Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

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

Update on Withdrawal Agreement, Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland and Trade and Co-operation Agreement: Minister for Foreign Affairs

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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So it should be, because we are much better off with the protocol than without it. There are many more upsides than downsides to the protocol. All of the political focus has been on the negative, in terms of the number of checks required, the limitations and the chilled meat issue, which became sort of an identity issue of British sausages coming into Northern Ireland. More and more people are starting to look the positives. When you speak to business leaders, they are very clear on two things. First, they think the protocol needs to stay, but we have got to make it work a bit better and, second, they do not want Article 16 triggered because they think that is going to have a knock-on consequence in terms of the trade and co-operation agreement, TCA. The ask that I get from Northern Ireland, apart from some unionist political leaders, but certainly from business leaders, is that the protocol is not perfect, but let us make it work as best we can, and let us start talking about the upside, because there is very significant upside. Northern Ireland has this unique opportunity to access a very large UK single market and also the much larger EU Single Market.

If you ask anyone in the agrifood sector, in particular, and many other manufacturers in Northern Ireland, the protocol for them is very exciting in terms of business opportunity. As Senator McDowell said, there is potentially a pull factor into Northern Ireland in terms of foreign direct investment. If the protocol is stable and predictable, you could access both markets very efficiently from Northern Ireland. You might have some country of origin labelling issues, but if your target market is the EU Single Market and-or the UK as a single market, you have a very attractive opportunity for seamless trade into both, which you do not have south of the Border.