Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019: Committee Stage

SECTION 1
Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill".

Yes. Section 1 is in Part 1.

To be helpful, I wish to explain to Members the position with regard to Part 1. It is a well-worn phrase but there is no getting away from the fact that Brexit will bring real changes for all of us. This legislation is about how we respond to that in a worst-case scenario. I will briefly outline the purpose of Part 1. Section 1 of Part 1 is standard and provides for the Short Title and collective citation and construction of the Bill. Section 2 of Part 1 provides for responsible Ministers to commence the relevant Parts of the Bill at the appropriate date and time. It ensures that, even when enacted, the legislation will not come into effect unless needed in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Obviously, we continue to hope that this is will not be needed. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade I have responsibility for commencing Parts 1 and 15. Part 15 is different in that it relates to an agreed Brexit. If the withdrawal agreement is ratified, then Part 15 will be commenced to deal with a specific issue arising during the transition period. Part 1 simply deals with the Short Title and commencement arrangements that are necessary for individual Ministers.

Why is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle throwing his hands in the air?

I just thought that we were going to move quickly.

We will do so but I just wanted to give an explanation of what Part 1 achieves.

Question put agreed to.

Amendments Nos 1 to 3, inclusive, have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, not moved.
Section 2 agreed to.
Section 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4

Amendment No. 4 has been ruled out of order. Amendments Nos. 5, 8, 9, 20 and 21 are related and may be discussed together. Amendment No. 8 is a logical alternative to amendment No. 5, while amendment No. 20 is consequential on amendment No. 9.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, lines 34 and 35, to delete line 34 down to and including “Reform,” in line 35 and substitute the following:

“75A. (1) (a) The Minister may”.

I am sorry to interrupt but the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is on his way to deal with the amendments related to health which are in Part 2. Obviously the Deputy can speak to his amendment but I just want to make sure that the House gets the respect of individual Ministers dealing with sections relevant to their Departments.

The Minister should be here on time.

To be fair, we have moved pretty quickly thus far. I am impressed with the speed of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I am happy to wait for the Minister.

Just to clarify, are we taking amendments Nos. 5, 8, 9, 20 and 21 together?

Yes. We are on amendment No. 5 now.

Deputy Lisa Chambers and I have tabled amendments Nos. 5, 9 and 20 in this grouping. They refer specifically to the need for the Minister for Health to seek the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, should he or she wish to make any order or regulation. Section 75A relates to the sitting Minister for Health being able to make arrangements. It reads:

The Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, make such order or orders as he or she considers necessary to continue in being or carry out any reciprocal or other arrangements in relation to health services which were in operation between the State and the United Kingdom immediately before the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from membership of the European Union.

Section 75B essentially says the same thing with regard to regulations.

Obviously there is a relatively complex and important set of relationships between Ireland and the United Kingdom in the realm of health care, whether that be using Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry or ambulance services moving north and south of the Border. In fact, the vast majority of cross-Border ambulance traffic comprises ambulances from Northern Ireland responding to emergency calls in the South and bringing citizens of the Republic to hospital. We also have the cross-border directive and the treatment abroad scheme. The relationship is very complex and the issues involved are very important. There are many people throughout this country who are waiting to have surgery carried out in one of the larger UK hospitals or waiting for UK doctors to come here to provide, for example, some very specialised paediatric services. Highly specialised surgeons and their teams regularly come from UK hospitals and spend a day or more in Irish hospitals, operating on patients.

My concern is that the sitting Minister for Health may need to be able to make quick decisions. Let us say a surgeon and his or her team are coming over to Crumlin hospital for two days of operations but something pops up. We will be living in a world of unintended consequences and complexities, not all of which we are able to foresee.

Some order is required from the sitting Minister for Health to make sure the team can come in, that the insurance policies are covered, to make sure the drugs they use are sanctioned and so on: it is a complex legal field. The way that 75A and 75B are written provide that any order, arrangement or regulation from the Minister for Health all require the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, currently held as one post, but after a reshuffle or a general election the roles could quite easily be back to two different posts.

I have two concerns. The first is that it slows things down and it does not allow the Minister for Health of the day make the decisions that he or she is entrusted by the Taoiseach to make. My second concern is on a democratic point. I do not believe it is appropriate that a Cabinet Minister should seek consent of the Minister for Finance.

I have tabled three amendments that say, very specifically, consent is required from the Minister for Finance when the issue relates to taxation, and that consent is required from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform where there is an expenditure implication of the order. For taxation and expenditure it would be yes, but for everything else I do not believe it would be appropriate for a Minister for Finance to have that authority. It is not what they are doing day to day: they are not immersed in the world of healthcare.

I hope the Minister will accept the amendments. They are modest but important in making sure the Minister for Health of the day can move with the necessary speed. Sometimes these situations can move very fast. A surgeon and his or her team could be sitting in an airport ready to come to Ireland, or on arriving in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin they may need support from the sitting Minister. There is no reason why any Ministers for Finance or Public Expenditure and Reform should be involved, unless there are taxation or expenditure issues, in which case the amendments cover both of those. I hope the Minister will support the amendments.

I should have said earlier that amendments Nos. 5, 8, 9, 20 and 21 are related and will be discussed together. Amendment No. 8 is a logical alternative to amendment No. 5. Amendment No. 20 is consequential on amendment No. 9.

I wish to speak to the Sinn Féin amendments, which are part of the group of amendments under discussion. I am aware that the Fianna Fáil amendments that relate to the Minister would need to give permission for the provisions of the Bill to come into effect. Sinn Féin suggests that the Dáil could give consent. I put it to the Minister that while we support the passage of the Bill and many of the provisions of the Bill, including the provisions in this section, at the end of the day we believe it is important that there is proper oversight and that the Dáil has proper oversight. While we give the consent now all of this is being done on the basis that there may be a hard crash. While nobody wants to see a hard crash most of the provisions are on the basis of a no-deal Brexit and a hard crash scenario. In that case, if these provisions were to come into effect - the Tánaiste has quite rightly said that nobody wants the majority of these provisions ever to come into effect - we would believe it is important to have proper oversight and that the Dáil would have a say at that time. I do not wish to prolong the debate and I shall conclude by saying that our amendments are very obvious: we want the Dáil to be able to give its consent if and when these provisions were to come into effect.

I support the Sinn Féin amendment. It cures a deficiency that in my Second Stage contribution I had asked to be addressed. In his response to our concerns at the end of Second Stage the Tánaiste will be aware that he said our concerns, which I had set out in my Second Stage contribution, had been addressed. The Tánaiste said:

Deputies have noted the range of measures in the Bill to facilitate in an operational way the shift to the UK being a third country. Deputy Howlin made two points relating to Parts 2 and 6. I reassure the Deputy that the Bill and all its Parts has been prepared in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and on the basis of legal advice from that office. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, can address the Deputy’s concerns in more detail, if necessary.

Saying that the Attorney General has looked at it is hardly a comprehensive response to the constitutional issue I raised. I would like to hear what his views were and why it is constitutional in the way it is asserted, which is obviously very important. The amendment suggested by Deputy Cullinane would cure that in as much as it would have to have the consent of the Dáil.

Labour’s concerns cannot be easily put into an amendment to cure that infirmity - I was trying to think of an amendment myself - on the legality of the section from a constitutional perspective. The relevant concern is that Labour believes there is a constitutional problem with Part 2 of the Bill. I had simply sought very clear advice to assuage those concerns.

The UK Brexit legislation has relied heavily on so-called Henry VIII clauses, which in the British system, with no written Constitution, allow ministerial orders to amend Acts of Parliament and these by-pass the legislature. I have looked at a number of other countries in this regard and new powers are being devolved to Ministers to act by decree in many jurisdictions because we do not know exactly what problems might arise. I can understand the administrative attraction of such a power that the Minister may act by decree without reference to primary legislation. We, however, have very clearly set out restrictions on the powers of Ministers to act without the consent of the Oireachtas.

Several judgments of the courts make it clear that such clauses are constitutionally prohibited, except where necessitated by EU membership, which has already been permitted by referendum of the people. In this section the Department of Health is seeking to create a Henry VIII type clause as part of our own Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019. In Part 2, the Government has proposed to give the Minister for Health power to “make such adaptations and modifications to the Health Acts 1947 to 2019 or any regulations made under those Acts as the Minister considers necessary for the purpose of bringing those Acts or regulations into conformity with this Part.” I believe this would clearly involve the Minister for Health changing primary legislation without the direct authority for that change being brought before the Dáil and provided by the Dáil. My legal advice is that this is not constitutional. The specific section where the power is described is in section 4, which proposes to insert section 75B(2)(c) into the Health Act 1970.

Under Article 15 of the Constitution, the “sole and exclusive” law-making power of the State is vested in the Oireachtas. As a result, regulations that modify primary legislation are necessarily beyond the power of any individual Minister and cannot be vested in any individual Minister. I read some of the legal judgments into the record during my Second Stage contribution so I will not revisit it here. In essence, this is a matter of substance. It is not a trivial matter. We need to have very clear assurances from the Minister that what he is doing is constitutional. We do not want a situation where the health co-operation between this jurisdiction and Northern Ireland becomes one of the most fundamental causes of concern. A person contacted me this week who was due to have a serious operation in April under the cross-Border health initiative. This person asked me if it was safe and would it go ahead. I do not want there to be any legal doubt about any authority that might vest in the Minister to make changes that could be challenged constitutionally or which could be infirm. I would welcome a very clear statement on the advice and considerations of the Attorney General on why he and the Government believe that vesting in the Minister for Health - what on the face of it is an unconstitutional power - is in fact constitutional.

I follow on from Deputy Howlin's point about seeking an assurance from the Minister for Health. The Tánaiste who is also in the House will recall attending a meeting of the working group of committee Chairmen a couple of weeks ago. The general scheme of the Bill was published on 24 January. In that regard, I speak as a former health spokesperson for 14 years and a Border Deputy. The Tánaiste will recall very well that at the meeting I referred to a quick perusal on my first sighting of the pledged intent in the withdrawal legislation in respect of health services. On publication of the Bill, however, I see that none of the detail in the area of health has transferred from the general scheme. This is not the case in respect of the commitments relating to other Departments. The Ceann Comhairle will say I cannot address some of the amendments I proposed. Of course, in that regard, I would have argued for the inclusion of the word "shall", rather than "may". However, if the Minister is giving Deputy Howlin an assurance, I will ask for one also. Will he give me and those I represent an assurance on the critical commitments contained in the general scheme of the Bill? At the meeting of committee Chairmen I indicated to the Tánaiste that there were other things to which I could probably point, but in the listing the critical significant areas were covered, which I welcomed and the Tánaiste will confirm as much. I ask the Minister to confirm continuation for those cross-frontier workers who qualify for a full medical card under the current arrangements. I only use this as an example and do not intend to take up any more time than is necessary. It was the very first matter, but I could add a number of others that I have identified in the period since. We were able to secure some of them in our work at the Joint Committee on Health and Children, as it was then known. I ask the Minister for an assurance that the language now employed does not offer a way to recoil from them and reserve a right to say "No". Our hope is the current situation that obtains in health services and healthcare entitlements on a North-South basis will continue under this legislation as the guarantee in the worst case Brexit scenario. I would appreciate it if the Minister responded to that question.

I thank Deputies for their contributions on this important section. Deputy Howlin is right to point out that healthcare is an issue citizens in the North and the Republic are watching very carefully. While a great deal of the conversation about Brexit pertains to issues related to trade, economic well-being and growth, all of which are terribly important, health will, on a human and practical level, be the sort of matter on which, as Deputies Howlin and Ó Caoláin articulate so clearly, people will want to know whether the status quo can continue post Brexit, regardless of how it ends up being composed. I assure not only the House but the people that it is the very clear intention of the Irish and British Governments to continue to provide health services between the jurisdictions on the North-South and east-west basis that obtains today. Only today the Cabinet approved the signing by the Tánaiste of a detailed memorandum of understanding with the UK Government to enable issues related to the common travel area to be addressed. I also met the HSE recently as part of our own Brexit preparations and was informed by it, to answer Deputy Ó Caoláin's question directly, that there was no cross-Border health service available which would not be available post Brexit. That is an absolute tribute to the incredible individuals in the health services in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who have worked so hard to ensure that is the reality. As Deputy Ó Caoláin will know better than many Members, owing to his geographical location and representation of a Border county, the links between the health services and our peoples run very deep and have done so for a very long time. The commitment of all to maintain these links has been extraordinarily helpful. I provide the assurance for which Deputy Ó Caoláin asks and I am pleased to be able to do so.

Deputy Howlin asked a very specific question and I accept his sincerity and bona fides in raising it. He wants to know that this is the right way to go and me to assure the House that our legal advices are robust in that regard. I assure him that we have received advice from the Office of the Attorney General and liaised with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. All of the legal advice available to the Government is that this is an appropriate way to proceed and, in fact, is the most straightforward approach considering that it is emergency legislation. While it is legislation we hope we will never have to implement, we want to have it on the Statute Book should we end up in a crash-out.

How is that constitutional?

The advice of the Attorney General is that it is constitutional.

We rely on the advice of the Attorney General who has assured me that it is constitutional. I assure the Deputy that this approach and the drafting of the legislation have been fully guided by the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in providing enabling legislation in the first instance, with the detail to be provided in regulations. We should remind ourselves why we are doing this. We intend to do no more than maintain the status quo and ensure the Minister of the day will be able to continue that which is in place today. It is about maintaining the status quo, hoping we will never need to use this legislation but ensuring we can if we have to do so in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

I have considered the specific amendments very carefully. I take very seriously the point made by Deputy Donnelly and the rationale he outlined in putting forward his proposal. It is interesting in some ways that he suggests to the House that the requirement in the legislation is too onerous. I have heard clearly why he believes that to be the case. On the other hand, I also accept the sincerity of Deputy Cullinane who suggests for good reasons that it might be better to create more stringent provisions in providing an oversight role for the Dáil. That convinces me somewhat that the balance we are striking is right. The balance is to ensure the provisions are as robust as is necessary without accidentally putting obstacles in place. While I accept fully that this is not Deputy Cullinane's position, let us just say-----

The Dáil is hardly an obstacle.

It could be an obstacle if a situation were to arise while the House was in recess and, to take Deputy Donnelly's example, it took a number of days for it to reconvene. In that way it could be an unintentional obstacle. The purpose of the provisions is to enable the Minister of the day to facilitate the continued provision of the services already in place on a reciprocal basis. It is no more and no less than that.

I refer specifically to the amendments in the name of Deputy Donnelly, namely, amendments Nos. 5, 9, 20 which is consequential and 21. Section 75 will enable the Minister for Health, with the consent of the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, to make the order or orders necessary to continue in being the reciprocal or other healthcare arrangements in place with the United Kingdom prior to its withdrawal from the European Union. Such an order or orders may specify the categories of persons and the health services to which they should apply. The current wording of the section reflects the exercise of discretion involved in the making of such orders by the Minister and will allow the Minister to make such orders, as required. I took to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel specifically the point made by Deputy Donnelly about this construct. As constructed, the section refers specifically to the consent required from the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform and was drafted on foot of the advice of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel which informed me that this was the conventional and established approach. The advice of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel confirms that the appropriate legislative approach required to ensure there will be a comprehensive governance framework to underpin the regulations making power of the Minister for Health is in place. The office further advises me and I advise the House that adopting the approach proposed in the amendment would have the unintended potential to dilute the robust consent arrangements currently in place in this section of the Bill. In addition, the consequences of adopting the proposed approach outlined in amendments Nos. 5, 9 and 20 are unknown. It may impose unintended obligations on the Department of Health and possibly the Government generally in the general legislative process.

The Bill provides that the healthcare arrangements currently in place will be maintained to the greatest extent possible following the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. As the Bill seeks to maintain the existing reimbursement arrangements, it is not considered that additional expenditure implications arise. Accordingly, the policy decision has been taken that the making of the orders will require the consent of the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.

In keeping with the constructive approach everybody is taking to the Bill I sought legal guidance on Deputy Donnelly's amendments and the view I received from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel was that the current wording was the conventional constructed wording and to do anything else would dilute it. That is the advice I wish to convey to Deputy Donnelly.

The consequence of adopting the approach outlined in amendments Nos. 8 and 21 would be to impose an additional obligation on the Minister for Health to lay such orders before the Dáil having already received that consent. Such an approach would introduce an additional layer of complexity to the legislative process which is not considered necessary or to be required considering what we are trying to do, which is just to maintain the status quo. In addition, the requirement for a positive resolution of the Dáil in the manner proposed would have the potential to act as a barrier and a delaying mechanism to the timely approval of the necessary legislation, for example, during times when the Oireachtas might not be sitting.

