Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union
Engagement with Local Authorities
On behalf of the committee, it is a pleasure to welcome so many local representatives to the Seanad. I understand the Ireland/Northern Ireland Border Corridor Local Authority Group comprises all of the local authorities on both sides of the Border. It is very important to all of us to hear about the issues and solutions its representatives identify for their constituents. We have heard a great deal about the potential impact of Brexit on Border counties and, as such, this is a key session in our work. The leadership the delegates have all shown should be commended. I also welcome the representatives of Dublin City Council. If not the first, Dublin City Council was one of the very first bodies to work methodically and in-depth on the impact of Brexit. We appreciate very much the generosity of the delegates in sharing their learning with us. We will start with Councillor P. J. O'Hanlon and then move on to Mr. John Kelpie, Ms Joan Martin, Councillor Stephen McCann, Councillor Paul McAuliffe and Mr. Greg Swift. That will be the speaking order.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either 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 committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I thank colleagues for coming and appreciate that some of them may have to leave early. If that is the case, they should, please, feel free to do so at a time that is suitable. We will continue until we have completed the job we have come to do. I start by calling on Councillor P. J. O'Hanlon, cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, to commence his contribution. He is more than welcome.
Mr. P.J. O'Hanlon:
On behalf of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Border Corridor Local Authority Group, I thank members for the invitation to address the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Our delegation comprises the chairpersons, mayors, vice chairpersons and chief executives of all of the local authorities in the Border corridor. It is not only a cross-Border delegation but also a community delegation. Its size reflects how important the issue is not just for local authorities but for all of us who live and work along the Border corridor.
There is no doubt that the Ireland-Northern Ireland Border area will be affected most by Brexit, after which the Border will become a gateway both into and out of the European Union. While the position remains uncertain, there is a strong indication that the United Kingdom will exit both the Single Market and the customs union. From discussions with MEPs, it is very clear that if that is the case, the European Union will need to protect its market and thus enforce controls at the Border, which no one wants to see happen. Controls at the Border will impact negatively not just along the Border but on the island of Ireland as a whole.
Local authorities along the Border corridor recognised very quickly after the referendum on 23 June 2016 that there would be an impact on the people of the region. They worked with local authority-led cross-Border groups, East Border Region, the ICBAN and the North West Regional Development Group to present a stronger and more coherent case on the impact on the Border region. It soon became clear, however, that despite there being different challenges and opportunities, depending on the area of the Border in which one lived, Brexit presented a common challenge for all of the people of the region. Without a government in Northern Ireland and with negotiations taking place between Brussels and London directly, local authorities felt it necessary to champion the needs of the Ireland-Northern Ireland Border region and the Border corridor response to Brexit began. The memorandum of understanding between the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Louth County Council facilitated by East Border Region was a catalyst for our engagement and all Border councils readily came on board in November last year.
Our first task was to commission a study to begin to explore what the actual impact of Brexit might be along the corridor. This was not an easy task, considering the huge uncertainty about what Brexit actually meant. The Ulster University economic policy centre was appointed to undertake a piece of work on behalf of all Border councils to explore the risks, opportunities and issues to be considered. The study was completed in February and a major event entitled, Brexit and the Ireland / N Ireland Border Corridor: What next for Local Government and Business?, was held on 4 May in Lough Erne Resort. A total of 148 delegates from all of the local authorities and representatives of chambers of commerce were in attendance and the delegates endorsed a Border corridor approach.
Our aim today is to highlight the needs of the Border corridor and stress two overarching strategic points which emanated from our initial study of it, the first of which is that Brexit will impact on all aspects of the economy of the region. An economic border post-Brexit would be disastrous for it. Mr. John Kelpie, chief executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, will outline the key elements of this contention. The second point is that Brexit will impact on the people and communities living in the Border corridor. The Good Friday Agreement must be protected during the Brexit negotiations, a point I cannot emphasise as much as I want to. Ms Joan Martin, chief executive of Louth County Council, will present our findings in this respect. Councillor Stephen McCann, a member of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, will provide a summary of the position in the Border corridor.
Mr. John Kelpie:
It is a great privilege to represent the ten councils in the Border area, six on the Southern side and four on the Northern side. We represent more than 1 million people on the island. It is a true cross-Border and cross-community partnership. As advised, we have been collaborating for a considerable number of months and are beginning to understand the potential impact of Brexit along the Border corridor. More importantly, we have begun to move towards some solutions and potential mitigation that is most definitely required.
It has been very obvious for the last decade or so, in particular, that enormous progress has been made in Border counties. There has been huge economic development, considerable physical and environmental development and huge social change all along the corridor brought about not least because of the influence of the European Union and, of course, the national governments of the two jurisdictions. It is very clear, however, that Border council areas and the Border region, in particular, still lag behind national or regional averages in terms of productivity, labour participation rates and household income. There are quite a few very negative indicators that have stubbornly refused to move during the years. Some of this can obviously be explained by peripherality and poor connectivity. It is also a feature of the fact that the economic structure in the Border region and the differentials for companies across it are unique. The sectors within which the firms operate are unique in terms of their size and ownership. While there are differences across the region, there are some very common issues that we wish to explore with the committee.
It is our contention that Brexit will impact across the piste on matters such as trade, migration and particular sectoral areas such as agrifoods and fisheries and also very much on inward investment. We are already beginning to see a very significant impact in terms of delayed investment. In particular, we forecast an impact on trade between the two parts of the island. That is an obvious statement, but some of the figures we will share with the committee will show the level of integration in Border areas. In the agrifood and fisheries sector, as well as transport and logistics, some of the figures are quite startling.
On trade, more than €3 of every €10 worth of exports from companies in Southern Border areas goes to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is the single biggest market for firms in Border counties, after the rest of the European Union. It is a bigger market than north America, Asia and the rest of the world combined. More than half of exports from Border counties are in the agrifood, financial services, construction and engineering sectors. There is a similar story north of the Border. Approximately £2.20 of every £10 in external sales generated by companies on the Northern side of the Border goes to the EU market.
That is a significantly larger percentage than that for the rest of Northern Ireland which only accounts for 10%. Some 22% of all sales in Northern Border counties are into the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the European Union. The Republic of Ireland is the second biggest external market for firms in Border areas in the North.
In the agrifood sector 35% of the milk produced in Northern Ireland in 2015 was exported to the Republic of Ireland. Some 45% of the meat produced in Border counties went to Northern Ireland and, of course, in a hard Brexit or no deal scenario these exports would potentially be subject to WTO tariffs, which are excessive, as we know.
In the fisheries sector 65% of fish landings are in Killybegs, County Donegal. It is a little known fact that 7% of the entirety of fish landings in the United Kingdom are in Kilkeel, County Down. They are shared waters at this time. There are very real concerns that post-Brexit the sector will be affected extremely detrimentally and that the level collaboration and these very important trading figures will be severely impacted on.
