Thursday, 11 July 2019
Brexit Contingency Action Plan: Statements
I am sticking to the agenda. All Deputies, including the Acting Chairman, were contacted recently by the Freight Transport Association. Its correspondence made it clear that the failure of the UK Government to get its withdrawal Bill through the House of Commons will have significant ramifications across the Irish Sea. The general manager of the association, Mr. Aidan Flynn, has explained that the future economic success of this nation rests on Ireland being able to reinforce its supply chain and reassure businesses on both sides of the Border that trade can continue uninterrupted. He has made it clear that Irish businesses cannot wait any longer and referred to the need to ensure this country's trading relationships do not come under threat while new arrangements are bedded in.
Mr. Flynn has argued that the Tánaiste, who is leading Brexit engagement, must meet stakeholders in the logistics industry as a matter of urgency. He has pointed out that, despite many requests from the association, this has not happened in the past two years. Is this true? Has the Tánaiste met representatives of the freight industry? Mr. Flynn said that no such meeting has taken place in the past couple of years. What kind of planning, preplanning and logistical arrangements are being put in place? We cannot focus entirely on negotiations in Brussels and Northern Ireland. We must think about the stakeholders who transport our vital goods. The Taoiseach has said they should get smaller trucks because of carbon tax. It was a childish, pedantic, silly and downright stupid thing to say. I ask the Tánaiste to tell the House whether he has met representatives of the Freight Transport Association. It has been suggested that despite many requests from the association, such a meeting has not happened in the past two years. How many times has the Tánaiste met personnel from the association? When did he last meet them? Are there any engagements lined up at which he will meet them? This is basic stuff. The freight industry is the most important link in the export chain. These people get all our products to the boats and elsewhere. I salute the drivers and everybody else involved in the industry.
I stress that Deputies on this side of the House will co-operate with the Government when there is a genuine need to be constructive. I mean it when I say we want to be constructive. As a small business man, I understand the importance of forward planning. If the Government does not intend to engage with the major stakeholders in this area, it is very scary. More needs to be done along the lines of the Brexit scorecard issued by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Such measures will allow us to mitigate as far as possible some of the immediate effects of a disruptive exit of the UK from the EU. The Department has made clear that despite the uncertainty, Irish companies can, and should, take immediate action to mitigate the potential risks and position themselves to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. That is why it would be so alarming if the Tánaiste has not met representatives of the freight transport organisations, as they have alleged. I cannot believe that he has not engaged with them for two years. They are the most important link in the chain, apart from the ferries and boats that carry the produce. They bring the produce to the roll-on roll-off facilities.
I have seen reports of hurried Cabinet memorandums to the effect that loading and parking areas at our ports need to be extended. That is not much good at this stage. It is like closing the door after the horse has gone up the yard. It is very scary. The actions that are needed to increase the resilience of businesses make practical business sense, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. We must take such actions. Those involved in business must be supported because they are very worried. There has been a great deal of talk about the €50 million and the €50 million that is going to be put on top of it. When will this €100 million from the EU be rolled out? We cannot keep talking about these things. It is like the €50 million for the beef sector and the €50 million that is being put on top of it. Where are the application forms? Where is the process? When is it going to happen?
There are profoundly challenging times ahead. We must work together to navigate these historic times if we are to ensure our communities and our businesses survive without catastrophic damage. I mean it when I offer the Government the support of the Rural Independent Group in this regard. I am disappointed that the briefing that was offered the other day did not work out because of delays in the Dáil. I spoke to the Tánaiste about it last night. We are still available to meet and engage so that we are on the same page as the Government. The Rural Independent Group has significant concerns. Why would we not have such concerns, given that we represent rural constituencies? Part of the constituencies represented by the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, are rural as well. I will leave it at that because I know the Chair is under time pressure.