Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019: Discussion
We will now engage with the Minister, Deputy Ross, on matters related to Brexit. There are two parts to the meeting. In the first we will consider the heads of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019 insofar as they relate to transport, tourism and sport. In the second part we will focus on the preparations for Brexit and its impact on the transport sector in Ireland, particular in the event that there is a no-deal scenario. Once we have finished with the heads of Bill, we will take a short break.
To address a query I received, the process at the committee is that we take questions from all members of the committee first. Other Members are then welcome to come in and make contributions.
Yes, that is fine. If we need to take a break, we will take it. I welcome the Minister and his officials, Ms Áine Stapleton, Ms Maev Nic Lochlainn, Ms Ann Cody, Ms Nicola O'Dwyer, Mr. Eddie Burke, Mr. Martin Diskin, Mr. Liam Keogh, and Mr. David Kitt.
I apologise if there has been any change to that.
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.
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.
I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I am here to assist in the consideration of the general scheme for parts 9 and 10 of the miscellaneous provisions (withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill. The general scheme was approved by Government for publication and has been submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General for formal drafting. This Bill is commonly known as the Brexit omnibus Bill.
Before proceeding to consider the draft general scheme, it is important to recall some of the core principles set out in the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the withdrawal agreement. The protocol is aimed at protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the important gains of the peace process, by underpinning continuing North-South co-operation, by guaranteeing that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, and by protecting the all-island economy. All this provides a critical backdrop to the discussion we will have here about the rail and bus parts of the Brexit omnibus Bill.
These rail and bus parts form part of our contingency planning arrangements. We are all aware of the strategic importance of keeping channels open and maintaining ease in flows and linkages between people, communities and businesses across the Border. Public transport provision is an important component, especially when we recall the symbolism of the Enterprise, a well-used rail service linking Dublin and Belfast daily. Bus services are also key in linking communities. Parts 9 and 10 of the omnibus Bill were developed to help ensure the continuation of the Enterprise and cross-Border bus services under future scenarios. I am grateful for the support these parts have received so far. I trust that we can continue to work together to advance the necessary legislation.
These parts set out the changes proposed in primary legislation to cover the future continuation of rail and bus services between Ireland and the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The committee will agree that the regulatory framework applying and the provision of rail and bus services operating in this country are of the highest standard. This will not change. However, post Brexit, the UK's changed status from member state to third country will mean that rail and bus services between Ireland and the UK will need to be managed under slightly different legislative arrangements. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, there is a need to consider the appropriate legislative basis to allow for rail and bus services between Ireland and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, given the new context where the UK is no longer a member state of the EU. As members will be aware, we need to make a small number of amendments to legislation to facilitate the running of public transport services into and out of a third country.
These proposed legislative changes will provide for the operation of cross-border rail services, principally the Enterprise service on the Dublin-Belfast line, and the operation of bus and coach services between Ireland and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. My Department has engaged with stakeholders, including public transport operators, the Commission for Railway Regulation and the National Transport Authority, NTA, as well as with the European Commission. These discussions have served to underline the importance of consistently complying with EU law while exploring and searching for pragmatic solutions to address new scenarios. Some issues are being considered at an operational level and practical answers may emerge at different levels. While it is clear that providing necessary underpinning legislation for new scenarios is an important step, it has also become obvious that other stakeholders have roles to play in progressing this critical agenda. My Department will continue its engagement and oversight to help ensure that any necessary contingency plans are agreed and advanced.
I will speak for a few minutes on each of these parts, starting with bus and coach services. Part 10 addresses bus and coach services. A significant number of cross-Border bus and coach services support the needs of businesses and the surrounding communities. These will rely on provision being made for the future continuation of cross-Border services once the UK leaves the EU. I am advised that daily, between Monday and Friday, more than 300 cross-Border bus journeys are authorised by the NTA. These services range from daily regular services to Local Link services. They are operated by both private and public companies. This figure does not take into account the occasional journeys which capture the once-off community-related bus and coach services. These would include instances such as a GAA or rugby club near Clones, for example, which brings a team to participate in a Saturday morning blitz taking place across the Border. In total, the number of cross-Border passenger journeys in 2017 is estimated at just under 2 million. Members will agree that a significant number of people are relying on us to ensure continuity of service and to continue to take steps to ensure the highest safety and quality of service standards are maintained.