For the reasons I have outlined and taking into account the urgent and emergency nature of the legislation and the extremely limited timeframe for its enactment, I must decline to accept the amendments in this group owing to the legal advice available to me.

Before responding to the Minister, I have a question on the order for this session. Has it been agreed to guillotine this session?

Would it be possible to put the time on the clocks in order that we can keep an eye on it? If votes are called, what will the procedure be? Will there be time at the end of given periods to call votes or if we are in the middle of debate when we hit that time, will there be opportunities to call votes?

The Deputy can call a vote at any stage.

The debate on each Part is being guillotined. Let us say we reach zero on the clock and are in the middle of debate, will the opportunity to call a vote or press an amendment be lost?

It must be taken from the time permitted.

If we were to reach the end mid-debate-----

-----there would be no opportunity to press an amendment.

Thank you. I just wanted to check.

For the sake of clarity, if a vote is called, I presume the clock will be stopped while the vote is taking place. Is that right, or does it form part of the hour allocated?

No. That is the reason we opposed the Order of Business.

We will circulate a note to Members to clarify matters.

I have two questions, but I wish to make a point before asking them. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, stated unequivocally that the current healthcare arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland would remain in place no matter what. That is what I heard and he is nodding in confirmation. I hope that is true, but it is a very brave thing to say. For example, the treatment abroad scheme is not an Ireland-UK arrangement but an EU programme. Can it not be the case that there is a Brexit in which the United Kingdom is no longer in the EU programme? How can we guarantee that whatever agreements are in place based on an EU programme that many Irish citizens use, under no circumstances will they not be available in the future? If that is the level of insight and foresight the Minister has, that is fantastic, but I would be very surprised if that was the case.

It is entirely possible that the United Kingdom will change regulations post Brexit. In fact, its parliament has stated repeatedly that it will be changing regulations in a variety of areas. If the United Kingdom were to change regulations on product safety for pharmaceutical and medical products, procedures and protocols for procedures, import and export protocols and professional qualifications, be it for consultants, nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, radiographers and the gamut of healthcare professionals, it is possible and quite likely that some combinations of qualifications, medicines, procedures, protocols, check backs, audits and so forth implemented in the United Kingdom would no longer be recognised by the European Union. Regardless of what happens or what changes the United Kingdom makes to its regulations, procedures, training, qualifications and so forth and even where the European Union states it no longer accepts a procedure or particular professional qualification and that while a particular drug is regulated for use for a certain purpose in the United Kingdom, the European Medicines Agency has not signed off on it and it is not useable here, the Minister has made a definitive statement that post Brexit no services will be impacted on in any way. That is great if it is true, but it does not sound right. He did not give a caveat in any way. Is there a caveat in that statement? If it is true, that is fantastic, but I do not see how the Minister can make such statements at this point.

The Minister has stated the consent of the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform will be needed is the legal advice he received. Of course, there is nothing conventional or established about the legislation we are considering. Putting aside the constitutional question about the Dáil which is an important one to be resolved, if the sitting Minister for Health must make a decision on a change to regulations for the training of radiographers in Northern Ireland, for example, or the de-listing of a particular anaesthetic used in the NHS, why would that Minister ever need to ask the Minister for Finance for permission? To me, that sounds as if the Minister should also ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The Minister for Finance has no role in dealing with such detailed regulatory issues. Why would the Minister need consent from the Minister for Finance before making any change to arrangements or regulations in maintaining the status quo in healthcare?

I call Deputy Bríd Smith.

Will the Minister answer that question first?

You want me to ask my question first.

It is up to the Deputy what she wants to do.

The previous Deputy said it was a brave thing to say, but I accept it. I accept that it is the Minister's intention to have reciprocal arrangements, which is very welcome. It is an indicator that across the House no Member will welcome a hard border and that we want the status quo to continue. However, I am a little shocked that the Minister does not want to have any discussion on the floor of the House about the possibility of extending the provisions of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act to Northern Ireland.

That is not my decision.

It would allow the women of Northern Ireland who showed so much solidarity to us throughout a hard campaign, to avail of a reciprocal arrangement. They would be able to avail of that service on the same basis as women here, but no such discussion is being allowed.

That is not my decision.

The Minister will have an opportunity to respond.

I also warmly welcome the very firm assurance given by the Minister for Health that all services currently enjoyed by citizens of the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland and Great Britain will continue to be enjoyed, regardless of what form Brexit takes. That is an important issue.

I have a question about the new information the Minister for Health has given to the House that today the Cabinet approved the memorandum of understanding on the common travel area arrangements between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The CTA is about far more than common travel arrangements. For the first time in the memorandum of understanding there is a codified body of reciprocal rights which in many instances amount to joint citizenship. They will allow Irish people to work, live, draw social welfare payments, receive full health benefits and vote in the United Kingdom. There will be the same rights for United Kingdom citizens living here.

It is the anchoring document. When will we have sight of it? Now that it has been approved, when will it be signed by the British and Irish Governments and when we will have an opportunity to forensically examine it to see what precisely will be enduring rights for Irish and UK citizens post Brexit?

An important point was raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin in regard to the rights to medical cards that arise from EU membership. I refer in this regard to, for example, seafarers working out of Rosslare Europort. I take it from what the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has said that on the basis of the memorandum of understanding or on some other basis, UK citizens will continue to be able to access Irish medical cards if they are resident in the Republic of Ireland. In other words, the status quo will continue.

I will return to the point I made about the constitutionality of the section in terms of the devolution of powers to the Minister for Health to alter law without reference to the Dáil. When I made my Second Stage contribution I was assured by the Tánaiste that I would get an explanation in that regard. I regret I got no explanation from the Tánaiste in his closing comments, other than, as I have already put on the record of the House, that the Attorney General is satisfied. I have been privileged to serve in a number of Governments. I remember being told by one Attorney General that something could not happen and being told by a successor Attorney General that it could. The opinion of a law officer of the State is just an opinion and it is challengeable. I want to ensure that what we are doing is robust.

I take more comfort in the final comment made by the Minister for Health, which, if expanded on, might provide me with more security. Am I correct that the Minister for Health is stating he is not seeking to make any primary law but, rather, that he is seeking to preserve what has already been determined by the Oireachtas, which is the status quo? If that is the explanation, it is a more robust explanation. It also is a limiting power. In changed circumstances, it would not be replicating the status quo. How do we deal in the future with changes that did not transpose what is happening now but were making something new, because of new circumstances? I believe Deputy Donnelly circled around this issue. If the constitutionality is explained as preserving what is already passed by the Oireachtas, then nothing new in changed circumstances could be done by the Minister for Health without reference to the House. Am I correct in my understanding in this regard?

Following on from the questions put by colleagues, I have a couple of specific questions for the Minister, Deputy Harris. Access to healthcare across the Border in Northern Ireland or in Britain is seamless at present because we are all members of the European Union and there are common travel area rights in regard to healthcare. My understanding is that these rights apply to only Irish and UK citizens. There are many EU citizens living here who are married to Irish citizens. Will they be able to avail of the common travel area healthcare provisions of which they can currently avail? What is the situation in regard to posted workers? This is another area that needs clarification.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, said in regard to the treatment abroad scheme, the European health insurance card scheme and the cross-Border health care directive that there will be a seamless transition beyond 29 March. Will he clarify that this remains the position and that it applies not only to Irish and British citizens but to all people legally resident here and EU citizens? Will he also clarify what the position will be on 1 January 2021, which is just 21 months away? I ask the latter question on behalf of people who are currently accessing healthcare in the UK for whom ongoing treatment will be required. For example, a young person receiving treatment in the UK for scoliosis will be returning to the UK for a number of years to access that service, well beyond 31 December 2020. People currently engaged with the health service in the UK need reassurance that they can continue to access that service beyond 31 December 2020.

My final question is related to the cross-Border health directive in terms of liability to the HSE and the treatment abroad scheme in terms of liability to Irish and EU citizens resident here. Currently, the HSE reimburses the health service in the UK for the cost of surgery under the cross-Border health directive. It also reimburses EU citizens legally resident here in respect of treatment in Northern Ireland or the UK under the treatment abroad scheme. These costs are based on the public system in the UK. As we are all citizens from within the European Union, the billing is based on the public cost of the service, as it would be for a British citizen. Post Brexit on 29 March 2019 or 31 December 2020, this might no longer be the position. Will those hospitals continue to bill Irish and EU citizens resident in Ireland as they currently do, which is on the public hospital system basis, or will they charge them as overseas citizens? If so, the cost would be prohibitive. In practical terms, it would mean that people would no longer be able to access those services because they would not be able to make up the differential in terms of financial cost. It would put a huge financial burden on the HSE in regard to the cross-Border health directive as well.

I would like to respond to Deputy Howlin because he did ask me the question directly, following which I sought clarity on it. I will set out my understanding as to why this is not the issue the Deputy thinks it may be, legally. The proposed new section states:

The Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, make such order or orders as he or she considers necessary to continue in being [which is the same as they are today] or carry out any reciprocal or other arrangements in relation to health services which were in operation between the State and the United Kingdom immediately before the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from membership of the European Union.

The powers in the provision relate to continuing into being beyond Brexit or maintaining services that were in place before the UK left the European Union. The distinction that we need to make is that it is about a Minister for Health introducing orders to maintain existing services beyond Brexit, not to add new powers or extra services beyond what is in place on the day that the UK leaves, which is why I do not think there is a constitutional issue. My understanding, based on the Attorney General's advice I received when I asked about the matter after the Deputy raised it, is that the purpose is to maintain existing services and pass the orders necessary to do that in a post-Brexit environment, where there is no deal and, therefore, no arrangements to facilitate the existing services to remain intact.

That is my understanding of the basis of the Attorney General's advice and I hope it gives the Deputy some reassurance. I can understand why maintaining the status quo does not involve any precedent, such as Henry VIII clauses or whatever. We are not introducing new laws to provide new services without going through the normal procedure to pass legislation. Rather, we are giving the Minister the power to introduce orders to maintain existing services in a no-deal, chaotic Brexit situation.

That is also my understanding. On the orders that the Minister would make, however, am I correct that some of those orders would also need similar arrangements to be enacted in the British Parliament or at least the consent of the British Government? This issue permeates throughout the Bill because if we are making provisions for a continuation of services or for the status quo in some areas, it will be dependent on what the British Government does. What contact has there been between the Government and the British Government in respect of these provisions? If the Minister was forced by a hard Brexit to bring in these orders, what guarantee would we have that the British Government would do likewise, allowing the orders to come into effect?

The provisions will be reciprocal. We have a basis for agreement in multiple sectors to protect and maintain the common travel area, including access to work, healthcare facilities and social welfare. Some of those commitments require primary legislation, while others can be provided through secondary legislation or ministerial orders. We have a commitment that the UK will fulfil its side of the bargain and we will do ours, which is what we are trying to do in the Bill. The totality of what we are doing, however, is not contained within the Bill. In terms of legal instruments, it is a combination of the Bill and the statutory instruments, which will also be ready by 29 March, that may be needed to protect and maintain these services.

On Deputy Donnelly's amendments, I am following the legal advice of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. Although I take the Deputy's point, some of the examples that he used are probably not issues for the Minister of the day. For example, the delisting of a drug would be a matter for the Health Products Regulatory Authority, while the changes of qualifications would be a matter for the independent regulatory bodies. The issues that I or any of my successors will deal with will be issues that will ultimately result in various charges on the State or the issue of reimbursement, hence the involvement of the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform. While I note the Deputy's concern about the wording of the Bill, I am reluctant to deviate in the light of the legal advice.

On Deputy Bríd Smith's question about abortion and women from Northern Ireland, it was not my decision not to discuss the issue in the House but rather the amendment was ruled out of order. I have frequently discussed the matter on the floor of the House, usually with Deputy O'Reilly, and I am happy to do so again. Separate to the Bill, I am seeking the advice of the Attorney General as to how we might address the matter. I have certainly not given up on addressing the matter in any manner or means but, according to the House, this Bill is not the best vehicle for pursuing it.

My colleague, the Tánaiste answered Deputy Howlin's question. The Bill is about the Minister of the day having the powers to preserve the status quo rather than making new and future arrangements above and beyond that. The extract from the Bill which the Tánaiste read into the record is clear in that regard.

To respond to the reaction to what I said about cross-Border services continuing, I made the comments because I have listened carefully to many members of the public calling radio programmes and commenting in the media. In particular, I remember two parents living in Northern Ireland, whose son had his first life-saving heart operation in Crumlin hospital and is due to have another shortly, ask on the radio whether their son will be able to have the operation post Brexit. I also have heard people from County Donegal ask whether they will be able to go Altnagelvin hospital for their radiotherapy. I want our patients and citizens to know that the answer is "Yes". When I met representatives from the HSE and asked whether they were aware of any cross-Border service in place today that will not be in place post Brexit, their answer was "No". That is very different from suggesting that things may not be done in a different way or, as Deputy Donnelly has rightly pointed out, that the reciprocal arrangements we put in place may be different in their modality but the same in their impact on our patients, which is what we are trying to achieve in the Bill. Where there is an existing service, whether it is in place due to the common travel area or due to European law, the question is how can we ensure that service continues to be provided. My comments were based on the idea that services provided today will be able to be provided post Brexit. I do not mean to speak for the British Government but it is its clear and publically articulated position; it is certainly the position of the Irish Government and I know it is the position of all Deputies.

On Deputy Naughten's questions, the legislation should be seen through the prism of being emergency measures in the context of a no-deal Brexit. Based on Brexit discussions, one would presume that we will find ourselves in a place where we are having a discussion about future relationships and how the UK interacts with the EU and so on post Brexit. How future relationships will continue to evolve, therefore, is a question for another day, but these are emergency measures in place to fill any such gap. The Deputy asked an important question about the cost for the health service of treating a patient, and the answer is that he or she would be treated as though it was the cost for a UK citizen. We will recognise each other as though we were from the other country, which is an important development. On the issue of the cross-Border directive and any successors in that regard, I am informed by my officials that it is not done on the basis of citizenship but rather it depends on whether one works in that state or receives a pension in that state. The Deputy used an example of a Polish person living in Northern Ireland. If he or she works in Northern Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland, or if he or she is in receipt of a pension in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, he or she will qualify.

The Tánaiste helpfully quoted from the new section 75A(1) in Part 2 of the Bill, which, as he noted, concerns maintaining the status quo. It states, "The Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, make such order or orders as he or she considers necessary to continue in being or carry out any reciprocal or other arrangements in relation to health services". The phrase, "continue in being" is the operative phrase in respect of the status quo. The part I referred to in my contributions both on Second Stage and in my contribution earlier today was a later part of the same proposed new Part IVA. It is section 75B, which is headed "Regulations to give full effect to this Part". On page 12 of the Bill, section 75B(2)(c) states that the regulations made by the Minister for Health under subsection (1) may "make such adaptations and modifications to the Health Acts 1947 to 2019 or any regulations made under those Acts as the Minister considers necessary for the purpose of bringing those Acts or regulations into conformity with this Part." It is a debatable point but, prima facie, it gives authority to the Minister to amend the law under that section.

The Tánaiste is telling me that it is in the shadow of the first Part, which states that it can only be by way of maintaining the status quo. If that is the understanding of the Tánaiste, I am happy to leave it at that if that has been fully tested. The Tánaiste might answer my other question about the memorandum of understanding. When will we have sight of it so that we can look at it and ensure, to our satisfaction, that all of the rights that we understand are available to Irish citizens in the UK now and to UK citizens here will be maintained in an enduring way?

The memorandum of understanding is not directly related to this Part but to the entire Bill in many ways. That memorandum of understanding has been ready to sign for some time. It was agreed by senior officials. For understandable reasons, we have decided not to sign it until now but I have approval now from Government to sign it with my counterpart in the British Government. We will do that, if necessary, before the end of March. This is a document that both Governments have contributed to so it is as much a British Government document as it is an Irish Government document. That is why it is helpful that it has not been published until both Governments are satisfied to sign it.

When will we see it?

Members will see it as soon as it is signed because it is the interpretation of the two Governments of what the common travel area represents.

Parliament might like to have a look at it.