The concentration of businesses and employment in these two industries in the Border corridor leaves the area especially vulnerable and exposed to risk. There is a need to recognise that many farm, fishing and agrifood enterprises are small in scale with a low turnover, which also makes them particularly vulnerable.
On transport and logistics, the Border is 500 kms from Carlingford to Lough Foyle, the area in which I am privileged to work. It divides rivers, fields, farms, households and businesses. There are almost 300 Border crossings and some 6,000 lorries cross the Border every day, many of them on their way to and from ports. We have Warrenpoint at one end of the Border, the third largest port in the United Kingdom, and Foyle port at the other. Many of the exports and imports are distributed along the west coast of the island and beyond.
In the packs provided and the slides we have done a little bit of work in looking at cross-Border commuting patterns. They show the level of integration across the Border region. In my council area which has a population of 150,000 there are 360,000 movements across the Border each week. They include families, those involved in businesses and others travelling for education or work purposes. Approximately 40% of the cars parked in Derry city centre during the day have Donegal registration plates. The situation in Letterkenny town centre is similar, with somewhere between 30% and 35% of the cars parked during the day having Northern Ireland registration plates. The level of integration cannot be underestimated. Frankly, we ourselves are astounded when we look at the detail and the figures, that integration is so ingrained across the Border region.
Another key fact relates to the dependence of Northern Ireland firms along the Border, as well as Southern Irish firms, on immigration to sustain them. The level varies per sector. In the restaurant and hotel business sector almost 25% of all employees along the Border corridor are immigrants. Some 20% work in administrative areas and 22% in manufacturing. There is, therefore, very significant reliance on migrant workers. The Border councils in Northern Ireland received over 50% of the entire population of new migrants last year. The Southern Border counties receive over 20% of the entire national migrant population. We can, therefore, begin to see the absolute dependence on migrant populations on both sides of the Border.
We have documented in our report the impact of Brexit and have a very substantial evidence base, but we have moved in recent times to begin to look at potential mitigation measures. I am very pleased to hear some of the comments emanating in recent times from the two Governments in particular and note the direction of travel taken. A key for communities living along the Border corridor is ensuring we will not have an economic border post-Brexit, that Northern Ireland producers will have tariff free access to the Republic of Ireland market and the Single European Market, that we will retain the right for Northern Ireland producers to freely access the wider Great Britain market, that Republic of Ireland producers will have free access to the Great Britain market which accounts for over €1 billion worth of business per week. In that regard, the quality and traceability of products will be essential. The migration issue as it relates to Border counties means that there must be free access to labour, both North and South.
In terms of economic solutions, it is true that weak economies will become weaker as a result of Brexit. Border councils have for some time been working on macro solutions that will once and for all change these vital statistics and ensure Border areas can become a net contributor to the economies on this island, both North and South. We know what strategic interventions are required and in the lead-up to and post-Brexit these strategic interventions will remain the same. We must ensure we minimise peripherality and improve connectivity both in terms of infrastructure, including road projects such as the A5 and Narrow Water bridge, as well as other vital infrastructural projects. We must also ensure we get to grips with the rural broadband issue - the virtual connectivity issue. The rail network, in which very substantial progress has been made in recent years, needs a final push to ensure connectivity, to and from the capital city and among other cities on the island, will be as smooth as possible. We can address the issue of infrastructure now; we do not have to wait for Brexit to happen. There are indications that very significant progress has been made in dealing with some of these issues, but we can prepare now and the two Governments can assist us in that mission.
On support for Border businesses, we recognise that across the two jurisdictions there has been very considerable support for small businesses in recent years, but they are particularly vulnerable. We contend that the level of support should increase. More information and advice are required for some of the very small or micro companies on tariffs. Of course, councils are very willing to play a part in that regard. The agrifood industry, in particular, as I mentioned, faces very significant challenges and needs assistance in beginning to plan for the future.
That is a very brief summary of the content of the report. I will hand over to my colleague from Louth County Council to make the second part of the presentation.
Ms Joan Martin:
My colleague from Derry dealt with the economic aspects at a macro level. I want to reach down closer to the ground and talk about the impact on communities and individuals in their daily lives. As we have heard, the Border corridor suffered more than any other part of Ireland and Northern Ireland during the long political conflict which left us with a weaker economy and infrastructure, skills deficits, higher unemployment, etc. During the Troubles Border communities suffered daily disturbances in their way of life. We do not want to go back to having Border checkpoints and all of what they entailed. The peace process and the Good Friday Agreement enabled us to address these issues. It is essential that all strands of the Agreement be maintained and protected post-Brexit.
I want to touch on the impact in a number of key sectoral areas, including EU funding, health care, education amd tourism. In the past 20 years, going back to the 1990s, EU funding has enabled us to modernise along the Border corridor. Some €3.5 billion has been allocated to Northern Ireland by the European Union to be made available in the period 2014 to 2020.
CAP payments account for 70% of this sum and I do not need to tell the committee how important they are in Northern Ireland. Programmes with a cross-Border element largely fall under the INTERREG and PEACE programmes - currently INTERREG VA and PEACE IV - and make up just under €500 million which will be available up to 2020. The INTERREG programme focuses very much on economic development, whereas the PEACE programme which followed the Good Friday Agreement deals with community reconciliation and social inclusion programmes which also extend to the very large numbers of new migrants. Integrating them successfully is also part of the PEACE programme.
Cross-Border co-operation has never been easy. I have been involved in it since the early 1990s, ahead of the Good Friday Agreement. It was not easy then and it is still not easy. Without the INTERREG and PEACE programmes, it is unthinkable that we could have sustained interest and engagement in this very important work. The PEACE programme is an integral part of the peace process. The handout contains pictures of only some of the very many projects which have received funding. They are some of the more recent ones. On the infrastructure side, the Northern Ireland science park is a hugely important project. I was responsible on the Southern side for the Newry-Dundalk road project. Prior to being open ten years ago, crossing the Border from Dundalk to Newry, as I did very often, was difficult. Given the condition of the road, checkpoints and the security situation, I could have left my office an hour previously and still have been worrying about whether I would make it on time for a meeting in Newry. I can now cover the distance in ten or 15 minutes.
On the economic development side in my county, the Highlanes Gallery is located in Drogheda. It is a contemporary art gallery which houses our municipal collection. It is twinned with the McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge. It was a cross-Border arts partnership funded under the INTERREG programme to the tune of several million. The Bright Room is another important economic programme in Dundalk which would never have gone ahead without the funding that was available under the INTERREG programme. More recently, we have had biodiversity and greenway projects. Next week we will be turning the sod for the next phase of the greenway from Carlingford to Newry. We have already extended it to Omeath and are now continuing on to Newry. In a very short space of time one will be able to travel on a greenway or a canal pathway from Carlingford to Lough Neagh. This is a project which would have been unthinkable without cross-Border funding and co-operation from local authorities and communities. There have been energy projects, while the Peace Bridge in Derry is an iconic structure and a hugely important link for communities on both sides of the lough.
When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, Ireland will lose the Ireland-Northern Ireland-Scotland INTERREG programme, the Ireland-Wales INTERREG programme and the PEACE programme, all of which receive at least part of their funding from the European Union. The Northern Ireland Border councils will also lose EU money allocated by the Northern Ireland Executive for economic and rural development and tourism programmes. The opportunity to access the plethora of EU funds available under the Horizon 2020, Atlantic area, INTERREG Europe and northern periphery programmes, etc., will be lost. Some of these programmes are of huge importance to the third level sector, in particular, in which so much vital research in key areas takes place on a day-to-day basis. Opportunities for universities to gain from links with universities all over Europe will also be lost.
On health care, access across the Border has become critical. The radiotherapy centre in Altnagelvin Hospital is of great importance to people in County Donegal. It will be remembered from arguments on radio and television that prior to there being cross-Border co-operation, their alternative was to travel to Galway. Altnagelvin Hospital is only up the road for them. The emergency department in Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry serves a huge part of north Louth, with the alternative being the hospital in Drogheda which would simply not be able to cope with the extra work. It covers an area stretching across counties Cavan and Monaghan, in addition to County Louth. Children from Northern Ireland travel to Dublin for pædiatric care and heart surgery, while numerous patients from Northern Ireland are treated in the Republic. Likewise, patients from the Republic travel to the North. It depends on the medical service sought. The CAWT is another project funded under the INTERREG programme which facilitates cross-Border health service links, but it is under threat.
It has been difficult for a lot of these projects to survive in the interim between each INTERREG programme; there have been gaps of one to four years, but at least we knew there would be programmes. If these programmes are removed, the future will look very bleak. There are 124 consultants at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry and regular attendances by 642 patients, particularly in the area of nephrology, as well as ENT day cases. There are huge numbers of outpatients accessing specialties, particularly obstetrics and orthopaedics. A total of 708 patients from the Republic were treated in the Daisy Hill Hospital emergency department in one year between 2016 and 2017. The Western Trust has contracts with the hospital in Letterkenny to provide oral surgery and cardiology services. There is also the north-west cancer centre. The figures are included in the handout and they are huge.
Mr. Kelpie has touched on the numbers who cross the Border for all kinds of reason, including to attend higher education courses. South West College, North West College and Southern Regional College in Northern Ireland, as well as the institutes of technology in Sligo and Letterkenny, all have an important cross-Border dimension and many students travel in both directions. Lecturers come from both sides. In my office in Louth County Council there are staff members who live in Belfast and Dublin. Those who live in the North, of whom there are many, are very worried about travel times and reciprocal tax arrangements and what the future will hold for them post-Brexit. The handout sets out the example of higher fees for Northern Ireland students. What will happen here? Will there be an impact on numbers in the Republic? EU students will be much less likely to travel to Northern Ireland post-Brexit.
Tourism is still very much a fledgling industry in Border areas because of our peripherality. We have been building the industry in recent years. There are 3.3 million visitors, one third of whom are concentrated in two western areas which include Donegal, Fermanagh and Omagh. Tourism is a key economic driver on the whole island. In County Louth tourism is the industry with the greatest potential for economic development. However, freedom of movement is critical. Tourists will not be as anxious to travel to a Border area or cross the Border when they are unsure about what will happen or how long the journey will take. They are very uncertain about where exactly the Border is. Very often they do not know whether County Louth is in the Republic or Northern Ireland. We do not want to go back to the difficulty we experienced in the past. There are tourist attractions which straddle the Border, including the very important UNESCO geopark between counties Cavan and Fermanagh which includes the Marble Arch caves.
While that is a very important project which received substantial EU funding, what is to happen in the future as that project develops? The Southern part of it will still be eligible for EU funding but what about Northern Ireland?
Access to the region is largely through ports and airports on the other side of the Border. Many people who travel to Northern Ireland will access Ireland through Dublin Port or Dublin Airport. What is going to happen there? Reaching down further, right down onto the ground, some of those present will have seen the reaction from some Border communities to the prospect of Brexit. These communities face the threat of their whole way of life changing yet again. They have worked seamlessly across the Border for many years. Even people like me sometimes do not know where the Border is. One travels over and back and one is never exactly sure. When travelling to somewhere like Cavan or Monaghan I could cross the Border several times. We are still recovering from many decades of political turmoil. Families and relatives live on both sides of the Border. Farms are literally divided by the Border, as are businesses. There can be a church in Northern Ireland and a graveyard in the Republic. Journeys often involve multiple Border crossings. What about shopping and socialising? I could give the example of a number of my staff members, who are young women from Louth who met young fellas from Northern Ireland at discos in Dundalk. Some of them are now living in the Republic and some are living in south Armagh or other parts of Northern Ireland. It is an invisible Border for us. This impact will not be felt anywhere else in Ireland. The Border is part of us. It is part of who we are and is part of our lives every day.
Another impact could be the loss of PEACE funding. We depend on that to foster cross-community co-operation. It is only those of us who have lived and worked in the region over the decades who can see the impact PEACE money has had on cross-Border co-operation. I have been working in Louth for 40 years and I have spent the last 25 years of that doing a lot of cross-Border work. I held Ms Arthur's job with East Border Region before her. Only we can see the opportunities it has offered communities on both sides of the Border to come closer together, to work together, to have more social inclusion, to break down barriers and to address the negative impacts. We have seen that. We know how important it is. We also know, despite the fact that we are on the fourth programme, the amount of work that still needs to be done, and the importance of the continuation of that programme and its funding.
Do not bring me problems, only solutions. The solution is that those programmes must continue. The PEACE programme, to which I have just referred, which fosters cross-community and cross-Border integration and co-operation must continue. INTERREG has allowed economic development to help us to try to catch up on many years of falling behind the rest of the island during the Troubles. That must continue. We need the political will of Dublin, Stormont, London and Brussels to make the financial commitment required to continue the work of those programmes.
I apologise for mentioning the Good Friday Agreement again but all three strands of it must be protected. The power-sharing assembly and Executive, the Irish dimension to the governing arrangements for Northern Ireland and the east-west institutions, namely, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, have all played an incalculable role in bringing us forward over the last number of years and they must continue.
There is a lot more work to be done. Regarding the common travel area, we have touched over and over again on people travelling over the Border and back. I have also mentioned things like tourism. The free movement of people is essential to maintain the way of life for those who live in the Border region. It is essential for access to cross-Border education and health. It is particularly important for residents in my county, and the other Border counties in the Republic of Ireland, who did not vote to leave the EU, who did not have a vote on Brexit and who now face being affected by it.
