I can assure the deputy that my Department and I are in ongoing dialogue with colleagues in the European Commission DG Competition in relation to the issues arising for Ireland in the context of various Brexit scenarios and the potential severe impacts on the Irish enterprise base, jobs and regional economies.
Specifically, on 24th January 2019, I met with Commissioner Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition who has responsibility for EU State aid policy, at my Department. 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.
My officials have ongoing engagement with senior officials in DG Competition. In November 2017, my predecessor Minister met with Commissioner Vestager to discuss, amongst other things, the impact of Brexit on Irish businesses. An outcome from this meeting was the establishment of a Technical Working Group comprising representatives from DG Competition, the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation, Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The objective of the Group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules.
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 diversification project to mitigate the impacts of Brexit.