Across Government Departments, significant work is ongoing including legislative changes, to ensure all necessary supports will be available to enterprise regarding a wide variety of Brexit implications.
My Department included amendments to the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998 provisions in the recent Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019.
This amendment will enable EI to provide loans to client companies as a development support and to maintain the value of the State's investments through follow on share investment and loans. It will also increase the ability of Enterprise Ireland (EI) to support greater R&D activity in its client companies in several critical sectors in order that Irish firms can be as competitive as possible on EU and world markets.
In terms of State aid, in November 2017 a Technical Working Group on State Aid, comprising representatives from DG Competition, the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation, Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, was established. The objective of the Group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules. The most recent meeting of the Group was in Brussels at the end of February this year.
Much has been achieved by this Working Group. It has examined and explored a range of opportunities within State Aid rules including the development of the Future Growth Loan Scheme under GBER rules, and the expansion of Ireland’s Rescue and Restructuring Scheme to include Temporary liquidity aid, and to increase the budget for the Rescue & Restructuring Scheme to €200 million. Through the mechanism of the Technical Working Group Ireland has fully utilised the provisions of the State aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit impacted businesses in 2018.
The Group is currently working closely with DG Agriculture to explore the range of opportunities under the Agriculture and Forestry State aid guidelines, and as part of this State Aid approval was received in February for capital investment by Enterprise Ireland in an Irish cheese producing company, Carbery Food Ingredients Ltd, to help the company towards financing a €65m diversification project to mitigate the impacts of Brexit.
On 24th January 2019, I met with Commissioner Vestager. The focus of the meeting centred around the severe challenges that Irish businesses, especially SMEs, will face when the UK leaves the European Union and the need for appropriate and timely State supports. It was agreed that Irish officials will continue to work closely with the Commissioner’s team in addressing any State aid issues that may arise to ensure a rapid and appropriate response as the ultimate shape of Brexit and its firm-level implications become known. The Commissioner emphasised that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms.