Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 15 December 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Implications for Good Friday Agreement of UK Referendum Result: Discussion (Resumed)
The committee will today continue its consideration of the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions. I am very pleased to welcome our witnesses today. They are Dr. Conor Patterson, chief executive of Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency; Mr. Peter Conway, CEO of Warrenpoint Harbour; and Mr. Michael Blaney, managing director of Autoline Insurance Group. I will invite the witnesses to give their opening statement and then we will take questions and answers.
I will begin by going through some procedural things. I remind members, guests and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones, iPhones, Blackberrys and anything electronic are switched off completely or on airplane mode for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference even if they are on silent. They cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee rooms so I ask everyone to co-operate. Those present should refrain from switching phones on and off because that can also interfere with the sound equipment for several minutes at a time.
I need to go through the notice on privilege for our witnesses. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
On behalf of the committee, I am pleased to welcome our witnesses today. We will take evidence from Dr. Conor Patterson first.
Dr. Conor Patterson:
I thank the members for inviting us here. We gave evidence as a team representing stakeholders in Newry to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons two weeks ago. It is a privilege to be here today. We are not politicians and this is not what we do. We are here today because we are deeply concerned by the risks that Brexit presents to the transformation of the Newry Border region.
We will be as honest as we can be, and, as The Irish Timesput it, we are here because "it is hard to imagine anything so pervasive and critical".
Having contributed with others to the transformation of our area from a European record high unemployment rate of almost 30% in 1972 to 2.5% in 2016, we will not countenance decades of sweat equity being put at risk by people who do not seem to have the interests of the well-being of our people at the centre of their considerations, but we will not be negative. We have a positive message. The success of the work in Newry Way was founded on open-mindedness, collaboration, being outward-looking and not being constrained by borders or sectarianism. We want to disseminate our perspective and share our experience with agencies of Government North and South of the Border and beyond who have the power to transform. It is in that approach we have achieved and continue to achieve, as a citizenry in Newry, the Border region and its hinterland and there lies the pathway to success for Northern Ireland and prosperity and stability for all citizens on this island.
However, it is a fact that the economy of our region was devastated by partition, not only that of Newry but its sister-town, Dundalk. Newry was a significant port and trading node midway along the east coast between Belfast and Dublin, and Dundalk was an important centre for the production of engineered goods, leatherwear and beer. However, through most of the 20th century the region endured some of the highest rates of unemployment in Europe, emigration, under-investment and political instability, and that predated the Troubles. For example, Newry had 16% unemployment in 1962 when Britain had full employment and it had almost 30% unemployment in 1972. Newry became disadvantaged by its location, close to the enforced Border. After 1922 it was known as the frontier town. The Northern Ireland state did not invest in cross-Border roads or other links with the Republic. People travelling across the Border before the Troubles required approval to do so on most of the routes across the Border, which were designated unapproved. Newry's hinterland of south Armagh was branded bandit country and Dundalk, its sister-town, was branded El Paso during the Troubles.
However, during the past 25 years, these communities, North and South of the Border, the partition boundary, have taken advantage of the dissolution of the Border as a barrier to the movement of goods and people and have grown world-leading, innovative, locally owned companies, employing thousands. We have built an economy comprising very successful home-grown, large exporting employers but also thousands of agile micro-enterprises, trading deftly between the two jurisdictions in Ireland.
Our companies benefit from a supply of skilled workers from a cross-Border labour pool. They leverage now what is Newry's biggest advantage, its accessible east coast location less than an hour from Belfast and Dublin. The vast majority of our businesses in this Border region are home market or near shore traders. Their ability to freely access near shore markets is crucial to their competitiveness, profitability and sustainability. Any disruption to trading modalities, and especially to the freedom of movement, will badly affect the small and medium enterprise, SME, sector. Beyond Britain and the island of Ireland, the near shore markets with which our companies trade are in the EU.
The weak sterling currency is a windfall currently for Newry retailers, but that is only for as long as there is free unfettered movement of shoppers travelling up North from the Republic with no limits on how much product they can bring back.
A number of our companies in the Border region have used their experience in growing from small companies to larger companies, now employing thousands, to develop markets further ashore. Those which have done so tell us that trading far offshore is complex. There are transport issues, challenges, local market intelligence, the limited reach of legal protections with respect to intellectual property or payment defaults, political stability issues and so on. They tell us in our consultations that the markets in the so-called Anglo sphere are distant. Costs go up before their goods have to be shipped, so markets such as Australia and New Zealand have relatively small populations, fractions of the size of the French or German markets alone. Those that produce within a complex regulatory framework are concerned as to how the thousands of EU laws and regulations which are embedded in UK law will be handled.
We want to work, as we have already been doing, with the authorities of the Irish Republic and we look forward to collaborating with the committee to make the best that we can of this challenge.
I thank Dr. Patterson for his contribution. If the three witnesses are agreeable, I will take all their contributions and then open the meeting for questions. I invite Mr. Peter Conway to make his contribution.
Mr. Peter Conway:
I thank the Chairman for the invitation to address the committee. I am originally from Warrenpoint in County Down but I was educated partly in Dublin and worked for more than 20 years in the Republic for a major multinational company, Esso, running its oil terminals in Dublin and in Cork.
Warrenpoint Harbour is located in County Down, six miles form the city of Newry and approximately half way between Dublin and Belfast, along the major economic corridor. From a trade point of view, Warrenpoint Port is the second port in Northern Ireland and the fifth on the island of Ireland. In recent years we have displaced Derry and Larne to take up second place after Belfast. The port was originally developed in the early 1970s to replace the port of Newry, whose ship canal had become redundant due to the ever increasing size of vessels. Warrenpoint's trade has continued to develop and it has seen significant growth, particularly in the past decade. However, this is primarily due to its location and the improved road infrastructure, which has led to greater connectivity across the island of Ireland. The port is located at the head of Carlingford Lough and is a distance of 13 miles by road from the Border but, as many of the members will know, less than 100 m by sea.
Warrenpoint Port is a major economic driver for south Ulster and north Leinster and, critically, 48% of the trade of the port goes to or comes from the Republic. Warrenpoint is a microcosm of a large port such as Dublin or Belfast. In other words, it is not like Larne or Rosslare, which are only terminals. We have a wide portfolio of business, including roll on-roll off, two ships travelling in both directions each day to Heysham, container traffic which goes from Warrenpoint to Dublin, to Bristol and Cardiff on a milk run, bulk timber imports, steel, bulk cement exports from County Cavan and major animal feed importation. The major animal feed importer is a company from Dublin, which invested along with us in a joint venture less than two years ago of £3 million to service the agrifood industry in Down, Armagh, Cavan and Louth. We also handle recyclables, fertilisers and we have a small facility for fishing and marine leisure craft.