I think Parliament will be able to judge it but it is not like passing of legislation. It is a memorandum of understanding. We made a deliberate decision not to have a bilateral treaty on the common travel area because changing a bilateral treaty means going through the legislative process, which takes months. We have instead a memorandum of understanding which can be changed much more easily and quickly if we have missed something. It would be useful to share it with party leaders to make sure we have not missed anything. This is not something that we are precious about but I do not want to turn that memorandum of understanding into a series of new asks. This represents what has historically been in place and needs to be sustained and protected in the context of Brexit. I could not really share it with the House without sharing it with my Government colleagues first, and we only did that today.

7 o'clock

I have two amendments, Nos. 8 and 21. I apologise if they have been addressed already. I was not here earlier. The intention was to have Dáil oversight, not to delay the passage of this Bill. There may be unforeseen circumstances and I understand that the Minister has already addressed this so I will not delay. There are a series of amendments which relate mostly to ensuring that at every stage of dealing with the consequences of Brexit, if it happens in the way that this Bill in some ways expects it to, the Houses of the Oireachtas will have some type of oversight of it. It is not intended to contradict the Bill. Based on what I have heard from the Minister, I will not press these amendments.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 74; Staon, 1.

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Browne, James.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Curran, John.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.

Níl

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

  • Broughan, Thomas P.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Michael Moynihan and Stephen S. Donnelly; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

Is the House willing to vary the order made earlier today in order that we will not deduct the time it takes to vote from the time allocated for section 4 of the Bill which relates to the important area of health? In other words, we will have the time allocated for the debate. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 10, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"(b) When an order is made under subsection (1)(a) which involves the spending of public monies, the order must be made with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

(c) When an order is made under subsection (1)(a) which involves the raising of public monies, the order must be made with the consent of the Minister for Finance.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 10 to 19, inclusive, have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 10 to 19, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 10, line 30, after "Reform," to insert "when such consent is required in section 75A(1)(b) and (c)".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 21 not moved.

As amendments Nos. 22 to 25, inclusive, are related and amendments Nos. 23 and 24 are consequential on amendment No. 22, amendments Nos. 22 to 25, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 12, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"Review of the effectiveness of health services

75C. The Minister shall publish a review into the effectiveness of the health services covered under section 75A and 75B of this Act one year after the United Kingdom has left the European Union.".

This is a straightforward amendment. Obviously, none of us wants to be here talking about this issue. We hope a no-deal Brexit will not happen, but we have to be prepared for it in case it does. We do not think it would be any harm for the Minister to provide us with a report "one year after the United Kingdom has left the European Union" to see how the provisions are working. In fact, it would be quite sensible to do so as we are heading into uncharted territory. We can do our work here, but much of what we have been discussing is contingent on the British Government doing its bit. Therefore, it would be no harm to receive a full assessment of how the delivery of services is operating one year after Brexit has happened. We are looking for "a review into the effectiveness of the health services covered under [this Bill] one year after the United Kingdom has left the European Union". Such a review would be of great benefit to policymakers, service users and medical and healthcare professionals.

Amendment No. 25 in my name relates specifically to what will happen from 1 January 2021. In my earlier contribution I flagged my concerns about people who were receiving ongoing treatment for particular conditions. I referred to the example of a child with scoliosis who was required to go back on a number of occasions to the United Kingdom under the cross-border directive or the treatment abroad scheme. People need reassurance on the treatment that will take place between now and 31 December 2020. They need a commitment that they will be able to continue that treatment in the same hospital or medical facility after 1 January 2021. If we do not provide such certainty, we will undermine the principle behind the Bill. This emergency legislation is being enacted to ensure that in the event that there is a hard Brexit on 29 March, people will continue to be able to avail of medical services of which they can avail today in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. If there is not an assurance that a medical procedure can continue beyond 31 December 2020, in effect, that particular right will be curtailed. I accept that it is difficult for the Minister to provide for that level of clarity today. As he has said, this is emergency legislation, but I think it is reasonable for him to be required to present a report to the House within three months to clarify the position and ensure continued treatment and support and access to the medical profession in the United Kingdom will be provided in cases which involve ongoing medical procedures which were first accessed in advance of 31 December 2020.

I thank Deputies for their amendments. The spirit in which I am approaching this section involves not disagreeing with what they are requesting, while arguing that it should perhaps not be included in the legislation. With my Government colleagues, I am happy to give a commitment on the floor of the Dáil to provide such important information for it, the health committee or any other appropriate forum within the Oireachtas. As Deputy Naughten acknowledged, the amendments provided for in the Bill are contingency steps that seek to minimise any disruption to current healthcare arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Obviously, the post-Brexit relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union will be negotiated beyond these contingency steps.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 24, inclusive, to which Deputy O'Reilly spoke, impose an obligation on the Minister of the day to publish a review of the effectiveness of the health services one year after the UK has left the European Union. Although, without wishing to be pedantic, we have a legal concern with words like "effectiveness" in terms of their legal meaning and place in the legislation, I have no difficulty in providing the Deputy with what she is looking for. I fully agree with the Deputy that it makes sense that we would be providing reports and updates to this House through the appropriate committee as well. I should reiterate that the objective of the current Bill is the maintenance of existing arrangements in respect of health services currently in operation between the State and the UK rather than an assessment of their effectiveness. All we are trying to do here, on which I think we are in agreement, is maintain the status quo as opposed to analysing the effectiveness of the status quo or indeed providing for new measures which we may decide, as an Oireachtas, are desirable to put in place in the future but which would not be covered under this Bill. This Bill is about preserving the status quo.

Amendment No. 25 from Deputy Naughten seeks to impose an obligation on the Minister to present a report on the continued provision of healthcare services in the UK from 1 January 2021. It should be noted, however, that if legislation is brought into force, there will be many opportunities for the arrangements provided for under the legislation to be reviewed. In addition, any arrangements between Ireland and the UK in respect of continued reciprocal access to health services after December 2020 will be subject to ongoing consultation and engagement between those two states once the UK leaves the European Union. Amendments of this nature can be considered further in that context. In terms of the review proposed, I can confirm that I am willing to attend the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health. Deputies know that I enjoy attending it regularly. I am also willing to arrange for relevant officials to provide briefings at regular intervals and to attend and report as necessary. I fully agree with the spirit of the amendment although I am not in a position to accept it in this legislation. I will give a commitment to the House that the Government will provide such reports and information to Deputies at the opportune moments.

I do not think the amendment I am proposing is too onerous. It provides for a report to be made to the House. I am specifically looking at medical conditions that require ongoing treatment. The objective behind section 8 is to protect the rights people have today to access health services in the UK after the UK leaves the European Union on 29 March. If the UK leaves the European Union on 29 March, we are providing assurance to people right up to 31 December 2020. I accept that in the vast majority of cases, that level of clarity will be sufficient. I accept the Minister's assurances in that respect. However, where there are particular procedures that will require further surgery down the road, people need reassurance now that access will be continued beyond 31 December 2020 to allow them to access that service next month or the month after. Clarity needs to be provided. Otherwise the legislation will undermine its specific objective of providing people with cross-border access in the United Kingdom after 29 March this year. As a Member of Parliament, I could not advise any family that a child with scoliosis who wants to avail of services in the United Kingdom should avail of those services. If they require further surgery down the road, they might have to transfer to another jurisdiction.

I accept that the Minister cannot provide this clarity today. That is why the amendment contains the very flexible provision that the Minister present a report to this House on a specific cohort of conditions and that, if the treatment has started before 31 December 2020, there be an ongoing commitment in respect of the treatment beyond that date.

The Minister says he agrees in principle with what I am saying because, clearly, it makes sense. However, he said that at the opportune time he would provide the report. I would be most grateful if he could firm up that proposal. We are saying within a year because, in the event that we have to enact this legislation, we are going to be in uncharted territory. It would be no harm, after 12 months, to have a look back at the effectiveness or otherwise of the provisions. We are relying on the British Government to uphold its end of this, notwithstanding any commitments the Minister can give.

I am happy to provide a report within a year and perhaps even more frequently, perhaps every six months. Certainly it would be within a year and indeed as the need arises in addition to that commitment. I am more than happy to give that to the Deputy because, as she says, it is common sense.

Deputy Naughten and I are not in disagreement in terms of what we want to achieve. The only question is the insertion of the provision in this legislation in respect of the timeframe of 90 days and the like. I want people like those whose case the Deputy outlined to know that it is the intention of the Irish Government to ensure that such services can continue to be accessed. We are dealing with a period of time defined by emergency measures, cognisant of the fact that there will be a significant amount of engagement and negotiation in the years ahead, not just bilaterally between Ireland and Britain as neighbours and friends but also in the context of the future relationship that the UK will have with the European Union. I am more than happy to update the House and more than happy for a report to be given within three months and the like. I just do not wish to put those provisions in this Bill. I am very willing to work with the Deputy and the House to provide the assurances he is seeking.

With all due respect to the Minister, a former teacher of mine used to say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I do not doubt the Minister's intentions but, in my experience, when it is not written in black and white, it does not happen. I am accepting that for a three-month period we are curtailing the right to medical services in the UK. The Minister needs to be given that discretion. I am admitting that curtailment in this amendment and giving the Minister 90 days to provide clarity to us. I do not think it is acceptable for clarity not to be provided within those three months, nor is it acceptable that is it not set out in the legislation that this must be presented to the House so that we can report. I should be in a position to reassure an individual, or their family, who is availing of a medical procedure in the UK that will require continual ongoing care for more than 22 months that they will be able to avail of it. That is the very minimum that we need to provide if this legislation is to do what it proposes. We cannot curtail that right. I am accepting that we are curtailing it for 90 days but we should not be curtailing it for any longer than that while we consider our intention from 31 December 2020. I accept that in respect of many procedures there is plenty of time. For procedures involving a continuing commitment of care for more than 21 months, however, we need to provide clarity now.

I remind all of us that this legislation is to be enacted in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Along with Members from all sides of the House, I am genuinely hoping that this legislation need never be enacted although it is important to pass it in an efficient manner. I also point out that these Houses have an ability to order their own business, hold Members to account, request information and reports, and decide what to debate in Private Members' time, Topical Issue debates and committee hearings, and they do so very effectively and robustly. I do not think the Government intends to stipulate for a range of Ministers to provide a range of reports within 90 days. That is not because we are unwilling to provide such reports but because the back and forth of parliamentary accountability already deals with it.

I want to end as I started, by reassuring Deputy Naughten not just of my good intentions but of the absolute policy position of the Government that it wants to make sure these services can be provided into the future for exactly the sort of cases he outlined.

This legislation is emergency legislation which is geared towards dealing with the here and now of a no-deal hard Brexit.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.
Section 4 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 12, after line 42, to insert the following:

“Report on provision of health care services in the United Kingdom

5. The Minister for Health shall within 90 days of the passage of this Act, present a report to Dáil Éireann on the continued provision of health care services in the United Kingdom from 1 January 2021, which were in operation between the State and the United Kingdom immediately before the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from membership of the European Union.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 26 is out of order.

Amendment No. 26 not moved.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, not moved.
Section 7 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 17, after line 33, to insert the following:

“Report on the provision of supports to maintain and grow employment

8. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation shall within 90 days of the passage of this Act, present a report to Dáil Éireann on the provision of supports to maintain and grow employment in non-exporting indigenous local business.”.

I believe Sinn Féin is tabling a similar amendment. The only difference in principle between the two amendments is that I am tabling this on the basis that the report will be presented 90 days after the passage of this legislation, whereas I believe the Sinn Féin amendments proposes that it is presented after the enactment of the legislation. Of course, we hope that this legislation is never enacted. My amendment is different because I believe these supports are urgent and necessary for businesses that are not receiving supports at the minute. I accept that the Government has done a lot of work in engaging with businesses throughout the country. I know that is very challenging work. I have tried to do that myself to encourage businesses to be aware of the impact of Brexit. I am not talking about those which are directly affected by Brexit but those which might be indirectly affected. I made the point last week in this House that a company with ten employees or fewer will be supported by the local enterprise board. However, a company that has ten or more employees which is not exporting and does not have the potential to export has no State mechanism available to support it. Those types of companies are the bedrock of the business and economic activity in many smaller provincial towns in rural areas. I can think of quite a number of such companies. They may be providing services within that local community or providing services throughout the country. Brexit may indirectly impact upon those companies, yet there is no mechanism in place to support them at the moment.

I am sure the Minister will come back and say that the Government will not support this amendment, even though it is a valid point. I believe we must accept this amendment. It is imperative that we take action now, because regardless of whether the 29 March deadline leads to a hard Brexit, we are going to have Brexit within the next 21 months. These companies need to be prepared for that now. I accept that the focus until now has been on companies that are trading and that are directly impacted upon by Brexit. However, the focus must shift urgently to these companies which are the bedrock of rural communities in many parts of the country. They need a support mechanism. It is imperative that the Minister tells the House how these businesses will be supported. I have suggested that the local enterprise boards could have their criteria altered so that they could help and assist those companies.

Another urgently needed support required by local enterprise offices, LEOs, is a specific Brexit support. Enterprise Ireland has a support mechanism available to help exporting companies. InterTradeIreland has a support to help businesses which is specifically targeted at Brexit. However, the LEOs at the minute can offer no support for those companies that may require it in the context of Brexit. It is not just those companies that are exporting or trading with the UK. It might be a company that is supporting a business trading with the UK that will be indirectly affected by Brexit. I do not expect the Minister to be able to provide details on that today, but providing him with 90 days in which to come back to the House to outline how we can support these companies is a very fair and reasonable proposal to put forward.

We urgently need to review the criteria of Enterprise Ireland. At the moment it is involved in encouraging exporting and supporting businesses that export already or that have the potential to export. We also need to look at import substitution, especially when our nearest trading partner is going to be outside the European Union. If we do not look at that, there might be additional costs for businesses and on the Irish economy. There is an opportunity to support domestic business to fill a potential void in imports that will be coming from a third country post Brexit. The criteria laid down in the legislation for Enterprise Ireland has to be looked at now. There is little point in looking at this on 1 January 2021. Now is the time to do it.

I am asking that this House be presented with a report within 90 days which outlines how we are going to protect, support and grow local businesses that to date have fallen through the support nets we have, and that are outside the local enterprise and Enterprise Ireland criteria. They might be companies servicing the local economy, the regional economy or the national economy. They might be companies involved in import substitution, particularly from a third country, which may be the United Kingdom after 31 December 2020 at the latest. It is important that we do not ignore those companies. They are the bedrock of the provincial towns and rural economies throughout this country, and they have to be supported.

Sinn Féin will support amendment No. 30 as well as tabling its own amendment No. 31. These amendments concern the Brexit business supports contained in this Bill. The supports which will come into effect in the event of a hard crash are the absolute bare minimum. In fact, they do not even represent the bare minimum of what is necessary to support many businesses. Exporters are suffering as we speak because of currency fluctuations and due to the strength of the euro against the pound at the moment. There are certain sectors of the economy, including many manufacturing businesses, as well as exporters, which are also suffering as we speak because of the uncertainty of Brexit.

People are concerned about their jobs. The agrifood sector needs support and yet there is very little in the Bill. Rather than tinkering around the edges in respect of research and development, existing supports and increasing the thresholds and the percentages for grants, there is not much by way of real practical additional supports that are necessary for many small and medium-sized businesses.

The Irish economy is the most exposed after Britain if there is a hard crash. However, the so-called additional supports presented here are not what the stakeholders are looking for. We have engaged with IBEC, ISME and the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, all of which have called for a suite of practical measures to be put in place. However, they are not contained in this section.

When we got the briefings from the Minister's office and we had officials from different Departments, we were astounded that some of the provisions of this section relating to grant supports were increasing the thresholds to allow the State to maximise the current state aid rules. We were flabbergasted that for many years, the State was not even availing of the state aid rules that apply. We were not even applying what was allowed in the state aid rules. This was happening throughout the post-Celtic tiger years when many businesses were in very severe difficulty. We were flabbergasted that that was the case.

We had several discussions with the Tánaiste and Taoiseach on state aid rules and the need for greater flexibility from the European Union for Ireland. Nothing in the Bill gives any flexibility from Brussels. We can see no additional flexibility in state aid rules to apply to Ireland that do not apply to countries, such as Hungary and Poland, that will not be as affected by Brexit as Ireland will, which is outrageous. Europe has been very good in supporting Ireland on the backstop but it has not been as good in supporting the Irish economy and the many Irish SMEs that will need a raft of additional supports in the event of a hard Brexit.

