Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Engagement with European Youth Forum, Education and Training Boards Ireland and Irish Congress of Trade Unions

10:00 am

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I welcome members to the afternoon session of today's marathon meeting, which will focus on social, labour and youth affairs. I am delighted to welcome a range of interesting and expert speakers from various backgrounds: Mr. David Garrahy from the European Youth Forum, Ms Anne McHugh from the Education and Training Boards Ireland and Ms Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. I will invite the speakers in order and there will then be a question and answer session.

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 House 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 the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a 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 they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I invite Mr. Garrahy to make his opening remarks.

Mr. David Garrahy:

I thank the Senators for their invitation to be here today. I represent the European Youth Forum which advocates for the rights and the interests of tens of millions of young people across Europe.

We do that through 104 different youth organisations. I am based in Brussels. I am an Irish person who has lived there for the past eight years. In that period, I have gained a profound appreciation for what has changed socially and politically, especially for young people, in this period of great change.

Another Irish person who lived and worked in Brussels in a period of great change was the former commissioner for education and trade, Mr. Peter Sutherland. In 1985, he launched the first ERASMUS programme, which created one of the EU's greatest success stories. Today, ERASMUS has a budget of about €2 billion every year. Because of it and other similar programmes, 10% of European students spend some of their studies abroad. In the period from 2014 to 2020, ERASMUS will provide opportunities to more than four million young people to study, train, gain experience and volunteer abroad. It is especially relevant for young Irish people because 56% of young Irish people now access higher education. That is due in no small part to a lot of support that EU funding for higher education infrastructure has given to the Irish people over the years.

My own secondary school in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, benefited from one of these programmes in 1994. It is a programme that is now part of ERASMUS Plus. In 1994, I visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg on a school trip. Speaking there with many people from different backgrounds such as Spanish, French and Italian - or sometimes gesturing because as 14-year olds we did not have the language skills necessary - brought home to me at a very young and influential age the real benefit of the vastness of Europe and how big the different cultures and approaches are. I was as excited back then as I am now about the potential there is when people explore different identities, exchange and look at different ways of approaching problems and try to implement them together, which is what the EU is all about.

I mentioned that four million young people will have accessed ERASMUS by 2020. One revealing statistic is that one million of those people will meet their life partner through ERASMUS. One in four ERASMUS students end up marrying, partnering or living their lives with someone else from a different cultural background. It is estimated that there are already one million of what they call ERASMUS babies, that is, children that have been born because of cross-cultural exchange programmes such as ERASMUS. It brings home the fact that ERASMUS is a fundamental way for Europe to start discovering and knowing itself. Europe does not exist; it has to come into being. This knowledge must be renewed every generation. I think young people in the UK recognise this, which is why between 2007 and 2014, the numbers of young UK people accessing ERASMUS increased by about 115%. That is a huge increase.

As we all know, however, the result of the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 put all of this at risk. There are knock-on effects not only for young British people, but also for young Irish people. Young Irish farmers may see their markets disappear, Irish students may not be able to go to the university of their choice if that university is across the Border, for example. Irish citizens in Northern Ireland may not be able to access their EU rights. Just before the referendum, I spoke at a British Chamber event on young people and Brexit. I said something then that I still believe, which is that there is no upside to Brexit for young people.

Young people in the UK are profoundly pro-EU. Some 73% of 18 to 24 year olds and even 61% of 25 to 34 year olds voted to remain. It was the overwhelming votes of the over 65s that tipped the result narrowly in favour of the leave vote. We are in a moment of profound uncertainty right now. Depending on what happens in the UK general election today, who knows what will happen with the EU-UK negotiations. However, there seems to be a bit of a phoney war going on right now. That will settle down when the negotiations start happening. There are already a few issues and a few potential solutions that I will try to highlight that are very clear right now in terms of what young people are going to face.

The economic effect will be huge, especially if there was to be an exit of the UK from the EU without an agreement. Young people always tend to be the first hit by unemployment in terms of an economic downturn. Ireland must look to ensure continuing investment in training for young people. Planning for this is vital. There are a huge amount of funds, such as the globalisation adjustment fund and the youth guarantee to help Ireland ensure that, if there is a downturn in the economy, young people will still have the necessary skills for the job market. The common standards and laws that protect young people from harm, both online and in real life, will be brutally unpicked by Brexit, with potential impacts on the safety of young people and cross-Border co-operation in the future. In terms of family law, data protection laws and the European arrest warrant, there are huge impacts on Irish-UK co-operation. The two governments should immediately enter into discussions on police, legal and judicial co-operation after Brexit.

As I mentioned, young farmers could be hit with export tariffs and see their markets disappear. Some 43% of our beef and dairy produce goes to the UK. An Bord Bia and other State agencies should be focusing on developing markets in the EU 27, especially in the central and eastern European markers, which have not been a traditional focus but are developing with very strong momentum.

The future for cross-Border exchanges and access to higher education could be in jeopardy. I mentioned ERASMUS. With regard the future mutual recognition of qualifications, are we sure that a degree in Ireland will still be recognised in the UK in two years' time, for example? There is an opportunity here for Irish education institutions to develop co-operation with EU universities. There are a lot of projects and partners that the UK is no longer able to provide support for. With our strong higher education infrastructure, Ireland has an opportunity to step in and be part of projects and exchanges that will broaden the minds of educators and students alike. Language learning should be mandatory in schools up to leaving cert level.

