Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 6 October 2020
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
General Scheme of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020: Engagement with the Minister for Justice
This Bill will be coming before a number of committees, but I believe that the provisions that relate to this committee are in the majority. The purpose of this meeting is to receive a briefing from the Minister on the draft scheme of the Bill, as it relates to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice. Members will recall that the Minister had previously provided a written briefing to the members. On behalf of the committee I welcome the Minister for Justice, Deputy Helen McEntee to the meeting. We look forward to working with the Minister over the term ahead, and I am sure we will have lots of engagements during that term, with this being the first of many.
The format for this part of the meeting is that I will invite the Minister to make a brief opening statement, which will be followed by engagement, questions and comments from members of the committee. Given the short time available to us I ask members, today and every day, to be as focused as possible in their questions for the Minister. Although I will not strictly adhere to it if people have particular issues on a given day, the order of speaking as agreed at our first meeting will follow the general rule of thumb of Government first, Sinn Féin next, other party and group members next, and then members in the order in which they raise their hand. The last round may include non-committee members who wish to come in. I do not believe we have any non-committee members today. Where non-members are participating they will be asked to make it known some 24 hours in advance. There will be flexibility and this will not be a strict rule. If people want to get in or to get on I will try my best to accommodate those situations.
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. With that formality and introduction out of the way I welcome the Minister and invite her to make a brief opening statement. The Minister has the floor.
I thank the Chairman. I echo the Chairman's sentiments. I look forward to working with him and all the committee members, and to continued engagement in the months and years ahead.
I thank the committee for the invitation to discuss the justice elements of the withdrawal legislation. It is timely to consider these provisions with less than 100 days to the end of the UK's transition period. The committee will be aware that the Government remains focused on delivering its Brexit-readiness programme.
Indeed, this work on Brexit has been supported by all parties in the Oireachtas. An important part of this work involves the introduction of this new legislation.
As members may recall, last year legislation was enacted to provide contingency measures to address issues arising in a no-deal cliff edge scenario, that is, where the UK left the EU without a withdrawal agreement. However, because the UK withdrawal agreement was concluded, the majority of the provisions in the 2019 Act cannot be commenced. By contrast, this proposed Bill is intended to deal with permanent changes that will arise at the end of the Brexit transition period. It forms a vital part of our national Brexit readiness preparations.
The general scheme of the Bill was approved by the Government on 4 August. The Bill includes provisions in areas falling under the remit of 11 Ministers and is being co-ordinated by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. If there is no agreement on a future relationship between the UK and the EU or if any such UK-EU future partnership agreement does not encompass justice and home affairs matters, then a wide range of EU legislation relating to justice and home affairs matters will no longer apply to the UK.
While there are a number of Brexit implications for the justice sector, key risks have been identified in three specific areas - extradition, immigration and family law. To address these areas requires new primary legislation and they are dealt with in Parts 16 to 18, inclusive, and 20 of the Bill.
Part 16 provides for two amendments to the Extradition Act 1965. These amendments were previously included in the 2019 Act, but with the withdrawal agreement concluded, their provisions could not be commenced. A key issue identified by my Department is to ensure that effective extradition arrangements are maintained between Ireland and the UK. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the provisions of the European arrest warrant would unfortunately no longer apply to the UK. The optimal solution identified by my Department is to apply the Council of Europe's 1957 European Convention on Extradition. Ireland and the UK are both parties to this convention. While the extradition procedure under the convention is not as effective or as efficient as that of the European arrest warrant, it will provide a workable solution in the event of a no-deal Brexit. To facilitate this, two legislative items require to be addressed. First, the 1965 Act does not permit extradition of own nationals unless explicitly provided for. Second, transmission of extradition requests is via the diplomatic channel and in hard copy. The Bill will address both of these issues.
I next turn to Part 17 of the Bill, which deals with an issue relating to the application of the Immigration Act 2004, specifically an anomaly that we will be changing. British citizens are currently exempt from most of the provisions of the Act, reflecting our long-standing common travel area arrangements. However, a situation has been identified in the definition of "non-national" under some sections of the Act. Unless amended, this would bring British citizens within that definition. The amendment in Part 17 will correct this and provide a clear legal basis for the exclusion of British citizens from passport checks within the common travel area.