In 2010, a £22 million investment was made to purchase additional land for storage, new cranage, new ro-ro berth and to deepen the quays. Warrenpoint Harbour provides employment for 75 people directly with more than 200 working in the port every day between the shipping agents, companies and hauliers. The success of the port is in many ways due to its ability to market and service its natural hinterland, which is geographically rather than politically determined.
The emergence of the Single European Act in 1992 and the dismantling of trade barriers has ensured the success of the business. The implications of Brexit and the possibility of restrictions in trade by the imposition of tariffs or additional administrative burdens could be catastrophic for the business and for the multiplier of 1,200 jobs in the local area on both sides of the Border. We have a workforce that emanates from both sides of the Border and I am proud to say that the first female harbour master in Ireland and the UK is Ms Caitríona Dowling. She was appointed recently and she is from Drogheda. That is a good example of cross-Border jobs.
With regard to the harbour authority and our desire to maintain and continue to grow our business, develop it and create more jobs, we are working very hard in both jurisdictions to ensure a sensible and what I will call a soft Border.
Finally, the competition that exists between the main ports on the east coast of Ireland is good for the economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I am sure the committee understands why I say that.
Mr. Michael Blaney:
To give some background on Autoline Insurance Group, we started life as a small business more than 40 years ago in 1975 selling mainly personal lines insurance in Newry, which was at the time in the full throes of the Troubles. We gradually managed to grow the business against the odds and we diversified into commercial insurance and financial services. Challenges in the insurance market during the Troubles, specifically in our region, meant that it was much more difficult to attract insurers into the market, with fringe companies withdrawing completely and only the large corporates remaining. That had an impact on the level of premiums and pricing. Insurer visits on the ground were few and far between and insurance premiums for clients were extremely high.
I acquired control of the company in 1997 and began to work through our vision of growing the company to its full potential. One of the challenges prior to this current era was the attraction of talented employees to Newry and the Border area in general. Over the past ten years, we have grown from 50 employees to almost 200. Turnover has grown from £11 million to just less than £50 million. In 2007 and 2008, we acquired five additional brokerages across Northern Ireland, which expanded our geographical reach across all the main regions. Three years ago we opened a greenfield site in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, which is also affected by its close proximity to the Border.
We have a reputation in the market for innovation in both products and talent management. We secured the gold accreditation from Investors in People in 2012 and have positioned ourselves as an employer of choice to attract the right talent from all over Ireland, North and South of the Border. We have twice won the Irish Newsinnovative employer of the year and, for each of the past two years, we have won insurance industry awards for UK broker innovation of the year. In November 2014, we secured financial assistance of £500,000 from Invest NI towards the employment creation of 60 new jobs related to our young driver telematics product, which has been exported to Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Recently, Invest NI has pledged a skills growth programme grant of a further £285,000 for training and development of staff related to that project.
Also in 2014, we commenced a knowledge transfer partnership with Queen's University, Belfast, through which we recruited a Vietnamese data scientist to work inhouse on our telematics data for two years. He earned his first-class masters degree in data science from the UCD Smurfit Business School and was part of a well-established community in Dublin. Coming North to work for us was not a huge move for him. However, he was unfortunately the first casualty of Brexit. Having previously agreed to remain with us after the end of his knowledge transfer partnership, as soon as the leave vote won UK referendum, he made plans to look for employment in Dublin as he felt it was important to remain within the EU.
One of our significant market opportunities is to grow into the Republic of Ireland market, particularly with our young driver product. I know that insurance and its rising cost in the Republic of Ireland market has been a very topical point here. As such, it is a strategic development market for us, especially for our innovative ChilliDrive app, which paves the way to offer affordable insurance to consumers. A key expansion opportunity for us would be to set up an operation South of the Border to allow us to offer our ChilliDrive driver coaching app to young drivers in the South and to allow us to benefit from the rich talent pool in new areas of research and technology.
One of our major concerns is how the flow of talent will be affected by markets across the Border. A significant portion of our agri-business growth strategy was the natural step into the Republic, given that two of our offices, Newry and Enniskillen, are so close to the South. This will inevitably become more difficult from a regulatory perspective if there is a hard Brexit, with the possibility of the passport rights we currently enjoy to trade in other EU jurisdictions being withdrawn. We may also be inadvertently affected by our insurer partners' passport rights being similarly affected. A key element of our business development plan is to acquire brokerages in the South. All in all, despite the natural organic growth potential for expanding into what is already a market we trade in, any impediment to doing business in the South will inevitably adversely affect our growth strategy or, at the very least, slow us down significantly.
Mr. Mickey Brady:
I thank the witnesses for the presentations. I must declare an interest as a representative of the Newry and Armagh constituency, which, as the witness has indicated very clearly, is going to be badly impacted by Brexit if it comes about. The resurgence of Newry in terms of business is down to people like Mr. Blaney. It is not down to outside influences or outside investment. Autoline, Warrenpoint Port, the Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency, First Derivatives and Norbrook all come from local people and do not depend on the outside. It is a Newry thing that people have that get-up-and-go approach to make it a success.
When I started as an advice worker in the 1980s, Newry had the third highest unemployment rate in western Europe. That has changed. Dr. Patterson said that we are now at 2%, but we are still a low-wage economy. Taking the quays for example, one could walk from Debenhams at one end to Sainsburys at the other. Most of the profits from all of those shops and organisations goes back to Britain. The only thing that comes into our economy from those particular sources in most cases is the minimum wage, or what is now called the living wage.
There is one practical issue that I have come across that perhaps has not been fully addressed. It is the dependence of people in our area on the likes of tax credits because of the low wage. We have many people, and I deal with them daily, who work in Newry and live across the Border or vice versa. They are going to be badly impacted. At the moment, living in one jurisdiction and working in another is called a complex case. If Brexit is to happen, that situation is going to become even more complex. I know that some people are left without benefit on top of their wages and without a supplement. There are issues like that.