Legislative changes will be needed to allow for the future continuation of bus and coach services between Ireland and the UK as a third country. Following Brexit, Ireland will be allowed under EU law to enter into a bilateral agreement with the UK for bus and coach services, as long as no existing bus agreement exists between the UK and the EU. It is anticipated that Ireland will need such a bilateral agreement to allow public passenger bus services to cross the Border. The heads in part 10 will lay out the rules so that a competent authority may regulate services to and from a third country. Those rules would then be considered as a backdrop once Ireland begins formal negotiations on a bilateral agreement for buses with the UK.
The NTA is currently Ireland's competent authority for regulating bus services with other member states. These heads will make the NTA the competent authority to similarly regulate bus services between Ireland and third countries. Similar to rail, the intention of this part is to maintain the strong regulatory regime that exists for the purposes of bus and coach services between Ireland and the UK. The heads in part 10 propose amendments to the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009. Engagement with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel regarding the bus heads has commenced. It may well be that further amendments will be identified as needed. For example, it is possible that there will also be a need to reference the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to expand the statutory functions of the NTA.
With regard to rail, the heads proposed would provide in statute that a bilateral or cross-Border rail agreement may be entered into to facilitate continuity of the daily Enterprise rail services running from Ireland into a state that is no longer an EU member state. Article 14 of EU Directive 2012/34 sets down provisions on making a cross-border rail agreement between an EU member state and a third country. The rail heads in the general scheme provide powers for the Minister to make a bilateral agreement and provide for the Minister to make regulations.
I highlight for committee members that discussions between the Department and the Parliamentary Counsel regarding these provisions are ongoing. When engagement with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel regarding formal drafting of these rail provisions commenced, some matters came to light which required further consideration and legal advice. Analysis is ongoing with a view to establishing whether these rail provisions are best made in the form of primary legislation or whether secondary legislation might be more appropriate. Given the high priority attached to all Brexit-related legislation, we are deeply engaged to determine this. Pending that, work is also taking place on the development of draft secondary legislation to address the contingency that a statutory instrument may also be required to supplement the provisions in the current heads relating to rail.
Our main goal here is to ensure that an appropriate safety regulatory regime can apply in the case of rail services into the North post-Brexit. I am committed to maintaining the same level of safety as currently applies to the now EU-regulated cross-Border rail services from Dublin to Belfast. As I said earlier, it is evident that the Enterprise rail line is recognised as a symbolic and strategic cross-Border corridor, a key link between North and South. Legislation is one of the important building blocks as we aim to ensure that this important rail service continues. However, I can assure the committee that a range of measures are under consideration in the context of wider contingency plans.
The intention of these parts in the omnibus Bill is to provide robust primary legislation which in the event of a disorderly exit will help ensure the future continuation of rail and bus services between Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as between Ireland and Great Britain. As I have said, given the Brexit timelines my Department is giving clear priority to working closely with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to confirm a shared understanding and to advance the drafting of this general scheme as well as any other legislative provisions which are deemed to be required, whether primary or secondary. I thank the Chairman for inviting me to make this presentation and look forward to hearing the views of the committee and to responding to any questions members may have.
Deputy Munster has proposed that we take the heads of the Bill and conduct the whole debate at the same time. In other words, members can raise the heads of the Bill or other matters as they wish. If that is in order, perhaps the Minister could address the second part.
I agree. It was my intention to proceed with the heads of Bill separate from the other debate, but Deputy Munster proposed this approach and the members all agreed. However, I am in the committee's hands. There is no restriction on anybody raising any questions. There is no time limit on the Minister. If needs be he will burn the midnight oil.
There is no time limit. There is no restriction on raising any issue at all. I personally agree with getting the heads of Bill out of the way and then dealing with other issues. It would probably allow a more helpful and focused response from the officials as well, given their specific brief. However, there is no problem. Can I get a consensus? Will we discuss the heads of the Bill first?
If we were to go through the heads of the Bill, something might be raised on the second head and we would have to wait a half an hour to come back to it. It does not seem to be a terribly efficient way. I get the point that there is an overarching issue as well. How can we accommodate that and yet be efficient in how we get through this?
I will be very quick. I have a few formal questions. I thank the Minister for his presentation on rail and bus issues. What will be the practical experience of people on the ground? The Minister seemed to suggest that there can be a bilateral agreement if there is no deal on 29 March. How long will it take to get a bilateral agreement? What will be the experience of passengers travelling on the Enterprise line or on a bus or coach trip between Northern Ireland and the Republic on 30 March? That is the question I would like to see answered. I refer also to the practical implications for people. Efforts between now and 29 March will have to deal with these issues.
