Thursday, 13 April 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the measures his Department is putting in place in response to and in anticipation of the challenges posed by Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19113/17]
I rise today with a sense of significant concern deepening throughout the country about the efforts of the Government to achieve a soft landing and the best we can out of Brexit and, indeed, the devastating impact a future Border would have on the nation.
Brexit issues in my Department are co-ordinated centrally by the Department's Brexit/EU/North-South unit. The unit oversees Brexit work across the Department and acts as the contact point with the Department of the Taoiseach and other Departments. It is represented on the interdepartmental group on Brexit and related groups, and supports me in my work as a member of the Cabinet Committee on Brexit. Brexit issues are also addressed by staff in relevant areas across the Department.
Clearly, Brexit will pose significant challenges right across the economy. The Government is committed to addressing these challenges, to mitigating the impacts and to maximising the available opportunities.
In the short term, the Minister for Finance and I were able to deliver a budget for 2017 setting out our approach to Brexit and to building a national response. For the third year in succession, it has been possible to increase resources for public services and infrastructure. Expenditure for this year will be €58.1 billion, an increase of 3% on a year ago. Resources have been allocated towards areas that may be significantly impacted by Brexit, in particular, enterprises dealing with the impact of Brexit and our regional and rural communities.
In the longer term, the design of this year's spending review reflects the changed economic and fiscal context, including Brexit. Of course, while moderate and sustainable expenditure growth is planned over the medium term, increasing and competing public service demands will make the management of this expenditure challenging.
The capital plan sets out a €42 billion framework to meet our needs. We have a review of the plan under way at present that we aim to conclude in the second half of the year.
My Department is also responsible for EU funding programmes, such as INTERREG and PEACE. We have made progress on finalising their deployment up to 2020 and aim to deliver successor models for the period after that through our negotiation with the European Union.
Certainly, it is fine that expenditure has been increased by 3%, but have we the right personnel in these Departments with the experience - although it is difficult to have experience of this - with the vision, with the stamina and with the capacity for robust engagement with our European colleagues? Today, reports from the head of Dairygold suggest that, unless the EU plans to combat customs tariffs at the Border, rural Ireland will be devastated. We make similar statements about post offices and in many areas, and it is so, but this will be a further blow. A hard Border at the North crossing points cannot happen.
The European banking sector is in deep need of reform. That has not happened. Is the ECB still clinging onto the old model that has failed? I am concerned that we may not have the right personnel with the vision and the enthusiasm to fight hard enough to ensure that we are not severely affected.
We have the right personnel and the right vision in relation to this. To back up that assertion, I point to the fact that our national interest in the Border in relation to the movement of people has now been recognised in the draft negotiation mandate that has been provided by the European Council and has also been recognised in a mandate that was drafted by the European Parliament. Not only the needs, in particular, of Border communities who the Deputy referred to, but the broader imperative of ensuring we do not return to a hard Border are recognised and laid out in each of those mandates. The negotiation letter that was issued from the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, also made reference to these issues and the value of the relationship with Ireland. That did not happen by magic. It happened by persistent and hard work from the individuals whom the Deputy is understandably raising with me here today. We have much work to do - we have years of effort in relation to this - but those interests have been clearly recognised.
I certainly hope so. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
I represent County Tipperary, a proud but rural county. We have issues right across the sectors, from beef to lamb, pork, corn, mushrooms and many other areas all of which involve exports, and dairy produce as well where Dairygold is concerned, and we have a lot of foreign direct investment as well. We want to protect it for all of the country's sake. I want to see tangible proof that we are stepping up to the plate and that we are engaging robustly with a Europe where we have been the good boys of the class.
We have been an exceptionally proud and engaging member state and now the belief in a many circles - the latest today from Dairygold and other co-ops - is that we are not robust enough in our battle to ensure that we will not be fatally wounded rather than damaged in our export markets, especially on the Border issue. We cannot see a hard Border across the Six Counties at the crossings we are used to, in Aughnacloy, in South Armagh and all the places, such as Pettigo. We must maintain our trade and no barriers. We were delighted to get rid of them because they caused considerable problems, including smuggling.
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and I hope it is.
It is good to hear Deputy Mattie McGrath make reference to the positive role of the European Union and the positive role that it has played, through the Single Market, in providing export markets-----
-----to the companies to which he referred. That Single Market and the support that those companies have received from Irish agencies has been crucial in allowing companies to grow and to the significant development that has taken place in the country over the past 40 to 50 years.
The Deputy makes the point in relation to the Border. I repeat the point I made to him a moment ago. That Border, the risks of the Border, the needs of the common travel area and freedom of movement of people have been recognised in the negotiation mandates that have issued from the European Union. In particular, Mr. Michel Barnier, who will be the lead negotiator on behalf of the Commission and the broader European Union, has stated that he wants these issues in relation to Ireland dealt with in the first module of the negotiations that will be taking.
That is happening because of the work of the Irish Government and our ambassadors. Alongside this, the Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, is leading Government efforts to attract new foreign direct investment to Ireland in sectors such as financial services and put in a bid to host important European agencies here in Ireland, as indeed is the Minister, Deputy Harris.