We also argue that the provisions of this Bill and the additional supports, limited as they are, should come into play irrespective of whether there is a hard crash. In fact, businesses need them now. Why are we only providing for these additional supports, which are very weak, in the event of a hard crash? It misses the point of the uncertainty for these businesses, which might continue for months if there is an extension of Article 50. Why are these supports not being put in place now? Our amendments to make that happen were ruled out of order possibly because there was a cost to the Exchequer. However, the point stands that they should be in place irrespective of a soft or a hard Brexit. We have consistently made the point that there is no good Brexit, hard or soft. If it is hard and there is a hard crash, the impact on the economy will be more severe. Whatever Brexit we eventually have to deal with will have a chilling effect on the Irish economy and we need to be prepared.

The British Government announced a Brexit stabilisation fund. Our proposals contained a Brexit stabilisation fund that allowed for additional supports in capital investment, and additional supports for business, a job subsidy scheme and a subsidy fund to support the agrifood sector, and yet the Government has not provided for any fund. We tabled an amendment in this area to allow the Minister to set up a €2 billion Brexit stabilisation fund with the money coming from the rainy day fund - in both last year and this year €500 million has been put into that fund - and from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. That €2 billion could be put to good use to invest in the economy in terms of capital spend and to give practical supports to businesses.

A small number of multinational companies avail of the existing research and development credit scheme. Many small and medium-sized businesses cannot get a look in and are not properly supported. We have called for that scheme to be streamlined but it is not in the Bill as far as I can see. The provisions for the Brexit loan scheme where there is some additionality is a bit of a joke when many businesses at the moment are not even taking up that scheme. There are obviously issues with it. Has the Minister spoken to the stakeholders such as IBEC, ISME and the businesses which need these supports? We believe that loan scheme needs to be overhauled. Before we start tinkering with this scheme, we need to examine why many of the businesses the scheme was designed to support have not taken up the scheme.

We have also called for an employment subsidy scheme for many micro and small businesses. It is not a provision in the Bill. It was put in place after the economic crash to support vulnerable sections of the economy, which had a long-term viability but in the short term may have had to lay off staff because of difficulties. Many businesses will now experience the same because of Brexit.

The biggest market distortion to affect some sections in the economy in this State will be Brexit. In whatever form it takes, it will be an enormous market distortion for many businesses. The State seems to be taking a minimalist approach in providing state supports and aids. It is almost as if we believe the market will sort out all of these problems. The market will not sort out problems. The Minister is shaking her head, but they are not in the Bill. The provisions in the Bill are very limited and will have little impact on the many businesses that need support. If the Minister listened to the business organisations and engaged with them as we would, she would have put much more on the table.

I again make the point that the British Government made a Brexit stabilisation fund available. The Irish Government made no such fund available. It introduced this omnibus Bill with very limited supports for businesses that are concerned about the uncertainty of Brexit and the impact it will have on their businesses. It is not good enough by any means. We will be supporting the sections of the Bill. We will not oppose any of the measures the Government is putting in place. We would support any additional support, but what the Government has proposed is far too little and far too late.

As I said at the start of my contribution, why are the provisions of the Bill only being introduced in the event of a hard crash? Many businesses need those, irrespective of which Brexit they face. I do not see why these measures are contingent on a hard crash.

As Deputy Cullinane has said, we will be supporting amendments Nos. 30 and 31.

Having read the business, enterprise and innovation section of the Bill, I am underwhelmed by the provisions for business. I have spoken to many business groups in recent weeks and they are not exactly enthusiastic about it either. Much more remains to be done on this issue.

However, I welcome the provisions to give more power to Enterprise Ireland to assist Irish businesses exposed to the consequences of Brexit. In the spirit of approaching this Bill on a cross-party basis, we tabled two constructive amendments in the business section. Unfortunately one has been ruled out of order, like a lot of the others, but I will outline the aim of the other in a few moments.

A large portion of the business, enterprise and innovation section is dedicated to providing new powers for Enterprise Ireland. I note that many of these were already planned and contained in the proposed industrial development (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2017. These changes for Enterprise Ireland will see the jobs agency being given the power to provide loans to client companies, as opposed to the current situation where they can only offer financial support through direct equity stakes or grants for specific purposes.

Enterprise Ireland will also be authorised to make research and development grants for research that is, in part, carried out abroad if its purpose is to broaden a firm's export market beyond the UK. I ask the Minister to provide more clarity on this and give examples of how it would operate.

Enterprise Ireland has been an incredibly successful vehicle for supporting and creating jobs across Ireland, and helping many Irish SMEs to take the leap into exporting. We hope these additional functions will help Enterprise Ireland build on this success and continue to grow our exports to a wide variety of foreign markets.

I note the Bill aims to expand the caps on state aid that can be given to companies. It seems this is just raising the limits for what is already permitted under EU law.

If this is the case can the Minister outline why this has not been done so far.

I wish to ask the Minister about the current Brexit business supports. The latest figures to date are very dismal with just three weeks to go until Brexit. Just 81 loans with a value of €17.3 million have been given out under the €300 million Brexit loan scheme, a tiny 6% of the total pot. Only 241 market discovery grants have been approved while one while just 156 Be Prepared grants have been sanctioned. The Minister will have to admit that this is an incredibly poor uptake is of these Government supports. These supports are of no help to businesses is if they cannot access them. There is obviously a problem as to why companies are not accessing these supports which the Minister needs to address. I have asked the Minister on a number of occasions to review these current supports, to cut down on red tape and to widen the criteria where possible. Has the Minister done any of those things we have asked her to do in the past? Has the Department and the jobs agencies reviewed their performance of these? Is there any underlying reason as to why these are not performing?

I have couple of points also on Údarás na Gaeltachta and I appreciate that it does not come under the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, but due to the obvious job-creation role of Údarás na Gaeltachta in addition to its responsibility for the social cultural development of Gaeltacht regions, the Department must engage with the údarás extensively. Jobs in our Gaeltacht areas are incredibly valuable to local communities and we must do all we can to protect current jobs located there and increase the number of businesses setting up in our Gaeltacht regions. On this basis, can the Minister outline if an examination has been undertaken to explore how exposed Údarás na Gaeltachta client-companies are to Brexit? Has Údarás na Gaeltachta been contact as to whether it feels it needs any additional powers, such as the new borrowing powers that are being extended to Enterprise Ireland, or additional funds for grants?

Amendment No. 31, a Sinn Féin amendment, seeks to instruct the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to compile a report on the effectiveness of the current Brexit business supports and to present this report to the joint Oireachtas Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation. It is clear from the data that the uptake of current Government supports is not working. Something, as I said earlier, has gone seriously wrong - I mentioned the figures earlier. This is a shocking and poor uptake of the Government supports. Business supports may look good in the media and when they are announced at the Minister's press conferences, but they are no help to businesses if they cannot access them. I have asked the Minister to review the current supports, cut down the red tape and widen criteria where possible. As far as I am aware this has not happened to date. If passed, the review mentioned in the amendment would include but not be limited to examining why there has been such a low uptake of these Brexit business supports to date, identify barriers for businesses in accessing these supports and offer solutions on how to make it easier for businesses to benefit from these supports.

I ask the House to support this amendment which I will press.

In addressing the amendments, I commissioned a wide-ranging review of the OECD on SME and entrepreneurship policies in March 2018. Part of this extensive review is examining the provision of supports for indigenous businesses and how they are assisted by Government Departments and agencies to grow. This report will examine the strategic framework and delivery system for SMEs and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland. The report will be published, for Deputy Naughten's information, in the third quarter of this year and we will await its findings and recommendations. I want to reassure the Deputy also that I am focusing on indigenous Irish companies and am very conscious that they also need to be supported on Brexit.

For that reason I take this opportunity to list the supports for non-exporting businesses. First, there is the Brexit loan scheme which is open to all businesses. It is a working capital facility that is available at an interest rate of 4%, repayable over three years. InterTradeIreland has a €2,250 Start to Plan voucher and one does not need to be an exporter to get this, but can be an indigenous Irish company. Regardless of the number of employees the company has it can apply for it. Yesterday, I launched the Start to Act voucher which is available through Enterprise Ireland which has a value of €5,650. InterTradeIreland has also received an additional €1 million from my Department in budget 2019, which was without the need for matching funding from Northern Ireland, because I knew that there was going to be an increased demand for its services in view of Brexit. For that reason it received an increase of 17% in its budget. It also has a complete suite of advisory services that are available to everybody, be it a tariff checker, or online customs training for those that are importing which can be availed of from InterTradeIreland which is providing a broad range of services.

The local enterprise offices are also marketing the InterTradeIreland schemes. This is available across the board, there is customs training, mentoring and business planning. They give out consultancy grants, with no limit as to employees, to companies of whatever size. They have lien grants and innovation supports through vouchers etc. All of the supports are available through local enterprise offices, regardless of the number of employees a company has or as to whether they are exporting or not. For that reason I increased the budget to local enterprise offices by €5 million in budget 2019, a 22% increase, to help them exactly what the Deputy said, namely, indigenous Irish companies.

There is also Microfinance Ireland which has €25,000 available for lending to SMEs and the credit guarantee scheme. There are a lot of supports available to indigenous Irish SMEs which are not exporting and I want to make them aware of these again and I thank the Deputy for raising this issue because no matter how many times this is said, people may not be aware of the supports that are available.

The Deputy’s premise as to the take-up of the Brexit supports is not correct. In fact, my information is that take up has been quite robust. The Brexit loan scheme was launched in 2018 and I am pleased to say that there has been a steady stream of applications so far. The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, has received 462 applications under the Brexit loan scheme up to 22 February 2019. Some 413 of those applications have been deemed eligible for a loan under the scheme, and of those, 81 have been progressed to sanction at finance-provider level to a total value of €17.32 million. It is important to remember that this scheme is not a loan for businesses to carry on as usual. We are asking businesses to consider carefully what they need to do to address successfully their Brexit challenge through innovating, changing or adapting their business model in some capacity. These responses may include strengthening their product offerings, developing new markets to diversify their trade footprint, changing their organisational structure or developing new capabilities. Work continues on the longer-term future growth loan scheme, which will help eligible businesses invest strategically in a post-Brexit environment. This scheme was announced as part of budget 2019 and is expected to launch very shortly. In 2018, Enterprise Ireland provided approval for funding of €74 million to 535 Brexit-exposed companies across a range of Brexit financial supports. In addition, there were Brexit interventions with over 1,000 companies which have significant exports to the UK. Over 1,000 companies have attended Brexit advisory clinics across the country, and 4,400 companies have completed the Brexit SME scorecard, and almost 1,000 have completed the Enterprise Ireland online customs insights programme since December. Visits to the prepareforbrexit.ie website, which contains information on a range of Enterprise Ireland, local enterprise offices, LEO, and other agency supports, has increased ten-fold over the past 12 weeks and we have reached 90% of the SME audience with our Brexit supports communications. My Department has also allocated €8 million extra for Brexit staffing and supports across enterprise and regulatory agencies, the roll-out of new customs training through local enterprise offices and Enterprise Ireland, an Enterprise Ireland guide to best practice on managing currency volatility - the Deputy mentioned about customers needing to hedge their currency risk - and €1 million in additional funding for lnterTradelreland.

All of our supports are kept under constant review and we have had no feedback to say there are gaps. We have dealt with any change that has been requested. For example, I regularly meet the business representative bodies. I have met the retailers and food importers to ensure the security of our food supply. I also meet all departmental agencies. A request regarding import VAT of 23% was brought to my attention. I raised the matter with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, who has made changes in this Bill to address the issue of paying VAT at the point of import. It would have had significant cashflow implications for businesses, but the change will be of major benefit to them.

It is not necessary to legislate for a review of these supports. We review them constantly to determine whether there are gaps.

Regarding the Brexit stabilisation fund, we achieved agreement with the European Commission last week on increasing the rescue and restructuring safety net for SMEs to €200 million. We have close engagement with the Commissioner. She is well aware of the challenges facing this country and has assured us that the Commission will do everything it can to assist us.

I have covered most of the issues raised. For the reasons outlined, I cannot support these amendments. It is not necessary to insert in legislation the requirement to carry out a review. We work with all of the bodies involved and I meet businesses on a daily basis. For example, I attended an InterTradeIreland event yesterday. A large number of businesses were there. They are availing of the many supports that exist. I encourage people who have not yet engaged to do so. The Government is here to help and we want to help businesses in preparing for Brexit.

I ask Deputies to observe the clock.

The Minister's response was underwhelming. She did not deal with most of my points, including that on state aid rules. She stated that the Commissioner was aware that Ireland faced challenges and gave her assurances, but we need more than assurances from Brussels and the Commissioner. For a long time, we were told by the Tánaiste and other Ministers that a suite of bespoke solutions would be made available to this State beyond what would be available to other member states, as they would not be as adversely affected economically as us, given the close relationship between the Irish and British economies and how we are more exposed than any other member state. Nothing in these provisions strays outside of current state aid rules. There is no additionality that any other member state is unable to avail of.

The Minister is living in cloud cuckoo land if she believes that the different sectoral groups in the business community view the supports in place as adequate for a hard crash. We have met the groups as well. We have presented our proposals, which have been well received. The groups have sought significant changes to state aid rules. They recognise that we must increase capital spending at ports-----

We are doing that.

-----and investment in public transport if we are to make ourselves competitive. Nothing of any significance in that regard is being done.

I disagree with the Minister's analysis of the Brexit loan scheme. She stated that 430 companies had applied and 81 had been successful and would benefit. Only 430 companies have applied. What about those that have not? Businesses tell us that they cannot engage with the scheme because it is too cumbersome and needs to be overhauled. The Government has not dealt with that issue. Only 81 out of the 430 have progressed to the point of being able to avail of the scheme. That is not enough.

I can see nothing in this Bill for the agrifood sector apart from what is available for everyone else. There are no bespoke supports for it.

I am flabbergasted that we have debated supports for the SME sector and there has been no contribution whatsoever from Fianna Fáil. It is obvious that Fianna Fáil believes that the Government is doing a great job in supporting SMEs and that, if there is a hard crash, everything the Government is putting in place will be enough. Many SMEs will be disgusted that one of the larger political parties has offered no contribution to this debate on the additional supports that business requires. It is a dereliction of responsibility by Fianna Fáil.

That party might be keeping the Minister in her job, but she is the one responsible for putting in place a suite of measures for businesses. She has missed the point entirely. She rattled off the supports that were in place. I have already conceded that they are in place - we do not believe they are enough or adequate - but the additional supports being sought all have to do with a hard crash. She is missing that point. Businesses, in particular exporting SMEs that are most exposed because they have a strong trading relationship with Britain, need these supports now irrespective of a hard crash, yet the Minister is fiddling around the edges of most of these proposals without making substantive changes and is saying that these will only apply if there is a hard crash. Wake up and smell the reality. There are businesses that need these additional supports now.

No one wants to see a hard crash and I still believe it is unlikely, but if there is a hard crash, many businesses will be very exposed. They will be disappointed and sore that this is the best the Government can do. It is deeply ideological. It is Fine Gael once again saying that the market should solve these problems and interventions by the State should be as limited as possible. That is the problem. The Government does not see that the mammoth challenges facing the economy and businesses need State interventions and supports of a greater scale than the minimalist one it is proposing.

We will press the amendment to a vote and will view it as a vote of no confidence in the Government's support for business, which is what these amendments are concerned with. Much more needs to be done. The Minister does not realise that. If she believes that, by attending an InterTradeIreland event and speaking to a small number of businesses, everything is hunky dory, it is not. There are businesses that are struggling because of Brexit. When we meet them, they tell us that the Government is not doing enough.

If I was not sure about pressing amendment No. 31 before, I am sure after the Minister's response. It was underwhelming. She stated that information had reached 90% of SMEs and then queried my figures on the uptake of business supports, yet she then cited the same figures herself. Just 81 loans with a value of €17.3 million have been given out under the €300 million Brexit loan scheme. That is 6%. People might be aware that the loan exists, but they are coming away from the events - I have attended a number of them and some have been quite good - still confused and unable to access the loan. That is clear.

I do not understand why the Department cannot revert to us with a review of the loans and of why the uptake rate is so low. That is the purpose of my amendment, which we will be pressing. We will also support amendment No. 30.

It is not my intention to divide the House on this, but my amendment is fair and reasonable. I have outlined to the Minister why we need this amendment. Local enterprise offices are calling for its provisions. They have met the Minister. They want to be able to support businesses of over ten employees. They want to be able to support companies that do not fall under the Enterprise Ireland criteria.