I have a number of brief questions on this. Is this the only change to the Brexit omnibus Bill that will need to be made in the area of responsibility of the Minister's Department? This is my understanding. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong. It is very much a technical Bill. It is very much about the regulatory environment of rail and bus operations as we shift from being part of one Union to a situation where Northern Ireland and the UK will have third country status. The Minister has outlined the regulatory changes that are required and will be made. Are we any wiser about the requirements for people and goods travelling over the Border? What checks will be put in place for people and goods?
I saw somewhere that the Minister said he had met with his counterpart, the UK Secretary of State for Transport, some months ago in Britain. My impression was that this was the last time he had met him and that was at the Secretary of State's request. Regarding bus and coach services, the Minister's opening statement said that Ireland will be allowed under EU law to enter into a bilateral agreement. That bilateral agreement requires bilateral talks. What formal bilateral talks have taken place on the agreement? What stage are we at in finalising the bilateral agreement? When exactly can we expect it to be in place? Have such talks taken place?
Some of my questions are similar. Between what parties are the bilateral agreements taking place? The Minister said in his opening statement that Ireland will begin formal negotiations on a bus bilateral with the UK. That suggests there have been informal negotiations. We are acutely aware that the institutions in Northern Ireland are not in place. Has that been an issue? I presume there were informal bilateral meetings. Were those meetings with British Government Ministers as opposed to their Northern Ireland counterparts? I do not see how that will work. Has that been thought about in considerations of the transition period, assuming that there is a withdrawal agreement?
The Minister referred to stakeholders in his opening statement. This is relevant in drilling down and anticipating the issues. Were the stakeholders that were consulted exclusively in the Republic of Ireland or were Northern Ireland stakeholders consulted as well? How did this happen?
To add to the point made by Deputy Troy about goods and whether this covers the totality of what the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will be required to cover in this legislation, do goods come under a different Department or Departments and are there other transport elements? As I find it hard to imagine there are no transport elements, should we expect to see further legislation or an expansion of this legislation? It is very difficult to read and read about Northern Ireland being a third country. It brings the enormity of the issue into very sharp focus when one sees in black and white how gigantic the separation will be.
I welcome the Minister and his colleagues, in particular. The level of work and responsibility of the Minister's Department and his colleagues is fundamental. In actual fact, compared to some other Departments, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport carries an awful lot of the burden in helping to make the process successful because it is all about the movement of people and goods.
I have a document that was issued by the British Government on 21 December last entitled, Partnership pack: preparing for changes at the UK border after a no deal EU Exit. I have read it a couple of times. To give a sense of the enormity of the task, on page 27, it states in referring to Northern Ireland businesses importing from Ireland that "We [the British Government] would recommend that, if you trade across the land border, you should consider whether you will need advice from the Irish government about preparations you need to make". To me, that begs the question of what is being done. It is there in black and white and it is not even less than satisfactory, it is not good enough. I make those points in the context of the significant work being done by and contribution our civil servants and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport are making to try to have the process as seamless as possible. It is important that we weigh in and support each other at this time.
On the movement of passengers, I agree with the Minister that we have to start to look at Northern Ireland and what the relationship will be in the movement of passengers and freight. There is a lot in the 120 page document about freight, including border checks, custom duties, tariffs and so on. It goes back to the point made by Deputies Catherine Murphy and Troy. When he is feeding back information to us, perhaps the Minister might give us a sense of how it fits into the overall picture. That would be very helpful from our perspective because some of the questions overlap. I understand why Deputy Munster made a request earlier and this may well be part of her concerns.
What will the position be for passenger to the North and to the South? What is the Minister's view on whether they will require a passport at the Border? I am thinking of passengers on buses and trains. Does the Minister have a sense of what the requirements will be or will just normal ID be required? Has he discussed the matter with any third party in Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom?
I am very interested in getting the Minister's views on the next step to be taken, namely, a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom, which is part of the bigger picture. At what stage is the Minister in that regard? I understand there are significant EU requirements and that the European Union does facilitate bilateral agreements. I also understand we have to work within its terms and conditions.