Cross-Border co-operation is one of the biggest worries and fears that young people face. We have to ask the question: in the future, will young people look and see the people across the Border to Northern Ireland or to the Republic of Ireland as the other? This has never been the case for many young people growing up today in Ireland. What about the rights of Irish citizens, and therefore EU citizens, who live in Northern Ireland? We need to invest in developing and continuing the links across the Border, especially between young people from different backgrounds and communities.

The contribution that young people can make is in terms of youth work and sport, which can play a very important role in that.

Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe, with one third aged under 25, a proportion which is increasing every year. I spoke about borders earlier. It is the same situation across Europe. Under-25s are called "generation Maastricht" because, with that treaty, borders disappeared across the EU. Young people developed a more open mindset. They did not see borders or obstacles but rather saw opportunities. It was the same in Ireland. Our own Border mainly disappeared at this time due to the peace process. Seamus Heaney once described his own young generation in a way which is also applicable to young people today. He said that they had "intelligences brightened and unmannerly as crowbars". The ultimate solution for young people today - for this "generation Maastricht" or "generation Good Friday Agreement" - is to enable them to take that crowbar to division, separation and divisiveness and to continue to enable them to live together.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, hosted a forum on the impact of the UK's exit from the EU on children and young people, which was very timely and useful. I sent information on this as a background document in January. The forum reflected a number of the issues I raised today about employment and protection of young people. Other issues reflected were the maintenance of peace on our island and the continued dialogue between communities, which is so important for young people.

I thank the Senators for taking the time to listen to me today. I am pleased to go into more detail if there are any questions on the issues I have raised.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Garrahy. We really appreciate that contribution.

Ms Anne McHugh:

To give a little bit of background, I represent Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI. All our education and training boards, ETBs, are responsible for second level schools, a number of primary schools and further education and training, FET. We do some other things as well - music education, outdoor education and other programmes. That is our remit. In terms of Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, levels, we are responsible for level 1 to level 6. The institutes of technology and institutes of higher education go from level 6 to level 10. That is the space we are in. A lot of my remarks today will be about further education rather than higher education.

Since Brexit was announced, we have been involved in a lot of work with the county councils and other groups, particularly in Donegal and the Border areas. Last month the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, hosted a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Brexit event. We also had a function in December which was co-hosted by the two councils, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council. A document was produced as a result of that. I have one copy of the map, which I believe I included in the presentation, which shows very interesting patterns of cross-Border commuting. It highlights some of the issues I will talk about as I go through my presentation. I have about nine items. I will not go into detail on all of them. I know that Mr. Garrahy has also touched on a few of them.

Our biggest concern or issue is the student, learner and trainee flows across the Border. The big issue is that Irish students who study in the UK and Northern Ireland may now possibly face non-EU fees. That is an issue. The other big issue is that there are approximately 2,000 students doing their leaving certificate examinations now, which the committee will know are ongoing. In the past, and I have some facts and figures to back this up, a lot of those students would have gone to the North and UK to continue their studies. Those students will possibly now opt to remain in the South for their further and higher education. I will come onto that shortly. One of the results of that is that it will possibly put additional pressures on the CAO system. It will certainly put additional pressures on the FET system. For example, quite a number of our Border students would transfer to colleges in Northern Ireland for further education.

The best example is the North West Regional College. It was formerly known as the Derry Tech but they now have a number of campuses in Strabane and Limavady and there is also a connection to Enniskillen. In terms of higher and further education coming from the South, we tend to get more of our students going for further education in the North. According to my figures, more will remain in the South for higher education, but for further education they cross over. That will have an immediate effect on us as the statutory body providing further education in the South through our Border ETBs. There are four ETBs affected. We anticipate that we will experience increased numbers of students wishing to study in the South. I might come back to that later as well.

As the committee will know, we took on the former FÁS training centres in 2013. All ETBs accept learners from Northern Ireland onto our training courses. They undertake work experience, and job placement following a training course, in the North. We are concerned about the implications for that. Will our students who are resident in Northern Ireland be able to continue with their work experience in the North if they are doing courses with us in the South? How would apprenticeships and traineeships be affected?

The obvious solution is free movement. It is very important that some arrangement is made. The idea of an education permit has been suggested. Educators and learners would have a permit which would allow them to move quickly and easily across either a hard or a soft border.

Data collection has traditionally been a problem for us in the South. Our management information systems were not always what they should have been. I am happy to report that things are improving in that regard. Although it is not fully up and running yet, we have the beginnings of a robust FET data collection system called the programme learner support system, PLSS. It is a joint initiative between SOLAS and ETBI. It is a suite of software applications which will allow ETBs and others to closely monitor programme outputs, outcomes and performance over all ETBs and for all FET learners. There is a mechanism for secure sharing, collecting and utilisation of FET data. We are pleased about that and it is going to help us greatly as we negotiate the fallout from Brexit.

A solution to the problem of more of our FET students, who would have gone to the North, now remaining in the South is to provide extra places. That would obviously mean more resources, both human and financial. Border ETBs in particular will have to increase their bid to SOLAS through the funding allocations requests and reporting, FARR, system. This system allows us to indicate our plans for our ETB for the year and then we normally get the funding. There will be changes in that regard if things continue. There is probably more of a flow of students from the South to the North, but there is the possibility that the Republic will become more financially attractive for Northern Ireland students. It is a possibility.

The next main issue is course provision. ETBs may have to develop new courses. While we have a good range of courses in ETBs in the South, a cursory look at the websites of the Northern further education colleges shows a much wider choice.

There is that possibility that we will have to start to develop new courses.

The next issue is student access to UK colleges and training facilities. The question was asked whether the arrangement should continue as it is as a consequence of visa issues and administration. It will possibly put future pressure on Irish third level colleges and further education and training as the only English-speaking country within the EU. It is something we are conscious of. While one can look at it as an opportunity or a threat, it is something of which we should be mindful. There is a possibility that a lot of people will relocate. Financial services will relocate from the UK to Ireland which could bring with it an increased need for education and training provision which we may need to provide to the sector. I have suggested that the Dublin infrastructure might be a limiting factor with opportunity for other areas to see an improvement in their infrastructure so that they can provide the training if there is a great deal of relocation.

We use City and Guilds and a lot of non-Irish, UK-based certification. There is a concern about getting UK assessors over to our education and training boards and whether there will be a problem with work permits and visas for them. It may impose an extra cost on us. There is also the issue of dual certification. If dual certification is used at certain institutes in conjunction with UK partners, there may be a problem. Tendering was mentioned but I will discuss it under procurement. The solution here is largely resource based. We are in the process of re-engaging with QQI in terms of our QA systems. That is ongoing and timely. It is a good time for us to upgrade our QA systems. Post the 2013 amalgamations, each education and training board has a number of different QA systems and we are working towards creating a single one per ETB. That has not finally happened but it is timely for us to do it. Mr. Garrahy referred to young people and it is important that we consult with them through town hall meetings and focus groups. I have been doing a lot of talking at meetings on Brexit, but I am not sure that students and learners themselves have been consulted. I am interested in that, certainly.

The next point is about academic qualifications and teacher mobility which Mr. Garrahy also addressed. Quite a number of our teachers and tutors work in the South but live in the North and we are wondering about that. A good number of our teachers have qualifications from UU and QUB and we are a little concerned in that regard. Education has been one of the areas of major co-operation with the North-South Ministerial Council which has been in place for 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement. A great deal of good work has been done in the area of special needs, educational underachievement, teacher qualifications and exchanges and we are anxious to see it continue. Members may be aware of the excellent facility at the Middletown Centre in County Armagh which does a great deal of good work on autism. It would be a shame if those links were suddenly cut off. The solution is the mutual recognition of qualifications. I alluded briefly to employees. A significant minority of ETB employees reside in the North and we are concerned about their financial situation and travel arrangements.

On language, we may become the only majority English speaking country in the EU and that may become much more significant for us. We encourage schools to consider offering more European languages as a result of that. That is about resources also. Could we become a hub for attracting English language students and learners? On goods and services, we purchase a lot of those from the North. We have recently started a building programme at Moville in Inishowen the architect for which is based in Northern Ireland as are a number of other members on the team. There are concerns around that and future tenders and procurement. Revenue may make VAT changes. Sterling devaluation affects a lot of the business we do with our suppliers. I refer also to EU funding and the other partnerships. Mr. Garrahy mentioned ERASMUS+. In Donegal and all along the Border, we are very involved in PEACE funding. PEACE IV funding has not yet been released but we have been assured we are getting it. After that, there is nothing definite. Our ETB has not benefitted directly from INTERREG funding, but our local institute of technology has. Horizon 2020 funding is also the subject of concern. Education is very important for everyone's development and the improvement of community relations. We have come a very long way since the Good Friday Agreement, in particular in the Border counties. Any barrier to the provision of education will certainly be a problem.

I omitted to mention earlier SUSI, the grant awarding body, which will also run into problems. SUSI is based in the city of Dublin ETB. Issues will arise around the lack of eligibility on nationality grounds. SUSI can only provide maintenance grants to EU citizens. Post-Brexit, students from the North will not be eligible under nationality. Residency is another issue. One has to be resident three out of five years in order to get a grant and that will cause a problem. It will also cause a problem for some courses. Any barrier will impose additional costs and obstacles on our learners and educators. We cannot allow that to happen. Things have moved on a great deal in 20 years, in particular in Border areas. It has been hugely positive and it would be a shame if things were to take a turn for the worse.

The document provided relates to our cross-Border higher and further education cluster. We have been meeting as a group which consists of Derry and Strabane District Council, Donegal County Council, North West Regional College, the University of Ulster, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and ourselves. We have been trying to do a little bit of work around the Derry-Strabane-Letterykenny city region which we have been promoting in the document. We are trying to do some work on mapping pathways and we have some memoranda of understanding in place. We are trying to stay ahead of things as best we can. There are many complex cross-Border links. Derry is seen in Inishowen as its natural city. Inishowen people tend to gravitate to Derry rather than even to Letterkenny. There is a lot of history and complexity involved there. We are doing our best and working together closely to see what we can do to make it easier for students and learners in our general communities. That is just an example. The same pertains all along the Border.

