Thursday, 17 December 2020
Brexit Readiness for the End of the Transition Period: Statements
I want to address some elements of Brexit but I want to first raise with the Minister an issue that was brought to my attention early this morning. It relates to an apparent rush in deportations under the Dublin III Regulation. This is being done despite an assurance given by the Taoiseach that save for in the instance of national security, there will not be deportations during the course of this pandemic.
I refer the Minister to the words of Dr. Lucy Michael, an expert in integration, diversity and equality. She asks:
Why are the Irish Government speeding up deportations under Dublin III arrangements now? Is this part of their Brexit readiness plan? Deporting to Britain won't be possible after December 30th but here is the thing, the deportees will lose all of their EU rights and protections. If these deportees are transferred to Britain and it transpires that this was done in error, the power under article 29(3) of the Dublin III regulations may no longer be enforceable after December 31st, 2020.
This goes directly contrary to assurances given in this House by the Taoiseach. I ask that the Minister please put this on the record and, if he can, come back to me. Is this being done as part of Brexit? I genuinely cannot see what else is pushing this. I am a member of a group called Fingal Communities Against Racism. We have been communicating with each other all day and have all concluded that this is being done as some sort of Brexit preparedness. That is extremely worrying.
If any of these deportations go ahead and there is an error, the person who was subsequently deported to Britain may find himself or herself in the situation where he or she does not have the protections of European human rights infrastructure, but also in a scenario whereby the Dublin III articles cannot be used to transfer that person back. I am not suggesting that mistakes are made all of the time but the Minister and I both know mistakes happen. I ask the Minister to please intervene. I have already raised this directly with the Tánaiste. I raised it with the Minister of State in the Department of Justice and I am raising it now with the Minister. It seems like there is a rush on at the moment. Is it related to Brexit? No matter what is pushing it, that should not be happening because it goes directly contrary to an assurance given by the Taoiseach here on 9 December. I ask the Minister, if he can, to respond to me and if not, can he please come back to me and, perhaps, give us those assurances?
I want to deal with issues around Brexit as well. As I said, I took the opportunity to raise that issue because it came up this morning. I want to thank the European negotiating team and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for his work in trying to get this deal over the line. The conduct of some of our near neighbours, from their disinterest in and disdain for the people of the North of Ireland and threats to use food shortages as a bargaining chip to starve the Irish people and the Government into dropping the backstop, to the passing of the Internal Markets Bill and their most recent threats to deploy gunboats to the Irish Sea, are just a small taste of the difficulties Mr. Michel Barnier and his team have had to face over the past number of months.
In the face of such arrogance, ignorance, aggression and deception, Mr. Barnier has risen above this and gotten on with the task of getting the best possible deal, not just for us, but also for the European Union. I hope this can still be achieved and, in particular, that the people of the North of Ireland are protected to the fullest extent possible. I also want to see the fullest extent of protections for small to medium-sized businesses on our island and that a genuinely workable relationship can emerge in the shape of the trade deal that is agreed. That said, there is a distinct possibility that we could be facing a no-deal Brexit. This would be a terrible failure and, as such, the blame for this will be laid squarely at the door of the British Government.
We have two weeks to go before the end of the transition and there are still questions around preparedness. In this regard, I must echo Chartered Accountants Ireland when it says that regardless of what happens, come 1 January, Brexit will lead to additional barriers to trade and cross-border mobility of services and people.
As the European Commission said, there will be broad and far-reaching consequences for public administrations, businesses and citizens as of 1 January 2021, regardless of the outcome of negotiations. These changes are unavoidable and stakeholders must make sure they are ready for them. It is vital that we use the remaining days, through every medium and mechanism available, to inform businesses what Friday, 1 January 2021 will actually mean for them.
There are hundreds of sectoral guidance notices from the European Commission and our own Government. These need to be read and understood, not just by businesses but also by politicians. It is vital those who are trading in goods become familiar with areas such as importer-exporter obligations, rules of origin, VAT and excise duty, certificates, authorisations, markings and labelling. Those trading services should be au fait with any changes regarding financial services, aviation, road transport operators, professional qualifications and personal data.
As one businessperson said to me recently, people are Brexit-fatigued. Now is the wrong time to give into Brexit fatigue, however. Now is the wrong time to take our eye off the ball. I wish the best to Mr. Barnier and his negotiating team and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and the people in their Department. I thank the Minister for the work he and Michel Barnier have done to date. We know the scale of the job that confronts the Minister. As has been the hallmark of this debate from day one, there is cross-party co-operation and unity in this regard.