The common travel area is something that has been spoken about with regard to Brexit. For many people, I believe that is a red herring. People in Newry tend to gravitate to the South socially. Very rarely would young people in Newry go to Banbridge, Dromore, Hillsborough or even Belfast, although maybe that is more so the case now. There has always been that connection with the South. If Brexit is to happen, it is not necessarily going to stop people travelling from Newry to Dundalk to socialise or whatever. It is more about the tariffs and how businesses are affected, particularly the likes of the port. In the case of the enterprise agency, the location of the enterprise centre in Flurrybridge, which is right on the Border, was a deliberate move to encourage that diversification between North and South. Therefore, there is no doubt that Brexit will have a huge impact.
We talk about employment rights in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, much of which was predicated on human rights from Europe, employment rights and all of that. The British are intent on rewriting the script on that. There is no doubt that will have an adverse effect.
Most farmers in the constituency rely on the single farm payment because we have a lot of small farmers, unlike the co-operatives in the south east of England. As Mr. Michael Blaney said, a lot of his staff and business are cross-Border so there is the issue of how that might be impacted. It is the same with workers in small businesses. People may want to stay within the EU if Britain pulls out. How frustrating would that be with Warrenpoint port? If one takes Omeath and Greenore in Carlingford as examples, people would have to pay tariffs to travel that relatively small distance. All these issues will have a huge impact on our area if Brexit is put into place. The witnesses have articulated very well the difficulties that our area in particular and the whole Border region faces. Along the Border region, since partition, people in Newry, Dundalk and Drogheda and places like that have done the business themselves and not relied on outside influences. That continues and is to their credit.
Mr. Peter Conway:
I will respond to Mr. Brady's mention of the common travel area. I agree with him because sometimes, particularly in Britain, it is used as an excuse. The attitude is that there is a common travel area so there will be no problem. We have to remember that from 1922 until 1992, we had a common travel area but we had long delays, security checks and customs on the Border. Mr. Brady mentioned it as a red herring. It is a red herring and we need to make sure people do not fall into the trap of saying that we have a common travel area and it will solve all the problems. It certainly will not with regard to goods, trade and the movement of workers from one side to the other. If there are tariffs, restrictions or security checks, they will have a serious impact on business.
Dr. Conor Patterson:
The common travel area did not operate during the period from 1930 to 1945. There was a trade war between the Irish State and Britain in the 1930s. During the Second World War, which was called the Emergency in this jurisdiction, Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, was a participant. We had armed patrols on the Border through the 1950s and 1960s. We had a hard Border through most of the 20th century. People needed approval to travel on unapproved roads. It is a red herring. This is about freedom of movement along the North-South axis.
The other point is that the Irish Republic and the UK joined the European Union on the same day for a reason. The two economies were tied and the gravitational pull of the British economy was strong on the whole island of Ireland, so the decision was made in Dublin to join and co-join with the UK. What happens in the scenario where one state will no longer be a member of the European Union and the other State will remain? How does the common travel area function in that circumstance?
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell:
I am familiar with Newry although perhaps not as familiar as Mr. Brady, who represents the area. I travel through it regularly and I am familiar with our witnesses today and some of the good work they do. There are a number of points I want to draw out. I already had the benefit of hearing the witnesses' evidence in the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in London. Do the witnesses have any statistics on the number of people travelling from North to South and from South to North for work? Is there any statistic that shows, for example, that 5,000 people travel from Dundalk in Louth to Newry for work or that 4,000 travel from Newry and its hinterland to the South for work?
That is the first question and perhaps while the witnesses are trying to digest that I will address a question to Mr. Blaney. I am still intrigued and trying to get my head around his young driver telematics product. Perhaps he will tell us some more about that. Eventually, I will get my head around it. Is the ChilliDrive app the same thing?
Dr. Conor Patterson:
There are aggregate figures for movement of people between the jurisdictions. The number of people who are registered to pay tax in one or other jurisdiction because they are cross-Border workers is somewhere around 46,000. There are figures that have been used in the media. I do not know if they are defensible or not but they suggest there are about 12 million movements per annum. That includes shoppers and people travelling back and forth socially, that is journey movements. We do not have any disaggregated figures from Newry. First Derivatives is a major employer in Newry which now employs 1,700 people from its Newry base. It operates in centres around the globe and 60% of its recruits are from the Irish Republic. It recruits from across the island. The talent pool, as it describes it and as Mr. Michael Blaney has described it, here in the Republic is very important to that company. Similarly Norbrook estimates that about 25% of its workforce comes from the Irish Republic. Employers in Dundalk are important to people from Newry who work in PayPal, Heinz and so on in Dundalk. It is a two-way movement. I do not have specific figures for Newry but we can estimate on the back of those specific examples that it is a significant number.
Mr. Michael Blaney:
I will give more background on the telematics product and the app and what it does. It was an initiative we came up with about five or six years ago to address the ridiculously high cost of young driver insurance. It was initially for customers who were commercial business owners who were trying to get their sons and daughters on the road for the first time to facilitate travel. It was very difficult to attract insurers into that marketplace. We developed some technology, which Dr. McDonnell may have heard referred to as black box technology, which puts a box into a car and measures how they drive. We took it a stage further. We found that black box technology was prohibitively expensive to install so we designed a phone app to do exactly the same thing so it was much more cost-effective. For the first time, an insurer could see how a driver performed when he or she got behind the wheel, particularly a young or inexperienced driver. It scored them on a number of areas such as braking, anticipating and appropriate use of speed. It gave them an insight very quickly into who the more reckless drivers were. The most positive part of it was that the good drivers, who represent the vast majority and are not reckless in how they approach driving on the road, were able to get up to 50% discount off the rates we had previously been able to offer in the marketplace.
It was an initiative which has been welcomed by insurers because they are able to enter that sector which is quite attractive to them considering the size of the premiums. They are also able to manage it from a profitability perspective which was always the challenge previously. Most insurers decided to stay away from it completely for that reason. We built a data hub and we managed to share the data between insurers and our clients and it has been growing. This year, that particular part of our business grew by 124%. It has been a huge growth area. There is a big market opportunity in the Republic of Ireland market to develop further. Anything that would block the movement of trade and stop us being able to establish a presence here to offer that into the market would be a retrograde step.
Such trade is firmly on our roadmap for development for next year but we must question the impact Brexit might have on our ability to trade into the Republic of Ireland as our UK Financial Conduct Authority regulation allows us to passport into any other EU state. That currently allows us to trade, without any barrier or difficulty, into the Republic of Ireland. There has been much talk about this arrangement and the passporting being under threat.
