Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 15 July 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Developments at European Union Level: Commissioner Mairead McGuinness
I apologise to members and to the Commissioner. The Seanad is sitting this morning so I have been in the Chamber and I was listening with my headphones, but if I have missed bits and if the Commissioner has answered questions I am about to ask, she can feel free to step over them. I have two Brexit-related questions. First, we recently had Commissioner McGuinness at the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU and I thank her for being there.
The rule of origin issue has popped up quite a bit throughout the process. There are particular difficulties for dairy producers and those in the drinks industry, including whiskey producers, and we had representatives of those sectors before our committee. One of their requests was that in the negotiation of new trade agreements between the EU and third parties and in the renewal of existing trade agreements, the Commission would look at more flexibility around rules of origin relating to North-South trade and supply chains. To give a specific example, where you have milk from Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland cows brought together in one vat to produce yoghurt or cheese, the request would be that it could maintain its EU origin. We might try to bring that in when we are negotiating new agreements and renegotiating existing agreements.
The second issue is around the grace period that both the EU and the UK, thankfully, agreed to extend to September. Maybe I am being a bit pessimistic about it but it is unlikely that things will have resolved by September. Are moves under way to agree a further extension? What is the Commissioner's view on the post-September situation for the full implementation of the protocol?
On a separate issue, this morning in the Seanad we had a motion proposed by Senator Ward on the issue of Belarus and it was supported across parties, including by my party, Fianna Fáil. I note the previous comments of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, when he questioned the future membership of Belarus of the European Union. Many citizens in Belarus are looking to the European Union to help them and they do not want to be under the Lukashenko regime. I am wondering what type of sanctions we can look to to bring that regime on board and to bring it back under EU values, while still protecting the Belarusian citizens who need the EU to protect them.