Part 18 of the Bill deals with a number of amendments to the International Protection Act 2015. This is probably the only new measure compared with last year's legislation. If the transition period expires without a relevant agreement between the UK and the EU, the Dublin regulation will no longer apply to the UK. The Dublin regulation provides that the country that played the primary part in a person's entry into the Union is responsible for examining an application for protection. It also provides for the applicant to be transferred to that EU member state.
Two concepts in EU law allow for applicants for international protection to be transferred to a third country. The first is the safe third country concept and the second is the first country of asylum concept. The first country of asylum concept is already transposed into Irish law. It allows applications for asylum made here to be determined as inadmissible where the person has already been granted asylum in the UK. The amendment in Part 18 will address the safe third country concept. It essentially enables the Minister to designate a country as a safe third country where certain criteria are met in accordance with EU law. This means that an application for international protection can be deemed inadmissible where an applicant has arrived in Ireland from a country designated as a safe third country. It is intended that the UK will be designated as a safe third country.
Part 18 also introduces a mechanism to return applicants for international protection to the UK. This will provide for the return of a person to the UK where his or her application has been determined as inadmissible on the basis that he or she has arrived in Ireland from a safe third country or another country is considered a first country of asylum for the person.
Part 20 sets out arrangements for the recognition of divorces, legal separations and marriage annulments granted under the law of the UK. Currently, the recognition in Ireland of a divorce, legal separation or marriage annulment obtained in the UK is governed by a European Council regulation known as the Brussels IIa regulation. Under this, divorces, legal separations and marriage annulments granted in all EU member states except for Denmark are entitled to recognition in other member states if granted in accordance with the jurisdictional criteria specified in the regulation.
Habitual residence is the key governing criterion for recognition. This is a more objective and easier to understand criterion than the domicile criterion which applies to the recognition in Ireland of a divorce granted in a country outside of the European Union. Reverting to the domicile rule as a basis for recognition of UK divorces would be a regressive step given that habitual residence has been the primary basis for UK divorce recognition in Ireland for more than 20 years. The Government wishes to ensure that following the end of the transition period, the arrangements for recognition in Ireland of divorces granted in the UK will continue to be on the basis of habitual residence rather than the domicile provisions in the Act of 1986.
I expect that the final version of the Bill will be brought before the Oireachtas next month. I look forward to working with Members in progressing this legislation and minimising uncertainty for business and citizens. I thank all of the Members for their attention and I am happy to respond to any questions they may have.
I thank the Minister and her officials for attending and briefing us on this important legislation.
My first question is on the development of the Bill more generally, the interaction with other Departments, the state of readiness, and how things are going in terms of drafting. An update would be valuable for everybody and give us a sense of what is happening with other committees. Of course, the Minister cannot answer for other Departments but what is the general state of preparation?
The Minister's opening statement was very helpful but I ask her to go into a little more detail about the family law provisions, particularly domicile and habitual residence provisions. Will anything change? How will the provisions affect practitioners? What are the practicalities of the changes for family law? People worry that this will have an impact on family law. There are also many families who live between England and Ireland for whom the provisions may apply.
In terms of readiness, we are progressing this legislation, as a general Bill, as quickly as possible. The most recent publishing of it happened on 9 September. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, is leading the Bill through his Department. It is intended that the legislation would be enacted and ready before the end of the year and before the transition period ends.
As I mentioned in my opening comments, for me there are four key areas of this legislation. One of them is potentially new so a lot of the work has been done. A lot of the legislation had been prepared previously but it could not be enacted once the withdrawal agreement was approved. Taking into account that this is on a more permanent basis, the final work that needed to be done is being done. I cannot say where all the committees are, but at the moment other committees are engaging with other Ministers on their relevant piece of legislation. It is an attempt to move the Bill on as quickly as possible and ensure we are not doing things at the very last minute which, unfortunately, has often been the case with Brexit.
In terms of family law and recognition of divorces, anything that we do here, where there is not full agreement, is never going to be as good as what we had before. In particular, ensuring the manner in which we look at this, particularly around divorce, and the way that we have done it over the past 20 years does not change is extremely important.
In terms of family law and civil law matters, it is important to say that where there is not an agreement in place, we will have to revert to conventions of which both the UK and Ireland are members. Whether it is international maintenance recovery, the fallback instrument is the Hague maintenance convention of 2007.