Ms Patricia King:

I thank the committee for the invitation to address the Seanad. I will make a brief few points and then assist by answering any questions. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions represents over 750,000 workers on the island of Ireland and is set to be the only trade union confederation in Europe which represents workers on both sides of the frontier between the EU and the UK in 2019. Our position on the European Union project is clear. It is that the European Union is vital to the living standards, wages, public services and labour rights of workers and their families across the island.

However, the EU needs to change. There has been a growing dissatisfaction with the policy direction of the Union in recent years. Congress believes that the diminution of the European social model has undermined the progress of European integration and given rise to a level of mistrust between the institutions of the EU and its citizens. Ireland, along with certain other member states, suffered an unnecessarily severe and unbalanced fiscal adjustment in the years from 2008 to 2013, inclusive. Congress believes such policy errors must never be repeated.

Aside from a unique set of constitutional arrangements, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are inextricably linked by the scale and intensity of the trading relationship between them. The Republic of Ireland exported €13.5 billion worth of goods to the UK in 2016 and a further €1.6 billion to Northern Ireland over the same period, which is over 13% of total Irish exports in goods. Northern Ireland exported just under £3 billion worth of goods to the Republic of Ireland in 2015, which is over 30% of its total exports. Great Britain exported just over £15.5 billion worth of goods to the Republic of Ireland in 2016. This is in addition to the significant trade in services across the UK and Ireland. Therefore, east-west trade, as it has become known, is hugely important.

Many statements have been issued in the months since the Brexit referendum on the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and the necessity, in the context of the Brexit process, to find a mechanism to negotiate unique circumstances. Congress believes that the Good Friday Agreement already provides the structure for dealing with these issues and that the Agreement must not be viewed as an impediment to the negotiation but rather as a resource. The Agreement places an obligation on the Governments of the Republic of Ireland, the UK and Northern Ireland to act and make decisions in the best interests of all the people on the island of Ireland, both economically and socially. The intergovernmental structures already exist. They should be utilised during the Brexit process to ensure that decisions taken do not cause manifest harm to workers on any part of the island. We must acknowledge that there are hundreds of thousands of workers across the island who face a huge challenge to retain their jobs. Likewise, there is an equal number of people who may very well be affected by a diminution in the terms and conditions of their employment. All of this is what we commonly refer to as the race to the bottom in the interests of what we have been told is competitive. The EU has an obligation to ensure that all past and present members states live up to their obligations as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Congress believes that failure to reach a post-Brexit arrangement that protects trade and jobs would necessitate a significant policy shift on behalf of the European Union. Central to this must be an end to the straightjacket of fiscal rules that effectively discriminate against public investment. This is imperative not only for Ireland, which is likely to be the worst affected member state of the EU 27 when Brexit happens, but for all states in the Union characterised by under-employment, lack of public investment and pressure on productivity and living standards, along with associated social costs.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I thank Ms King. I thank all of the witnesses for their attendance and appreciate their valuable contributions. I shall now open up the floor to questions from my colleagues. Senator Noone will commence.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I have a brief question that I shall mainly direct at Mr. Garrahy. I was an ERASMUS student in Verona, Italy, around 1999 or 2000 so I know that an emphasis was not placed on formal education. However, the experience was an extremely maturing process for me. I returned home with a renewed focus on the wider implications of studying and needing to get on well. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Mr. Garrahy mentioned ERASMUS babies and people meeting their partners while studying. My parents were not too thrilled with who I met while an ERASMUS student. I would say they are damn glad that I did not end up with them long-term, but that is neither here nor there.

On a more serious note, one of the most depressing statistics to emerge from the Brexit referendum is that almost 80% of people under 25 who were eligible to vote wanted to remain while a similar percentage of those over 65 voted to leave. A lesson that young people can learn from Brexit, although one wonders if it has been learned, is to get out and vote. Does Mr. Garrahy have any ideas on how to engage young people and encourage them to vote? There is a lot of discussion about the UK election at the moment. The UK political parties, especially the Labour Party, are trying to get young people to vote. Statistics show that the older a person is, the more likely he or she is to vote and that the group comprising those over 65 is the largest demographic to vote. What can be done on a practical level to encourage people to vote that policymakers may not have thought of? Does Mr. Garrahy think people should be able to vote from the age of 16? I am dubious whether reducing the age at which one can vote would have a positive effect. Perhaps politics should be added to the school curriculum or something along those lines. That is all I have to say and I thank the witnesses for attending.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I welcome all of our guests seated in the Gallery, particularly the former Senator, Mr. James Heffernan. I call Senator Paul Daly.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome all of our guests. Their contributions have been very informative.

It seems that the response given to every problem is that the solution lies in education. Brexit is unique in the sense that it is problem and we do not know the dynamics of it. Nobody will know exactly what is ahead of us until the final deal is done and the papers have been signed. What will be the ramifications of a hard Brexit from the point of view of the ETBI in the context of the training centres and apprenticeships? If the SMEs, the farming sector and food businesses are hit as hard as some commentators have predicted, they will need to diversify or their employees will need to be retrained or moved into new areas. Have the witnesses considered what new types of apprenticeships and training may be needed? Have they considered new directions in training and education? I do not want to sound pessimistic but we, as a committee, must ask a wide range of questions and try to cover every angle. We all hope for the best but we must plan ahead. The committee must include in its report some contingency plans to counteract a worst-case scenario.