That is the reality of it. These businesses will struggle. At the moment, all of the focus is on a hard Brexit in 24 days and, with all due respect, the Government had to focus on that. I fully accept that it had to focus on exporters and importers but regardless of whether it is a soft or a hard Brexit, within 21 months we will have Brexit in Ireland. This will not just impact on importers and exporters but also on small businesses throughout this country. They are not exporters because they do not have the opportunity to export but they are creating a lot of jobs in provincial towns and rural Ireland. However, they do not fall under any of the support criteria in place at the moment. We need to broaden the definition of the supports that are available through the local enterprise offices, LEOs. The LEOs themselves want to be able to assist these companies. We also need to broaden the definition of support provided by Enterprise Ireland, not just focusing on exports but also on import substitution, particularly when our nearest neighbour is going to be a third country. This will open up opportunities for import substitution and will allow Irish companies to fill that void.

The Minister made reference to a review report in quarter three of this year but to me, that is live horse, and get grass. These companies cannot wait that length of time. That is why I have laid out in my amendment that the report would be presented to Dáil Éireann within 90 days, regardless of whether we have a hard or a soft Brexit. The report should detail how we can support the non-exporting indigenous local businesses that are the backbone and bedrock of employment throughout this country. These companies must be supported but there is a gap in the system. As a State, we must put the mechanisms in place to support those companies in the context of Brexit. Regardless of whether it is in 24 days or 21 months, Brexit is happening and these companies need support.

There are many supports available to non-exporting indigenous businesses, some of which I listed. We are looking at providing more supports through the future jobs initiative which I will be launching on Sunday. I have met all of the LEOs and assure the Deputy that they can provide a broad range of supports to non-exporting Irish companies. I have read out the list of supports. It is on the record of the House and I do not propose to go through it again.

In terms of state aid, the issue is looked at case by case. The EU's state aid approved rescue and restructure scheme is in place to deal with sudden shocks. Funding under that scheme has been increased to €200 million, which will provide an important safety net for Irish businesses. This increased budget is prudent as part of our overall contingency plan for Brexit. I was delighted with the recent announcement that the European Commission has given state aid approval for investment in an Irish cheese company, Carbery Foods Ingredients Limited. The fact that this company has received such funding is an indication that the supports are there. A wide range of supports are available and Deputy Cullinane should familiarise himself with the full range of supports that are available through Enterprise Ireland, IntertradeIreland, the LEOs and through-----

The Minister is inviting me to come back with a long list of what is not there.

I am more than happy to do that. I could educate the Minister. I do not need to be educated on what is there.

The Deputy will have another opportunity to contribute.

I may take that opportunity if the Minister persists.

To be fair, there is a long list of available supports. A total of 168 Be Prepared grants have been approved, 251 projects have been approved under the Enterprise Ireland market discovery fund, and 43 agile innovation projects have been approved under the aforementioned Enterprise Ireland fund. A total of 13 Brexit advisory clinics have been run with more than 1,000 in attendance and 190 act on plans have been completed. To date, 4,435 Brexit scorecards have been completed and-----

-----722 LEO clients have completed a scorecard. The list goes on and on. In fairness, businesses are responding and seeking out these supports. We are here to help them and want to continue to do so. This is emergency legislation before us today but all of these supports have been in place for some time. Since 2016 we have been helping businesses to prepare for Brexit. Admittedly, some businesses asked initially what they should prepare for and left it until very late in the day. However, there has been a huge take-up of Brexit supports in recent weeks as the situation has crystallised. This legislation will give Enterprise Ireland more powers to enable it to provide more supports to businesses.

At the end of the day we must all be conscious of the fact that we do not know what will transpire in the weeks and months ahead, in terms of the legislative flow from decisions made in this House and the impact that Brexit will have on the broader economy. While it could be argued that the non-exporting indigenous sector may not be immediately impacted by Brexit because it is not exporting, there is no doubt that there could be negative knock-on effects from a slowdown in the economy or a squeeze on credit, for example. In that context, the proposal by Deputy Naughten has merit. We are unsure and we must take imaginative steps to assess the potential impacts of Brexit in the time ahead. The Deputy's provision of a 90-day limit would bring a sense of urgency to the process undertaken by the agency tasked with carrying out the assessment of the non-exporting indigenous sector to see if there are pinch points affecting it. Credit and cashflow are issues in that regard. We have consistently said that small and medium businesses have serious difficulties in accessing funding from the pillar banks. Some companies may need cashflow carry over in terms of inventory, stock and so on, but the banks are very reticent about lending to the SME sector. In that context, there is a lot of merit in Deputy Naughten's proposal and I urge the Minister to give it serious consideration, especially as it does not do anything materially to undermine the legislation's aim of ensuring that there is a legislative bulwark against a hard Brexit.

Regardless of what type of Brexit transpires, it will have an impact. As the Taoiseach said, Brexit of whatever type is a lose, lose, lose. Who gains from Brexit? Nobody gains and in that context, even the indigenous, non-exporting sector could find itself in real difficulty. I urge the Minister to give the proposal serious consideration. Beyond that, there is the fact that Enterprise Ireland is statutorily charged with dealing with companies that are exporting and which have more than a certain number of employees. There is a gap there in terms of indigenous non-exporting companies that may want to put out feelers vis-à-vis international markets. They may want to take that next step but there is a shortage of policy and supports in that area to enable those in the non-exporting indigenous sector to move into the exporting sector. It is a daunting task and while I know that toolboxes are available for assessing export markets and so on, it is still a big leap for smaller companies. This is an area that the Department should keep an eye on, given that these companies are the backbone of our economy. They are not often flagged and heralded but they provide the majority of employment throughout this State.

I am glad that I have provoked some of the Fianna Fáil Deputies and that Deputy Kelleher has at least put something on the record for Fianna Fail. Fair play to him for that. He is right in saying that businesses are unsure. We are all unsure as to what exactly is going to happen and that uncertainty is creating problems.

The Government has not done enough. Fianna Fáil has not come forward with any plan whatsoever on Brexit with regard to any additional supports needed by businesses. I did not hear any plan in Deputy Kelleher's very short contribution. When the Minister responded earlier it was, again, a shocking response to the positions businesses will find themselves in if there is a hard crash. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, talked of clinics and scorecards. It is almost as if the Government is saying that businesses should Google responses. These are desktop supports rather than practical, financial supports that are necessary to support businesses.

The supports are there.

They are not there to any great degree.

The supports are there.

The Deputy, please, without interruption.

The Minister can keep saying the supports are there and she can rattle off a lot of supports that are there, but there is not enough by far. If we consider what other countries are doing and the supports they are putting in place compared with what the Government is putting in place here, Ireland will not be half as effective. It is shocking. There are no supports in this for the agrifood sector. There are no additional supports with regard to state aid rules such as those that other countries can avail of.

There are not. We are not straying outside of existing state aid rules anywhere in this omnibus Bill. Nowhere. Will the Minister point to one area in the Bill that goes beyond current state aid rules? There is not one. The Minister said that I should familiarise myself-----

They are already there.

Exactly. The Minister, however, misses the point entirely. The Irish economy needs bespoke additional support. There is no break with the state aid rules in this omnibus Bill. We are providing nothing that any other member state in the EU cannot provide to its businesses, even though Ireland is deeply exposed as an economy. Europe needs to step up to the plate. I welcome the €200 million rescue and restructuring fund but I ask the Minister, please, not to insult businesses by saying that businesses who go to clinics and fill out scorecards are being properly supported. There is a whole raft of additional supports they need which they are not getting. These businesses are experiencing real uncertainty and real challenges. It is not every sector of the economy. Some sectors are more exposed than others. I challenge the Minister to read Sinn Féin's proposals and not just mine. I suggest she read the proposals submitted to all parties by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, ISME, and by IBEC. The Minister should fact-check those proposals and evaluate them against what the Government does. She will see very quickly that the Government is falling short despite what she is saying, despite her spin and despite the bluster of her responses. It does not stack up with reality at all. I am very clear in my analysis that the Government is not doing enough. It is doing nowhere near enough. I will not be coming back in again and we will press the amendment.

I thank Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil for their support for the amendment I tabled. I put it to the Minister that it is a helpful amendment. The objective behind it is to focus on this cohort of businesses, which are disproportionately represented within rural communities, in rural constituencies throughout the State and in the provincial towns in rural Ireland. We very much need to try to focus on them and provide these companies with support. Work has been done with regard to export and import companies but we now need to look at these businesses. Having a report back in the House in 90 days would allow us to look at this cohort of businesses specifically, especially given that we will have Brexit at the very latest within the next 21 months.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 17, after line 33, to insert the following:

“Review of Brexit Business Supports

8. (1) The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation may undertake a review of the current Brexit business supports, including but not limited to:

(a) the Brexit Loan Scheme;

(b) the Enterprise Ireland Market Discovery Fund;

(c) the Enterprise Ireland Be Prepared Grant;

(d) the Enterprise Ireland Brexit Act On Initiative;

(e) the Enterprise Ireland Agile Innovation Fund; and

(f) the InterTradeIreland Brexit Start to Plan Voucher schemes.

(2) This review will include, but not be limited to; examining why there has been such a low uptake of these Brexit business supports to date, identify barriers for businesses accessing these supports and offer solutions on how to make it easier for businesses to benefit from these supports.

(3) The Minister will send the findings of this review to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation within two months of the enactment of this Act.”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 45; Staon, 27.

  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.

Níl

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

  • Brassil, John.
  • Browne, James.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Curran, John.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies David Cullinane and Maurice Quinlivan; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.
SECTION 8

Amendments Nos. 32 to 35, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 18, line 34, after "which" to insert "Chapter 1 of".

I will set out the background to this. The EU fluorinated greenhouse gas regulation No. 517/2014 requires people and companies working on fluorinated greenhouse gases, F gases, equipment to be certified. The type of equipment involved includes electrical switch machinery, fire suppression, solvents, refrigeration, air conditioning, heat pumps and motor vehicles. People and companies working on this in a range of areas are required to be certified. Traditionally, both individuals and companies have been certified in the UK by the competent authorities' certification bodies in the UK. The reason we are introducing this amendment is that we were advised by the Attorney General that it would be optimal to have primary legislation to provide for the form of recognition for these UK certified individuals and companies rather than leave it to secondary legislation.

Amendment No. 32 inserts the new Chapter 1 into the Bill. Amendment No. 33 provides the various definitions.

Amendment No. 34 provides that an individual who immediately before the relevant date holds a valid certificate issued by a certification body in the United Kingdom under Article 5 of the Commission regulation of April 2008 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 1, which are the activities I mentioned earlier relating to refrigeration, air conditioning, heat pumps, motor vehicles, electrical switching and so forth, will be deemed to hold an equivalent certificate which is to be recognised in Ireland under that relevant section. Subsection (2) of that section provides that persons or companies will be given six months during which they can continue to operate with the UK certificate as recognised, but during that six months they will be required within the first four months to apply to the relevant agency, or the Minister in the case of a company, to get Irish certification. During the six-month period they must apply within four months and the agency, which in this case will be the EPA, will issue a certificate to them validating and providing an Irish certificate within six months.

It is more restricted in the case of a company. This is in the area of refrigeration and fire suppressants. In their case the same rules will apply about the equivalency of a certificate from the UK. The companies will also have six months during which they can continue to operate, and during that period they will have four months within which to apply. They apply to the Minister for certification. They will also be required, as is the case under the present arrangement, to seek annual renewal from the Minister each year. That is the current recognised approach. The reason the Minister is the person to whom the application is made is that currently this type of vetting of certification is assigned to a private entity. It is up to the Minister to work out the contractual arrangements with that private entity, which will carry out the necessary vetting of applicants.

This is a legislative measure to get over a gap in mutual recognition. Currently, there is mutual recognition of certificates within the EU so a UK certificate is valid throughout the EU. However, if the UK crashes out of the EU and the certificates cease to be recognised under mutual recognition, we must put this provision in place to ensure that people working in these important areas have the necessary certification and that the public have that assurance with regard to those who will be doing that type of work.

I commend the amendments to the House.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 18, after line 38, to insert the following:

“CHAPTER 1

Qualification to carry out activity relating to fluorinated greenhouse gases

Interpretation

9. In this Chapter—

“Agency” means the Environmental Protection Agency;

“equivalent certificate” means an equivalent certificate referred to in paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d) of section 10(1) or paragraph (a) or (b) of section 11(1);

“equivalent training attestation” means an equivalent attestation referred to in paragraph (e) of section 10(1);

“Minister” means the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment;

“relevant date” means the date of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from membership of the European Union.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 18, after line 38, to insert the following:

“Equivalent certification, equivalent training attestation relating to individuals

9. (1) (a) An individual who, immediately before the relevant date holds a valid certificate issued by a certification body in the United Kingdom under Article 5 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 304/2008 of 2 April 20081 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 2(1) of that Commission Regulation is deemed, for the purpose of carrying out that activity, to hold an equivalent certificate.

(b) An individual who, immediately before the relevant date holds a valid certificate issued by a certification body in the United Kingdom under Article 3 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 306/2008 of 2 April 20082 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 1 of that Commission Regulation is deemed, for the purpose of carrying out that activity, to hold an equivalent certificate.

(c) An individual who, immediately before the relevant date holds a valid certificate issued by a certification body in the United Kingdom under Article 3 of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2066 of 17 November 20153 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 1 of that Commission Regulation is deemed, for the purpose of carrying out that activity, to hold an equivalent certificate.

(d) An individual who, immediately before the relevant date holds a valid certificate issued by a certification body in the United Kingdom under Article 4 of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2067 of 17 November 2015 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 2(1) of that Commission Regulation is deemed, for the purpose of carrying out that activity, to hold an equivalent certificate.

(e) An individual who, immediately before the relevant date holds a valid training attestation issued by an attestation body in the United Kingdom under Article 3 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 307/2008 of 2 April 2008 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 1 of that Commission Regulation is deemed, for the purpose of carrying out that activity, to hold an equivalent training attestation.

(2) An individual who holds an equivalent certificate or equivalent training attestation may carry out the activity to which the equivalent certificate or equivalent training attestation relates until the date that is 6 months from the relevant date or the date on which a certificate or training attestation is issued by the Agency under subsection (3), whichever is earlier.

(3) An individual who holds an equivalent certificate or equivalent training attestation shall apply to the Agency not later than 4 months after the relevant date for the issue by it of a certificate or training attestation in respect of the activity to which the equivalent certificate or training attestation relates and such certificate or training attestation shall, subject to subsection (4), be issued by the Agency not later than 6 months after the relevant date.

(4) The Agency shall issue a certificate or training attestation where an application is made in accordance with the procedures established by the Agency in that behalf.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 18, after line 38, to insert the following:

“Equivalent certification relating to companies

9. (1) (a) A company which, immediately before the relevant date holds a valid certificate issued by a certification body in the United Kingdom under Article 8 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 304/2008 of 2 April 2008 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 2(2) of that Commission Regulation is deemed, for the purpose of carrying out that activity, to hold an equivalent certificate.

(b) A company which, immediately before the relevant date holds a valid certificate issued by a certification body in the United Kingdom under Article 6 of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2067 of 17 November 2015 in respect of an activity referred to in Article 2(2) of that Commission Regulation is deemed, for the purpose of carrying out that activity, to hold an equivalent certificate.

(2) A company which holds an equivalent certificate may carry out the activity to which the equivalent certificate relates until the date that is 6 months from the relevant date or the date on which a certificate is issued by the Minister under subsection (3), whichever is earlier.

(3) A company which holds an equivalent certificate shall apply to the Minister not later than 4 months after the relevant date for the issue by the Minister of a certificate in respect of the activity to which the equivalent certificate relates and such certificate shall, subject to subsection (4), be issued by the Minister not later than 6 months after the relevant date.

(4) The Minister shall issue a certificate where an application is made in accordance with the procedures established by the Minister in that behalf.

(5) A certificate issued by the Minister under this section shall be valid until the end of the calendar year in which it is issued.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 18, after line 38, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Schedule 1A of Electricity Regulation Act 1999

9. Schedule 1A to the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 is amended by the insertion of the following new paragraph after paragraph 17:

“18. The SEM Committee will be cognisant of ensuring regulatory alignment to protect the single electricity market and will report to the Minister on actions taken with relevant bodies in other jurisdictions and aim to maintain the single electricity market.”.”.

The amendment is straightforward and inserts a new paragraph regarding the single electricity market, SEM, committee. We consider this very important. It is the only area in the Bill that is truly all-Ireland. We have discussed many times the benefits of the all-Ireland economy and particularly the single electricity market which was established under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. In a post-Brexit situation it is important that the single electricity market is maintained if the benefits are to continue for householders and businesses North and South and, indeed, for the environment.

