I propose to take Questions Nos. 343 and 344 together.
1206 and 1208 together.
The Government has dedicated substantial time and resources into preparing for Brexit since 2016. This intensive effort across departments and agencies included the development of two Brexit Omnibus Acts; three Brexit Action Plans; substantial investment in the State’s infrastructure and IT systems (including provision for 1,500 additional staff to support new checks and controls); and the provision of financial, upskilling and advisory supports for impacted sectors and businesses. Throughout the Brexit process, our readiness work was always underpinned by a strong communications and outreach programme.
The UK’s decision to leave the Customs Union and Single Market produced inevitable and unwelcome consequences for Ireland. Even with the Withdrawal Agreement and Trade and Cooperation Agreement in place, the seamless trade with the UK when we were both members of the Single Market cannot be replicated as was. The Government continues to do whatever it can to ease the burden on businesses trading with our nearest neighbour, including new requirements concerning customs and SPS checks and controls. While some businesses have experienced specific issues, more than 87% of the trucks landing in our ports from the UK are now being “green routed” to leave our ports directly, having correctly completed the required customs formalities prior to arriving.
Government Departments, including my own, continue to engage with all relevant stakeholders, whether business representative groups, retailers and individual businesses or shipping companies, hauliers and logistics companies, to manage the issues arising from the new trading relationship with the UK. A range of financial, upskilling and advisory supports for impacted sectors and businesses remain available and we will continue to monitor developments and engage with all key stakeholders. Information on these supports is set out at gov.ie/brexit.
With new UK checks scheduled to begin on 1 October, the Government’s Brexit response communications are now primarily focused on exporters, particularly those moving food and other agri-products. In addition to a nationwide advertising campaign across all platforms - print, radio and digital advertising - a number of webinars for exporters are taking place allowing Government Departments and Agencies to disseminate the relevant technical information to exporters.
Regarding the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, we note the UK statement of 6 September regarding the Protocol grace periods. We and our EU partners continue to engage with stakeholders across the island of Ireland, including in relation to the Protocol. The Protocol is designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, to protect vital all-island supply chains, and to ensure the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it. Just last week, Commission Vice President Maroš Šefcovic engaged with a range of stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including local businesses situated on the border.
We remain confident that solutions do exist, within the parameters of the Protocol, for the issues that have arisen to date. The EU has time and again demonstrated a considered, credible, solution-driven approach to these issues. We will continue to encourage the UK Government to be similarly constructive in their approach.