Yesterday, the committee met representatives from local authorities in the Border region, North and South. They conveyed a lot of what Ms McHugh said about education. Although education was not their specific topic of conversation, they mentioned how students and workers traverse the Border. They also mentioned the possibility of job losses in SMEs located along the Border area and a possible loss of INTERREG funding. From the point of view of education, reskilling, upskilling and introducing new and unheard of industries to the area, have the delegations focused on or carried out preparation or planning for a hard Brexit?

Ms King has said that she represents workers North and South. She also mentioned that there is a race to the bottom in terms of companies trying to do things as cheaply and as efficiently as possible. Will companies in the North have to become self-sufficient if the UK is isolated and cannot put trade deals in place? From her experience of representing workers in the North and the South, is Ms King of the view that workers' rights, terms and conditions will take a hammering? Where do the unions stand on this matter? Are they trying to keep ahead of the posse? Has ICTU taken steps to avoid such a scenario?

On education, Ms McHugh mentioned the ETBs and how their training centres use City and Guilds a lot. Could there be a problem with the acceptance or recognition of awards in the two different jurisdictions? Representatives from IMO told us this morning that it was very fearful that for doctors, there was a possibility that an EU qualification might not be accepted in the UK. I thought it was a bit dramatic but they seemed very strong on this, or that, vice versa, someone training in the UK post-Brexit might not have their qualification recognised or accepted in the EU. Could that also be a problem, North and South?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses for coming here. It was a very sombre presentation. Has ETBI done costings for a worst case scenario where Irish students were no longer able to go over to Britain? In a worst case scenario where there is a hard Brexit, the impact it might have on the Irish system is frightening. If Irish students were not able to go to England or to the North and there was no transition and they had to pay full international fees which would mean they could not go to college in England, the points would increase in Ireland as a result because of increased demand. The same with the North. What would the Irish system have to do in order to meet that capacity if, in March 2019, there is no transitional agreement? It is not feasible in two years or less. It will not be good anyway. Along the line, there will be some increase in fees for EU students who want to go to the UK. Then there is the impact of the North-South issue on that. This is also a question for Mr. Garrahy - are there comparisons between EU and non-EU countries, EEA countries such as Norway and Switzerland? Northern Cyprus has an access to EU programmes. It is our best case scenario because they are all treated as EU member states, as citizens of the European Union. They are not living in the European Union, they are outside it but it is as close as we have got to a precedent. Is there precedent that we can draw on there that would assist in this, that those who were EU citizens in Northern Ireland would be able to continue to access Erasmus? The same applies to the ETBI, is there something in the current educational model in Cyprus on the border that we can draw on and point out to the European Union so we can say that it is already doing it for Cyprus, so it would not be a huge leap to do it for us? The effect it will have on Irish colleges and the lack of access for Irish students going to colleges where we do not have the capacity already is frightening. Have we any broad figures on that?

On the impact on workers, we know that workers' rights in Ireland would not be what they are if it was not for the European Union bringing them forward and imposing them on the Irish State in many cases which was lagging so far behind on workers' rights. What can this committee include in its final report regarding Northern Ireland to protect the rights of European workers? We have had a proposal that even if Britain leaves and has an agreement between itself and the EU, that Northern Ireland would be treated as a special case as an EEA area. That draws on the precedent of East Germany before the wall came down, when it had direct trade links with West Germany. It was effectively treated as a member of the European Community even though there was no formal structure around that. We are trying to point to all these other precedents that would allow us to make the case for workers in Northern Ireland and for trade unions being able to appeal to European courts even if they may not do it in England or Scotland. That is what we are hoping to do and we would welcome any assistance or want to hear anything that the witnesses wish us to include in our recommendations. We have been told by the EU, by Michel Barnier and others, that no matter how left field an idea is, they would like to hear it because no one has been here before and we need to give them solutions. If we do not give them solutions they will not come up with them for us. We have to come up with solutions for them.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I will go back to the witnesses in the same order we started, and ask each witness to comment on whatever questions were addressed to them and to comment overall. I will ask Mr. Garrahy to begin.

Mr. David Garrahy:

I thank the Senators for their questions. On young people's participation and voting, one could look at referendums where young people have been facilitated to vote at an earlier age. Take the example of the Scottish independence referendum in which 80% of 16 and 17 year olds voted. It was a significant amount. It is interesting how they did it in Scotland. They did not just drop it on the heads of 16 and 17 year olds. They included schools and youth groups and they built knowledge and held debates between young people to look at both sides of the issues. When it came to the vote, 16 and 17 year olds felt empowered and enabled to vote and make a strong decision for the future of their country and their lives. One could see a certain joy among these voters where they felt so empowered and worthy because this task had been given to them for their first vote. That is the spirit with which we need to engage young people. Young people are incredibly idealistic, or more accurately, they are not incredibly idealistic but maybe more idealistic than previous generations. Their interest in politics is about enabling the human rights of their friends, families and co-citizens, ensuring there is no discrimination, making sure that marginalised groups are being taken care of. They go on the streets to campaign for this. That is the kind of idealism that we have to capture and bring in to the system somehow while also going to the places where young people are active politically. That is online, where there are huge political debates in which young people engage and through petitions.