The amendment seeks to amend the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. The SEM committee was established under this Act. It is an all-Ireland body, with representatives from the regulator in Belfast, appointed by the regulator in Belfast, and representatives from the regulator in Dublin, which oversees the functioning of the all-Ireland electricity market that has been in place for over a decade. Nobody would argue that it has not been a success story. It has been of great benefit for both the North and the South, but particularly for the North in terms of the supply of electricity.

The amendment provides that, in the event of a hard Brexit, the single electricity market committee, of which three members are appointed by the Minister, will deal with the new regulatory circumstances that will exist and will attempt to ensure regulatory alignment on the island. The new market rules for the integrated single electricity market, I-SEM, were launched last year. It is reported that they could cut energy bills for businesses and householders by up to €200 million per annum, which is what we all want to move towards given the economy of scale in terms of serving 6.6 million people. In order to ensure that we retain the single electricity market and all of the benefits it has brought to people, North and South, east and west, we believe this amendment is necessary. The Minister may say that this amendment is not necessary because the single electricity market committee comprises three people from the North. As the Minister will be aware, a lot of legislation is being passed here that is predicated on similar legislation being passed in Britain or by the Assembly, when up and running again, but we believe this needs to happen now in preparation for Brexit.

The Minister and I recently had a discussion in this Chamber on tariffs. He assured me then that the British Government would do the same as we proposed to do in regard to regulations relating to tariffs. Many of the actions we are taking are predicated on Britain taking corresponding actions from a legislative point of view. The intention of this proposal is to retain, maintain and strengthen the single electricity market.

I thank the Deputy for the amendment and for raising the issue of the single electricity market. As he outlined, we had a useful debate on the issue in committee and the House recognised the importance and value of the single electricity market. It is an all-island market that works satisfactorily. It has brought significant savings, North and South, and it is a market that will continue in a jointly-operated single market with one transmission system even after a British exit. The single electricity market has been very valuable. It was set up with legislation, North and South. The single electricity market committee comprises the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, and the Utility Regulator of the North and it is independent under law. It does not report to the Minister. Rather, it reports directly to the Oireachtas.

There are a number of reasons it is not appropriate to accept this amendment. In the first instance, I am satisfied that the single electricity market committee has all the powers it needs. In the case of the CRU, these powers are set out in our Acts and there obviously is legislation underpinning the Utility Regulator in Northern Ireland. The Oireachtas cannot legislate unilaterally for the operation, North and South. It is beyond our jurisdiction to be seeking to legislation for the operation of bodies although they participate in the single electricity market committee. We are confident that it will continue to be jointly operated and that there is great support for it not only the North and the South but in the UK and the European Union.

This amendment is not necessary in the first instance. It would be inappropriate to seek to have an independent regulator report to the Minister. Under existing legislation, independent bodies report to the Oireachtas. It is open to the Oireachtas committee to call in the CRU at any time if it wants assurances about the continuing alignment and operation of the single electricity market. I am satisfied that the amendment, although tabled with the best of intentions, would not be an appropriate amendment to put into this legislation. I am also satisfied that if the committee wants to receive reassurances from the CRU as events develop, it will be in a position to report. We have just passed amendments giving additional powers to the CRU to modify licences in the event of anyone exercising market power that would serve to disrupt the operation of the markets. This is a purely precautionary power but it is one that the regulators wanted because they did not want to have to wait up to ten months to modify a licence. This power has been provided but it will be very much restricted in use to respect the operation of this market. It is a power in reserve for the CRU should it be necessary.

I regret that I am not in a position to accept the amendment.

I note the reasons the Minister has outlined for not being able to accept the amendment but there are a couple of things I would like to point out to him. This is essential to the provision of power on this island regardless of what type of Brexit happens, but particularly if it is a hard Brexit. This is not something that can be left to chance. On the issue of what way this would go down north of the Border, I do not see anybody there objecting to this because their electricity supply is on a knife edge. There are times when they do not have sufficient electricity. My information is that they are dependent on electricity from the Twenty-six Counties. As we move further away from fossil fuels, their position will be weakened further and they will very dependant on power from the Twenty-six Counties. I would argue that this is an important all-Ireland measure.

I take on board some of the points made by the Minister but I reiterate that a lot of what we are doing on Brexit is predicated on the British Government or, possibly, a future Northern Ireland Assembly, taking similar legislation actions and putting similar regulations in place. This is another necessary measure. If the Minister is concerned about this proposal being overreaching in terms of what can be done north of the Border but he is open to reflecting on and tweaking the amendment to provide for what can be done in this State and to bringing it forward on Committee Stage in the Seanad, that is fair enough. If not, I will be pressing the amendment.

The regulation for the single electricity market is based on legislation, North and South.

It is not based unilaterally on legislation provided by the Oireachtas and, therefore, we cannot unilaterally introduce changes to the legislation that underpins this, which is what the Deputy seeks to do. He wants the Oireachtas to bind the operation of the committee, which has parent legislation both North and South, but that is not in accord with legislation. I think he knows and recognises that we cannot start legislating in the House for the operation of another jurisdiction and it would be very incorrect for us to seek to do so.

In the second instance, it is important to emphasise the independence of regulators both North and South who participate in the committee. They are not answerable to the Minister and, as required under EU legislation, they cannot be answerable to a Minister, which we are very conscious of. EU Directive 2009/72/EC stipulates that member states must guarantee the independence of their national regulatory authorities, which is what we are doing in the Bill. The provision in the Deputy's amendment, where he seeks to make the single electricity market report to the Minister, is inappropriate and not in accordance with European law. I reiterate that, as members of the Oireachtas joint committee, Deputy Stanley and other Deputies have the power, correctly exercised, to summon the regulator to assure the committee of the continuing operation of the market.

We are confident that the regulation of the single electricity market, as overseen by the single electricity market committee, is appropriately structured, has the necessary powers and does not need additional powers. It can oversee the operation of the market and is determined to do so. It operates as a single market with a single transmission system and, therefore, it is not a question of cross-Border trading. It is treated as a single market and is one of the few areas where we have a fully integrated market, operating jointly with joint oversight by regulators North and South. If the Deputy presses an amendment that is neither legally robust nor adds any protection, it will be inappropriate.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 74; Staon, 0.

  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Curran, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brian Stanley and Denise Mitchell; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.
Sections 9 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 14

Amendments Nos. 37 to 40, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 21, line 31, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.

I am speaking to amendment No. 38 which we discussed briefly at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. I spoke about it last week when we were discussing Brexit in this Chamber. The amendment proposes: "That the Minister may establish a specific section within the student support scheme of SUSI to address all potential post Brexit queries from students". The reasoning behind this is that if this Bill is intended to deal with a no-deal or crash-out Brexit, which nobody wants to see, it is extremely important that within Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, there is a special branch to deal with all the potential queries. I foresee many difficulties in this area. We are being told students are protected, there will be no changes and it will all be okay but I can envisage students telephoning SUSI and maybe getting a different answer. I mean no disrespect to SUSI but that is the way these things sometimes go. The amendment would allay many fears. It is not a very big request and it would be very positive for students and their parents to know that they would have a specific line where they could get all the relevant information.

Amendment No. 37 proposes to change the word "may" to "shall". This would allow the Minister to render people from the North and Britain eligible for the student support scheme, equivalent to EU students. Our party represents people in the North and people in Britain will be concerned about what level of access they will have to educational services. Can the Minister for Education and Skills explain why the word "may" is in the Bill and not "shall"? We believe this is a reasonable and necessary amendment to ensure guaranteed access. The Minister, however, might be able to address my concerns about why it is "may". I support Deputy Funchion's amendment No. 38 too because none of us knows exactly what will happen in a hard crash and SUSI already faces challenges with queries and processing grants. For years there have been delays in processing grants. We do not want a backlog to develop because of an avalanche of queries from people in the North and Britain. It makes sense to set up a new administrative office to deal with the queries. I support amendments Nos. 37 and 38.

Not wishing to be in any way confrontational, the Ministers who have spoken previously have been very helpful - maybe not in supporting amendments - and they have accepted some amendments and the spirit of others. I could be wrong but my understanding is that the Minister will support Fianna Fáil's amendments Nos. 39 and 40 but will oppose Sinn Féin's amendments Nos. 37 and 38. I am not sure if that is an outworking of the confidence and supply agreement or some backroom deal that was done with Fianna Fáil but all amendments should be considered and supported or not on their merits. Will the Minister clarify whether it is the case that he is accepting the two Fianna Fáil amendments but does not see fit to support the equally reasonable amendments tabled by Sinn Féin?

Tá mise agus mo pháirtí tar éis na leasuithe seo a leagan síos ionas go mbeidh cinnteacht i gceist do mhic léinn ó Tuaisceart Éireann agus ón Bhreatain i gcás na táillí a chaithfidh siad a íoc. Tá neamhchinnteacht maidir leis an gceist seo soiléir faoi láthair. Aontaím leis an Teachta Cullinane go mbraitheann an reachtaíocht seo ar an mBreatain ag titim amach as an Aontas Eorpach gan chonradh. Ag an am céanna, toisc go bhfuil neamhchinnteacht ann maidir leis na táillí a bheidh á n-íoc ag mic léinn ó Tuaisceart Éireann agus ón Bhreatain, tá sé i gceist ag níos lú daoine teacht ag staidéar in Éirinn amach anseo. Admhaím gur thug an tAire gealltanas dóibh siúd atá ag tosú i mbliana nach mbeidh táillí iasachta nó táillí neamh-Aontas Eorpach acu ar feadh tréimhse an chúrsa iomlán. Measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeadh cinnteacht ag na daoine a thiocfaidh ina dhiaidh sin agus iad ag teacht anseo, ionas go mbeidís in ann pleanáil a dhéanamh. Tá muidne ag rá go bhfuil na doirse oscailte dár muintir i dTuaisceart Éireann, dár muintir sa Bhreatain agus do mhuintir na Breataine uilig.

These amendments deal with an issue I have pressed before and the Minister has given certainty in respect of fees for students from the North of Ireland and from Great Britain starting this year and for the duration of their courses. I acknowledge that. The fact that there is uncertainty about the position of the State after that is damaging. It is saying that our doors are closed. As Deputy Cullinane said, this is predicated on a no-deal Brexit. We need to be as certain as possible that, regardless of what happens, the free movement of students, North and South, east and west, continues and that we in this House do what we can to ensure that. We cannot control everything. We cannot control what the British are doing but I hope if this amendment is accepted by the House that there would be ongoing reciprocity on this. Perhaps the Minister could set out what discussions he has had on this issue with his British counterpart and with parties in the North.

If amendment No. 39 is accepted, I am not sure about amendment No. 40. I will consider that when I hear what the Minister says. It is really a belt and braces approach and I do not want to put extra work on civil servants in respect of producing reports, if that is unnecessary. It is important to give that certainty in legislation and do something practical for students from the North and from Great Britain. I accept that the details would have to be worked out by the Minister but if this amendment is agreed to at least we can say definitively to students from the North and from Britain that they can come here to study on the same basis as they have always done here. We have done it in respect of SUSI grants and now we are doing in respect of fees.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí fá choinne seans a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an reachtaíocht seo agus ar son na leasuithe. I welcome the contribution of my colleagues to this debate and acknowledge the time they have devoted to this. I have considered the four amendments objectively, as have the officials in the Department, and there is a spirit in amendments. I know what Deputy Funchion is trying to do in amendment No. 38 and I acknowledge the fact she is looking for equal treatment, which is something I am very conscious of too. Whether a student is from Ballaghaderreen or Bangor, he or she will be treated equally as far as I am concerned. I know that the services and help provided by SUSI are available whether the matters are Brexit-related, Northern Ireland-related, Welsh-related, Scottish-related or English-related and that they are all treated as priorities.

The purpose of my proposed amendment to section 14 of the 2011 Act is to allow the Minister to prescribe classes of persons after a detailed evaluation of factors has been assessed. The proposed new section 14A.(1) will give the Minister the power, where he or she "is satisfied to do so", to prescribe a class of person after he has "consulted with the Higher Education Authority", secured "the consent of the Minister for Finance" and considered the policies and principles set out in the proposed new section 14A.(2). The policies and principles in question include matters such as "whether there are reciprocal arrangements in place with the" third country, "the development of skills .... in sectors of the economy", "the nature and level of the qualification", the "resources available" and "any other matters which in the opinion of the Minister are proper .... having regard to the objective of enabling persons to attend courses of higher education".

The use of the word "may" in the proposed new section 14A.(1) is appropriate in this context. The use of the obligatory word "shall" would require the Minister to prescribe every third country which reaches the threshold provided for in the legislation. Given the cost-increasing nature of any decision to prescribe a new class of person, it would be inappropriate for the Minister to be required to prescribe this in this way. It would also mean that the Oireachtas would not have a clear line of sight over the potential implications of what we are enacting and to which countries it could apply. Finally, there would be a clear conflict between the obligatory term "shall" and the governing policies and principles which the Legislature is using to curb the Minister's powers. The final decision must be in our interests. The decision on the class of person must rest with the Minister of the day. It is important to point out that discussions on the common travel area are at a very advanced stage. This means the arrangements we have today are the arrangements we will have post Brexit, regardless of whether there is a no-deal Brexit or a deal is reached. The common travel area will override any of this in that instance.

Amendment No. 38, in the name of Deputy Funchion, relates to the operational aspects of processing applications for payments delivered by an awarding authority such as SUSI, which is a business unit of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board. It is a memorandum of understanding. It is not underpinned by legislation. It is a service level agreement. There is already provision within the Student Support Act 2011 for SUSI to outsource certain functions. In this regard, the City of Dublin Education and Training Board has engaged the services of an outsourced provider, Abtran, which provides a call centre and document management services for SUSI. If the need arises, it will be possible to increase the resources provided by this company to meet any potential peak in demand. In addition, SUSI's staffing model provides a certain degree of flexibility regarding the recruitment of temporary staff to meet peak demands during the grant processing season. If the need arises, it will be open to SUSI management to reallocate resources to meet its operational needs.

I appreciate that the objective of the amendment is to ensure there are resources which must be in place to deliver very clear messages to all applicants for SUSI supports, and specifically for those who are seeking to study in the UK or UK citizens who are seeking to study in Ireland. I agree fully with this. I am particularly conscious that any changes in the area of student finance can lead to uncertainty. Clearly, I want to avoid that. My Department will continue to consult SUSI to ensure adequate resources are in place to deal effectively with the level of queries that may arise from students who feel they will be affected by Brexit. As I said earlier, the option remains to adjust resources if required. If there is any weakness with regard to the equal treatment of the existing arrangements, obviously we have a duty to make sure it does not persist.

The Government is very committed to clear and precise communications on all aspects and impacts of Brexit. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently updated its content on Brexit, and specifically on the common travel area. In addition to using its own social media and communications outlets, the Department of Education and Skills will update materials on its website on specific educational issues as they arise. In seeking to reassure the Deputy, I want to communicate very clearly that Irish students will continue to be eligible for SUSI supports while they study in the UK and in the North, and that Northern and UK students will continue to be eligible for SUSI grants while they study in Irish higher education institutions. I assure the Deputy that in line with the spirit of the amendment, I take her intervention very seriously. If there are any weaknesses or shortcomings in this service, or if resources are required to ensure information is provided through a helpline, I have already spoken to my officials and we remain vigilant in that regard. I have confidence in the services provided by SUSI. It is already providing a very professional service. When it was first established - I think it was in 2012 - there were many complications. Everyone in this House was trying to figure out how it would work. We are not talking about SUSI as much as we used to because it is providing an absolutely excellent service. I want to acknowledge it for that.

Tá leasuithe Uimh. 39 and 40 curtha chun cinn ag an Teachta Thomas Byrne. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh leanúnachas i gceist i ndiaidh an common travel area. Nuair a bheidh an aontú sin déanta, beimid in ann socruithe cinnte maidir leis na blianta i ndiaidh 2020, 2021 agus 2022 a dhéanamh. Ní bheimid ar ais san áit ina bhfuilimid ag smaoineamh ar céard a tharlóidh an bhliain seo chugainn agus an bhliain ina dhiaidh sin. Mar atá ráite ag an Teachta, tá sé déanta fá choinne an bhliain 2019-20. Tá mé i gcónaí ag labhairt le mo chomhghleacaithe sa Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna mar gheall ar an gcinnteacht atá i gceist sa réimse seo. Tá an comhaontú idir an Bhreatain agus an tír seo ar son an common travel area thar a bheith tábhachtach. Táimid ag éirí níos cóngaraí i gcónaí. Tá an comhartha ar deireadh an líne maidir leis an gcomhaontú foirmiúil atá i gceist fosta.