I wish to mention the national planning framework and the memorandum of understanding between my own council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. At our last steering meeting a couple of weeks ago, the project team from the national planning framework was in attendance. It emphasised that this is not about spatial planning. The national planning framework is about a vision for what Ireland will look like as we move towards 2020, 2040 and into the future. It is very important that the issues we have raised today and the difficulties and solutions we have mentioned throughout our address are recognised in that national planning framework and that they are built into it as it moves ahead. We request that cognisance is taken of all of those issues in the formulation of the national planning framework.
Mr. Stephen McCann:
As the committee will know, local authorities have a duty of care to those people who live and work in their respective council areas. As elected members, we wish to do our very best for those who have put their faith in us. Thus we are collectively working together to ensure the needs of the Border corridor are reflected and prioritised during the Brexit negotiations. The fact that we, as local authorities on both sides of the Border, have recognised the common challenges which we face and are prepared to work together to address them, is testimony to the value of cross-Border co-operation in the past few years. This capacity has been supported by the peace process and the European Union.
The Border local authorities in the North are acutely aware that, although our Border counterparts in the South had no part to play in the decision to leave the European Union, they are already feeling the impact. This is as a result of the sharp fall in sterling. Many small businesses, the backbone of the Border corridor, have already closed, most notably in the mushroom industry.
While this situation is worrying, the Border study has found that an economic border would be detrimental not only to the Border corridor, but to the island of Ireland as a whole. We have given the committee a snapshot of the impact during our presentation. As a Border corridor, we must influence not only the Irish Government but also Stormont, London and Brussels, to ensure this does not happen. We ask the committee to use all of its resources in this regard and to think carefully about the solutions we have posed. The people of the Border corridor deserve clarity about what the future will hold. As elected members from the Border councils, we know that our respective communities will be most impacted by Brexit. Irrespective of what part of the 500 km border one lives on, the outworkings of Brexit will be keenly felt.
While economic certainty is important, political certainty is essential for our Border corridor to thrive. We cannot jeopardise the peace process for which we have all worked so hard. Our children and grandchildren’s lives depend on decisions which will be taken in the next few years. It is our duty to get this right and it is the contention of the Border corridor local authorities that, in order to do this, all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement must be maintained. I will make no apology for reinforcing the point that all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement must be maintained.
The Border corridor local authorities would welcome the opportunity to brief the incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on the serious issues which we have outlined today. We believe it is important that the needs of the people of the Border region continue to be reflected at the highest levels in the Government. We again thank the committee for the opportunity to present the case of the Border corridor to it.
Mr. Paul McAuliffe:
I thank the Acting Chairman and members of the committee. We very much appreciate being here today. As chairperson of economic development and enterprise in Dublin City Council, I am joined by a number of my colleagues: Mr. Declan Wallace, assistant chief executive; Mr. Greg Swift, head of enterprise and economic development; Ms Mary MacSweeney, deputy head of enterprise and economic development; and Mr. Steven O’Gara,who has assisted in the Dublin city economic summits, on which I intend to brief the committee. As the councillors in the room would acknowledge, it is always disconcerting when the officials are sitting behind one.
My remarks are based largely on two Brexit-related Dublin city economic summits that were held in July 2016 and May 2017. These round-table discussions included senior leaders of many sectoral, business, trade union and political organisations in the city, as well as State bodies. My remarks are also informed by the new Dublin Economic Monitor- a joint initiative on behalf of the four Dublin local authorities to track economic developments in the capital. I have a number of copies of the bulletin for the committee.
It is a useful policy tool to assess what happens in Dublin's economy.
The first summit took place three weeks after the referendum. It focused on the potential challenges and opportunities that face Dublin city following the referendum. We were pleased that representatives from both the British and Irish Governments were able to attend as the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the British ambassador, Mr. Chilcott, attended a round-table discussion.
With 28% of the national population living in Dublin and 45% of the GDP generated in the city, it is not a surprise that many of the national Brexit challenges have an impact on Dublin. I will not repeat the challenges as the committee has already heard about them from other delegates. I will briefly mention the concerns of the retail, tourism and university sectors. They were mentioned at the summit and are worth noting. In terms of retail, 40% of Dublin city centre stores belong to UK chainstores. There are concerns that even without tariffs there may be an inflationary impact on Dublin consumers as a result of Brexit. The tourism sector employs one in seven Dublin workers. The sector was one of the sectors that felt the immediate impact of a weakened sterling following the Brexit vote. There have been calls for increased promotion particularly in eurozone markets. There are concerns that increased prices in the Dublin tourism sector has affected the city's attractiveness as a destination. As for education, there are concerns that British and Northern Irish students who study in Dublin, as well as Dublin students who study in the UK, will be treated as international rather than EU students after Brexit with higher tuition fees being imposed as a result. Equally, concerns were expressed about existing and future research partnerships between Ireland and UK educational institutions.
I urge members to read the outcome report from our Brexit summit as it has more detailed analysis on the sectors in Dublin city that have seen the impact of Brexit. Today, I shall focus on the main issues that face Dublin as a result of Brexit. One of the strong outcomes from the summit was the Lord Mayor's task force on Brexit. I refer to the joint initiative called Greater Dublin's Greater Than Ever, which was developed by the Mansion House and the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. The project aims to promote the positive elements of the city with a video and promotional material. The material has been distributed and used for the past six months to convey the message that Dublin is a place for investment.
In the limited time available, I will focus on the capacity and infrastructure of the city of Dublin. While wearing the blue jersey to promote Dublin abroad, we also need to address potential threats. Many of the infrastructural challenges predate Brexit but Brexit has brought them into sharper focus. A city with capacity can respond positively to increasing numbers of people coming to visit, live and work here. However, a city with insufficient infrastructure will be unable to respond.
It is accepted that financial services and other London-based companies were or are looking at Dublin as a possible relocation centre. However, Dublin's ability to take advantage of the opportunities that arise from Brexit was a running theme throughout our discussions at the two summits. The capacity of the existing infrastructure to bear extra weight and for expansion arose repeatedly, particularly in terms of housing, transport, and hotel and office space.
The Dublin Chamber of Commerce attended the second summit in May 2017. One of its representatives stated that in meeting the challenges and opportunities provided by Brexit, housing supply, commuting and travel times were the most practical and quantifiable measures that any local authority could deal with. Tackling these issues would make the city more competitive both for the people already living and working here but also in being able to attract new investment. Dublin's ability to meet a growth in demand for office space was a concern 12 months ago. Assurances were given at the summit that a sufficient pipeline of office space was in development. At present it is believed that we will be able to handle an uptake in demand generated by companies moving their operations from London and elsewhere in the UK to Dublin.
