General Scheme of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019: Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Meabhraím do chomhaltaí a ngutháin phóca a mhúchadh, mo cheann féin san áireamh, toisc go gcuireann siad isteach ar an gcóras fuaime. I ask members to switch off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound system and with the broadcasting of the meeting.

Thug muid cuireadh don Aire Stáit teacht os ár gcomhair chun caint linn mar gheall ar impleachtaí an reachtaíocht a bheidh ag dul os comhair na Dála i gceann cúpla seachtain: the miscellaneous provisions (withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019. On behalf of the committee I have asked the Minister of State to come before us to help us in our discussions as to the potential impact of that legislation on the work of the committee, an Comhchoiste um Chultúr, Oidhreacht agus Gaeltacht. Cuirim fáilte roimhe.

I draw the Minister of State's attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the joint committee. If, however, they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The opening statements and any other documents the Minister of State has submitted to the committee may be published on the committee's website after the meeting.

Members of the committee are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Tugaim cuireadh don Aire Stáit a chur i láthair a dhéanamh. Ligfidh mé do na Teachtaí agus Seanadóirí ceisteanna a chur ina dhiaidh.

Ar dtús báire, gabhaim buíochas as ucht an cuireadh a bheith leis an gcoiste tráthnóna chun ráiteas a dhéanamh faoin reachtaíocht maidir leis an mBreatimeacht. Táim anseo ar mo shon féin agus ar son an Aire sinsearach, Teachta Madigan.

A no-deal Brexit would be highly disruptive and would have profound political, economic and legal implications, most seriously for the UK, but also for Ireland and the rest of the EU. In light of the ongoing political uncertainties in the UK and the Brexit deadline of 29 March, the Government agreed in December of last year to give greater immediate priority to preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

As part of our Brexit contingency action plan, on 24 January the Government published the general scheme of the omnibus Bill. While the ratification of the withdrawal agreement is still the Government’s preferred outcome, this publication is part of a series of measures that the Government is taking, both nationally and in conjunction with the EU, in preparation for the possibility that the UK fails to agree a deal for its departure from the European Union on 29 March. The omnibus Bill covers the issues in primary legislation that need to be addressed immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This Bill focuses on protecting our citizens and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs, particularly in key economic sectors. It also contains a stand-alone provision to facilitate the transition period as provided for in the withdrawal agreement. Given the emergency nature of this legislation, the Government took the decision that progressing this through the Houses as an omnibus Bill is the most sensible way to ensure that we have the necessary legislation enacted before 29 March.

A number of measures across the general scheme, in particular in the areas of healthcare, transport, education and energy, will support North-South co-operation arrangements. This co-operation brings tangible benefits to the daily lives of people in the Border region and contributes to economic opportunity and development. It is also a very practical outworking of the peace process, which allows for the normalisation of relationships between people across the island to mutual benefit. Since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive in January 2017, the North-South Ministerial Council has been unable to meet and bring the Government and Northern Ireland Executive together to oversee ongoing North-South work and further develop co-operation, as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. This is a most serious absence, and particularly so at a time when the council should be continuing the work it commenced in 2016 to deal with the challenges of the UK's exit from the European Union. Nevertheless, there is a wide variety of activity ongoing under the formal institutional areas of co-operation by the North-South implementation bodies and in other areas. The Government has consistently affirmed our unwavering commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and our determination, as a co-guarantor, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions, including the North-South Ministerial Council.

As the members may be aware, the Department has not identified any legislative measures for inclusion in the Bill itself. However, both the Department and those bodies under its aegis are subject to the challenges posed by Brexit and will, in the event of a no-deal scenario, benefit from the practical measures contained in the Bill. In the meantime, the Department continues to participate in the Government’s preparations for Brexit, which are being co-ordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Contingency planning is under way in respect of all aspects of the Department’s remit. The two North-South bodies, Waterways Ireland and An Foras Teanga, are particularly impacted by Brexit and I am especially pleased to note the agreement with the UK in relation to the retention of the common travel area which will benefit cross-Border workers in both jurisdictions.