The delegates are more than welcome. They come from one of my favourite parts of the world. Warrenpoint is absolutely beautiful. I love the place and the drive right up into Newcastle. It is a wonderful place. I have a lovely photograph from the 1930s of my father up there. He was a chauffeur. My mother never asked why his favourite song was "My Lagan Love". She was from Mayo. I do not believe that the two quite match. That is another day's work.
Following on from what Dr. Alasdair McDonnell said, are people travelling from the South to the North to work in the public service there? People from the North are certainly travelling to work in the HSE and various other organisations. This is causing problems in the context of pensions, which is why I ask the question.
Industries have been mentioned. SMEs have opened on both sides of the Border. I congratulate the delegates on the reduction in the unemployment rate. Are there companies with plant on either side of the Border? If so, what sort of general value is placed on it?
We were talking a little while ago about going to Brussels. If ever witnesses before this committee demonstrated the problem we have, the three gentlemen present today have done so. They have shown just how inextricably linked are the two sides. That is really important to understand. Have the delegates any knowledge of the number of students who are crossing over the Border to go to Dundalk Institute of Technology or the further education colleges, and the number from the South who are travelling to colleges in the North? That is of interest to me.
I am asking many questions and I am sure the delegation will do its best to answer them. The delegates have worked with other agencies with respect to Brexit and on how it will affect them. What are those agencies?
I congratulate Warrenpoint on being the second harbour in the North and the fifth on the island. Perhaps some people in Drogheda are wondering whether, if there were a bar on free movement over and back, their town would benefit.
I will try to keep out of politics. Bearing in mind the joint venture, in respect of which reference was made to Cavan, Down, Armagh and Louth, I believe the whole arrangement would be so unworkable in the event of a hard border. There will be no solution other than a hard border if Brexit proceeds at the rate it is going. I can see nothing but a hard border ahead of us. That would be detrimental.
On the matter of insurance, the product being referred to is just incredible, as the Chairman has said. Young people in the South of 27 or 28, who are not that young, may buy a car for €1,000 and then receive a quotation of €6,000 for insurance. Clearly, with an app such as that mentioned, this market could be challenged. If Brexit occurs and there is a divergence in regulation, would it make this market impossible to enter? If the regulation were on the UK in general, there would be a much bigger market. The market here would be relatively limited. Would that limit insurance providers?
I am sorry for asking so many questions but these are matters that interest me.
Mr. Peter Conway:
I thank the Senator for his compliments and questions. I will let Mr. Patterson and Mr. Blaney answer some of them. I will just answer the questions on the port. I would have been very mad to come here today without taking into account the very pertinent question on whether trade lost to us would go to Drogheda, Dundalk, Greenore or Dublin. When one considers this matter, one must remember that one of the great advantages of the Single European Act was that it cut away borders and tariffs and created a marketplace with competition. I am an economist by profession and I believe competition is good for business across the board. Drogheda, Greenore, Warrenpoint, Belfast and Dublin all compete against one another. If one location gains a little business and the another loses, that is life. What concerns me is the imposition of what we will call a non-natural border. I made the point earlier that it is a geographic hinterland to which we appeal.
There could be distortions. For example, there is a large amount of trade from Northern Ireland to Dublin. I refer to haulage. If there are tariffs at the Border, that trade will stay within Northern Ireland and go to Britain via the link from Belfast to Liverpool or Stranraer, or from Warrenpoint to Heysham. There will be benefits to one jurisdiction in certain cases and to another in other cases but, overall, my view and that on both sides of the Border and among businesses is that competition is very good. It is believed that imposing tariffs or trade restrictions is of the past and should not really happen. That is one of the reasons we are trying to lobby as best we can.
We hosted a very large conference, the British Ports Association conference, a couple of years ago. I was delighted that the chief executive of Dublin port addressed it. That is not something we should be afraid of. We should embrace it but I am obviously very much aware that there might be other voices with a different opinion.
Mr. Patterson touched on the mood within the United Kingdom suggesting this will all be resolved by having trade with Canada, New Zealand and Brazil. Canadian vessels come to Warrenpoint with grain and there is trade from Ukraine; we still have that. The point being made is, therefore, another red herring. I was in Dover recently at a conference where I noted that very many of the vessels outside the window were travelling back from and to France. I assure the committee that in ten years' time, they will still be going to France. In 20 years, they will still be going to France; they will not be going to Canada. Floating the idea that trade with Canada will resolve the problem is anathema and incorrect.
I must interrupt because there is a vote in the Dáil and we need to suspend for ten minutes. I am sorry about the inconvenience. I ask the members to return after the vote. Deputies Brendan Smith and Breathnach and Senator Feighan have still to ask questions.
Dr. Conor Patterson:
Senator Craughwell made a point about the public sector. In the mid-1990s, I moved back to Newry from Scotland where I had been working in Aberdeen, which is in the north-east of the country. At that point, part of my role was to try to encourage early cross-Border collaboration and so I carried out an audit of the Newry-Dundalk cross-Border region that was funded by the International Fund for Ireland. One of the findings of that audit was that there was very little contact between the two public sectors, never mind the people who crossed from one jurisdiction to the other to work in the public sector. The officials in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in the North had next to no contact with, or knowledge of, their equivalent departmental officials in the South. It is no exaggeration to say that the two public sectors worked back to back.
Many observers take the view that the cross-Border bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement, including InterTradeIreland, are under-funded relative to their aspiration when they were set up and that this has constrained their ability to work. To my knowledge they are the only areas of the public sector where there is significant mixing of experts and officials from both sides of the Border. The problems that are being experienced here, for example, in the health service in terms of recruiting doctors and nurses apply equally in the North. There is also a skills shortage in the North. Similarly, the public sector contraction being experienced in the South is also being experienced in the North. The public sector is not a sector brim-full of opportunities of employment. One area of the public sector in which there has been a lot of collaboration is health, with many people from the North travelling South to Dublin for heart surgery funded by the NHS. This is an acknowledgement that Dublin has a critical mass of resources and expertise in that discipline. There are other examples where the opposite applies, including Altnagelvin Area Hospital in the north-west and the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.