According to comments made by CBRE at the summit, the largest number of queries received about office space in Dublin had came from the technology sector. The sector was fearful of immigration controls being introduced in the UK, as it would restrict an ability to attract the necessary workers. Concerns were raised about housing 12 months ago and they remain. There has been much coverage of the housing shortage in Dublin from a social perspective but it also has a massive economic impact. The shortage must be addressed if we are to be in a position to attract new employers. CBRE reported that housing was the number one issue its occupiers asked about. CBRE also stated that potential investors are looking at the cost of rental accommodation for their workers because of the implications that has on wage costs. Members can imagine how even a small number of highly paid financial workers moving to Dublin with a high disposable income might affect the already heated rental market.
Dr. Ronan Lyons, Department of Economics, Trinity College Dublin prepared a special paper on housing for the second summit. He said housing accounted for a quarter of the city’s competitiveness. Three quarters of the cost base for most modern multinationals is labour and one third of most households' incomes is spent on housing. Therefore, a quarter of Dublin's competitiveness comes down to housing, a fact that is not normally considered. Dr. Lyons reported that Ireland has perhaps been too good at attracting foreign direct investment and, therefore, has not considered the influence of domestic and international factors. There was a lot of focus on corporate tax in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. However, the cost of living and quality of life issues will be our challenge in Dublin in future decades. To illustrate the point, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and I recently met a co-founder of one of the world's largest social media technology companies. In discussing the company's plan to invest in Dublin, we spent a considerable amount of time addressing concerns about housing and the availability of school places.
The north Dublin think tank, NorDubCo, told our second infrastructure summit that from its engagement with multinational organisations, the housing of workers in other cities could often be solved with money. However, due to the scarcity of housing in Dublin, companies could not be certain that money alone would resolve the issue.
Equally, significant investment in transport is required to facilitate movement and reduce commuting times. Even with metro north and the DART underground, Dublin is facing a decade of increased congestion and lengthy commuter times. With an ever increasing number of people living and working in the city, an ambitious plan is needed to fund cycling infrastructure, quality bus corridors and integrated bus routes. We need to move away from short-term project-based planning to longer-term multi-agency planning in order that investors coming to the city can see a clear line of sight on big capital infrastructure. We also need to scale up our infrastructure and to do so we need investment.
The Dublin city local economic and community plan was published last year. It identified over 300 actions that Dublin City Council and other State bodies in the city must take in 2016 and 2017 to address quality of life issues. The plan rightly identified that a great city to live in is also a great city to invest in and vice versa. In order for Dublin to face the Brexit challenge we must now decide to deliver and invest.
My colleague, Mr. Greg Swift, will address some of the issues and projects that we have undertaken to support businesses in the city.
Mr. Greg Swift:
As head of enterprise and economic development in Dublin City Council, I welcome the opportunity to present to the committee. I will highlight some of the supports offered through the local enterprise office, LEO, that helps to support enterprise activity in Dublin city, particularly in response to Brexit.
The local enterprise office is the State's first stop-shop for enterprise supports. As head of the LEO for Dublin city I know that the office has implemented a range of new programmes that have been designed to help and inform the start-up community about the Dublin business plan for Brexit. These programmes include the LEO Brexit SME scorecard. The scorecard has been adopted from a version of Enterprise Ireland's online tool. The scorecard is designed to encourage companies to think about the key areas of business that may be impacted by Brexit and to self-assess their level of preparedness. By completing a series of questions online, under six key business pillars, a comprehensive report is automatically generated. It serves as a prompt and as a discussion document for clients to consider as part of their planning for Brexit. The report provides companies with a benchmark of best practice against which to compare their level of preparedness and directs them to a range of supports, resources and information that are available via the local enterprise office. LEO clients can access the scorecard, which has been available since last week, atwww.localenterprise.ie.
The technical assistance for micro-enterprises grant is designed to support qualifying businesses to diversify into new export markets, enabling companies to explore and develop new market opportunities. Under this initiative, businesses can be part-funded for costs incurred in investigating and researching export markets, for example, exhibiting at trade fairs, preparing marketing materials and developing websites specifically aimed at overseas markets. The grant covers 50% of eligible costs, net of VAT, to a maximum amount of €2,500 per company.
The lean for micro programme was piloted in 2016 with 23 participating companies and with an additional budget of €800,000 from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the programme has been rolled out across the entire local enterprise office, LEO, network and the Dublin region will run a programme each quarter. The LEOs, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, offer clients opportunities to adopt lean business principles in their organisations to increase performance and effectiveness. Lean will assist companies in addressing competitiveness issues, in building the capability of their people and in identifying issues and improving their operations, thereby increasing capacity as they improve efficiency and effectiveness. Under the programme companies can avail of group training and five half-day consultancies from a lean expert, a qualified practitioner, from an Enterprise Ireland-approved lean consultancy panel, who will work with the company to introduce lean principles, undertake a specific cost reduction project and assist the company in benchmarking performance.
The LEO innovation and investment fund is a new pilot initiative to support innovative developments in micro-enterprises by getting them investor ready and through the provision of a grant funding to assist them in implementing their development plans. The programme will initially target existing LEO clients in manufacturing or traded services sectors who wish to start, grow or develop innovative micro-businesses. Applicants for funding will apply online and some will be selected to participate in an investor-ready programme and to complete an investor-ready plan. They will then be entitled to pitch to an investor panel to secure a grant investment of up to €25,000 from their local LEO through a competitive process.
The LEOs offer mentoring programmes through which businesses can access mentors, including those on the Enterprise Ireland mentor panel. Mentors provide tailored advice, guidance and support to help accelerate growth, build management capability and address Brexit-related business challenges. The mentor programme is designed to match up the knowledge, skills, insights and entrepreneurial capability of experienced business practitioners with small business owner managers who need practical and strategic one-to-one advice and guidance. The mentor contributes independent, informed observation and advice to aid decision making. All applications for mentor assistance are dealt with individually and are preceded by a business needs analysis to assess the key needs of the business and determine the most imperative mentoring objectives.
To assist the small business community in meeting the challenges of Brexit, LEOs provide a wide range of high-quality training supports, which are tailored to meet specific business requirements, including those around finance. Training initiatives designed to support owner managers to address the impacts on currency, pricing, cash flow and funding are being rolled out. In addition, export growth programmes are being delivered nationwide to provide participants with the skills and confidence to go after new sales opportunities outside Ireland.
Clients are also being signposted to Enterprise Ireland-led programmes, such as the excel at export selling workshops. The LEOs provide a confidential advisory service open to those operating a business. Businesses can access information, advice and guidance from business advisers and will be signposted to the supports most relevant to them. The Enterprise Europe Network is the world's largest support network for small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. In Ireland, services are delivered in a partnership between Enterprise Ireland, the 31 LEOs and the chambers of commerce in Dublin and Cork. Through the network, Irish companies have free access to Europe's largest database listing up to 10,000 new business and technology opportunities in the EU and other major global markets. Businesses are assisted to grow through tailored support, new business technology partnerships, commercial opportunities, licensing deals and partner searches for EU-funded research and development. Companies can get advice on EU funding and support to bring their innovative products and technologies to a global audience. I thank members for the opportunity to make this presentation and I will be delighted to answer any questions they may have.