I welcome Deputy Thomas Byrne's contribution on leasú Uimh. 39. While the SUSI scheme is statutory and is distinct from the free fees initiative, which is an administrative scheme, I acknowledge that the two are inextricably linked and share common eligibility criteria, including residency and nationality criteria. Amendment No. 39 would have the effect of preserving an entitlement to access the free fees initiative, with UK residency continuing to be counted and UK citizens treated similarly to those in other EEA countries, including Switzerland. Amendment No. 40 would require the Minister to produce a once-off report at the end of this year on the position of UK or Irish students who are resident in the UK or Northern Ireland regarding the free fees initiative. Deputy Byrne mentioned the thinking of the officials. With regard to timing, if it comes at the end of the year, it will be very close to the start of the new academic year in September. Having said that, it could be argued that neither amendment to the Bill is strictly necessary given that the free fees initiative is administrative in nature. I recognise that the overriding objective of the amendments is to provide long-term clarity for all concerned.

D'ardaigh an Teachta Thomas Byrne an cheist sin sa Teach seo cúpla mí ó shin. Ba mhaith liom cé chomh tiomanta is atá sé i dtaobh an ábhair seo a aithint. Nuair a bhí mé i mBéal Feirste cúpla mí ó shin, chas mé le cúpla tuismitheoir a bhí ag iarraidh orm céard a tharlóidh i mí Mheán Fómhair na bliana 2020 nó 2021. Glacaim leis go bhfuil leanúnachas agus cinnteacht thar a bheith tábhachtach. I have made it clear from the outset that the common travel area will address many of the concerns in the education sector. This includes the question of SUSI grants and the maintenance of the current EU fees system for Northern Irish and UK students. Agreements between my Department and the UK Department for Education on these principles, as well as wider policy issues at other levels of education, have been reached. Discussions are now focusing on framing these agreements within a memorandum of understanding. I hope that a meeting between the Secretary of State for Education and me will be convened in the next few weeks with a view to signing the memorandum of understanding. I am also happy to commit to the publication of a report by the end of the year. Neither amendment is contrary to Government policy. They reflect our desire to maintain the status quo post Brexit. Given that amendments Nos. 39 and 40 do not conflict with our approach, I intend to propose their acceptance by the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an tacaíocht ón Rialtas don dá leasú atá curtha os comhair na Dála agam. Tá mé sásta go bhfuil an tAire ag rá go bhfuil siad ag teacht le polasaí an Rialtais. Ní raibh mé in ann a leithéid de ráiteas a fháil ón Aire aon uair a chuir mé ceist air. Tá mé sásta go bhfuil sé ráite ag an Aire anois. Tá mé buíoch den Rialtas go bhfuil siad ag tacú leis an mholadh seo agus go mbeidh sé sa dlí. Má éiríonn le leasú Uimh. 39, beidh mé sásta gan dul ar aghaidh le leasú Uimh. 40 mar ní bheadh aon gá leis an tuarascáil sa chás sin toisc go mbeadh an dlí athraithe. Chuir mé leasú Uimh. 40 isteach ar eagla nach mbeadh leasú Uimh. 39 glactha.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that it is Government policy that Northern Irish and British students would continue to have the same rights. I welcome and am very grateful for the support he has given for the amendment. However, when I have asked this question before, the Minister has not set out Government policy quite as clearly. I am glad that he has done so today and am delighted this will be included in the legislation. We will support every effort the Minister will make to ensure the continued free flow of students North, South, east and west. It is something Fianna Fáil has put forward, as have I as education spokesperson. We would do this anyway and give the commitment. I felt a longer term commitment was needed on this so that people who are in the UK equivalent of transition year or fifth year now, when they are making their plans, would not be put off coming to this jurisdiction because of this. I am hoping for and looking forward to hearing of the British reciprocating on this through the Minister's negotiations. It is very important.

It is one of the tragedies of Brexit that the young people and students, and those who have been educated, have been denied the exercise of their rights as EU citizens by the Brexit vote. Those who have had a higher education are much more likely to have voted to remain and their futures have been blighted by Brexit. Some aspects of this Bill, particularly my amendment, will contribute significantly to ensuring the continuance of their rights in this area, despite the fact that Britain is unfortunately leaving the EU.

Níl éinne eile ag ofráil ar an ábhar seo. Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí as ucht na díospóireachta.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 22, after line 34, to insert the following:

“(5) That the Minister may establish a specific section within the student support scheme of SUSI to address all potential post Brexit queries from students.”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 69; Staon, 0.

  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Brassil, John.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Curran, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kathleen Funchion and David Cullinane; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 14 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 22, after line 34, to insert the following:

“Free Fees Initiative

15. In respect of the Free Fees Initiative for third level education in the State, periods of residency in the United Kingdom shall be treated similarly to periods of residency in the EEA and citizens of the United Kingdom shall be treated similarly to citizens of the EEA.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 40 not moved.
Sections 15 to 22, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 23
Question proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."

For the measures that are dealt with in the legislation here, I ask the Minister to highlight if there are changes to the status quo. My understanding is that in essence these sections are about the retention of the status quo.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the enactment of these provisions essentially provides that the current arrangements with the UK, treating it as a member state, will continue. However, from the perspective of the European Union, is that for a defined period or will it be allowed to continue in perpetuity?

In general, if we are coming to individual items where there is a change to the status quo and it is dealt with here, I ask the Minister to bring that to our attention. Obviously, we know what the situation is with taxation measures that are not dealt with here.

On Second Stage, I indicated that my party may have particular concerns about some of the taxation policies in this legislation. However, given that they are the continuation of existing policies, we are not raising objections to them now because this is about maintaining the status quo in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We do not object to any of these sections on the basis that the advice we have been given is that this only maintains the status quo. As Deputy Michael McGrath said, we also ask that any deviation from that be signalled, although I understand there is no deviation.

If I understood him correctly, Deputy McGrath asked a valid question about the continuation of this policy. I understand this will continue indefinitely. However, does the Department intend to review some of these policies? For example, we just dealt with those in Britain who will still benefit from the artist exemption. Should that continue two or three years down the line? Is a general review of some of these measures intended after a sufficient period?

I apologise to the Deputies for not being here for the start of the section but I believe I heard the points that were put.

The first question was whether all of these sections seek to maintain the status quo and the answer is that they do. I believe all Deputies have been briefed on that point.

I was also asked if these policies would apply indefinitely. In the event of a disorderly Brexit at the end of March, these policies will be introduced to maintain the status quo, but, of course, they would be subject to review at any point either through the annual mechanism we have through the finance Bill or through the many Bills my Department introduces to the House each year. There would be opportunities then to look at the application of this policy and see if either I or any of the Opposition parties believe that any further amendment is needed.

If I understand the Minister correctly, he is saying that all these provisions will be reviewed in the normal way as the Oireachtas would do through the budgetary process and the finance Bill. However, from the point of view of the EU giving its imprimatur to these measures, which for the purposes of continuing with these reliefs allows Ireland to essentially recognise the UK as remaining within the Union or tantamount to being within the Union, the EU has not put any time limit on the continuation of all these reliefs in the case of a disorderly Brexit. Is that what the Minister is saying?

From our point of view, we are proceeding on the basis of our understanding and the Minister has clarified that. I ask him to answer a further question which will bring additional clarity. Is the Department aware of any other taxation measure that is not contained in this legislation where an assessment was made not to continue the status quo? Is this the full suite of taxation measures identified by the Department? Can he confirm there was no decision not to continue something of which we are not aware because we have not seen it here?

Any tax measure to which I am contemplating making a change is contained in this Bill. I am not considering any further measure beyond what has been indicated here.

Deputy McGrath asked about the European Union. The vast majority, if not all, of the different measures contained in the Bill are through exercise of our national sovereignty in the tax area. The Union is aware of the changes we are making. Where relevant, we have had some consultation with it, particularly on some of the amendments we have introduced. I am satisfied that what we are introducing is absolutely compliant with the application of EU law. I am not contemplating any further tax measures beyond those indicated in the Bill.

I understand the Minister is not contemplating anything further than this. However, does the Department have a list of taxation measures that exist because Britain is part of the European Union, which are not accommodated in this legislation, meaning that after Brexit there would be a change in taxation on A, B, C, D, E and F? If there is such a list in the Department, can it be shared with Opposition Members to see what is not being continued and what parts of the taxation code will not continue?

We do not have that list. Any measure that we believe we need to change in our tax policy to maintain the status quo is contained in this Bill. I am trying to be helpful and I am doing my best to answer the Deputy's question, but it is a fundamental one. I understand both Deputies are saying that, on the basis of good faith, they will facilitate the passage of these sections. If I am not answering a question that the Deputy has put to me to the best of his satisfaction and he would like to further clarity, I will do my best to deal with it.

I accept the Minister's good faith in this regard. In the assessment of this legislation, has the Department identified taxation measures, which British residents or companies enjoy as a result of the UK being a member of the European Union, that after the passage of this Bill and a no-deal Brexit they will no longer enjoy? Have we decided that we do not want to maintain the status quo on any such matters?

I wish to put my understanding of what the Minister said on the record. My interpretation is that what has been captured here is exhaustive from the perspective of the Department and that the Minister is not aware of any further changes that fall out of this by omission. If that is the position, it covers an awful lot that we could go into in greater detail.

That is the case. Anything that is not contained in this Bill is not by an act of omission. It is because if we find ourselves dealing with a tax policy issue in the aftermath of a disorderly Brexit, it will be because something has happened that we did not anticipate or were not aware of. Any knowledge that we have of any tax matter that needs to be dealt with in the event of Brexit taking place in a number of weeks is included in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 24 to 52, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 35, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 58 of Act of 2010

53. Section 58(2) of the Act of 2010 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (a):

“(a) the supply of a traveller’s qualifying goods, where the total value of that supply of goods, including tax, is more than €175, and”,

and

(b) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (iii):

“(iiia) has, in respect of a traveller whose domicile or habitual residence is in the United Kingdom, proof that—

(I) the goods have been imported into the United Kingdom by or on behalf of the traveller, and

(II) value-added tax and duties of customs and excise, chargeable by virtue of the law of the United Kingdom, have been paid on the importation of those goods,”.”.

This amendment amends section 58 of the Value Added Tax Consolidation Act which relates to the retail export scheme. Two amendments are proposed. The first amendment provides that the value of qualifying goods must exceed €175 in order to be eligible for a refund under the scheme. This monetary limit will apply in respect of all third country travellers who apply for a refund under the scheme post the commencement of the section.

The second amendment introduces a new requirement of proof of importation of the goods into the UK and the associated proof of purchase, where applicable, of relevant UK VAT and duties for the goods purchased under the scheme. The retail export scheme enables travellers who are resident outside the EU to benefit from VAT relief on goods purchased in Ireland and subsequently exported outside the EU. The UK's status as a third country will render UK residents eligible for VAT refunds on purchases of qualifying goods under the scheme post-Brexit.

The purpose of the amendments to the operation of the scheme is to provide a legal basis to control and minimise the scope for abuse and also to minimise the possibility of diversion in retail consumption from Ireland to the UK post-Brexit. This is as a result of the volumes of passenger traffic between the UK and Ireland.

To date the UK has not publicly confirmed its intentions on the availability of a VAT retail export scheme to EU passenger traffic post-Brexit. The amendment to the Bill is, therefore, a precautionary measure which will be subject to a commencement order. The amendments provides Ireland with the legislative basis to trigger a reciprocal protectionary measure should the UK publicly commit to not applying a VAT retail export scheme in the coming weeks. If the UK proceeds with applying a VAT retail export scheme to UK-EU passenger traffic, then Ireland will not commence the sections.

I thank the Minister for these amendments. On amendment No. 42 on duty free, as I understand it, if the Minister did not bring in this amendment then the default position would be that duty free would be reintroduced if and when the UK leaves the European Union at the end of March. The Minister is, therefore, bringing forward this amendment which, if enacted, allows him by commencement order to have no duty free between Ireland and the UK. I would like to clarify the Government's policy position. Is it the Government's policy position that if the UK does not introduce duty free in that scenario, Ireland will not do so either but, conversely, if it does - I understand the UK is saying it will make its intentions known after the meaningful vote next week, depending on how that goes - we will do likewise? Is the position of the Government that we will be acting in concert with the UK Government on the question of duty free? If that is the case, how will the Minister address the point that has been made by some of our airports and ports that this scenario could put them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other European airports and ports? If duty free was introduced in those countries, Irish ports and airports would be at a disadvantage.

Is there an agreed European position on this? We know what the default legal position is. If the UK leaves the European Union, duty free applies. Has this been the subject of discussion with other countries at EU level, that an agreed position would be arrived at. Could it be the case that Ireland and the UK do not introduce duty free, but that other countries have duty free? What would be the consequences of that?

Can the Minister clarify the situation on cross-Border shopping if duty free was to be introduced by the Government or if it were to happen by default by the Government not bringing in this amendment, or not signing the commencement order? What would be to practice on the ground for consumers and what would be the implications for the Exchequer?

Many of the points I wished to raise were covered by the Deputy McGrath. If I understand the Minister correctly, he is saying that he is not aware of what the British Government is planning to do in this regard. Could the Minister outline his engagements with his counterpart and where they are at this point in time in relation to this issue? This issue would also affect the North of Ireland and it has a major potential implication. It is surprising, given the focus on the Border on the island of Ireland, that we still do not know if the British authorities are going to reciprocate in this regard. That would mean the status quo would remain. If that is not the case, there would be changes and questions on how this would be monitored and supervised.

Will the Minister outline the engagements he has had with his counterpart, where they are at and when the UK is likely to make a determination on this issue? If the UK decides not to reciprocate, this will not be commenced. What will be the impact on the island of Ireland in that scenario?

On a point of order, most of the questions the Deputies put to me refer to amendment No. 42 to section 61, which is the following amendment, but I can answer the questions-----

The amendments are grouped.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 are grouped.

On the questions to put to me, Deputy Michael McGrath's interpretation of the amendment is correct. We will be making a decision and triggering what we are going to do when we are clear on what the United Kingdom is actually going to do. On Deputy Pearse Doherty's question, what the UK has said publicly so far is that it is not be planning to bring in a duty free scheme.

The UK will have to legislate to deliver that objective. That is why I am introducing an enabling provision whereby, in the event of that happening, the Government can respond with a commencement order. The UK's view, as publicly stated to its Parliament, is that it is not planning to introduce a duty free scheme. That would require legal change. I am just introducing a precautionary measure to deal with that.

Regarding the question of whether there has been other engagement with or contemplation by other member states on this matter, as far as we are aware, there has been little consideration of it because it is not as much of an issue for other countries as it is for us, given the volume of passenger traffic between the UK and Ireland.

As to the question on Northern Ireland, we anticipate that this scenario can only develop at ports and airports. Currently, we do not judge the duty free consequences of this measure across the Border as significant. That is one of the many reasons we believe we are better off having in place the legal ability to allow us to respond to different issues that may arise.

Will the Minister outline the legal status? He stated that the duty free consequences across the Border were not deemed to be significant, but what would the legal status be in that scenario if the British Government did not reciprocate or a commencement order was not given to this section?

There are two levels to this. Current EU directives do not permit duty free shops on the land frontier. Ireland may not, therefore, operate a duty free shop on a land frontier. This is why I told the Deputy that, if this scenario developed, it would do so at ports and airports under EU law.

The next question relates to what the policy framework would be if we found ourselves in a situation where that did not apply. The policy framework operates on the basis of the World Customs Organization, WCO, which currently recommends that duty free shops operate at ports and airports and not on land frontiers. The UK is a member of the WCO. For these reasons, we believe it is unlikely that we will see the development in any way of a duty free centre or operation on the frontier between Ireland and what will then be a third country.

On the policy point, is it the Government's position that, notwithstanding what other European countries may do on the question of duty free, it intends to align its position with the UK's? Is that the thinking at this point?

Yes, that is my current position in light of the significant passenger traffic between the UK and Ireland. That is what I will plan to do, but I wish to indicate that this section will be subject to a commencement order.

If this scenario comes to pass, will the Minister be open to further assessment and evaluation of the question and the ramifications? What we have from his Department is just a one-page note that extrapolates the revenue forgone based on 50% of passengers travelling between Ireland and the UK buying tobacco and spirits. To make a policy decision, one would need a much more detailed analysis of what the overall consequences would be for the Exchequer, the ports, the airports and so on. Before a final decision was made in such a scenario, would the Minister be willing to undertake a deeper analysis of the consequences?