The Minister, Deputy Madigan, speaking last month at the Equity Ireland and UK conference in Belfast, emphasised the importance placed by the Government on the contribution of culture and creativity to our overall social and economic well-being. While recognising the challenges posed by Brexit, the Minister highlighted the role of the Creative Ireland programme, launched at the end of 2016, and the culture component of Global Ireland - Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025, published in May last year, in ensuring that artists and other creative workers are properly supported to allow them to continue to operate in the cultural sector on a self-sustaining basis.

Our key message remains that regardless of the outcome of the Brexit process, we remain committed to engaging through culture across the island of Ireland with our friends in the United Kingdom, partners in the European Union and globally.

Support by state bodies, North and South, for culture and creativity provides a significant boost to the sector. The Arts Council, An Comhairle Ealaíon, and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland support arts practitioners to engage in North-South touring and jointly fund all-Ireland arts organisations and other arts organisations engaged in co-production, co-presentation and co-operation between the two jurisdictions. The Department also has an important role in environmental regulation and the preservation of our built and natural heritage. Officials continue to engage with colleagues in other Departments and at EU level to ensure the necessary provisions are in place to address any issues arising from the emergence of regulatory divergences after Brexit.

Údarás na Gaeltachta has also undertaken a number of initiatives or measures to safeguard its exposed client companies from a no-deal Brexit. These include the introduction of the Bí Réidh scheme, which is similar to the Be Prepared scheme being operated by Enterprise Ireland. In addition, Údarás client companies continue to be updated on the other State support available by way of the Brexit loan scheme being provided by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland.

I trust that this brief overview will have provided some reassurance to the committee in respect of the extent of Brexit contingency preparations under way across the Department. I also assure the committee that I would be more than happy to bring concerns to the attention of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Josepha Madigan, or to my colleagues in the Government as appropriate. I thank members for their interest in the matter and I will try to address any particular concerns that members may wish to raise.

I note that contingency planning is being done. I refer to artists' mobility and how the possible loss of British visitors will have an impact on audience numbers. I also refer to cross-border mobility with respect to co-productions and co-funding arrangements, as well as whether EU bodies may refuse to fund such co-productions.

Artists and performers regularly travel to the UK and work with the British industry. Travel may also be more costly and there could be changes to VAT. A weaker sterling may also have an impact on Irish artists performing and touring around Britain. It would be wise for us to diversify audiences to take account of a lower number of British visitors, as have already been recorded. I have a note on data protection regulations and the sharing of personal data with non-EU countries, which could make collaboration difficult. Has the Department sought clarity on the future of Creative Europe funding when British subventions cease? What impact would that have on Irish artists applying for Creative Europe funding? The Arts Council also asked the Minister to lobby Europe in 2017 on this. Does the Minister of State have any comments on mobility, the possibility of lower audience numbers, co-funding arrangements and whether the EU will refuse to continue funding? There is also the data protection issue and whether the Department has done any work on Creative Europe funding.

I thank Senator Warfield for his questions. I assure him with respect to artists' mobility that the common travel area is very important and predates our membership of the European Union, going back to the 1920s. The agreements signed with the United Kingdom mean the common travel area will be maintained in all circumstances. This will allow Irish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Ireland to have the right to reside, work, study and access healthcare, social security and public services in each other's countries. The common travel area and its associated and reciprocal rights and privileges will be maintained after Brexit, which is very important. This was agreed very early and highlighted in the pre-referendum discussions and lobbying. It was also highlighted by all member states as being important and I am thankful the United Kingdom has agreed it is important because it predates membership of the Union.

With respect to personal data transfers, the Department is undergoing extensive preparations to ensure measures are put in place for personal data transfers to continue in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Department and agencies have collectively identified where personal data is transferred to the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and where such transfers are to continue after 29 March, and the Department has consulted the General Data Protection Regulation and identified appropriate transfer mechanisms under Articles 45 to 49 in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Although the European Union has given assurances that discussions concerning the UK's adequacy decision, or Article 45 of GDPR, will commence quickly following Brexit, this may be a lengthy and complex process. As such, the Department and agencies will continue to transfer personal data to the UK, including Northern Ireland, under the transfer mechanisms outlined in Articles 46 and 49 of the GDPR regulations.