On education, Mr. Conway and I are graduates of a Dublin university. We have both observed that since we studied here in the 1970s and 1980s, there has been a significant decline in the number of people travelling from the Northern Ireland jurisdiction across the Border to the South to study. There are issues around the valuing and weighting given to A levels relative to the leaving certificate in terms of how A levels matriculate for entry into higher education institutions in the South. However, I do not propose to go into detail in that regard now. Dundalk Institute of Technology has worked hard to attract students from the North but the numbers remain low. For example, at the last count there were almost three times the number of students from China attending the institute as there were students from the entire jurisdiction of Northern Ireland. Dundalk Institute of Technology is a fabulous institution with great facilities but, again, young people are experiencing difficulty matriculating into particular courses based on their A levels, which are relative to what they can do within the further education, FE, sector in the North. As I said, the two jurisdictions are developing back-to-back. On this issue and many others, including the treatment of qualifications, there is a need for greater harmonisation.
Mr. Michael Blaney:
On the Deputy's point regarding insurance and regulation, the advantage that we have is that we can operate, currently, with a single regulator, namely, the UK regulator, and that allows us to passport into the Republic. Should that situation change, we would have to progress an application directly with the Central Bank of Ireland, the regulator of our sector here.
It would most likely mean double sets of fees. We would have two standards to which we would need to operate because the professional exams do not translate as they have different levels and standards. We have a requirement to ensure our staff are trained to a competent level and there are different standards of competence. Effectively, it would be difficult for us to operate a dual-regulation system. It makes perfect sense the way matters are now. We hope this will not change and we will still be able, in some form, to passport into the Republic of Ireland. If we had to pursue a separate line of regulation and train people separately, it would be a barrier to us doing business here in the future.
I welcome the three witnesses to the committee and compliment them on their excellent presentations. They comprehensively outlined the difficulties which face us but also the significant progress made on our island since the Good Friday Agreement. I come from a Border area, Bawnboy, west of Ballyconnell, near Fermanagh. I grew up with the customs posts and the permanent vehicle checkpoints on both sides of the Border. Psychologically, any of us who grew up in that environment never want to see any restrictions, within reason, on the movement of people on the island again. Psychologically, much damage has been done already by the decision of the British people in the referendum to decide to leave the EU.
I am reasonably familiar with Newry, a fine town which has the status of city. Along with my good friend and party colleague, Deputy Breathnach, we canvassed with Justin McNulty, MLA, for the "Remain" vote prior to the referendum. Dr. Conor Patterson used a quote from The Irish Times, "it is hard to imagine anything so pervasive and critical", which is accurate. He also mentioned in the context of the progress that has been made and how we trade deftly. I have referred to the fact there is a seamless movement of people, goods and services on our island to this committee before. We have underestimated the progress made in commerce and socially since the Good Friday Agreement. There has been significant growth in trade between North and South. I think of Cavan-Monaghan, which I have the privilege of representing, and the movement North and South of people for jobs and goods and services.
Mr. Peter Conway spoke about the all-Ireland dimension of the goods imported and exported through Warrenpoint Port. Products coming into the port are distributed North and South while products leaving the port come from the South as well as the North. This shows how the port is an all-Ireland facility.
Take the example of our food processing companies. Lakeland Dairies, a company with which I am familiar in my constituency, has taken over agribusinesses north of the Border. It has manufacturing and processing sites on both sides of the Border. Its raw material, milk, travels North and South, depending on the time of year, where the needs are and the different processing plants. LacPatrick Dairies, the result of a merger between the Town of Monaghan Co-op and another major co-op north of the Border, Ballyrashane Co-op, is in a similar situation. Where are we going to be with regard to regulatory systems and requirements?
At the recent North-South Interparliamentary Association meeting at Stormont, I said the first people who would oppose the dumbing down of food standards will be farmers. Farmers on both sides of the Border work to highly demanding and exacting standards. That is why as an island we can sell food to 161 countries worldwide. Our farmers, both North and South, will want to continue to work to those standards. We hope there will be no variation in the standards in animal husbandry or food processing between North and South.
I had a spat with the Northern Ireland First Minister on the need for an all-Ireland industrial promotion agency. We live in the real world. With this island's population, we are a small player worldwide. We need to be marketing our island as one unit, not to be building barriers between North and South. Mr. Michael Blaney referred to human resources. In my area, I see the movement of people from Enniskillen and Tyrone working in the insurance industry in Cavan. There is a pool of people available and there is no Border when their particular skills are needed. We hope impassable barriers will not be erected. I accept that there will be changes. If Britain leaves the EU, unfortunately, that decision will not be reversed.
Is there good co-ordination and co-operation between the various organisations in the North with their sister organisations in the South? The danger is if the different sectors North and South get into silo-thinking. Unfortunately, be it public administration or the private sector, too many issues are confined to silo-thinking. If we have silo-thinking, North and South, then we will compound the problem.
What is happening between Invest Northern Ireland and Enterprise Ireland? Over the years, different Northern Ireland firms have gone on trade missions with our industrial promotion agencies. That is the way it should be. I hope there is interaction and dialogue between representative organisations north of the Border with our promotional statutory agencies south of the Border. If that is not happening, we need to initiate it. Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, and Bord Bia are competent organisations with good international standing. I am sure Invest Northern Ireland would have a similar standing.
The number of people travelling between North and South and vice versais not captured in total because it is more impressive than we think. From the car registration plates in the school car parks, one can tell large numbers of teachers in my area live in Northern Ireland. A significant number of people working in our health service are from Northern Ireland and vice versa.
This committee should be discussing the potential to build on the Good Friday Agreement.
Unfortunately, that referendum decision has put a certain stop on what our aspirations should be. During the course of the previous Dáil, at this committee we would have been making the case for building on the potential of the Good Friday Agreement. During the previous Dáil we would have talked and had presentations at the committee about the need for all-island thinking and an all-island body on the provision of educational services and health services. It goes back to the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, which should be providing specialist services for Sligo, south Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan as well as its own immediate hinterland. The educational services should be planned on an all-island basis. We were discussing that type of potential in the past and, hopefully, notwithstanding the considerable challenges that face us today, we can discuss that in the future as well.
Mr. Blaney mentioned the lack of co-operation between Departments, North and South. From my time in the then Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, there was significant co-operation between the Departments with responsibility for agriculture, North and South. In my time as Minister, we would have had veterinary surgeons from here working and attending public meetings in Northern Ireland as well. Significant collaboration took place. It is probably the Department that would be the best example of good co-operation and collaboration. To a certain extent, that probably was born from and given momentum by the fact that we had to fight disease on an all-island basis. A good job was done and there was never silo thinking in respect of dealing with those particular issues. As Dr. Alasdair McDonnell stated, the presentations that were made are exemplary - they are both concise and powerful. More people would want to hear them. We need to have, and be influencing, those who will be making decisions as soon as possible. I am concerned about silo thinking.