These are areas where traditional structures of politics do not engage a great deal. A change needs to happen from both sides. It is something that I have been trying to do through the European Youth Forum regarding the 2019 European elections, where we are trying to first bring young people to where politics is happening through elections and try to have more young candidates and lower the voting age; and, second, bring politicians and active politics to where young people are debating it, whether this is in their youth groups, online, on the streets, and try to get that conversation going. My organisation and I believe voting at 16 is extremely important but it cannot be done without good citizenship education in schools and in youth clubs that prepares young people to take this big step of voting for the first time. Studies in Austria and other countries that have implemented this have shown that once students vote in their first election, and vote earlier, that they will continue to vote in subsequent elections because they feel that empowerment and they have made a conscious choice which is very important.

On Irish citizens and their rights to access EU programmes, an EU citizen will always be able to access EU programmes by the fact that they are citizens of an EU country.

The problem with programmes such as ERASMUS is that whether a student's university is structurally set up to participate in a programme has a big bearing on students' potential participation in it. The big risk is that if ERASMUS or similar programmes are suspended for the UK, universities there will not offer these opportunities any more to their students because it is not beneficial and most of their students will not be EU citizens. Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland may not have those opportunities because their universities will not take part in ERASMUS or facilitate this type of cross-Border co-operation. It was very revealing that following the Swiss referendum three years ago that put limits on free movement between the EU and Switzerland, one of the first actions of the European Commission was to suspend ERASMUS co-operation with Switzerland. As a result, no Swiss student or organisation has been able to participate in ERASMUS since. It is very linked with free movement. The European Commission said that if there was to be no free movement, there would be no ERASMUS. The risk is that if freedom of movement becomes an issue in the negotiations between the EU and the UK, the EU may follow the Swiss precedent and automatically suspend ERASMUS for the UK, which would have a huge impact on young people there.

Ms Anne McHugh:

Mr. Moriarty will answer the first question and I will respond to the other two. He has a little more information than I regarding the first issue.

Mr. Michael Moriarty:

I will address Senator Paul Daly's remarks on the importance of skills and the budgetary pressure that will arise in respect of education and training. As my colleague, Ms McHugh, has alluded to, very significant pressure will be created by additional students in education and training availing of courses south of the Border rather than north of the Border or on the UK mainland if there is a hard Brexit, which is the big imponderable. The British Treasury estimates that every 1% drop in GDP in the UK will give rise to a 0.4% drop in GDP in Ireland. There is significant pressure. I will address the context in terms of skills later. The International Institute for Management Development, IMD, World Competitiveness Yearbook has ranked Ireland first in the world for skilled labour. We are ranked first for flexibility and adaptability and second for openness to foreign investment. In 2014, ManpowerGroup ranked Ireland the global leader for availability of skills. It is very obvious that economic globalisation has transformed the Irish economy, as all those present know. The Irish GDP growth rate is three times the EU average.

In regard to Senator Paul Daly's remarks on the importance of skills, ETBs are now involved in the development of apprenticeships. A big problem with apprenticeships and traineeships is they have been very much associated with blue-collar activities. We are now developing apprenticeships in white collar activities such as insurance brokerage, the legal profession, commis chef and other activities in the hospitality sector. We are broadening things considerably. This week, one course to become a commis chef is almost over the line and will be announced shortly. Kerry ETB is taking the lead with that course. That is our first apprenticeship since the training centres came into being. Traineeships are as important as apprenticeships and we need a budget sufficient to provide for them both. There is going to be huge pressure on education and training budgets. There will also be the pressure of maintaining competitiveness on the world stage. When the ETBI holds seminars with the business community, business people tell us a big problem is that those applying for jobs have no work experience. While applicants may have masters degrees, they are completely unfamiliar with the work environment. This is where apprenticeships and traineeships come in, some of which can now be pursued up to levels 6 to 10, or the equivalent of a doctorate. The glass ceiling or belief that an apprenticeship or traineeship is second rate is now gone and that is as it should be. I contributed an article published in today's edition of the Irish Examineron an issue that I have been raising for a significant period, namely, the fixation of Irish mothers or fathers with the concept that accessing third level is a badge of honour. The area of skills, apprenticeships and traineeships will be a cornerstone of the future economic development of this country. Although our growth rate is rising, there will be massive pressure on providing more places in education, training, apprenticeships and traineeships. Two thirds of school leavers in Switzerland take up apprenticeships, while in Ireland less than 10% do so. That is a very small percentage. That is a structural weakness in the Irish economy which must be addressed and overcome. ETBs, which are an amalgam of VECs and the training division of FÁS, have been brought together in the regions to consolidate and streamline the delivery of education and training. That cannot be done on a shoestring budget. We have come to a very significant transformation process, as Senator Paul Daly, who is very involved with the ETBs, is aware. Senator Mark Daly may also be aware, although I am unsure of his level of involvement. It is critically important that the ETBs are the delivery arms in the regions.

As Ms McHugh said, there is a clear perspective in the Border regions on the impact of Brexit. We do not know whether it will be a hard or soft Brexit. However, the challenges facing Ireland, whether in industry, farming, SMEs or, in particular, the area of skills, will be very significant in the context of the Irish education system having to provide for thousands of extra students who otherwise would have gone to the UK for third-level education. It is a big risk for us but it is a challenge that must be addressed. The second big challenge facing the education and training sector is the great need to expand our skills base in terms of apprenticeships and traineeships.