The Senator mentioned tourism and the possible impact on audiences. This is a very important area and we still cannot assume what will be the economic shockwaves, both in this country or the United Kingdom, when it comes to bottom lines and the financial wherewithal to travel from the UK to Ireland. It is clearly a concern and we do not know the impact on sterling exchange rates or people's ability to travel. It is clearly something of which we are conscious. We increased funding for the Arts Council in the last budget and we remain committed to full co-operation within the arts sector with the United Kingdom. We are promoting Ireland worldwide and not just in the European Union.

There are a number of areas that may not fall within the legislation but they have been identified with respect to continuing promotion of the arts. They include the issuance of licences for the exporting of cultural goods. The Department will decide applications once processed in that respect. The possibility of an inability to borrow items from the national cultural institutions of the UK was raised early and there have been bilateral discussions with partners in this respect. There has been investment because of concerns in the film industry arising from currency fluctuations etc. We have seen increased investment under the national development plan and the audiovisual action plan. There will be continued support with the section 481 tax credit system.

Many of these areas were identified from an early stage and mitigation measures were produced within the Department. As I said, none requires legislative change under the Brexit omnibus Bill, although that is not to in any way lessen the importance of the matters and the fact that there has been preparation and work done within the Department and agencies over a long period.

I asked about Creative Europe funding and the ceasing of subventions from the UK. Is there any sense of what impact that might have on Irish artists applying to the Arts Council? I have asked the Government and the Department to lobby on this before.

The loss of UK funding will be serious across all the European Union in the event of a no-deal Brexit. At this stage we do not know the impact on budget lines. It is something of which we are conscious and hence the Government's focus on trying to ensure there is a deal, within which the UK would pay a certain amount.

Its net impact remains to be seen but we are certainly very conscious of it across all Departments.

We do not perform very well in regard to drawing down Creative Europe funding. There is an opportunity, given we are an English speaking applicant, to increase the amount of money drawn down from Creative Europe.

That is outside of Brexit. If there are opportunities for Departments or agencies to draw down European funding, obviously, they need to be explored. I am not personally aware of what opportunities are not being availed of but that is an issue that can be explored with the Minister at another time. Generally, we have a good reputation across Government and across successive Governments in regard to drawing down funding. If there are opportunities, we will be happy to explore them.

I welcome the Minister of State. Is there a reason I cannot see the names of his colleagues? Do they not want to be known? I might want to address them.

It is the Minister who is addressing the committee and the officials help him to cover the whole brief of the Department.

It would be nice to know their names. Some people, although not the Minister of State, might find it tiresome to be here because we might have very little to offer, very little influence and very little to ignite, to acknowledge or to enlarge. Maybe we are not even worth listening to. I have a feeling somewhere in the back of my head and I did not get that feeling out of the ether; it is there and it is very cloying.

I want to say something the Minister of State might be able to pick up on, and I mentioned it in the Seanad earlier in the week. Northern Ireland is at an impasse in regard to the Border, although not in regard to its people. However, there is also the history of literature, drama, music and the visual arts, and, like naming the cats, we could point to MacNeice, Friel, MacLaverty and Mangan, at the great Heaney, at Wilde, Beckett, William Trevor, Basil Blackshaw and Derek Hill - I could go on and on. Nobody is mentioning this at all. I understand that all of the arguments are political and economic, and concern the Border, but I am not hearing about this from any quarter. Has the Minister, Deputy Madigan, spoken specifically anywhere about the power of the arts and culture across our two islands? Has she brought a voice to that aspect - to the artistic, cultural voices? I am not hearing those and I think there may be a place to hear them.

What I am hearing, and which Friel wrote about, is the language of conflict and a kind of tight, strained language - the language of territory. I can write the speech for the Minister. If there is one thing the arts can do, it is to lift things out of territories and bring territories together. It has done it all over the world through music, dance, visual arts, drama and poetry. However, I am just not hearing it. Maybe people think that is naive of me but I can tell them it is not. Once people start talking about territories and strain, and about "This is my place and that is your place, and never the twain shall meet", we have no fresh breeze in under the door. I wonder are there any thoughts around that in the Department. I often see an artist or a writer on "Newsnight" but I am not seeing or hearing it on Irish radio and television. I am not getting the artist's viewpoint, the musician's viewpoint, the writer's viewpoint. Maybe people do not think that is political but, trust me, it is. We might want to be economic and look at tourism, which Senator Warfield referred to, even at a crass level of how much money we are going to lose, which is a brilliant point because the artist also loses. However, I cannot understand why there is not a strain about this, why I am not hearing it and why Ministers are not standing up and speaking about it because it is so important for children and elders right through our lives. Let us look at what Northern Irish heritage is to us and ours is to them, and let us look at our music and our architecture.

