Thursday, 17 December 2020
Brexit Readiness for the End of the Transition Period: Statements
The issue of Brexit readiness is something we are very conscious of throughout the entire country, and particularly so in the Border region. With a lot of product that moves over and back across the Border in the part the world I come from, particularly for small businesses and small food businesses, it is a serious issue and they have great apprehension as to where we will be even if there is a trade deal in place. I am of the view that at some point, if not at the end of this year then at some point in the near future, there will be a deal because it would be absurd for Britain, on the edge of Europe where there is ten times its population, to not have a trade deal with its neighbours but instead to try to trade with places that are in far-flung corners of the earth. It just does not make common sense. Ultimately, it will come to this and common sense will come to bear.
In the meantime, we have a huge level of apprehension, worry and concern, particularly among hauliers and people moving goods over and back and using the land bridge, about the difficulties they have at present. Small haulage companies run on very tight margins. If they have delays, it puts their entire business in jeopardy. We need to be particularly looking at what can be done from a Government perspective to assist in all of this.
I commend the Department and the Minister on all of the work that has gone on over the past number of years, and in particular in recent months, to try to deal with this crisis that continues to unfold in front of us. I do not think that a few years ago, anyone would have expected we would be here, coming up to Christmas, with no arrangement, never mind a pretty serious one, in place. It is a reflection of something very strange in the British Government and the higher echelons of the British establishment that it has brought us and the entire Continent of Europe to this situation at this point.
We are where we are and we need to deal with it and work through it. Readiness on this island for the economies that are particularly dependent on exports to Britain and through Britain is one of the primary factors we have to deal with. There are other factors we also need to deal with and I am sure the Minister is aware of the issues with regard to human rights, Britain's attempt to evade and avoid many of its responsibilities in this regard and what needs to be done to ensure we hold it to account in this respect.
I am sure that Michel Barnier and others will be standing firm on those issues in the negotiations. They certainly need to do so. That is reflected in the Good Friday Agreement and the work that has been done to bring peace to this island, and maintain it, and to bring prosperity and hope for a better future for everyone on these islands. We must continue to put all our efforts into that.
Finding alternative markets for our produce may be a little further down the road from the point of view that we are now days away from finding ourselves in a situation where Britain could be leaving the European Union without a trade deal. Apart from that, a huge amount of Irish food produce, particularly beef and dairy products, is exported to Britain. What will happen if we do not have a deal in place and we find that those products will face a massive tariff, which will have an impact on our small farmers and food industries across the country. That is a crisis we need to find a solution to in the short to medium term. I believe that solution can only come from the fund the European Union is putting in place to work with countries that will be badly impacted by Brexit. More than any other country, Ireland is in the eye of the storm in that respect. I expect that the Minister and his Department will make every possible effort to ensure we get the maximum resources from that fund to protect our farming, food producing and haulage sectors, and all the other sectors that will be very badly affected.
We will also need to see if we can get the infrastructure in place, particularly the ports, to ensure we can continue to export our goods outside of the land bridge and on to Europe in as fast a means as possible. As others have said, until now the market has led that. At some point, the Government will need to step in and insist on ensuring that we put the infrastructure in place, particularly at our ports, and to provide the ferry capacity to take the roll on-roll off traffic that will be needed because there is great concern in the road haulage industry around all of that.
Every effort is being made to deal with this issue and the unity in this House, and of our people, in respect of it is something we can be proud of as a country. It is seen across the continent of Europe that we are working at our absolute best to try to provide for our people and ensure that we can minimise the impact of Brexit. The situation we are in is not of our making but at the same time we are rising to it. I hope that will continue as we move forward.
I commend the Minister, his Department, the people in all aspects of the Government, all the parties and all the people in the Oireachtas who have worked as one to try to ensure that Brexit will not impact our people too badly as we move forward.