Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I would like to spare a moment to think of those who are no longer with us, including those who passed away in the year gone by and those who have retired. We are thinking of them today. I hope that everybody over the break will have the opportunity to spend time with families, friends and those who are dear to them. Perhaps Members will rediscover their constituencies, and I look forward to doing that myself. A new year always brings new challenges and I look forward to being back here in January. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas.
It is reasonable to say - it is an absolutely correct statement - that Brexit is a major threat for Ireland. It is a potential major threat to our economy and our rights and freedoms as citizens. It could of course have major implications for peace and security on our island. Preparing for Brexit is a work in progress; it is a work in progress this week and it will still be a work in progress in January. It is appropriate to allow the European Commission to produce its notices today, as it will, and anything we do must follow what is done by the European Commission and European law. Later today the European Commission will publish a series of notices regarding plans for a no-deal scenario and this evening the Cabinet will be given a copy of a document on our plans, essentially, following from that.
Tomorrow there will be a briefing with Brexit stakeholders and Opposition parties. I have briefly spoken with the Tánaiste and we have no difficulty organising this in any way people feel appropriate. We can deal with spokespersons first and stakeholders second or whatever people feel is appropriate. It has been the case all the way through that briefings have been available to spokespersons whenever they have asked for them. That will not change now. Further information will be produced in mid January. We should bear in mind that Commission seminars continue all the way through January and further information will be provided as this is a work in progress.
Our major and overriding objective is to ensure we do not end up with a no-deal scenario. That is why we are continuing to work with European partners to secure the ratification of the withdrawal agreement both by the European Parliament and by Westminster. I understand a vote will happen in Westminster in perhaps the second or third week of January. This is a work in progress and a dynamic matter. We are very happy to update spokespersons tomorrow and we will update the stakeholder group as we always do. As I have stated, the Commission documents will be out today and we will have a document this evening. We propose to publish it tomorrow and we are of course happy to share it with spokespersons and the stakeholders' group in the morning.
The Deputy asked about the budget and it stands. The budget was written with Brexit in mind and it was written to be Brexit-proofed. We do not have the final or end-of-year figures yet for this year but it may well turn out that we will record a budget surplus this year, which is ahead of schedule.
That will have the knock-on effect of having a slightly larger surplus next year that we projected on budget day. The budget is, therefore, balanced and, in fact, it might be better than that. It could be in surplus. We have established the rainy day fund and provided in the budget for a 25% increase in spending on infrastructure, including transport, energy and housing, all those areas where it is so important we make sure we are Brexit-proof. It is not intended that we would need to revisit the budget or introduce a mini-budget or anything like that in 2019.