We need to emphasise this. I do not know how the Minister would do that but she could be very subtle about it in speeches. It should be done. If I was the Minister, and I am not and never will be because I would not get the votes in my area, I would be hammering that home. If there was any piece of advice to give - all we are really looking for is communication and not to tell people what to do when the Government is doing it very well - I think there might be something there that would bring others who are in the background, without a voice, towards an energy. It is about an energy and about an energy being dissipated. It reminds me of the egret, a wonderful bird with very long legs, with its huge feet in under the sand, trying to find the razor clams. The Minister of State must feel that himself. There is a moment where it is turning into territories, and this is a way of bringing it back. Maybe that could help but I do not hear it. I would like the Minister of State to comment. It is not an accusation; it is a suggestion that maybe we have something to offer.

I thank the Senator. At the outset, I should have welcomed my colleagues from the Department, Mr. Conor Falvey, Mr. Aodhán MacCormaic, Mr. John Healy and Ms Elizabeth Keehan, who has responsibility for Waterways Ireland.

There are a number of points. The Minister, Deputy Madigan, is speaking at a biodiversity conference and that is why she cannot be here. This meeting was time-sensitive in terms of Second Stage-----

She will be here in a fortnight.

I will pass on the Senator's comments to her. She does a number of speaking engagements and, as I noted in my opening remarks, she spoke at the Brexit event in Belfast recently in regard to the contribution of culture and creativity to our overall social and economic well-being. She spoke in London at the recent Barbican event and at the Global Ireland 2025 conference in Dublin Castle, she recently announced new cultural ambassadors and she was recently in New York as well. At all stages she promotes the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, which is very important. As the Senator said, whatever politics goes on, the arts has always been able to transcend political difficulties. There is an artistic family on each island and they both work very closely together. The overall importance of the sector is clearly evident in the work that has been done and the continued co-operation in terms of cultural exchanges and different forms of culture and heritage value.

In regard to the language, An Foras Teanga, which includes Ulster Scots and the Irish language, will still function on both sides of the Border. As I said, the common travel area will ensure the workers who may work on either side of the Border are able to continue to work and live on either side of the Border. Some of these bodies have offices both North and South and, therefore, staff will be moving between Belfast or Derry and parts of Donegal or Dublin, which is important.

The Minister attempts at all times to get the message out there about continued co-operation across the islands in regard to the Creative Ireland programme and all that goes with it. She has at all times put a focus on that. I will certainly ask her to read back on the Senator's contribution to see if there is anything else she can add. She might be able to respond to the Senator directly.

She might ask colleagues to add something.

I do not hear it. I am not in the Barbican; I am here. I just need to hear more of it. I think it is a more creative way in.

I understand the Minister has a job to do but other Ministers could do this as well. There is a way that we are not speaking about this. It is becoming territorial and it is getting worse. I could even feel it in the Seanad yesterday - there was a moment. Hopefully, it will not happen but we are at the brink. As with Napoleon, I hope we will not stay for the snow and we will move back. It is serious because this has divided us again in a way that was not dealt with but that was brought to book.

I presume we will address all the impacts once we start dealing with the legislation in the Seanad and Dáil. I am not trying to cut short the debate.

The Minister of State is here specifically to discuss this legislation. I will ask him a few questions as we have three reports to deal with immediately afterwards. The Minister of State addressed some of the questions I intended asking on the common travel area, CTA. As a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, I was one of the authors of a report on the common travel area. We were in the middle of producing the report when the referendum on Brexit was held and we had to insert a caveat at the end as a result. It is to ensure that nothing in our legislation undermines the standing of the common travel area and that, regardless of what happens on 29 March, nothing will undermine that status, especially given the cross-Border institutions and the industries for which people regularly cross the Border or that straddle the Border. That has obviously been the intent of the Government and all of the parties here.