In terms of UK and civil law in general, we will have to work to ensure that there is co-operation on four broad areas. We have international jurisdiction, enforcement of judgements based upon such jurisdiction rules, applicable law rules, judicial co-operation procedures such as arrangements for the service of documents, and specified EU procedures such as obtaining an order for payment for a pecuniary claim that is not contested. There are also other challenging areas around commercial litigation, the taking of evidence and insolvency. What we have has worked well. If we do not have an agreement in place, then the following will happen.
It will not enable us to work as seamlessly as we currently do, which is a challenge in itself. That highlights what Brexit means; it means change, and we have always said that, even with an agreement in place, work will have to be done, particularly in the area of law if we are falling back on conventions that might not allow us to work with the same ease that we do now.
I welcome the Minister and I thank her for her opening statement. The issues of immigration, family law, etc., are complex within one state and even more so when taken into a separate state. I come across many people living in the Border area where we have situations in which children are separated between parents. In other words, they are living in separate jurisdictions and different arrangements are put in place. At present, such arrangements work well. There are issues in respect of all of that and how those arrangements will work in future. There are also issues regarding sex offenders registers and so on to the effect that there will have to be a continued sharing of information between both jurisdictions. In addition, we will have to ensure that there will be the same level of co-operation as has been the case up to now.
Many people from abroad live in this State. The highest proportion of them are from the UK. Many are applying for Irish citizenship and are trying to straighten out that matter. I had a woman in my office yesterday who has been living here for almost 20 years. She is married to an Irishman but is still a UK citizen. She has been paying taxes and working here for that period and she has to pay almost €1,000 to apply for Irish citizenship. This is something that needs to be looked at in the context of people who have lived here and contributed to our society for so long and who then have this huge bill to pay when they want to take on something which is natural for them. This lady considers herself as Irish as anyone else who lives here. She still has a slight English twang but that is all. Something needs to be done about these scenarios and many people have raised that issue with me. The cost of that application is a serious problem for many people.
To go back to the legislation itself, the issues here are highlighting the difficulties of Brexit. Everyone talks about Brexit in the context of the economic impact it will have but it will also have a societal impact. Every effort that can be made to deal with all of that in the most efficient way possible needs to be made. I am a bit concerned about the short time we have to deal with this. It is running towards the end of the year and if there is no deal, which is looking increasingly likely, we could be in a crisis situation in respect of many of these issues as we move forward. Again, the efforts that have been made have to be intensified over the coming months.
I know that the most recent round of negotiations concluded last Saturday and, unfortunately, the view of Michel Barnier, our chief negotiator, is that while progress has been made again in some minor areas, there is still a way to go. I agree with the Deputy that this is concerning and that is why it is important that we move this legislation forward as quickly as possible. This legislation will not only support business. As the Deputy rightly said, it will also put measures in place to protect people and ensure that the changes which happen will be as minimal as possible. However, we cannot prevent all kinds of change from happening and we will have to deal with that if we find ourselves in a no-deal scenario.
One of the biggest concerns people have - and the Deputy has outlined a number of scenarios - is that there will be continued co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI and that there will be an ability to continue to share information and intelligence where needed. Data-sharing is currently governed across the EU by the law enforcement directive and in Ireland by the Data Protection Act 2018. National security information is outside of the scope of these matters but in the absence of an alternative agreement between the EU and the UK, the fallback option is to create and retain records of every data transfer. That would have to be done between Ireland and the UK in the form of a bilateral agreement. It is not the direction we want to go in and we would prefer if there was an agreement on an EU-wide basis but that is something that we have to look at, given the huge level of co-operation that has happened between the Garda and the PSNI and how that relationship has evolved in recent years.
I accept what the Deputy says about Irish citizenship. This is something that has come across my desk in the short time I have been in my new post. I accept that it is a barrier for some people and it is something I previously stated that we will examine.
It is challenging to do so in the current context, but I understand that it is even more challenging for the people looking to become citizens and the cost is potentially a barrier for them. I will take the Deputy's point on board.
I thank the Minister for her presentation and her written submission. I have four brief questions. The first relates to the extradition issue, which those of us who remember the time before the European arrest warrant would be fearful of. The new arrangement under the amendment to section 23 of the 1965 Act would provide for applications to be sent directly to the Minister for Justice and Equality rather than through diplomatic channels or the Department of Foreign Affairs. How will those applications be handled? What is the process under these new arrangements when extradition is sought by Irish authorities externally or by British authorities here?
