earlier referred to the quarterly report of the Central Bank of Ireland on the macroeconomic implications of a disorderly Brexit and it makes sombre reading.

Our growth in 2019 and 2020 would be totally wiped out. Hopefully, in that context, we will be spared a disorderly Brexit. Is the Taoiseach telling us the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform have fully estimated the cost of Brexit and the likely impact of a Brexit with the United Kingdom in the customs union after 2020? Have they quantified the financial support Ireland needs and would expect from the European Union after 29 March next following a no-deal Brexit or after 31 December 2020?

Bilateral arrangements or agreements are something we have to be very cautious about. There has been enormous European unity across the 27 member states. Where states engage in bilateral agreements, it needs to be done with the knowledge of the European Commission. For example, when it comes to the common travel area, it is something provided for in the withdrawal agreement and the treaties already. We will need to put in place legislation. The House has seen the heads of the Bill with regard to rail travel between Dublin and Belfast. France will have to do something similar with regard to the Channel Tunnel.

With regard to the budget, it is not our intention to - nor do we feel we need to - revisit the budget. The projections being released by the Department of Finance later show that a no-deal, hard Brexit will cause the economy to slow down very sharply but not to the extent that we go back into recession. We are not projecting a return to recession. Employment will continue to grow but not fast enough to keep pace with an expanding labour market. Under our projections unemployment will rise, therefore, and instead of running a surplus this year, we will run a deficit in the region of 0.5% of GNP, which is manageable. It will put us in a different position financially but one we can manage and one we have put the country in a good position for. There are other people who, not too long ago in this House, argued that we should spend more and finance it through borrowing. Our decision not to do that has been proved right. At least now we will be able to afford to borrow to mitigate against the costs of Brexit if we have to.