Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Recent Developments on Brexit: Statements
I too welcome the passing of the Yvette Cooper amendment this evening, albeit by four votes. I think we will see in a few moments the vote on the Prime Minister's motion. Having said that, while MPs have voted to avoid a no-deal, this does not actually prevent a no-deal from happening.
As I will have an opportunity in the wrap-up to touch on some other issues, I will focus on our own preparedness here at home in the case of a no-deal scenario. Many Deputies have asked the question, "What have we done?" I will first touch on our legislation. With the very constructive support of all Members of this House, we passed all Stages of the omnibus Bill through the Dáil last week. In recent days we have seen it in very quick time pass through the Seanad, which means it is now ready to be signed by the President. The legislation provides continuity in key areas. It protects citizens, supporting our economy, enterprise and jobs in key economic sectors. We are confident the Bill can and will be passed by 29 March if needed.
Regarding the common travel area, part of our preparations and a significant part of the Bill before the House today was to ensure that people will be able to continue to avail of healthcare and related services North, South, east and west, and to live, work and study and do everything else in each other's jurisdictions as we have done before. That work has been done.
We have started to put into place physical infrastructure at our ports and airports. We have 400 additional trained customs staff who will be in place by the end of March. We have the possibility of a further 200 if needed. We have 230 people as part of our sanitary and phytosanitary standards, SPS, checks. We have 61 environmental health staff. We have the numbers there if required by the expected date.
As for business supports and state aid, we have a €300 million Brexit loan scheme fund. Looking at the figures as to how many people have applied for funding so far, we have 462 applications, 413 of which have been deemed eligible, although the figures show that 81 have been progressed to a sanction on finance, accounting for about €17.32 million.
Looking then at the agrifood sector, 99 applicants were eligible, 77 were approved and only 15 have been sanctioned. The reason for this - and the businesses have actually told us this - is that they are naturally reluctant to take on these extra burdens and this financial burden until they are really sure what exactly is happening, which is quite unusual, given the fact that we are 16 days out and we still do not know. Even though they have been approved, businesses are still not taking these supports on board. Nonetheless, they are there and we encourage people to apply and to take on board the supports where they can.
We have the long-term future growth scheme. This will be launched early this year, and already financial institutions have been asked to signal their intent to become lending partners. Enterprise Ireland has provided approval of funding amounting to €74 million to 535 Brexit-exposed companies. Enterprise Ireland has directly intervened with about 1,000 companies. A further 1,000 have engaged in Brexit advisory clinics. We have 4,400 companies that have completed the Brexit SME scorecard and 1,000 that have completed the Enterprise Ireland, EI, online customs insights programme. On top of that, we have provided €8 million extra for Brexit staffing and supports across all enterprises and €1 million in additional funding for InterTradeIreland. A lot of work is being done, as Deputy Heydon has outlined. We have events still ongoing, 11 across five different counties this week. We have had 80 since September alone, so there has been a huge amount more on top of that and many more events are yet to happen. Anyone who has not engaged can visit the website or find out where these events are happening.
Many questions have been raised about our overall supports, particularly from the Commission. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and our Minister, Deputy Humphreys, have been actively engaged with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the European Commission for some time to try to find solutions to support and assist Irish enterprise. We are actively pursuing with the Commission the question of state aid, which many Deputies have raised this evening. The Commission has already given us permission to announce an amendment to the rescue and restructuring scheme, the budget of which went from €20 million to €200 million. As both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach announced today, the Commission has said it is willing and ready to provide additional support and to be flexible when it comes to state aid rules.
In addition, at home, as the Minister for Finance outlined earlier this week, we are putting in place through our agencies and with the support of the Departments, measures to ensure that specific industries and sectors such as the agricultural sector and the tourism industry will have their own financial supports available. Again, however, none of this can take away from the fact that if there is a Brexit, particularly a no deal, it cannot, no matter what we put in place, change the fact that we will not have the status quoand that things will not be the same as they were. A no-deal scenario is a lose-lose for everyone, but everything we are doing is trying to mitigate those measures as much as possible.