I have one small question for the Minister and welcome the questions that have been asked. I presume that on the issue of safety management systems, in particular, there will be uniformity across Europe, the United Kingdom and other countries outside the European Union that transport by vehicles, be they buses or trains. I presume there will be convergence of the regulations. Will there an overarching regulatory body? That is a reasonable question to ask. The Minister can answer the questions asked in whatever way he wishes.
I will try to answer them in order.
I thank Senator O'Mahony for his questions. There are two objectives, as matters stands, one of which is that in case of the Enterprise and rail and buses services, the amount of disruption should be kept to the absolute minimum. Talks that are ongoing have that objective in mind. I am pretty confident that in the talks that are ongoing between my Department and the British Government and NI Railways there will be a seamless transition in a no-deal Brexit. There is enough evidence to suggest we will be able to do so where we will be able to introduce a bilateral rail agreement at an early stage. There is enough evidence to suggest that in the preliminary talks which are not bilateral talks but exploratory talks we will certainly reach enough agreement between the companies involved, namely, Iarnród Éireann and NI Railways, such that we will have train services running on the same basis until we can introduce a bilateral agreement which is allowed by the European Union and can be conceded to by it at a very early stage after 29 March. It is a very fair question, but we will not see passengers being turfed out at the Border or anything like it. That will not happen. We will have a situation where the process will be seamless because there will be an agreement and a contract in place between the companies and because the Governments will obviously be in favour of it also. There will be minimum disruption because of the contract arrangements. The practical experience in both cases will be similar to what is being experienced. That is why we are looking at rail services as a matter of urgency because the Enterprise is absolutely a key symbolic link between the North and the South.
Is the Minister really saying they are called preliminary talks because there cannot be bilateral or official or formal talks until after Brexit? Will it be a day or two or a week before the new arrangements for passengers will come into place or will it just be a matter of continuing as we were?
They are called informal discussions. That is what they are because obviously a bilateral agreement cannot be introduced in advance, but the informal discussions are expected to be conclusive enough to make sure passengers will not be disrupted unduly.
Yes. Deputy Troy asked if this was the only Bill that would be brought forward. The Bills we have here are part of an omnibus Bill and I am certainly not ruling out the possibility of amendments being tabled.
We are talking to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on an ongoing basis. Nothing is yet written in stone but I brought a general scheme to the Cabinet on this basis. It is certainly subject to amendment if we discover there are more sensible ways of doing this. The bones before the committee are the bones of what the deal will be. We may change it in various places between now and March, when we hope to introduce the Bill. Fundamentally, the principles are there-----
Perhaps I was not clear. I am quite aware it is an omnibus Bill and it stretches over a number of Departments. Is this the only element that is the responsibility of the Minister or will he come back to us with another section of the omnibus Bill that might relate to other elements of the transport brief?
Sorry. The Deputy asked about goods checks but we have absolutely no intention of putting in place any border checks. We have made that absolutely and totally clear. I apologise but I thought I had answered the question. It will not happen.
In the Minister's opening address, under the heading of "changes to legislation", he stated some issues were being considered at what was referred to as an operational level and practical answers may emerge at different levels. Will the Minister give us a flavour of what issues are being considered at operational level and what practical answers are emerging now? Currently, we are pretty much in the dark as to how the Minister will overcome the challenges of a no-deal Brexit.
Irish Rail and Northern Ireland Railways already have a very close contractual relationship that will be a foundation for the future strong relationship that will continue after Brexit. In other words, the operational level will be decided between them and I hope they will improve or change their contractual relationship accordingly. If we are talking about detail and operations, I will leave that up to the operators. As the Deputy knows, all the variables are not under my control. We are talking about things like ticketing and related matters, with which I would not be involved. I am confident-----
We are not talking about where people get tickets or if they get a return journey. We are talking about people crossing a border, and after a hard Brexit they will be going into a third country. In his opening address the Minister stated that issues are being considered at operational levels and practical answers may emerge. I am just asking if there is a flavour of the issues being considered. I know Irish Rail and Northern Ireland Railways are well able to sell tickets to passengers but that is not what we are asking about today.
Yes, that is the objective. I do not think Deputy Troy understands what I am saying. The objective is for such travel to be absolutely seamless. Operational matters will be left to the companies in question.
Deputy Munster asked whether I had met my counterpart in the United Kingdom. I met my UK counterpart, the Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Chris Grayling, MP, on Brexit matters on three occasions over the past 20 months. I met him at my request in London on 26 May 2017 to discuss the transport implications of Brexit. I met him again at my request at the margins of the transport Council of Ministers in Brussels on 5 December 2017 and, more recently, at the British Secretary of State's request, on 8 November 2018 in Dublin.