My second question relates to immigration and the Dublin Convention, which will obviously no longer apply to the United Kingdom. The Minister mentioned both safe third countries and first country applications, both of which are dependent on Britain accepting them, under the legal framework the Minister has set out. Where are we in our negotiations with the United Kingdom on accepting either people who have been accepted for asylum in the United Kingdom and end up here or people who have transited the United Kingdom and come here, who we would normally ask to return to a safe third country? Is it agreed that that would happen?
My third question is about secondary legislation. The Minister says in her submission that other matters are being examined for secondary legislation. Exactly what other issues will be dealt with by secondary legislation? I think the committee would like to know what they are. If the Minister cannot give us a comprehensive analysis of those issues now she might come back to us in writing.
My final question has been touched upon in the Minister's response to Deputy Kenny. Due to the closeness of our relationship with the United Kingdom and the common travel area, will we seek to develop bilateral arrangements with the United Kingdom outside the scope of the normal United Kingdom-EU justice arrangements?
To respond to the Deputy's final question, the main area in which we would seek to engage in a bilateral arrangement is that of data sharing between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, to ensure we can continue to co-operate and that the day-to-day functions and carrying out of the Garda Síochána's work can continue. It is not an ideal scenario for individual member states to have bilateral agreements on specific areas outside of an overall agreement. That is why the focus and the priority is an overall agreement on this between the EU and the UK. However, I think we need to be realistic, so if that does not happen we need to make sure that, given the shared nature of this island, we have something in place. It is essentially a fallback position. We are working on that.
As regards secondary legislation, in addition to Parts 16, 17, 18 and 20 of the Bill, amendments to secondary legislation are also required in three areas. We need a statutory instrument which designates the UK as a safe third country after Brexit for the purpose of processing international protection claims. We also need regulations to facilitate UK citizens becoming members of An Garda Síochána and the Garda Reserve. In addition, we need a statutory instrument to recognise UK solicitors' qualifications post Brexit. Those are the three areas in which secondary legislation is needed.
As regards negotiations with the United Kingdom, we are working on the basis that reciprocal agreements will be in place and I have no reason to believe otherwise. We will work on the basis that extradition would be reciprocal.
That is my understanding, yes. It is my understanding that applications will be handled through the same administration system within the Department through which the European arrest warrant currently functions. The Garda Síochána office would examine a request and would then submit a request to the High Court, so it is not going to change in that regard.
I welcome the Minister. In relation to the European arrest warrant, if we go back to the 1957 Council of Europe Convention, will the political offence exception be revived in any way and the terrorism exclusion have to be extended? If the Minister is not in a position to answer this now I fully understand.
Second, as to the Dublin regulation, there is a real problem that we may face a situation that people who are dissatisfied with what is happening regarding their application for refugee status in the United Kingdom, not only people who have been refused asylum status but people who think they are about to be refused asylum status, would come here. I hope that whatever the Minister does covers both situations, that the safe third-country measure automatically extends to anybody who has applied in the UK.
Third, I note Denmark was slow to join the EU IIA regulation for its own reasons. Should we not consider, if the Minister is bringing in a Bill to deal with this, some provision giving the Oireachtas the power to extend the customary residence rather than the domicile rule to Denmark because we should not have obstacles with Danish people?
My last point is very much domestic. The Minister mentioned solicitors. Will the regulations the Minister is bringing in also apply to barristers using the European professional recognition arrangements?
My understanding of the last question is that it will apply.
In terms of the Dublin regulation, the situation as it currently stands is that the vast majority of cases that we see under the Dublin regulation are coming from the UK already. I do not think that will change. That is why it is important that we have these measures in place and that there is a reciprocal agreement in place. I do not think the numbers will change much because we already see that the vast majority are coming from them.
In terms of the political offence exemption, the Office of the Attorney General has advised that exceptions and restrictions to the definition of political offence have been made by statute to the extent that the term is quite narrowly defined by both Ireland and the UK.
I thank the Minister for the response. The Minister indicated that she may have to take advice on one or two points. Perhaps at the end of the engagement, if there are any additional points or points that were not got to, the Minister's office can forward them to the clerk to the committee and we can circulate them to the committee so that those matters can be covered.
Senator Ward had indicated.
I thank the Chair and welcome the Minister. There is obviously a considerable body of work to be done in this area. Probably, in this committee we are only touching on a small bit of the legislation involved.