We have enough of an evidence base to know that, in the absence of this decision, there would be a significant tax base risk. It would not be appropriate for me to give an indication now, but if the UK were to decide to move into a duty free environment, the consequences for us would be so significant that my intention would then be to reciprocate. As is the case with any measure, we would then review its impact and policy consequences. It is important that I be clear with the House, though. If we found ourselves in a situation where for some reason the UK decided to bring in such a regime, it would create a significant issue for me and the Exchequer. I would look, therefore, to respond through the measures outlined in this amendment but I emphasise that they are precautionary. The chancellor of the British Government has indicated that it is not planning to do this and we have every reason to expect that will be the case. We are just noting that it would require legislative change by the UK.

I wish to return to the issue of the island of Ireland and the Minister's statement that duty free shops would be at airports and ports. In the context of a no-deal scenario, our island would have a European frontier, and on this island there are well-established ferry crossings, for example, Greencastle to Magilligan in Derry, Carlingford to Portaferry and Omeath to Warrenpoint. I am referring to ports that would be deemed to be in different jurisdictions from one another. Could a duty free scenario not arise in respect of those points of crossing?

That would be dependent on whether any business interest or operator wanted to deal with any of those places.

That in turn would require authorisation from the Revenue Commissioners. A process would have to be gone through whereby the Revenue Commissioners would need to form an assessment.

Would that necessarily be done by our Revenue Commissioners? Could it be done by the British authorities? The Minister referred to the reduced potential of the cross-Border element, but the scenario in question could be deemed an opportunity. One could set up a duty free shop right on the Border if one had the authorisation of the customs officials in London.

In that kind of scenario, the customs authorities would need to work together to form a view on the matter.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 53, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 54 to 60, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 38, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“CHAPTER 8

Excise

Amendment of section 104 of Finance Act 2001

61. Section 104 of the Finance Act 2001 is amended, in subsection (1)(e), by the insertion of “, other than the United Kingdom,” after “destination”.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 61, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 62 to 66, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 67
Question proposed: "That section 67 stand part of the Bill."

The financial services area is a topic we have discussed at length in recent months in the context of Brexit preparedness. These sections essentially provide for a temporary run off regime so that existing policies and contractual obligations will continue to be recognised for a period of three years but no further new business can be written by firms that have not changed their regulatory structure, which is fair enough. I ask the Minister to provide an update on the major insurance providers in Ireland and the Central Bank's or the Department's assessment of their preparedness. In the context of policies written in Ireland, to what extent have firms that rely on the passporting provisions changed their regulatory structure so that this section will not apply to them or is this still a concern? On second stage the Minister referred to the fact that some UK prudentially regulated insurance firms and some of which are prudentially regulated in Gibraltar have not made the necessary changes. It may well be precautionary, but this is why the three year temporary run off is provided for. Presumably there are still firms that have not done it. What will prevent such firms from writing new business in a scenario where they are no longer permitted to do so but are continuing to operate here? The policyholders in that scenario would be exposed because those policies would not be valid. Pre-existing policies would be valid for a three year period but any new policies would not have the status of regulatory protection.

In terms of section 67, and section 66 which is similar, is there any consumer risk to an individual who has a policy written by one of the insurance companies that is subject to the provisions of these two sections? Is there any risk to an individual in terms of a delayed claim or having fewer rights than the customers of a company that is currently authorised and will continue to operate and write insurance here? I ask the Minister to explain why a period of three years was chosen. Companies will not be allowed to write new policies from the date of Britain leaving the EU. Why is three years deemed appropriate? What percentage of policies does the Department estimate will be captured by these two sections? Are we looking at 3% or 10% of the market that is unlikely to be writing new insurance products into the future?

In reply to Deputy Michael McGrath's question, the Central Bank has the power to stop any insurance company from issuing new products. It is well aware of this issue and I am confident that it will deal with any insurance policies being issued that does not have full consumer protection and a legal underpinning.

Deputies Michael McGrath and Pearse Doherty asked about our assessment of readiness in the industry and the products that are not covered by this legislation. I have discussed this issue with the Central Bank whose judgment is that the overwhelming majority of insurance companies have now taken all the necessary steps to reorganise their affairs, if they had not already done so, in order to be compliant in the event of a very hard Brexit taking place in a number of weeks. However, a very small minority of companies may still not have taken the necessary action.

Deputy Pearse Doherty asked for an indication of the size of the market represented by these companies and the estimate is that they equate to 2% of the Irish gross written premium that was written by UK and Gibraltar insurers between 2011 and 2017. It is a very small share that we judge might not yet be ready but, of course, even if the share of business is low, that is of no solace to consumers who might find themselves in a very difficult situation.

On the question of consumer risk, if and when the Oireachtas ratifies this section, we do not believe there would be a consumer risk. Our analysis is that we will have dealt with the potential for a consumer risk to develop. Deputy Pearse Doherty also asked why we opted for a three year period. We were just trying to get the balance right. We wanted to provide enough time for consumers who have policies that they bought in good faith to allow those policies to conclude and to get new policies to replace them. We felt that three years was enough time to allow consumers to get their affairs in order but not so long that it might offer an inducement for no change by consumers.

What requirements will be on these companies to inform consumers, if any? Is that going to be left up to the Central Bank? If people are not following the ins and outs of this and do not know whether their insurance company is covered or if they have a longer term policy, will there be an onus on the insurance company to inform them so that they have the necessary time to make any required arrangements?

The Central Bank will have to be notified by an insurance company and my expectation is that it will publish some form of index or other publication detailing the companies that have not taken sufficient action. This is why we have a run off period of three years. If the Central Bank were to form the view that there is not adequate consumer awareness of this issue then a three year run off period provides ample time to make sure that consumers are aware of any potential risks they may face. That said, consumers have a responsibility to ensure that they are adequately insured. We are talking about a very small number of businesses as a percentage of the total and that is why we have put a three year run off period in place.

If a customer is not aware that a company is not authorised after the three year period, is there a risk there in the context of a potential claim during or after the three year period? Is there a risk given that the company no longer operates in the European Union? Is the consumer's ability to enforce a claim lessened? I am a little concerned that the Minister did not talk about individual contact and the responsibility of the companies and the Central Bank to contact the individual policyholders as opposed to organising awareness campaigns.

Assuming this provision is enacted, there will be no issue across this period in relation to claims or the operation of policies. The whole purpose of this section is to ensure the maintenance of the status quo. However, this section is somewhat different from others in the Bill in that it contains a time limit. I will take on board what Deputy Pearse Doherty said about consumer notification. That might be something we can consider in the aftermath of the operation of this section in the event of a disorderly Brexit taking place. Our focus and that of the Central Bank is on maintaining continuity of consumer protection, which we will do through this section.

Later on in the year, if we find ourselves in such an awful situation, I will consider asking the Central Bank if it could give notice to a small number of consumers that they have a run-off period in place, at the end of which they will need to replace their current product with a new product. It is entirely possible that during that period the company may reorganise its affairs to be fully compliant with the requirements of the Central Bank. However, given that we are making all of these changes to try to avoid a consumer protection issue, it is fair to suggest that consumers be made aware of what is under way and what change they might need to make. I will speak to the Central Bank about that.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 68 to 71, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 72

Amendments Nos. 43 to 45, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 48, line 25, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.

The amendments in the group are similar. I will not press this one to a vote but the reason behind these amendments is to make it compulsory for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to carry out functions under section 5A.(2)(a) and (b), by replacing "may" with "shall". Section 5A.(1) provides that "the Minister may grant an exemption". Similar to an earlier amendment, the purpose of this amendment is not to hinder the Minister or prevent him or her from carrying out his or her duties. It is to try to ensure there is some type of democratic accountability beyond the passage of this legislation and that we have the assent of the Dáil to bring it back here at some stage. As I stated, I will not press the amendment. I am making the point that this Chamber is where laws are made and passed. This is an exceptional situation and the passage of this legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas gives Ministers many additional powers contingent on it being in the best interests of the country to do so and that we take at face value the commitments that are being given because we know the urgency involved and the difficulty we are facing. In cases where the Minister makes the order, he or she should revert to the Dáil to obtain its assent. These are not the orders that will automatically kick in but will apply in certain contingencies.

I support amendments Nos. 43 to 45, inclusive. While they are technical, they also impose a requirement on the Minister by replacing the word "may" with "shall" in the section. We had a similar debate with the Minister for Health on health provisions. I take this opportunity to raise the important issue of the insurance green card, which we raised on Second Stage and Committee Stage with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Support, Deputy Ross, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney. I understand from a previous response from the Minister that this issue is an EU competency and also that it is a matter for the industry to respond. The difficulty is that we need assurance that the issue will be addressed for the people affected. It is not appropriate to simple say it is up to the industry to resolve the matter. People need to be made aware of the requirements. What has the Government done to make people aware of them? We all accept that the insurance green care would be required in the context the UK leaving the EU with a hard crash. People with motor insurance need to know if their insurance will cover them when they cross the Border into the North or the South. This is an extremely important issue for people. While some insurance providers are preparing for this eventuality, are all of them doing so? We do not want some people to be left high and dry and potentially caught out by this issue. We need greater clarity. I am not comforted by the notion that the industry alone should resolve this issue. While I accept the Tánaiste's assertion that this is an EU competency, there is a responsibility on the State to ensure people are at least made aware of these issues.

To follow up on the point made by Deputy Cullinane, many people are very angry at the idea that a green card will be required and they will have to hold on their vehicle an international insurance certificate to cross the Lifford Bridge. People are simply saying they will not do it and there is no way they will be required to have documentation to cross a bridge they have crossed every day of their lives in certain scenarios.

My insurance company emailed all of its policyholders about one and a half months ago telling us we needed to apply for a green card one month in advance of Brexit. I wanted to know what the process was and whether there would be a charge so I called the company to inform it that Brexit was one month away. I was told to call back in two weeks. When I pointed out that the company had emailed its customers telling us all to apply one month in advance of Brexit, the response was that the company did not really know what was happening. I replied that it should join the rest of us because we did not know what was happening either. However, it had told policyholders we needed a green card if we wanted to be insured while crossing the Border. I was told the company would issue green cards to all those who request them after 29 March when it knew better what the position was. I asked what would happen to me if I was driving in the North on 29 or 30 March as my car could be impounded and I could be in breach of the law. The company then took my name on the basis that it would try to get a green card out to me beforehand.

Most people in Donegal have very little awareness that this is the position and they are not applying for this insurance green card. One issue that aspect really annoys me, and one which the Tánaiste or Minister might bring some clarity, is that the website of the Motor Insurers Bureau, the authority in Britain that issues green cards, states clearly that a person does not need a green card for any European jurisdiction. That position will clearly change after Brexit. It also states that a green card is not required for Andorra, Serbia and Switzerland which are covered. As such, there are countries outside the European Union to which the green card does not apply. We have known for more than two years that Brexit will happen and we knew there was potential for a hard Brexit. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the issue of drivers being required to carry in their vehicles an international travel document was not resolved beforehand. This is a very serious issue and it works both ways. Telling people travelling from the Bogside to Buncrana that they need to carry such a document is anathema to them. They are not happy with it and they will not accept it. It is not right. This is an area on which the Government, particularly the line Department, should receive genuine criticism for not having its homework and preparations done. This issue should never have arisen given that we can see that drivers in other countries are exempt from the requirement to carry a green card. We are told this is an industry issue or a matter for the European Commission. Citizens of many other countries do not need to display the green card. Why the hell was the North of Ireland not part of that? We have been talking about the Good Friday Agreement and the Border in the Brexit context for the past two years.

Now, every motorist who crosses the Border will need to hold an international travel document. It is not acceptable, it is very poor and the Government must get its act together before 29 March.

Deputy Troy kindly arranged for the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland to address Oireachtas Members. The bureau was very clear that it is not clear on who does what. The Deputy is quite right. It seems each motor insurance company is following its own rules. There is no united front and there is no clarity. What is true, as I understand it, is that the European Union can reach a consensus or agreement with the British Government and ourselves that in the event of Brexit, cards will not be required. In the meantime, tens of thousands of these green cards are being printed and the whole thing is an appalling mess. I ask that the Minister use his good offices as a matter of urgency seek to ensure that the cards are not required. I appreciate he might not have that answer by tomorrow. If the cards are required, I ask that each motor insurance company sends them to every motorist. That is the only way out of it as I see it. Either everyone does it or no one does. In the worst-case scenario, cars will be impounded north of the Border and, in theory, they could be impounded south of it too. That is something no one wants. It is sheer madness at this stage that it is not clarified. I urge the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to address it as a matter of urgency. It is for the EU to use its good offices to do the deal. EU consent is required in order for this decision to be made. It would save a great deal of bother and it would be much easier for people and insurance companies.

I support what my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, said and note my disappointment that the Sinn Féin amendment on green cards was not accepted. However, that is not surprising. A couple of weeks ago, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was before the transport committee and I had never witnessed anything like it. He knew damn all or had damn all information to impart when we asked him questions. He was not sure how many green cards would be required or whether there would be a charge for them and he did not know if people would be covered in the event of a crash. He seemed to be slipped pieces of paper by his officials every time we asked a question. The most disappointing thing, albeit it was not surprising, was that he had made no effort to seek a dispensation for people living on the island of Ireland. It would have been one thing if he tried, but he did not even try, which is shocking. What that has done is contribute to the confusion and uncertainty people are now experiencing. While 1 March has come and gone, I have not heard of anyone who has applied or even knows how to apply for a green card. There is uncertainty as to whether on 29 March people can travel the two miles from south Armagh into Louth without a green card. What is the story there? The failure of the Minister to seek a dispensation from the EU is horrific when one considers the confusion this will cause and how problematic it will be for people who cross the Border every day. The very fact of having to carry a green card to prove that one has insurance in one's own godforsaken country is a shame. No effort was made given the common travel area to negotiate well in advance to have this set aside for the people living on the island of Ireland. I am disappointed that the Government did not accept the amendment, but I can see why given the lack of effort that was put in. I do not know if the Minister has any idea of the uncertainty, confusion and gross inconvenience this is going to cause.

That goes without saying.

The ruling on the amendment was made by the Chair. It was not the Minister's decision.

I will leave the line Minister to respond on the substantive transport matters. To clarify the position for the House, it is currently the case that cars driven from Ireland to other parts of the European Union are covered by the EU's motor insurance directive. The directive allows one to drive anywhere within the Single Market while having one's home insurance certificate recognised under the EU system. If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on 29 March without a plan or deal, Northern Ireland will no longer be in the European Union and the EU directive will not apply in that jurisdiction. The insurance industry made it clear some time ago, in the context of its own contingency planning, that to facilitate continued travel by cars from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, which will be a drive out of the European Union notwithstanding our dislike of that fact, proof of insurance cover will have to be provided. A green card, which is slightly unfortunately named in the context, will provide that proof of insurance cover where a car has driven from the Republic into Northern Ireland and is stopped. It is not that people will be stopped on the Border to allow green cards to be checked and it should not be painted as that.

While there is a way to resolve this issue, Ireland cannot do it on its own. The European Commission must resolve the matter on a bilateral and reciprocal basis with the UK. The reason the UK has potential arrangements in place with other countries is that it can make bilateral deals with those countries. However, it does not have a bilateral arrangement with the EU on this. While the Commission has put contingency plans in place in many areas, including aviation and other areas people are aware of, no contingency plan is in place yet to facilitate access here without proof of motor insurance. That may materialise between now and 29 March if we continue to move towards a no-deal Brexit but we will know a great deal more about that next week. In my view, it is unlikely that we will continue in that direction, but it is not possible to say for sure. While the insurance industry has printed and issued hundreds of thousands of green cards as of now to act on this contingency, it would be more helpful if a bilateral arrangement were in place between the UK and EU on a contingency basis while a longer-term solution is worked out. The Government and the Minister could not have resolved this problem even if they wanted to because the EU must resolve it collectively. The European Commission must. The Deputies opposite can shake their heads all they like, but that is the legal position.

There is a common travel area. We can travel across the Border but we cannot take our cars-----

-----without getting additional documentation.

One can take one's car across but there will need to be proof that insurance cover is in place.

That is the point. This should have been dealt with along with the common travel area.

This prevents no one. Green cards are freely available, as the Deputies opposite know.

People cannot get their hands on them.

I ask the Minister to move the adjournment. There will be 41 minutes left to deal with this section when the debate resumes tomorrow.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 March 2019.