With the most recent meeting, the parameters of the discussion were clearly communicated to the Secretary of State in advance, particularly the need to respect fully the mandate of the European Union's chief negotiator as negotiating for the EU 27, and that the discussion could not stray into the area of negotiations. At that meeting on 8 November, Secretary of State Grayling outlined the key areas of concern for the UK relating to transport. I set out the importance of continued transport connectivity between Ireland and the UK, including with respect to ports, aviation, road transport and cross-border rail. I stressed the importance of finalising the withdrawal agreement, highlighted the importance of the UK land bridge as a route to European markets for us and the need for Irish trade to move efficiently through ports. I stressed that with the future EU-UK relationship, Ireland wants to see the closest possible links between the EU and the UK across a wide area. I can also provide the Deputy with details of meetings I have had with other transport ministers if she so wishes.
We know the legislation is there. We want to hear from the Minister what stresses will be faced by the island because of Brexit. What work has been done by the Minister? That is why I asked about bilateral meetings and how far on we are. If the Minister did not have formal talks and we are seven weeks out from the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, what was discussed with respect to possible agreements?
It should be clear to the Deputy from what I said that I could not and would not negotiate or be in a position to negotiate as that is up to the EU 27. The EU is negotiating on our behalf and I was not at any stage negotiating with my British counterpart. That was not my job. Of course, I was prepared to hear what he had to say and to express some concerns that we had. The idea that we would negotiate was absolutely out of the question. I met other ministers and I can provide the Deputy with some details. Again, I did not negotiate with them.
In November, I met my French counterpart, Ms Élisabeth Borne, and this was very close to the date on which I met Mr. Grayling. In May I met Professor Péter Balázs, the EU co-ordinator for the North Sea-Mediterranean TEN-T corridor and Mr. Brian Simpson, the EU co-ordinator for the Motorways of the Sea programme. Brexit was a key point on the agenda and both co-ordinators were cognisant of the unique challenges facing Ireland as a result of the UK's decision to leave the European Union. In October 2017, I met the European Transport Commissioner, Ms Violeta Bulc on a visit to Ireland and raised with her Ireland's concerns on the implications of Brexit for transport and connectivity. I also met these people on other occasions but they were not necessarily all formal meetings. We met at Council meetings, for example, to discuss relevant matters. I had met Commissioner Bulc at the transport Council meeting in Luxembourg in June 2017. In September I held a conference call with Mr. Ken Skates, the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Infrastructure and Skills, on Brexit-related matters.
In 2017 I met the Austrian Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology to discuss Brexit and road safety. I also met with members of the external affairs committee of the National Assembly for Wales on matters primarily relating to Brexit. In May 2017 I met the Swedish Minister for Infrastructure, Anna Johansson, to discuss road safety and Brexit matters. I also met the UK Secretary of State, Lynne Truss MP. I can keep going.
What preparatory work has the Minister done on the bilateral agreement? He said in his statement that preparatory work was being carried out. What is his plan? There have been a series of formal meetings, but we have heard nothing. We have to prepare for the stresses that may be inflicted on this island. What preparatory work has been done?
The Minister also said that under EU law he can talk about these issues. While informal talks are all right, the onus is on the Minister to set about organising a plan.
She should acknowledge the extraordinary and formidable problems we have encountered in aviation, on the roads, at sea and in other areas, and the fact that so many of those issues have, to a large extent, been overcome. The date of 29 March is critical for us. We were facing some very serious challenges in the area of aviation. Those challenges have not been resolved, but they are certainly less threatening than they were. I will go into that in more detail in the second part of our discussion. We faced some very serious challenges on road haulage as well, and again, while not resolved, we have escaped the worse case scenario in that area. I hope that will also be the case in terms of landbridge and other areas. I am not saying that everything is conquered. I am saying that my Department has undertaken major work, and I am proud of the results we have achieved so far. The worst-case scenario we faced a few months ago is greatly improved. That was not achieved by sitting back and doing absolutely nothing. It involved much work and a lot of talking to many people. We spoke to the stakeholders and co-operated with the European Commission. We impressed on the European Commission, particularly in the areas of aviation and haulage, where we faced very difficult scenarios, that it was in Ireland's vital interests that we made interim arrangements. Those interim arrangements have been achieved.
