Thursday, 11 July 2019
Brexit Contingency Action Plan: Statements
I am happy to speak on this matter. As the Tánaiste has made clear, the Brexit contingency action plan has been updated following the agreement by the European Council at its meeting on 10 April last to extend the Article 50 process until 31 October next. The Council made it clear in its conclusions that the withdrawal agreement cannot be opened and the extension cannot be used to start negotiations on the future relationship. The EU is willing to look again at the political declaration on the future relationship if the UK moves on its red lines. It is in this context that I acknowledge and accept the Government's assessment that there is a significant risk of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October or thereafter. Accordingly, preparatory work for a no-deal Brexit should continue as a matter of priority across Departments and agencies. Much more preparatory work should be done in the interregnum.
There is no doubt that the stark reality of what Brexit means is closing in on us quickly. The contingency plan makes clear that a no-deal Brexit will be an unprecedented event that will lead to disruption and have a severe and negative economic impact. It is deeply disturbing to read in the plan that in a no-deal scenario, significant job losses are likely in the most exposed sectors of our economy. It is estimated that of the UK leaves the EU in such circumstances, the number of unemployed people in this country will increase by between 50,000 and 55,000. This is probably a conservative estimate.
The people of Cashel and surrounding areas of County Tipperary are reeling this morning after learning that 50 jobs are to be lost at the relatively new Amneal plant in the town. We thought that this fledgling plant was in its gestation years, and that it would expand up to 300 jobs, but 50 jobs are now being lost, which is a pity. It is a huge shock and trauma for the local people. We understand the sheer devastation associated with the loss of 50, 100 or 200 jobs. I sympathise with the families in Cashel. I hope the State agencies will help to support the company, which intends to retain a skeleton staff. We can see the impact that a small closure can have. This closure is not small for Cashel because 50 families will be affected by the loss of these important and good jobs. This brings home to us the impact that job losses can have.
The possibility of a no-deal Brexit is creating significant fear and uncertainty in the agriculture sector, which is having to contend with the inevitable disaster that the Mercosur deal will bring about across the beef trade. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, must know that this is the case. The contingency action plan puts all of this in real terms by stating that the agrifood and fisheries sector is our largest indigenous industry, contributing 7.7 % of Ireland's gross national income and acting as a primary driver of the rural economy.
A no-deal scenario would not protect the peace in Northern Ireland. We all agree that there is a need to work hard to avoid such an outcome. The Rural Independent Group will do its utmost to this end. We will put our shoulder to the wheel. This is a surreal scenario. Nothing is certain. It seems that nothing can be offered to assure us that we will be able to emerge from this process without the infliction of significant and ever-increasing damage on our people, our economy and our country.
Some of the much-dreaded outcomes are already here. We all received an email from the Freight Transport Association recently. When I referred to the email in this Chamber on the Order of Business, with the permission of the Chair, I could not believe the reply I received from the Taoiseach. I thought I was back in national school when I heard the leader of our country say we will have to get smaller trucks. I know the Tánaiste and the Minister of State are distracted as they talk to each other. I ask them to think about the logic of the statement made to me by the Prime Minister of our country to the effect that the freight industry might have to get smaller lorries. I am grateful that our negotiating team is headed by the Tánaiste and not the Taoiseach. I agree that the Tánaiste is a safe pair of hands. I support him and ask him to keep the Taoiseach at home. Maybe the Taoiseach should be sent on holidays to some island - perhaps Bull Island - and not be let out.