I will raise two issues. The first is in respect of extradition, where that will be based and where the applications will go. I presume, certainly, since 2013, the Department has a vastly increased competence in that regard in relation to the operation of the European arrest warrant framework. I presume, therefore, that any new applications under the 1965 Act or under the Council of Europe protocol will go through the same section, which has experience and competence in that area.
The other small issue I wanted to raise was in relation to the use of the term "non-national", which is varied in the Statute Book in so far as the immigration legislation tends to refer to non-nationals and even aliens going back to 1935. In the 1950s, or certainly by the end of the 1990s, we were changing the word "alien" and using the word "non-national". However, employment permits legislation, specifically the Employment Permits Act 2006, changed the definition that had been used since 2003 or changed the term from "non-national" to "foreign national". I wonder if that is something that the Minister might take on board because it is an important distinction. There is a distinction in law between a non-national and a foreign national. Potentially, a non-national is a stateless person. The use of the term "non-national", in immigration terms, can be misleading.
I also think it is kind of dehumanising to suggest that those people who seek to immigrate to Ireland perhaps do not have their own national status which, more often than not, they do. Will the Minister give consideration to the use of the term “foreign national”, which has been deployed in an employment permits context, rather than "non-national"?
On the last point, that is something I could consider. Obviously, it is not something we are considering for the purpose of this Bill, where the particular section under Part 17 is to change an anomaly whereby those from the UK would automatically be termed as “non-national” and that would, of course, mean that citizens coming from the UK to Ireland would have to produce a passport or some form of identification. This legislation seeks simply to change that anomaly. Nonetheless, I take the Senator’s point. I accept what he is saying and that is certainly something I would consider taking on board.
In regard to the extradition request, as the Senator rightly outlined, these are handled by the central authority, which is located within the Department of justice currently. What we are attempting to do here is to remove a layer whereby such requests would initially come through the Department of Foreign Affairs in a hard copy – essentially, in a diplomatic bag. We are trying to remove that so it comes directly to my Department in order to make the process easier overall.
I welcome the Minister and her officials. Other speakers have alluded to the overall situation and the chances, or lack of chances, of striking a deal. I hope, to quote the British Prime Minister, that common sense will prevail, moreso on his part than on the part of others. We remain hopeful that will happen. Those of us who live along the Border certainly hope it happens because this will make for profound changes in everyday life for those of us who live there.
The Minister mentioned the evolving co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI, which has improved with the passing of time and is extremely welcome. It is a vital component of policing along the Border because there is a level of crime committed by those who come into the South and escape via the Border, and vice versa. Co-operation in such situations is vital. In the event of a deal, we are still going to be left with serious problems going forward, whereas a no-deal does not bear thinking about. Is the Minister confident that with regard to the investigation of crime along the Border, there will be a level of co-operation similar to what applies currently?
I am assured that, as with all other Departments and State agencies, the Garda Síochána is preparing for potential outcomes by the end of the year. Obviously, we hope there will be a deal but they are also preparing for the potential of a no-deal between the UK and the EU. As the Senator mentioned, there has already been close co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI, with a particular focus on combating security threats and cross-Border crime. They have a cross-Border policing strategy which aims to improve a number of things, in particular addressing public safety, disrupting criminal activity and enhancing the policing capability of both policing services, and that will continue irrespective of the outcome at the end of the year. The Garda Commissioner has also assured me that gardaí, in preparing for Brexit, are looking at a wide range of operational matters, including personnel, infrastructure and technology, and all of that will be done in co-operation with the PSNI. We hope there will be an arrangement in place so some measures will not need to be implemented but, irrespective of what happens, I believe the cross-Border policing strategy will ensure there can be that continued close co-operation north and south of the Border.
I have just a few short questions. One relates to the "prescribed place" or place of detention mentioned in Part 18. I presume these are existing prisons. Is that what is meant by "prescribed place"?
With regard to the new arrangements for returns to the UK, will people have a right of appeal? How long will be allowed for such an appeal? Will it be the normal ten working days? In cases such as these, people often have difficulty in accessing legal representation, so a reasonable length of time, such as two weeks or ten working days, should be allowed.
My second to last question is on the section on marriages and divorces. This was mentioned in the briefing document but is not in the heads of the Bill. Is there any particular reason for that?
My last question is on the people who are subject to the arrangements regarding safe third countries. Will such people be outside the international protection scheme and process? Will they be entitled to avail of direct provision or to get social welfare supports? I have noticed that it is difficult enough for Irish people who have been abroad for some time to return because they have not been ordinarily resident here, which causes difficulties with regard to taxes and social welfare supports. Will these people be entitled to such things?