The briefing document mentioned that the European Commission had published a number of legislative measures to ensure transport connectivity in a no-deal scenario. That is great. Europe has done this, and it is good that it is done. It appears the Minister has simply taken EU law and transposed it into Irish law. That is good as well. I am not trying to make political points. I come from a Border area. I want to know what preparatory work the Minister has done, beyond holding informal meetings. I have many questions to ask on every aspect of that. It is great the Minister had informal meetings, and that the EU legislation has been transposed into Irish law. However, this meeting concerns preparedness, and I have seen nothing thus far to give me or my constituents comfort on what the Minister has actually done to flag up issues and formulate the basis of an agreement to be included in a bilateral agreement. Having those discussions on a formal, rather than-----
I want to be fair to everyone. When the Minister says "informal" he means that they are not formal EU negotiating positions. He is obviously working and endeavouring to make sure that the very thing we all want becomes a reality, including a joined-up approach to transport between the UK and Ireland. He is also working on the heads of these Bills and on Brexit generally.
May I finish? I let the Deputy have a good run. Does she believe that this scheme was not taken to the Cabinet? This specifically addresses the issue of the Border, which the Deputy has expressed such concern about. If she reads this, and the preparation that went into it - I doubt she has - she will understand that a huge amount of preparatory work has gone into the general scheme. That is what this is about.
I have a series of questions for the Minister on different aspects of the scheme. As we go through the different aspects the Minister's level of work and planning will become clear. We will go into the details later, and we will find out exactly what he has and has not done. So far it is quite scary.
In response to Deputy Catherine Murphy, I agree that it would be better if the Assembly was in place in Northern Ireland. However, we have found that we have been able to negotiate this particularly difficult path in its absence and have been able to produce some very complex legislation. There have been preliminary talks between the Irish Government, my Department and representatives in Northern Ireland. We achieved this result on foot of those negotiations. I do not see any major legislation coming through, but that does not mean that we will not amend this legislation if it is absolutely necessary.
The Minister has answered the questions I asked in a general sense, including my questions on passports and the movement of passengers. He will deal with freight and other areas, here and in the UK. I am obviously very interested in aviation, and I look forward to the Minister's comment on that.
I very much appreciate everything the Minister and his Department, in particular, are doing. It is not easy. It is a tough job and as was clear from the document I read from, which was produced by the British Government, it has been landed in our lap. The Minister said that the meetings he held with his British counterpart and others were neither formal nor informal. They were just meetings. It was never stated that they were formal, informal, on the record or off the record. It is important to state that, because we spent over half an hour using the phrases "formal" and "informal". I counted five occasions on which those phrases were used before I stopped counting. Time is important. I am keen that we have productivity.
I asked about stakeholders in Northern Ireland. It is essential that a legislative framework is in place.
The heads of the Bill did not come out of nowhere. It came from teasing out some practical issues and examining the document that the European Commission published. Some of the practical issues will not need legislation but will need consideration.
The Minister mentioned talking to stakeholders, and I asked whether the stakeholders were exclusively in the Republic or whether some stakeholders in Northern Ireland were consulted or whether that was even viable. I fully understand that the 27 member states are the ones which are negotiating and while there is a great value in that for the unity of the European Union, there is a negative aspect because the Government has to postpone discussions on practical matters that must be addressed to function however we end up. Whether there is a deal or a crash-out, we will have to live with the fallout.
Some parts of the Minister's opening statement say something but one would nearly have to decode what it is. Deputy Troy asked a question about the practical issues the Minister noted may emerge. We need to understand why the Minister even referred to practical issues. Parts of the opening statement were written in code and we are trying to read through it to understand what will happen in practice and what preparation has gone on within the limited scope available to the Department, given that there cannot be formal negotiations in advance. There cannot be bilateral discussions, yet there must be agreements. We are trying to get our heads around what preparation has gone on, what discussions have taken place, which stakeholders have been consulted and what Brexit will look like in practice. The Minister answered some of those questions when he said he expected it to be relatively seamless because people will be able to buy a ticket in Belfast, get on the train, travel to Dublin and vice versa. How does the Border becoming the European frontier fit with a crash-out? Will it cause us problems in the future? It may not be a problem immediately but could it cause us a problem eventually? Will the legislation be sufficient to cover those areas or will more be needed?
On that point, we have been told that private motorists will require a green card if they travel north of the Border in the UK. Will that also apply to bus companies? Is that part of the issue of practicality? In the event of a no-deal scenario, will people be required to prove their insurance, whether in a bus, car, coach or whatever?