Dr. Conor Patterson:
We had a conversation with MPs - which we discussed earlier - in the House of Commons and we gave evidence. I suggested that if some in Northern Ireland, because of their political perspectives, were uncomfortable with collaborating on an all-island basis, they could at least encourage cross-sectoral collaboration within Northern Ireland. I was given short shrift in that regard. It is always good to collaborate. We, for example, have strong links with peer organisations in the Republic, namely, the chambers of commerce - for example, the British-Irish, Dundalk and Drogheda chambers. We work closely with all those organisations. The bigger challenge for us is having the conversations that need to be had within Northern Ireland. We made the point that Dr. Alasdair McDonnell and I spoke to parliamentarians at the French National Assembly and our problem was what is the Northern Ireland plc proposition because it is not coherent. We have people within business and within other stakeholder organisations who, frankly, are uneasy about asserting their position on Brexit because it has become so politicised because it has become tainted and mixed up with the issue of national identity. One view is that this asserts UK sovereignty more strongly than has been the case in the past 20 years. There is another perspective that this threatens Irish identity and parity of esteem. Deputy Brendan Smith, with his experience in public service and as a Minister, will understand how toxic all of that is. For us, the challenge is as much to encourage dialogue within Northern Ireland and encourage those who are decision-makers in Northern Ireland to facilitate the sort of forum discussions that were put in place by the Taoiseach that envisage in the next round the discussions will be sectoral and all-island, and some of the meetings might actually take place within Northern Ireland. There is always more that could be done but, certainly, there has been leadership shown here in Dublin on our behalf. The Irish Government in Dublin is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and it is important that that is understood.
In terms of collaboration, those of us who can speak more freely who are not members of the public service would say that the all-island bodies have been constrained in what they could do. Those politically who were lacking in enthusiasm for the all-island proposition, the concern is, as we have moved through this Brexit debate, are, if anything, much more hawkish and we are currently in a position where there is less collaboration rather than more. That is something all of us, for example, those within influence within this committee, need to address because this has implications for the whole island.
Mr. Peter Conway:
I will try and say it properly. My school Irish is a long way back.
The Deputy's observations about the regulations are of very serious concern to those of us who work in a trade which is cross Border. To use the example to which the Deputy alluded, in the context of the importation of grain - which is used for the agrifood sector, North and South, for feeding animals, such as cattle and pigs, in particular, and the poultry business, which is prominent in the Border area - if the two jurisdictions diverge in their regulations in the future because one will be external to the EU and one will be within it, does that mean that we will not be able to commingle the product? Does that mean we will have to hold different storage for that going south and going north? That starts to create more costs and expense and in the end, the consumer pays. Therein is a complete minefield. The Deputy is correct to raise the matter. It goes right through all sorts of other businesses and industry. It could even be in the medical line in regulations for manufactured goods. If these start to diverge, we could have a very serious situation. For example, if we are importing maize from Finland, Sweden, Germany or France - in fact, 70% of the grain trade goes south - does that mean, if there will be tariffs on it landing with us, that those tariffs have to be adjusted when it crosses the Border again. It would be a nightmare. Let us hope that does not happen.
The question about collaboration was also a good one. I can speak a little on behalf of the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, because we are members of that organisation. The CBI was very much in favour of remaining and would still hold that viewpoint. Indeed, the current chairman of the CBI, Mr. David Gavaghan, addressed the forum in Dublin. He came south for that, as did the chief executive of the Ulster Farmers' Union. It would be wrong to say that there are people there who do not want to engage. That is not true. This is a very serious issue and I am quite sure that we can embrace and take more and more people to be involved. With regard to CBI, Mr. Simon Hamilton, MLA, the Economy Minister at Stormont, addressed a recent session in Belfast I attended. He stated clearly that there may well be opinions put forward in the political arena but behind the scenes there is a serious concern about these sort of issues, and I think we just need to encourage people to engage. The CBI works closely with IBEC. That is a good forum and we should encourage it.
We have talked here about these concerns and about the issues that face us but we should not forget that perhaps there are solutions as well. I agree with Senator Craughwell and Deputy Brendan Smith that, unfortunately, this will happen.
Therefore, we very much need to consider how we might make it work for us and try to resolve these issues. Some examples have been used, such as the relationship between Norway and Sweden, which is a good example. Perhaps we should concentrate on trying to see how we might get something similar to work here so that there are not these delays on the Border and restrictions on cross-Border workers or movement of goods and people.
Mr. Michael Blaney:
Yes, briefly. All-island business units are already very common in the insurance sector. A number of the main insurers, for instance, Allianz, AXA, RSA, already operate on an all-island business unit basis. They have offices in Belfast and Dublin but are managed from Dublin. This level of co-operation has been in place probably for the past nine or ten years. From a natural perspective, it has made more sense for the Northern Ireland business unit to team up with the Republic of Ireland unit as a single trading unit. There is a natural level of collaboration in this regard. There is a concern in our industry as to how this will continue beyond the outcome of Brexit.
At the next level down, regarding representative bodies, there is the Irish Brokers Association, IBA, which is very active here, and we fall under the British Insurance Brokers Association, BIBA. I may not be entirely correct about this but I am not aware of a great level of co-operation between these bodies. Such co-operation would be of great benefit and should be encouraged.
I thank Mr. Patterson, Mr. Blaney and Mr. Conway for their excellent presentations. Like Deputy Smith, coming from a Border constituency, I empathise with and realise the difficulties Brexit has brought upon us. It is important to acknowledge Justin McNulty, MP, MLA, and Peter McEvoy, who are in the Gallery. They are interested in today's proceedings.
Little did I think when I entered Dáil Éireann as a first-time Deputy this year and was appointed to work with cross-Border bodies and issues pertaining to North-South co-operation that I would find myself thinking Brexit might happen. That was until I went to canvass in Newry, at which point I saw we would be building on the progress made over the past 20 to 25 years on the collaborative approach to which Mr. Patterson and others have referred. I have spent much time thinking about this. I grew up at a time when we had our backs to each other on the Border. We began to face each other and then, over recent years and prior to 25 June, we were very much shoulder to shoulder. Having spent 25 years on a local authority, I know much of this concentration was on attempts to build on uncontentious issues, be it tourism or green energy, and this spirit of co-operation. It is startling to read the passport statistics, which show there has been a 46% increase over a two-year period in passport applications from the North. That speaks for itself.