I thank Councillor O'Hanlon and Mr. McCann for this initiative and for their presentation; Mr. Kelpie and Ms Martin for taking the time to put this report together; and Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Swift from Dublin City Council.
The format we have been using following presentations is to have a question and answer session. There are many public representatives here from all sides of the community and if those present agree, I propose to allow members of the committee to make short statements and then to open the floor to members of local authorities who have travelled here today and who may wish to put something on the record. This is an extremely important event because it represents the group most affected by Brexit. I have been in Brussels on several occasions and have just returned from a COSAC meeting. At every meeting I have attended, the Irish question has been raised. Last week in Malta, Mr. Barnier, Ms Hübner and all the speakers from the 27 countries spoke of the unique position of Ireland and how important it is to protect the Good Friday Agreement and, more importantly, freedom of movement across this island. I was extremely impressed. Nobody spoke against it. There is a massive amount of goodwill.
In this room today there are two members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Senator Frances Black and me, who will report on this meeting to the committee. I assure Mr. McCann we will make representations to the Office of the Taoiseach to try to organise for him and Councillor O'Hanlon to meet him in order to get this across.
I am not normally a member of this committee but I am delighted to be here. The session has probably been one of the most important if not the most important sessions to be held here in respect of the Border. I was a councillor for 12.5 years in the Dublin region and as Seanad candidates we go around the country. I was in Cavan recently and I have been in Louth. One can see the seamless Border that exists now. Only when one's phone shows O2 UK and the speed limits are in miles rather than kilometres does one realise one has crossed the Border.
We do not have enough time today for a question and answer session. I thank all the representatives for their commitment in turning up here today and giving their detailed statements.
It is very important that they indicate in the Houses of the Oireachtas the position they are in and the position that has to be dealt with. I was on the old Southern and Eastern Regional Assembly and more recently the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, which includes County Louth. Its chief executive, Ms Martin, was the designated chief executive to that regional assembly when I was there and still is. We became even more aware of the situation as a result of having to appoint people to the PEACE programme and to various INTERREG programmes. There are other Ireland-Wales ones with which we are also familiar. It is important that the European Union understands the position the Border corridor is in and equally that it understands Ireland's position.
I thank all the representatives for being here. I will allow every other public representative to have a few minutes. My understanding is we have to be out of here by 4 p.m. I thank all the representatives for travelling such great distances and for putting so much work into their contributions. I might contact some of them individually and separately. If any of them wants to contact me or my colleagues, please do so. We are available by email and phone. I know many of them from the time when I was a councillor. The work they do is invaluable and I thank them all for their attendance.
I join in welcoming the elected members and executive members of the councils represented. I agree with the Acting Chairman's proposal that we spend most of this session listening to people who are the voice of the ordinary person who will be affected by this. Perhaps someone will address a particular question I have. My question is in the context of the Border and is particularly for people in the Border corridor. Will we be looking at a resumption of smuggling? I would like some views on that matter. I am from County Mayo and as we unfortunately have experienced petrol stretching and diesel laundering, I am interested in the impact there might be there.
I wish to be associated with all my colleagues in welcoming the representatives today and in thanking them for giving their time. I have sat here for a long time and we have interviewed various delegates from different areas and sectors. Councillors and council officials are the people who work with the ordinary people on the street on a daily basis. It was great to get down to the individuals. The people who thought up this idea of Brexit, the people who voted it through, and Brussels and Dublin will never hear of the personal problems this will create for individual families and neighbours especially along the Border region, which is the area the delegates represent. If Brexit never arose, the representatives still may have been here today lobbying for the areas they represent. Rural Ireland has been left behind and in particular the north west and Border regions. If the hard Brexit that has been mooted happens, I shudder to think of the situation Donegal and the north west will be in. It will be the last frontier of the European Union sharing a Border with the Atlantic and the UK, apart from a very small stripe down through Sligo-Leitrim. I shudder to think what the situation would have been in many of the Border regions if it was not for the extra funding that came from the EU as a result of the peace process. There was still a lot more that needed to be done. We are now looking at the possibility of losing that. It is imperative we put forward in our report the arguments and points that have been made.
The Acting Chairman asked for statements but I will ask one question. We have had a number of different groups here. A solution for the island that has been mooted is for Northern Ireland to get special status. That would eliminate a lot of the problems the representatives have raised in that there would not be a land border or economic border on the island. It would be more east-west, a line in the Irish Sea and we would take it from there. In itself, that would create a lot more logistical problems in the future. Would the representatives accept that as a solution in a worst-case scenario? What problems would they see emanating from that? How would the all-island status work? Until such time, the Six Counties would still be the UK and we would still be the EU. It might solve a lot of the problems in Border regions temporarily or it might create more. I would like to hear some of the representatives' opinion on that matter before we conclude.
It was powerful to listen to the presentations. I was quite moved by the feeling of unity, particularly among the Border communities. As one Senator said, it is the first time one can feel that sense of unity and power in numbers. As the Acting Chairmanl noted, we are members of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. If any of the representatives want us to do anything, they should keep in contact with us. They can reach us by email at any time.
Tourism is a big issue. From my experience of my father coming from the North and from travelling back and forth to north Antrim from a very young age, I realise how beautiful the coastline is from Carlingford all the way up. It is beautiful in north Antrim and the Glens of Antrim. I was in Newry in the Mourne Mountains at the weekend. It is a beautiful area. It does my heart good to see cars travelling up there, particularly Southern cars going up and enjoying the beauty. The fear is it will be stopped again as a result of Brexit. It is a huge fear and anxiety. It is really powerful to see all the representatives here. We will do everything in our power to support the local authorities. It is absolutely crucial. I encourage them to keep their feet on the pedal, to stay where they are today and keep on this path. I hope we can work alongside them and we will do our best to support them as best we can. I thank them for coming.
I join in the warm welcome to all of the representatives. They have made very interesting and informative contributions. I agree with the Acting Chairman in respect of the assurances we have been given from Michel Barnier and from the two Governments. Do the representatives have confidence in them? Negotiations have not started yet. Britain will be a full member for three years and probably for a lot longer with the transition period, which everyone now seems to accept will have to follow. A lot must happen in the negotiations. I accept Brexit is a damn nuisance. None of us wants it. We have always had to learn to live with currency volatility. The weakness of sterling is the thing that is impacting for us in the South. The representatives have had their concerns too, which we fully accept. Everyone has said there will continue to be a seamless Border. How effective are the guarantees we have? I accept that negotiations have yet to happen. Everybody accepts the Good Friday Agreement and the three strands must be fully protected. Many of the programmes with which the representatives are very concerned must continue. In the initial negotiations, a lot will depend on how much the British Government is prepared to yield. It will have to yield in negotiations in regard to the contributions it has made and is committed to continue to make. Much will depend on that. A little like the Acting Chairman, I am inclined to be optimistic although we have concerns which will continue. I have no doubt everything the representatives have said will be incorporated in the report of the committee and we will hopefully go forward with some confidence. Our resilience will not yield.