The answer to the first question is that the existing infrastructure will continue to apply. I am not aware of any other proposed arrangements in that regard. With regard to the right of appeal, people will continue to have the same right to appeal as they do at present. The same timeframe will apply.
On the section on marriages and divorces, this was simply a result of the timeline. The Brexit omnibus Bill was presented by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 4 August, and at a subsequent meeting on 15 August, two more heads were approved. It is just the case that they were not ready at that time. There is no other reason for their absence. This section was not ready but was subsequently approved by Government along with one other head, although I am not sure which one.
As to whether people will be entitled to avail of direct provision and so forth, we are again trying to mirror our current arrangements. If somebody is entitled to apply, having not come from a first country or third safe country, they will still have the right to apply for direct provision and all that is associated with it. That will not change.
Senator McDowell mentioned an issue regarding lawyers from the Republic. We are a common law English-speaking country and have a special relationship with our nearest neighbours. I hope there will be no prohibition on Irish barristers, coming from a member state, being called to the Bar or the inns in England and Wales and that the British will make it as easy as it always has been. I hope there will also be access for solicitors.
We hear a lot about Northern Ireland. I wish those in Northern Ireland good luck and hope they get the best of both worlds, but it would be very good if unique special arrangements could be put in place on this small island for people living in the Republic of Ireland. Will the Minister assure us that, although we do not have a direct negotiator at the table with Michel Barnier, she is satisfied that the Republic of Ireland will be properly represented when negotiating the finer details? There are things which may not have become apparent which the Good Friday Agreement did not anticipate as it was not expected that the British would leave. One cannot look around the corner often enough to anticipate the unintended or the unexpected.
It is by no means a big issue but could we also look at any implications for the Bosman ruling? I do not expect the Minister to have an answer on this today. Jean-Marc Bosman was a footballer better known for his court challenge at the European Court of Justice than for his skills as an underage footballer with Belgium. I mean it as no poor reflection on the League of Ireland but we do sometimes take players in the autumn of their careers who are out of contract. I hope no fees will suddenly be levied on professional footballers who would like to grace the Republic of Ireland with their skills in the autumn of their careers.
Then there is the extra anomaly with Derry City Football Club being in the League of Ireland, but situated within Northern Ireland. I would like to see a special arrangement being made for the Republic of Ireland in the unique and straining circumstances, to make the most of this situation and do our best to turn a negative into a positive. I know the Minister is doing her best here. She is most welcome here today and it is great that she has the portfolio she does, given her experience in the Thirty-second Dáil. We need to address those smaller points as best we can at this stage.
I will come back to the Senator on his final point, as I am not aware of the details of the ruling in the Bosman case, or its implications. With regard to advocating on behalf of the legal profession or any other business community, we have been in a unique and lucky position at the centre of many of the negotiations as they have taken place. Granted, a huge focus has been on the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, and the overall Northern Ireland protocol, but that has allowed us to have access to those who are negotiating at the very top and those negotiating within the various different structures and sectors that are up for discussion. The Senator can be assured, and I am confident, that we are represented at every level throughout these negotiations.
I listened yesterday to Maroš Šefcovic, who indicated that we are getting very close to the end game in terms of the timeline within which a deal must in place and ratified. In the event that there is a no-deal Brexit, which is something that we all hope does not happen, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will be enacted in the UK and there will be no checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland. Has there been any planning or preparation within the Minister's Department with regard to how the internal market will be protected in such circumstances?
It is not something for which we are preparing within my own Department. The First Stage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has been progressed. If it is implemented, we will find ourselves in a very challenging situation should the UK breach international law and an international agreement. We know that there are already checks on certain amounts of goods coming from the UK through Northern Ireland and into the South. That would not change even if the Bill were to be implemented. However, what is required under the Northern Ireland protocol is that additional checks be made to ensure the integrity of the internal market. It is not legislation that I am working on within my Department, but it is something that we will have to look at. There is an obligation, and I think we would all be very shocked and surprised if the UK were to breach the commitment it has made and its international obligations in this regard.
I thank the Minister for her attendance here today. I imagine it is the first of many engagements she will have with the committee. We look forward to working with her and the departmental officials in the term ahead. I wish her luck in all her future endeavours. That concludes this part of the meeting.