Regarding the issue of free movement of people, the only figures we have on this are for 2011. They are based on the CSO book to which Senator Landy and I referred. I do not believe the statistics. It is interesting that figures ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 are being bandied around, and I think Deputy Smith referred to this. The figures we have from the CSO indicate that 8,295 residents of Ireland in 2011 were in full-time education or employment in Northern Ireland and that 6,456 residents of Northern Ireland were in full-time education or employment in Ireland. We can talk anecdotally about the figures. My experience from visiting the local authority offices of Louth County Council or schools, to which Deputy Smith referred, is that the degree of movement is much greater than these figures would suggest. I referred earlier while we were in private session to the need perhaps to upgrade the statistics for Northern Ireland to engage better to understand the situation.
Will Mr. Conway comment on the statistic regarding Warrenpoint Port? He stated that 48% of goods either go to or come from the South. I am interested to know what percentage is going either way. Will he refer to this in his response? I have referred to things that could be done despite the difficulties of Brexit. Our broadband service is one example. I am sure in the insurance industry or anywhere else there is an essential need for proper broadband services. We have had major problems with our train services. While I know the witnesses represent individual groups, be they representing industry, enterprise or port company businesses, connectivity is important. Will the witnesses comment on this connectivity and how we might ensure post Brexit that this shoulder-to-shoulder approach continues and that we hold hands and ensure the all-island economy is not affected? I ask the witnesses to comment on these wider issues.
People move from one place to another. Deputy Smith was in America last week, as he said. The witnesses have travelled to various places. I have been in Stormont. We have been to the Houses of Commons, at which presentations were made. Lord Jay of the House of Lords has presented to us. We are all talking but in a vacuum. Road hauliers, for example, a number of whom I have met in the North, talk about the dearth of and difficulty in getting people into the business because of a lack of numbers. In the farming community, there is a need for fruit pickers to be brought in as many people in Ireland will not take up such menial tasks.
It was interesting that Mr. Patterson referred to co-operation in the health services. I was party to the re-signing of the Ballyconnell agreement, which brought in co-operation and working together between the health services in the North and South. This was important in the development of our health services. Mr. Patterson gave the example of cardiac services in the North. I have had personal experience of the degree of trauma and the surgery involved in these services as well as the seamless movement across the Border of people involved in these services. Equally, I have spent a long time considering Dundalk Institute of Technology. Reference was made to the number of Chinese students and the difficulty in ensuring seamless progress in education.
The more people come to us with a southern perspective and put forward their cases, the more we can develop this all-island economy regardless of Brexit. We must be positive and ensure both economies, North and South, are protected and enhanced. I thank the witnesses for their excellent presentations. The more such presentations we have, the better.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. They were very informative. Like my colleagues, I was amazed to discover that more than 50% of trade through UK ports involves the Republic. It just shows the consequences of a lack of restrictions on free movement of goods and people. I may be wrong about this but I think the British Government is in denial of the position in which we find ourselves. Despite huge co-operation over the past 20 years, issues such as the levies on HGVs and tyres remain, and this is without the UK having left the EU. One or two other such issues were mentioned. I see hundreds of them, and we may not have the mechanisms to be able to solve them. Long before I got involved in politics, I was once told by a barrister to fight but never to ask what the fight is about. Certain people will fail to do anything about these issues, which is a huge difficulty.
My grandfather comes from Cullyhanna, and I think most of our family lived in Newry and the surrounding area, so I am very familiar with that general area. I am familiar with it also because I was elected twice by the people of Roscommon-South Leitrim, particularly those in the Enniskillen end of the constituency.
Like my colleagues I consider this to be a huge issue but nobody seems to know what to do about it.
My colleagues also alluded to this point. I welcome the fact that last Monday the European Union committee in the House of Lords issued a report on Brexit concerning UK-Irish relations and containing up to 80 pages. It was very informative, measured and helpful. I will highlight one or two points from it. The report said the implications of Brexit for Ireland are more profound than for any other member state. The report also said the House of Lords welcomed the Irish Government’s strenuous efforts to ensure our EU colleagues are informed about the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and the particular challenges of Brexit. The report went on to say that the primary responsibility for drawing attention to and finding a solution to those issues lies with the UK Government. The report further stated Ireland now faces challenges that are not of its own making and closer UK-Irish relations and stability in Northern Ireland must not be allowed to become collateral damage from Brexit. That is, in effect, saying what I said, namely, that they see that Brexit could be used for, let us say, a lot of mischief making.
On page 85 the report said that despite ministerial recognition of the substantial implications Brexit could have for cross-Border economic activity on the island of Ireland, there is still significant uncertainty over how the UK plans to mitigate these effects and over the priority they will receive in withdrawal negotiations. Finally, on page 86 the report states that it is extremely important for both Northern Ireland and the Republic that an agreement is reached which takes into account the all-Ireland nature of their economies. It is in the interests of the Irish economies, North and South, that the current movement of people, goods and services within the island of Ireland is maintained.
We are hopeful, but the statements I have read are from the House of Lords and the report is not very encouraging. Two issues arise. The first is somewhat of a curve ball. How do the witnesses honestly think we can deal with a hard Brexit? Are there modern security systems that will work or is it just talk and a case of kicking the can down the road? I do not know whether my second point has been mentioned because I was in and out of meetings. The Narrow Water bridge project is an iconic one from North to South and it was shelved three years ago because of cost overruns. The EU was involved. I do not wish to cause mischief but a bridge is now being talked about in terms of a southern bypass in Newry. Could the witnesses see the two projects going ahead? We would all love to see that. What are the views of witnesses in this regard? I am sorry for throwing the curve ball to them but I would welcome their views.
Dr. Conor Patterson:
I will reply to a few questions. I will take Deputy Breathnach's questions in addition to some of Senator Feighan's. It is incumbent on the Irish Government to assert its position as a sovereign EU member state. In response to Deputy Breathnach, connectivity requires Irish Government engagement. It cannot happen without the sponsorship of the two states. It is an intergovernmental challenge and both Governments have to assert a commitment to it. The Irish Government's role, in particular with respect to Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement, as co-guarantor, is crucial. As he correctly said, free movement depends on that connectivity being guaranteed. The issue is how we handle all of this. It requires special status for Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement is a special status framework. There is precedent. It is underpinned by €2 billion of funding from the EU, so the special circumstances or status of Northern Ireland is widely recognised across the EU, but that must be asserted by the Irish Government because, unfortunately, it is not likely that the British Government will have the special circumstances of Northern Ireland at the head of its negotiating objectives, whereas the Irish Government must have.