Ms Anne McHugh:

In regard to the City and Guilds qualifications, we do not know if there will be a problem with the acceptance or recognition of awards in the two different jurisdictions. Most of our work is with QQI but we do some with City and Guilds and some specialised work with other providers. It is an area on which we will have to work. We will have to work far harder in terms of QQI and ensure we re-engage with it fully in a timely fashion. I do not know how that will pan out but we need to start working on it now.

In terms of the effect on the Irish colleges, I made the point earlier that, based on my research of schools in my area, most higher education students are going to third level in the South of Ireland. In 2016, 1,960 Irish students were in higher education in the UK at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. That is not a huge number. It is borne out by my figures. Students are going to Northern Ireland to participate in further education, not necessarily higher education. Students are pursuing further education in Northern Ireland for reasons such as geography, economics or situations such as a child in Carndonagh knowing a person who will give him or her a lift into Derry every day whereas the bus to Letterkenny would drop him or her at the bus station, which would leave too long a walk to get to his or her destination. The decisions are down to issues such as local geography and the complex links that exist along the Border.

I will speak in particular about Donegal, which does not have a dedicated PLC college. That is the first port of call for our further education students. If they are not going to a third level college they are going into further education in a PLC college. We have been talking with our local institute to see about locating a PLC college on its grounds. We are trying to think outside the box in that regard to see what we can do to provide places for our further education students. As Mr. Michael Moriarty said, the feeling is we will be getting a lot more of them staying in the South from now on. That is our big challenge. A lot of it is down to geography and economics and finances within families in those areas.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I have a question before I ask Ms King to make her final remarks. I fully agree we have lost social Europe. It is not what it was in the 1980s and is not what it should be. It is one of the great challenges. As a politician of a certain persuasion, I do not believe the EU should be solely an economic ideal going forward. The eighth term of reference in the report is on the future of Europe. How do we guarantee the future of Europe, the viability of the European Union and the real viability of Ireland remaining within the European Union? A number of speakers have said we should just leave although obviously, I am not one of them. On that aspect of social Europe, can Ms King expand briefly on what concrete measures we could take in the next five to ten years to copperfasten and reinvigorate our commitment to a social Europe?

Ms Patricia King:

I will address that first while it is fresh in my mind. Yesterday the European Economic and Social Committee, which is made up of all of the civil society groups, came together in the Mansion House and had a very good discussion on that issue. If social Europe is not reignited, Europe is over anyway. History has shown that workers initiate counter movements after periods of oppression. That is the issue. Under the stewardship of Delors, there was an attractiveness about Europe. There were directives on equality and issues that affected citizens and made their lives better. If one takes the past ten years, the main image of Europe has been of the big creditor countries holding a very large stick over the heads of the debtor countries and doing it in a way that meant the citizens of those states, who did not cause the problems, had to produce the goods to solve them. It has given Europe, in overall terms, a very bad image. One of the key things is the ECB has no counterbalancing institution. It is one of the things that will remain in my memory forever. Out of the 11 meetings the troika had here, I went to ten and they were probably the most difficult. I have done industrial relations all my life so I have been party to several very difficult discussions and negotiations. They were probably the most difficult set of discussions I ever went into. It is my personal opinion that the IMF was the more humane. The ECB's attitude was "We gave you the money, can we have it back?", while "When can we have it back and how fast can we have it back?" was the view of the European Commission. We know about that. Dealing with Europe as just an economic entity without any reference to the citizens is no longer an option. The European Trade Union Confederation put together a pact in November 2016. Effectively, we are saying we should develop social Europe. We have a pillar of social rights, which Juncker put forward as part of his attempts to deal with the reformation of Europe. The pillar of social rights has 20 principles in it but it is very light because it leaves the implementation of certain things to the national jurisdiction. There should be a social semester whereby European officials go to every country, as they do on economics, and check out what a country is doing to implement social pillar principles. We should start taking the social aspect of Europe seriously and line it up as seriously as the economic principles in Europe. We should start saying the European Union project is about the implementation of those principles. Some of the principles in that social pillar are very useful and very good and progressive. If they were implemented they would improve the lives of the 510 million citizens across the European Union.

The Senator who referred to the voting has left the Chamber. When we look at Brexit, we should look at why it happened. It happened because one cannot keep one's foot on the neck of workers and their incomes for years and expect there to be no reaction. Workers have experienced zero-hour contracts, low wages and no prospect of self-advancement. If people are in that stratum for years, what will they do? Unfortunately demagogues appeared on the scene from the far right saying "We can fix this for you" and people believed that philosophy and voted accordingly. Nobody should be puzzled about why this happened because it is simple. The same thing happened in the US. Protectionism was the same and there was a demagogue who said "We will bring you to the promised land." People were so badly off in the land they were in they said "We will go with you." The jury is out and time will tell the outcome of that.

