Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Monday, 22 February 2021
Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union
Impact of EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement on Ireland: Discussion
I apologise to all concerned. I had technical difficulties with the laptop so I have switched to the iPhone. I welcome our guests and thank them for their time in advising us on this issue.
Some of the issues I was going to raise have already been touched on. The key word that comes out of this presentation, in many ways, is "uncertainty". The ongoing uncertainty still exists. We thought when we pressed the Brexit button that the uncertainty would evaporate but, based on what the witnesses have said, it is still very much in play and there are many unknowns out there. It is early days in this process with grace periods and what have you.
Dr. Lawless mentioned standards and divergence. The standards are running parallel in the UK and Europe because the UK is working, by and large, off European standards up to this point. As we move forward, however, there will be increased divergence and that will create its own problems. We see what is happening in Northern Ireland politically. The standards are quite similar in both jurisdictions at present but if the UK divergence increases, that will cause more problems on the island of Ireland.
It has been said that Northern Ireland will enjoy many advantages going forward because of its unique position in that it can trade with the EU and the UK at the same time. I am wondering whether the witnesses agree with that assessment. As someone who comes from the Border counties, is there any potential for those counties to "cash in", as it were, on that particular position going forward? In particular, I am wondering whether Irish companies that are based in Monaghan, Donegal or wherever would be thinking about perhaps opening a location in the North, and if that would have potential for them going forward. I would be interested in hearing the views of the witnesses on that question.
I am concerned about small businesses. As touched upon by Dr. Lawless earlier, for many small businesses starting off in the export of goods, the UK would have been the first step in that process, and they would have developed and grown from there. Now, that step has been removed. What should be done by the Government to be aware of that issue and also to act and put incentives or help in place for companies to help them bridge that initial gap and get them up and running? I am interested to see what exactly will happen with that.
I am interested to hear the views of the witnesses on how they see the UK economy developing. Some commentators, depending on what side of the Brexit argument they came down on, argued that Brexit would be very bad for the UK, while others argued that because of the size of the UK, it could go from strength to strength after Brexit. Dr. Barrett touched upon our relationship with the UK earlier. The UK continues to be our nearest neighbour post Brexit. Dr. Barrett talked about the common travel area and the unique relationship between both jurisdictions. Can we have a bit of the cake, as it were, that Northern Ireland has? Is there potential for us to retain our friendship with the UK, from a business perspective, and perhaps develop that? Is that possible while we are still a member state of the EU? What scope or potential exists along those lines?
I ask both witnesses to look into their crystal balls. It is difficult enough to predict what economies are going to do worldwide. Now we are facing two unknowns, Brexit and Covid-19. I am wondering where the witnesses see the Irish economy post Covid? From the point of view of Ireland as a trading nation, what are the negatives and positives? What should we be looking out and planning for, post Covid?