The House of Lords report is comprehensive and it at least recognises those special circumstances, but the Irish Government, to use a phrase with great resonance in Northern Ireland, in particular for Northern Nationalists, cannot stand idly by on this subject. This is as big a challenge as the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, if not greater, because the currents then were moving in favour of greater all-Ireland collaboration. The background circumstances were advantageous and helped the commitment being made by both Governments and externally by the Americans and the EU. Those circumstances have changed and the intergovernmental challenge, as was rightly said, for UK-Irish relations is much greater now and is truly a challenge. The scale of the situation needs to be understood in Dublin. This is a Good Friday Agreement moment that we are in just now and that needs to be faced up to.
Mr. Peter Conway:
I will go back for a moment to some of the ideas raised by Senator Feighan and also Deputy Brendan Smith in terms of solutions. Deputy Breathnach also made a contribution in that regard. If I could just look at the ports industry for a moment, the way I have to describe this is as a double whammy because, first, the ports throughout the UK and including Northern Ireland have a challenge we are dealing with on the maritime side with European Union countries. Just over 50% of UK trade is with countries in the European Union, so something has to happen there. Some people say it will be just the same as how we currently deal with trade coming from Canada. That does operate fairly much on a modern basis, digitally, with very little paper involved, but the scale of the systems that are required to handle all of that in the future if there are tariffs will be colossal.
That is one challenge, but the bigger challenge for the main ports in the North - Derry, Warrenpoint and Belfast - relates to our landward trade, which is the trade we have once the goods are landed or prepared for export. In Warrenpoint's case, 48% of our overall trade is to and from the Republic. That breaks down in different markets. If one takes the timber business, the majority of that, 70%, comes to the South. That is because of the major construction market in the South versus the North. When we had the recession back in 2009, we could see for a short time before that that the recession would hit because our timber volumes dramatically dropped. When one takes steel, for example, most of the steel that was used for the construction of the new terminal in Dublin Airport came through Warrenpoint. One might ask why that was. I suspect it is to do with competition, price and costs. This is all good for the economy both North and South. In terms of agricultural goods such as grain, the importation is split both ways. It is a double whammy and it is a serious challenge to business, not just the ports' business but all businesses because in this day and age we cannot put ourselves in silos. We must think of marketing on both sides of the Border.
On the solutions, the Norway-Sweden solution seems to work quite well but Norway is not in the customs union and makes major contributions to the EU. That model could work but there are still spot checks on that border. It is not just as it is today on the Border between North and South here, which does not really exist. One can drive to the North and not know the Border is there. Switzerland has borders with France, Italy, Germany and Austria, which are all in the European Union, and it seems to be able to manage all right. We should not be a naysayer for everything but it is not going to be as easy as it is there because it makes contributions also to the EU and it is a very wealthy country, so that works for Switzerland. The border between Canada and the United States of America has special arrangements for cross-border workers who do not need to stop at the border. Their cars can go into a separate lane to go through, but there are checks on that border also. These solutions being put forward are worth investigating but we need to have a tailored solution, as Dr. Patterson has said, with special arrangements for Northern Ireland because of the geography, relationships, politics and people on this island.
Mr. Michael Blaney:
I want to echo those points. It is really the issue around free movement of people and labour that could pose the biggest problem for development in the financial services and insurance industries. There has been talk of employers and landlords perhaps having to verify the nationalities of people. That is an extra burden that may be placed on employers who may employ people coming across the Border to work for them and on landlords who have tenants staying in their properties. I am not sure how viable that plan is. It certainly would not be popular among business owners as it would be another check they feel they must carry out on behalf of the State. It is about the availability of talent and the importance of the continuation of the free movement of talent. We have a strong ambition to develop our trading in the Republic, but if there are too many barriers put up to that development, we would end up having to consider expanding to the market in Britain as an alternative. We are already regulated there.
From talking to other businesses about this, one of the major concerns is around the uncertainty of it all and the length of time it is going to take for certainty around issues to become clear. One chief executive officer of a large business in our area has told me that business will not wait. Businesses will decide to invest in a more stable climate and that, potentially, would be a shame. It is very important for these types of discussions to lead to action, one hopes. It is great to have the opportunity to put our case forward on the real issues we are facing.
Dr. Conor Patterson:
-----should the Newry River and Carlingford Lough estuary be bridged, and we all believe it should be, as long as it works for its intended purposes the location of the bridge does not really matter to us. The purpose for which it is intended must include a link to the main A1-N1 route, which is the Dublin-Belfast road. Otherwise, the bridge would only service the local population in Omeath and Warrenpoint. The road infrastructure between Newry and Omeath is very poor. We would have a concern over the practical value of a bridge, wherever it is, without a link to the main North-South axis. If the bridge were located at the envisaged point in Narrow Water Castle or just beyond it, then it would bridge into the Republic's jurisdiction from Northern Ireland and it then becomes a cross-Border project with inter-jurisdictional connectivity. On balance, that would seem to be the favourable route, as long as there is a link to the main road.
I wish to come back on the issue of the Narrow Water bridge. When I chaired the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement when Senators Mary White and Terry Brennan were on that committee along with other members who are here, we spoke of and supported the crossing, but there was never talk of the southern relief road to bypass Newry. I will not say we are surprised but everybody was talking about the Narrow Water bridge and it seems the southern relief road to bypass Newry never came onto our radar. I am not causing trouble but I believe that if we could get the two projects going, that would be great. It is fascinating that we talk about the iconic North-South project which we all support, but there was never talk about the southern relief road to bypass Newry.
I thank Mr. Blaney, Dr. Patterson, Dr. McDonnell and Mr. Conway for coming to the committee and for their excellent presentations. We will all be very interested in watching out for the ChilliDrive app in particular. I apologise again for the disruption to the meeting and I thank the witnesses for bearing with us. As this is our last meeting of 2016, I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and I thank you all for your co-operation. I thank our staff, especially Laoise, our clerk, who is fantastic. I would certainly be very lost without her. Enjoy the break.