By definition, we must be somewhat circumspect about the issue, as I am sure Deputy Murphy will understand. There is intensive ongoing engagement between the rail operators, Irish Rail and Northern Irish Railways, which have always had a contract with each other. They are still in communication on the basis of that contract and they are considering a subcontracted solution on a temporary basis to overcome any temporary difficulties. We anticipate an agreement will be reached and that there will be a bilateral agreement after 29 March. It is a matter of keeping Enterprise and bus services going, and we will do everything we can to achieve that. We do not foresee any insuperable obstacles but we recognise that there are difficulties. That is why we are talking to stakeholders, which are currently Irish Rail and Northern Irish Railways, but everybody else will be involved under the legislation we addressed earlier, including the NTA as a regulator and the Minister for Finance, who will also make some regulations. Furthermore, Departments, North and South, are in discussion, although it is important to make clear that they are not negotiating. There is no negotiation taking place but rather there is a contract.
On the question about insurance and the green card, the UK currently comes within the ambit of the EU motor insurance directive, which allows all motor vehicles from any member states to travel within the Union without carrying special documentation to prove that they have insurance. If there is a no-deal Brexit, Irish-registered vehicles entering UK territory, including Northern Ireland, will be required to carry a green card, a document which proves that they have motor insurance. Similarly, UK citizens wishing to take their UK-registered motor vehicles into Ireland will also require a green card. In preparation for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland, MIBI, and the motor insurance firms in the State have been preparing for the issuing of green cards on request from an as yet unspecified date in March. The MIBI has issued public statements to this effect and the Association of British Insurers has issued similar public information. It is a prudent measure; while no one wants green cards to be required, the insurance industry needs to be prepared for the possibility that they will be.
The Minister said the cards are issued on request. While I acknowledge that people living in west Cork might not cross the Border very often, those of us living in Border counties certainly will. It is important, therefore, that people living in Border counties be automatically issued with one because they cross the Border day in, day out. Otherwise, there will be delays on private business or commercial business. It could be a significant adverse issue if it is not made mandatory before that date.
If somebody travels across the Border from Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry or wherever, he or she will have to have the card. Without it, what will the implications be? Will the driver be deemed not to have insurance in the other jurisdiction? The proof of insurance is the green card and, therefore, one will not be allowed to enter.
We are talking about preparedness here and we are seven weeks away. There are 68,000 cross-Border journeys made by 34,000 people every day and there was talk of 25 million journeys per year on 15 Border crossings. We have 300 Border crossings. If I head up the road to Armagh, it is 40 minutes away. We return to the question of preparedness. People are unsure, come 30 March, if they have to have this card with them. If they are in a crash, are the covered? If they do not have it, how do they go about getting one? Will there be a cost to it? I do not know if we are waiting until the eleventh hour to deal with this but the 34,000 people who cross the Border daily need to know well in advance what they need, how they apply for it, when they will receive it, what they are covered for, whether it cost anything and how long will it take to get it. This is about preparedness.
Does this fall within the Minister's remit or is it an issue for a different Department? If goods and all the other things are not going to be part of this legislation, this might be for Revenue, because it involves customs and excise, or for the Department of Finance.
If one does not have insurance in a jurisdiction, some jurisdictions can, for example, seize one's vehicle. There may be fairly serious implications. If this is under the Minister's remit, it would be really helpful to have some practical information in that this could happen if one does not have the card. Maybe we will get this information from the insurance companies, or maybe the Minister will get it from them, or maybe it is not even his area.
Yes, it will be mandatory for people to carry these cards if they are going into another jurisdiction and they may be asked for them. We do know that.
There are 400,000 green cards being printed, which is an extraordinarily large number. The insurance companies are going to carry out a campaign to let people know how to get them on demand. They will advertise and will make sure in every possible way that people know exactly what their rights are under this.
One has to understand that we are talking about a very short timescale and we have to do things very quickly. People will say, quite rightly, that everybody will have to know this in time. They will know about it as quickly as possible but we are talking about a very narrow framework.
I appreciate fully what the Minister has said to us. If we need another meeting on this, we should have it well before that date. Can we take the heads of the Bill and then go back to all the questions members have? Can we take it that we accept the heads in part 1 of the Bill?
We will break for a few minutes. The Minister is happy to take a break, and so am I.