I join other speakers and will not go back over what has been said because I am conscious of time. I will add something a little different from what Mr. Swift had to say about the enterprise boards. Having served on my local enterprise board for 15 years, I am aware of how important it has been in the lives of small business.
That needs to be built on, certainly. In terms of business development north and south of the Border - I hope we will not go back to any border - I think it is important for there to be more co-operation and support around the enterprise boards. I agree with what my other colleagues have said also. I welcome everyone present.
It is 3.50 p.m. I propose to extend this session, not for as long as it takes but perhaps until 4.15 p.m., to allow any public representative present time to make a statement. Will they, please, keep their statements short? They will have to forgive me. As I do not know their names, I will simply point.
Mr. Alex Baird:
I am vice chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. I am part of the delegation of the Border council. The presentation is about Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland relationships and issues, rightly so; that is why we are here.
Solutions have been suggested and great references have been made to the implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, with all of which I agree. However, I am concerned that one solution could cause another problem. Senator Paul Daly commented on what I had previously written before he spoke, and I wish to respond. One problem that I foresee arising relates to the relationship in movement between Northern Ireland and the Great Britain mainland and the movement of traffic via the Republic of Ireland through Northern Ireland over to the GB mainland. We cannot have a restriction on movement between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, that is to say, a border at the ports at Warrenpoint, Larne and Belfast or at the airports of City of Derry, Belfast International or Belfast City. We cannot have reciprocal barriers on the UK mainland.
Reference was made to the Good Friday Agreement. The sovereignty aspect of the Good Friday Agreement is rarely referred to but from where I sit on the political spectrum, it is extremely important and that would affect it.
Special status for Northern Ireland was adverted to by Senator Paul Daly. My view would be possible consideration for special status for the Republic of Ireland. There would be inevitable problems in respect of where the Border would be. However, from my position on the political spectrum – Senators may be able to guess from what I have said already but I have no wish to bring party politics into it - I do not want to see a solution to Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland movement creating a problem that would be a problem for all of us.
Mr. Dominic Molloy:
I am from the Mid Ulster District Council. I will be brief and will make one point. We talked about various funding strands, including INTERREG and ERASMUS. It is important that they are kept going. One funding strand mentioned was access to the European Investment Bank. It provided over €1,000 million into the island of Ireland in 2013. A total of €350 million came to the North for projects on infrastructure and the relocation of the University of Ulster or Ulster University as it is called now. For the Border region and for the North as a whole, access to the European Investment Bank is very important for the various infrastructure projects in sectors such as telecommunications, broadband, roads, education and so on. Previously, the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland had put aside £40 million as leverage to access European funding from the European Investment Bank. That had to be shelved because of the Brexit decision. We would like to see some kind of arrangement to allow that to continue to be accessed.
Ms Roisín Mulgrew:
I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it. I am the chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. I live in the south Armagh area. I cannot begin to emphasise the concern we have within my community and where I live. Perhaps the further north one goes, the less of a concern it becomes, although I am unsure whether that is wise.
In south Armagh, Brexit affects every strand of our lives. My children have had some of their education in establishments in the South of the country. Some relatives of mine have gone to university on exchange programmes throughout Europe. My background is in the small business community. In the towns of Dundalk and Newry, it is apparent that there is reluctance on the part of people to make any personal private investment in business. I have no doubt that Brexit is the reason. We are not in an especially strong manufacturing area. We rely heavily on trade, agriculture, tourism and the public sector. I do not believe any of those will not be affected by Brexit.
Daisy Hill Hospital is a major concern for us. It is my understanding from the Bengoa report that the demographics included the people who cross the invisible Border from Louth and Monaghan to use those hospital services and they were very much part of the protection of the services in Daisy Hill Hospital. It is vital that this continues to be acknowledged.
I have some concerns. I have heard comment in recent days from members of the Border Communities against Brexit group. After staging one of their mock border posts on the Border at Carrickcarnon, those involved were contacted by a media station in England. The reporter talked to them about the impact of Brexit. When the group members highlighted their concern about customs posts and hard borders, they were asked if they did not already have border posts. That is the level of concern and knowledge about us in England. The reporter did not even realise that there were no customs posts along the Border. That is of major concern. The people I represent believe that it is only ourselves, those in this building, Deputies, Senators, MLAs and MEPs who will protect us. We do not believe MPs, including Theresa May, either know or care about us. I urge Senators not to let the communities in the Border down on this issue.
Mr. Albert Doherty:
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chathaoirleach agus leis na Seanadóirí. Cuireann sé áthas mór orm bheith anseo. Is as Inis Eoghain i nDún na nGall mé. Mar bhall de Chomhairle Contae Dhún na nGall agus mar chathaoirleach an North West Regional Development Group, tá an-athas orm bheith anseo agus cúpla rud a rá don choiste. I am chairman of the North West Regional Development Group. The group is a seamless attempt by those in Donegal, Strabane and Derry to put forward the north west as a region. Like our fellow representatives here, we are from a Border region. I acknowledge and thank Seanadóirí for seeing and acknowledging the momentum, energy and cohesion of our group as we face this uncertainly. It is clear that we have uncertainty. The best those in Brussels, Dublin and Stormont know at the moment is uncertainty.
A question was posed about how to help and we were asked to come with ideas or thoughts. There is an incoming budget and capital spending review plan. Committee members can show us their first response by acknowledging the deficits that may occur because of Brexit, as well as the deficits that have occurred down through the years because of peripherality. This can be done by putting infrastructure spending into our area and into the Border region area. That is a challenge regardless of whether it relates to infrastructure for our roads or to safeguard our fishing and our ports. These are the questions we have for the committee members as we come here with momentum.
I come from Carndonagh on the Inishowen Peninsula. It is the opposite Border region to that of my colleagues in Newry and Mourne. To put Brexit in perspective, I am keen to focus on the Inishowen Peninsula. If one takes the west of the Inishowen Peninsula as being the front door of my house, I look out into the calm waters of Lough Swilly. I see the fishermen at work and the ferry at play. I see the tourism potential of Dunree and Fanad. Most of my work is done out the back. When I look out my back door, I can see Lough Foyle. Who owns it? Who claims it?