Specific questions have not been addressed. The EU habitats directive has major implications for Ireland and I do not know what Britain's view of it is or what it will be in the future if Britain extracts itself from the European project. The directive has had a major effect on us in Ireland. We have had major debates on issues and changes of practice have resulted. As an island, it would be detrimental to us if such directives were not complied with or were not acknowledged in the Six Counties and in this State. Obviously, this State will abide by the EU directives but we do not know what will be the position in Britain in the future.

On Waterways Ireland, I have been on the waterways in some of the boats that go up and down the canals. Will travel documents be required in future when crossing the Border on a waterway? It is still a common travel area but when will separate insurance documents be required once one enters waterways in a different jurisdiction in future?

This other issue I raise is bizarre and one I have not heard discussed. It is stáideas an teanga but ní an Gaeilge. I refer to the status of the English language within the European Union. On the basis that England was in the European Union, English had working language status. Whereas the French were never happy with the dominance of the English language, is there a danger in the future that the status of English will be reduced? This would pose difficulties not only for us, but also for countries on the outside and for Britain trading with the European Union in the future? Has there been any discussion about the standing of the English language, even if I would like the status of the Irish language to be raised? It is one of those strange debates that came up a few months ago and I have not heard anything about it since. Sin an méid uaimse.

I will address some of the issues related to the common travel area. The general scheme, as published on 24 January, reflects Ireland's commitment to the CTA, including through legislative provision to ensure the agreed CTA rights and privileges in health, education, social protection, justice and security are protected under any circumstance. One will see some of those in the Brexit omnibus Bill that will be published this week and also in some of the motions that were passed last week on a social security agreement between the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and her counterpart in the UK. Those rights will continue.

The Chairman made an interesting point on the English language. I understand English will continue to be a working language in the European Union. There may be advantages for Ireland because, as an English-speaking country, we will be able to provide interpretation facilities and so on. There may now be more opportunities in terms of interpretation within the European Union for Irish citizens given that they are able to speak in English.

On the habitats directive, this is an area that has been identified. The island of Ireland and Great Britain form a distinct geographical area. Rivers that flow from the North to the South will not know what Brexit means and do not know what a border means. Clearly, after the UK's departure from the EU, enhanced dialogue bilaterally with the UK and Northern Ireland will be required on matters of nature conservation and protection. One could argue there is currently a risk that the UK could acquire competitive advantage should it operate in a more relaxed regulatory framework than would be required under EU nature directives. I imagine there would also be a counter move within the United Kingdom to ensure that it complies with the standards that the European Union forces on member states. Clearly, in relation to climate change and the value of nature and all that goes with it, there will be a campaign in the United Kingdom. While there is a risk over time of diverging standards and what might happen 20, 30, 40 or 50 years from now, there is a clear understanding of the need to continue dialogue between both jurisdictions. As I said, there is a cross-Border dimension, whether it be in respect of mountain ranges or special areas of conservation, that span different counties. We have to acknowledge that wetlands, rivers, peat bogs and so on can cross jurisdictions. Any reduction of standards in the North could have an impact on the South. For example, any works that will have an impact on a peat bog in Northern Ireland could hypothetically have an impact on local rivers and the Shannon system. We have to be conscious of these issues. When the North-South bodies re-establish, this is an area on which we will need to focus post Brexit.

Measaim go bhfuilimid tagtha chun deireadh an chomhrá faoi seo inniu. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as teacht os ár gcomhair. Tá brón orm gur thosaíomar mall ach ní raibh mé in ann tús a chur leis an gcruinniú gan na Teachtaí agus na Seanadóirí a bheith i láthair. Measaim gur éirigh leis an Aire Stáit an roinnt is mó de na freagraí a thabhairt dúinn gur féidir leis ag an staid seo. Beimid ag plé an t-ábhar sin arís amach anseo.

The joint committee suspended at 2.18 p.m., resumed in private session at 2.19 p.m. and adjourned at 2.50 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on 3 April 2019.