The principles in the social pillar should be taken as seriously as the economic principles. We should do the semester, the implementation scrutiny and push the EU project into that space. The prospect of it not happening is beyond contemplation. The European project has been the longest lasting and biggest peace project after the Second Word War that the world has ever seen. If it is dismantled it is unthinkable what could happen. We are grateful to the Senators who have listened to us on this. It behoves us all to take every opportunity to make sure the citizens of Europe start to get an anchor back into a social Europe that makes their lives better.

On workers' rights, it is not an exaggeration to say the economy of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has the possibility of being turned over completely by Brexit. Hundreds of thousands of jobs may be affected, not just in the agrifood sector and not just in the Border areas, because 82% of all of the jobs linked to the agrifood sector are around the towns and villages we all come from. As many companies are tight-lined in terms of profits, if there is any imposition of tariff or a close-off of trade facility that decreases a company's prospect of profits, we could be talking about one of two things, namely, companies putting on pressure to bring down terms and conditions in order that they can survive or closure. Employer groups are already advocating to member companies to relocate to the UK. They do not tell anybody that publicly but if one goes in deep and listens and reads their policy papers, one will see it is the advice they are giving to some companies. With regard to this business of a soft or hard Brexit, tariffs and customs are major issues. It is not just about trucks queuing up on one side of Newry or the other. It is about people's livelihoods. We might end up with hundreds of thousands on either side of the Border losing their incomes and jobs.

That would mean generations of people will have seen their children's life chances turned over as well. I cannot tell the members how many canteens I have walked into where companies have told us they will have redundancies. If one walks into a canteen where hundreds of workers will lose their jobs, one knows their lives are flipped because their income has gone. All the university prospects of their children would be gone. I lost my job in the car industry in the late 1980s, as it was one of the fatalities of the accession. There were 12,000 car assembly jobs lost and nobody cared. There was a recession afterwards. The number of jobs lost because of accession will be minor compared with what will happen here.

We are saying there should be a much more robust civil dialogue between the UK Government, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, if and when the Northern Ireland Assembly comes together. We should start to prepare. To be fair to the Government in the Republic of Ireland, it has done some good work in preparing for Brexit. For example, we interact with the Trades Union Congress, TUC, and it is quite surprised by the level of activity in which we have engaged generally in Ireland. Our judgment is there must be a much more in-depth and robust exchange at civil society level. Certainly, employers, trade unions and other groups should be in. I sit on the Apprenticeship Council and the trade unions advocated for decades that apprenticeships should be extended and so on. Even in that small segment, one can see that people are finding it difficult to come to terms with what this could mean. Nobody wants to be dramatic or put the fear of God into people but at the same time we must be realistic.

We met Mr. Barnier and the scariest part of the meeting was he did not know the answers either. I am sure he is an extraordinarily proficient man. As I know only too well - even from the past few days or weeks - that when one goes into a set of negotiations, one is dead meat unless one knows what is the goal. A negotiator might know what will be gained before going in and if that is not the case, he or she is a foolish person. Never ask a question when the answer is not known etc. We are not in that space with Brexit and it is scary. Nobody knows the answer. There are constitutional issues. As we said in our submission, the Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement, was put together by people who did not dream of Brexit 20 years ago but the institutions are now there, as well as the all-island committee and the ministerial council. All of these could be stretched to put in place a good mechanism and scaffolding to implement trade pieces from an economic perspective. We are not straying into constitutional issues but the structure is there and should be utilised to the maximum. Whether we like it or not, we are dealing with two jurisdictions who will be on opposite sides of the table when the negotiations happen. I agree with Senator Mark Daly that we need many of the solutions. I never like to use the word "impossible" but it is next door when we are looking for a solution for two sides of the table.

We think nobody has the answer but we must find it. We will do that over a period with good engagement with all the people and groups who will be affected by this. That is good civil society engagement with the Government. I am not necessarily meeting obstacles to that; there is no ideological obstacle. Obviously, we would like everything to have happened yesterday. Senator Paul Daly asked what we will do. We are saying to employers that as we can be quite influential on the shop floor, where change is needed they should start the engagement with us in order that we can start to deliver with them those required changes. Diversification and transitionary arrangements will be required. Our objective will be to keep jobs, although it will not be to keep the jobs at any price, as one might imagine. There should be a training and education element and redevelopment and retraining. All of that will be key. Could we stop the race to the bottom? We have our own methods of trying to stop the race to the bottom, which I am sure we should not iterate in the Seanad Chamber. We will not have control over the UK, so we will have many challenges in this regard. We have spoken with the TUC in the UK, including its branches in Scotland and Wales. They hear and feel our pain but they are already suffering. They would like to have some of the employment rights legislation we have, such as that relating to joint labour committees, even if all sectors do not involve themselves in it. They would like to have sectoral employment orders. We have far worse collective bargaining legislation here. Trade unions have no rights here; there is a right to join a union but it ends there. It is not the same in the UK or up the road in the Belfast. All these issues must be dealt with if we are to get to the other side of this. The matters are anything but easy and they are quite complex. From our perspective, dialogue will be a key part in doing the work.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I thank the witnesses for their contributions and for being here. It is greatly appreciated. I was reminded of a quote at the weekend that the difference between the possible and impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer. We have much work to do in our committee. The witnesses are not the last to come before us and there will be another session in two weeks. They are the last substantive sectoral participants. I thank them very much for their patience.

The select committee adjourned at 3.57 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 22 June 2017.