What is going to happen to the fishermen there who work out of Greencastle Harbour? What about the tourism potential of developing Foyle Port? Why can we not have natural support for ferry services? My colleague will refer to Carlingford and deal with the Loughs Agency. Some people are still not claiming jurisdiction over the Foyle, while others very far away are. Greencastle Harbour possibly presents a problem for fishermen, but it is part of an initiative. As I said about the capital review plan, the development of ports can be an answer to issues raised by Brexit.
It is wonderful to have this opportunity and I hope we will have another one, but there is so much potential. Our area is at the beginning of the Wild Atlantic Way. People are directed to County Kerry and the south from our airports and visitor areas, but we would also like to see them travel along the Causeway coastline. We would like to market the region and have the momentum, cohesion and energy to do so. If we had the infrastructure and were to receive support from Dublin, that would show that today was a day well spent.
Mr. Hubert Keaney:
I am chairperson of Sligo County Council and agree with much of what has been been said. For us, there is uncertainty in that we do not know what shape the Border will take. As I lived in Manorhamilton for 30 years, I know what fixed border and customs posts are. We certainly need some help from central government because each day I travel, regardless of whether I travel on the N4 or take another route, I am hit by delays because of poor infrastructure. It is the same if I head towards Enniskillen; I am hit by delays because of the poor condition of the N16 and the fact that there is no bypass around the town. The delays are far greater than any ever caused at the border.
Let me start with how the committee can help us. First, we should go back to 2006. We should be given back the almost €2 billion that was taken out of the fund for the Border, midlands and western region to complete infrastructural projects on the east coast and in the south. If we had that money today, we would be able to solve many of our problems. We need infrastructure to address the lack of investment throughout the north west and Border region during the boom time. We can come, debate and make representations and if any member wishes to come to our area, he or she is welcome to do so. He or she will not need an engineer's report or a PowerPoint presentation to see what is happening there. What the tourism industry has to struggle to overcome to attract visitors to the area will be visible. We have some fantastic businesses that have survived and grown in the past few years, but if they are to be helped by central government and we want them to contribute to the national economy of this great country, we need to be given our fair share. Let us start with giving back the €2 billion that was removed from the fund for the Border, midlands and western region in 2006.
Ms Sharon Keogan:
I thank members for allowing us to come to talk to them about the real problems we are facing in the Border region. We need the heavy hand of the Government to brave the future. It is very clear that from today councils and communities will not fail to innovate and adapt to meet the complex challenges presented by Brexit. It is also very clear that we are not turning solely to the Government to solve the problems. We have come together from all political backgrounds and Border regions to work collectively to find solutions. Doing nothing is simply not an option for those of us who will be affected by Brexit.
Governments, be they EU member state governments or the UK Government, may present solutions as if they are gifts to the people of the region, but once deals are done, they proceed to saddle communities with a slew of regulations, mandates, taxes, tariffs, quotas, subsidies and penalties. We do not want significant changes made to the lives of the people involved in businesses or the communities we represent. Listening to our colleagues in Dublin City Council, it has become more evident that the challenges are faced by all of us. Our level of preparedness is crucial to find pathways to solutions. The cross-Border group very much wants to be part of the collective solutions so as not to sell citizens on the entire island short. We would like to know what role, if any, we can play in negotiating our way forward.
Mr. Justin Warnock:
I am a member of Leitrim County Council and thank the committee for inviting us. I ask for Michel Barnier and his team to be made aware of the Border region as we are here talking among ourselves and come from different political parties. I live on the Border and have seen the roads that were cratered. I would not be as optimistic as the Acting Chairman who does not think there will be a hard border. I am of the opinion that there will. We should, therefore, do everything we can get to those who are negotiating because that is where its starts and stops because it will be the only land border with the United Kingdom. I would be grateful if that request could be made of the negotiating team.
Mr. Conor Keelan:
I thank members and East Border Region for organising this meeting. I am a member of Louth County Council and live on the old N1 between Dundalk and Newry. I was born in Newry and many members of my family live on both sides of the Border. My father was a cross-Border worker. The current position is quite bizarre and the past is something to which we all do not want to return. We come with a unified position as representatives of councils on both sides of the Border. We are in a unique position among all of the councils on the island in having a shared border and special concerns. We want to have a meeting with the incoming Taoiseach as soon as possible to put our specific economic and social perspectives to him. I refer to a point made by Senator Paul Coghlan. On the negotiating position and how there could be a hard border on the island, it will not be just a case of what the British Government wants but what the European Union demands. If the European Union wants to see a hard border, there will be one.
As it is nearly 4.10 p.m., we will wrap up. Before I call on the last two speakers, I thank everybody present. I have a list of all of the attendees that will be included in the Official Report. I am extremely happy to see that all sections of the community in the North and the South are represented. I look forward to seeing that level of co-operation continue. The delegates are welcome at any stage to come and sit in on a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I know that this committee has been trying to organise a meeting in Northern Ireland in order that we will build much closer links because it is only by understanding one another that we will be a be to have a common field.
I assure my Northern colleagues that every time Ireland is spoken about in the European Union, we also speak about Northern Ireland, of which we are acutely aware.
I call on Mr. McCann to sum up and answer the two questions asked, if he so wishes.
I will give Councillor O'Hanlon the final word.
Mr. P.J. O'Hanlon:
I thank the Acting Chairman.
Before I make my final comments, the Acting Chairman asked Senator Michelle Mulherin a question about smuggling and its impact. Until 12 months ago, Monaghan County Council had spent in the region of €4 million to €5 million on cleaning up over a number of years as a result of diesel washing and laundering. Fortunately, we have moved on. If the Acting Chairman is asking a direct question about going back to a hard border, there is absolutely no doubt that it would be fodder for the racketeers and the criminals who lived and flourished along the Border. That is the last thing we want to see happen. In our communities we are very proud of where we come from and have done a lot of hard work, on all sides, to stamp out this practice. I hate to ask, if it were to happen again, where the money would end up and to whom it would go. We do not want to go back. To give a direct answer to a direct question: would smuggling take off again? Let there be no doubt about it that once there is a hard border, one can be assured that there will be that business and practice because, unfortunately, there are people who are interested in making money and who will do anything to make it.
As a final comment, I thank the Acting Chairman for giving us the time and opportunity to speak. We are from and represent all sections of the community. That is our sole purpose: to represent the communities who live along the Border. All we want the committee to do is to make the case for us. If there is a hard Brexit, the people who will be impacted on negatively are those of us who live on both sides of the Border. Given what we have gone through in recent years, we deserve a break. We need help and today we are asking for the committee's. I again thank it for its time.
Mr. Paul McAuliffe:
I thank the Acting Chairman for giving us the opportunity to present and, in particular, Senator Neale Richmond who attended our second infrastructure summit. What is clear from all of the presentations is that, while much will happen at an international level, there is also much we could do within our own power. We need to ensure those measures are taken and that the views expressed today are understood, not just in the negotiations on Brexit but also in terms of regional development.