The outcome of the vote of 23 June 2016 in the UK will have implications across all aspects of the business of the European Union. While the vote does not give rise to fundamental strategic issues for Defence Forces operations or for Ireland’s continuing engagement within the EU in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), it is expected that Brexit will have an impact on future developments in the Defence sphere.
Brexit is a priority issue for this Government, and the Taoiseach, my cabinet colleagues and I have taken every opportunity to engage with EU partners and the UK to advance Ireland’s priorities.
I have continually engaged with my EU counterparts to highlight Ireland’s concerns in relation to Brexit and to ensure that these concerns are fully reflected in the EU position during negotiations. My activities are reinforced by extensive engagement at diplomatic and official level. At Ministerial level I have ongoing contact with my EU colleagues, both in the context of European Defence and Security, and other matters, including Brexit.
As Chair of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, I have regularly emphasised at our meetings the need for all Departments and Agencies to consider any implications that Brexit might have specifically on emergency planning in Ireland. In addition to Departmental planning for Brexit, the Government Task Force has been periodically briefed by those with the lead responsibilities for managing Ireland’s position on Brexit.
The overarching response to the decision of the UK is being dealt with within the existing organisational structure of the Department of Defence and the Department operates within the Government structures which are in place to manage the process on a whole-of-government basis.
These structures include:
A Cabinet Committee on Brexit chaired by An Taoiseach that oversees the overall Government response, including both the economic impact and the negotiations at EU level and with the administrations in London and Belfast;
An Assistant Secretary group looking at no-deal planning and Ireland's contingency responses. This group was established in Q4 2018 and forms a key part of our whole-of-Government, interdepartmental approach to contingency planning for the non-central case;
An integrated Division within the Department of the Taoiseach having responsibility for supporting the Taoiseach in his work on EU, Northern Ireland, British-Irish and International affairs;
The strengthening of the EU policy role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well as the strengthening of other key Departments, agencies and overseas missions.
This is complemented by additional structures including:
- An Interdepartmental Group on EU-UK Affairs;
- The Cabinet Committee on EU Affairs and the Senior Officials Group that supports it;
- The joint UK Permanent Secretaries/Irish Secretaries General group and its North-South equivalent;
- The identification of a senior official in every Government Department, including in the Department of Defence, to oversee this issue;
- A wider consultative group of stakeholders, chaired by Department of the Taoiseach, comprising key business representative groups, ICTU and NGOs.
Engagement with these structures is carried out on a day-to-day basis by officials at my Department who are active participants in the whole-of-Government approach to planning for Brexit.