Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Micheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
We all agree the Brexit story is moving fast and furiously. The vote yesterday in the House of Commons brings closer the prospect of a no-deal Brexit scenario. The scale of the rejection of the proposal was significant and weakened, by any objective assessment, the authority of the British Prime Minister and the British Government. I understand that even today's vote on a no-deal Brexit does not necessarily take no deal off of the table, given the formulation of the motion before the UK Parliament and the range of amendments proposed. We have to await the outcome of that parliamentary process in Westminster before we can get a definitive shape of what is to come.
As I said, a no-deal Brexit prospect is closer as a result of yesterday’s vote. The announcement of a tariff regime last evening by the British Government has potentially devastating implications for Irish farming and for primary producers in the beef sector, the dairy sector in terms of cheddar, and for poultry, lamb and pork. The impact would be to devastate the rural Irish economy and sectors of our agricultural industry. The cost to the beef sector alone would be more than €800 million if these tariffs were ultimately to apply. The beef sector has been, and continues to be, in real crisis even before Brexit. Prices are well below the cost of production and many beef farmers are at the end of their tethers before any prospect of these tariffs comes into play. Intervention by the Government has been slow and has not been responsive in trying to alleviate this, even through live exports etc. to get some movement.
This tariff regime would wipe out the beef industry. Many primary producers, the beef and suckler farmers, would go to the wall. On that specific issue, has the Government sought emergency aid for the farming sector? Will the Tánaiste indicate whether a specific request has been made to the European Commission under article 219, on market disturbance, and in the context of the current Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, regulations? Will the Tánaiste also give an absolute commitment that, in the context of Brexit, Ireland will not sign off on any increased beef access from South America into the European Union in the latest Mercosur negotiations? We are in a real crisis now.
More broadly, has the Government any response regarding the British Government’s proposals concerning the North-South Border? I refer to it saying simply people can trade across the Border without any checks. Have there been discussions between the Irish Government and the European Commission on what would happen at the Border, from our perspective, on 29 March in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Does the Tánaiste agree, given all of this, an extension is clearly required for everyone to reflect on Brexit and at least avoid Armageddon?