Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Post-European Council: Statements
It shows a Government which is simply incapable of accepting legitimate concerns.
The Taoiseach needs to wake up and realise that his normal way of carrying out political business is not good enough as we stand 100 days away from an enormous threat for which our country is not prepared. He said there are 45 legislative measures required in the next 100 days in the event of a hard Brexit. Some will be secondary legislation which will require scrutiny by an Oireachtas committee. Some will be detailed primary legislation which will have to pass at a speed faster than anything comparable for many years, yet the Taoiseach thinks it is good enough to tell Members to go along to a general forum while offering no detailed briefings until the week the Dáil returns.
These are not the actions of a Government which is confident that its preparations should be open to genuine scrutiny. This is a minority Government. The Taoiseach has been given a security to hold office during this period which no other Government in Europe has received. It is time to stop the messing. The Government needs to put aside this dismissive attitude towards basic parliamentary scrutiny. There is a rock solid, constructive majority for managing Brexit in this House. The Taoiseach, however, has to show some commitment to working with us.
We expect to receive detailed briefing papers on the legislative measures which the Taoiseach believes may need to be passed in the next 100 days. The Government needs to provide a timetable for this legislation and allow us to start preparing the accelerated scrutiny which will be required. In addition, we expect the Taoiseach to publish an update of budget projections in the event of a no-deal Brexit to at least inform the House of scenarios which might have to be addressed during 2019.
I am not talking about business as usual but about the budget implications of a no-deal Brexit. Surely that work has been undertaken in the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance. Given that the Estimates will be before committees, the very least the Ministers can do is include the proposed contingency funding in their presentation of the Estimates. If, as we have been told, there are detailed plans prepared for which facilities need to be built and which staff need to be hired, the details must be presented to the relevant Oireachtas committees. Only yesterday Deputy Lisa Chambers asked whether planning permission had been received for port extensions and facilities at Rosslare Europort and Dublin Port, as well as Dublin Airport, and whether costings, etc. had been made. All she received was a reply that the Office of Public Works was in detailed discussions with Departments and that it would be premature to disclose the results. Why is it premature to disclose whether the work has advanced at ports and airports? That is in the context of any type of Brexit, not just a hard Brexit.
This is a parliamentary democracy and the Taoiseach's delay in providing information will not give him the right to try to force through in hours legislation for which he has had two years to prepare. It is true that the European Union only finalised some no-deal guidance this week, but most guidelines have been available for some time, while we have been told repeatedly this year that preparations for specific actions such as increased supervision at ports are under way. There is no excuse for refusing to provide information before now. My party has repeatedly pointed to the Government's own statistics for the numbers of businesses which are not Brexit-ready and which are threatened by sterling devaluation and disruption to supply chains. The Taoiseach accepted that the target should be to have all companies Brexit-ready. For this to happen, we need a dramatic step change in activity immediately.
A defining characteristic of the Government has been a chronic and growing delivery deficit. Major plans are launched and advertised regularly, but on the ground delivery has been appalling. Only this week we have learned that the development plan which has been the main focus of the Government's advertising this year has a massive hole in it owing to overruns on projects which have not even begun. The gap between promises on housing and delivery has caused real hardship. We cannot afford for this to happen on Brexit. We need much more openness and much less of a refusal to open plans to basic scrutiny. We will entertain any reasonable proposal for reordering business in the coming months to enact vital Brexit legislation. We will support the provision of additional funding for key public services and businesses under pressure. We have already given the Government a guarantee which it initially dismissed as not needed, that it can focus on tackling Brexit, rather than continuing its much hyped election preparations. What we will not do is accept the continued refusal to give this parliament even basic information on actions that may be needed in the next 100 days.
For the majority parties, the wider public and the media, there has been a reasonable agenda so far of "wearing the green jersey". The focus of criticism has been on the shambles in London. This has been so much the case that the Government has over-reacted to even the mildest questioning. This agenda of putting the country first will continue for us and parties here with a real, rather than a tactical, commitment to our place in Europe. However, we have a right and a duty to demand that the Government respond with more than platform speeches and unchallenged statements. If the Taoiseach genuinely believes it needs to be a national effort, he should start acting like it and engaging with the majority in this House in meaningful and detailed discussions on steps to manage the immediate threat of Brexit. I again repeat that we will support any reasonable proposal agreed to by the European Council that will allow a no-deal Brexit to be avoided next year. I stated very clearly to the Prime Ministers who attended last week’s meeting of the ALDE group that the Irish Government had a secure parliamentary mandate on Brexit.
As a final point on Brexit, it must again be said how the absence of the Northern institutions continues to undermine the ability of the people of Northern Ireland to have their voices heard. In the past week a succession of Sinn Féin representatives have been sent out to attack me and my party for saying this. They have gone as far as implying that theirs is the only party in Dáil Éireann entitled to comment on the lack of a working Assembly or Executive. I remember no such strategy on their part in the past when they were calling on me and other Fianna Fáil members of a Government to help to get the institutions established and re-established and they certainly never rejected our right to comment when we succeeded in getting the Democratic Unionist Party to share power with them or secured the devolution of policing.