Thursday, 13 April 2017
7. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if, in view of the particular challenges that will arise for areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan due to Brexit, consideration will be give to the provision of additional capital funding for projects in the Border region in the review of the capital programme and in the preparation of the next capital programme post-2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18353/17]
8. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to review the capital programme with a view to increasing investment in infrastructure, such as the road network, in the Border region due to particular challenges that will arise due to Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18354/17]
The Minister may recall that last Autumn, at a meeting of the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I outlined to him the absolute need in the review of the capital plan to take particular cognisance of the needs of the Border region as we face Brexit. There has been for historical reasons an underinvestment in infrastructure, particularly the road network, over the years in the central Border area. If we are to maintain employment and hopefully be able to grow employment, we need to ensure that out indigenous industries - by and large, our industry is indigenous - can remain as competitive as possible and maintain jobs.
I thank Deputy Smith for raising this matter. I remember very clearly the way in which he raised it at the Good Friday Agreement implementation committee where we had a discussion on it. Regarding our present position, in the capital plan, which Deputy Martin raised with me just a moment ago, we have laid out very clearly that a factor in decisions we will make is the effect that Brexit will have on our country and, within all that, what the regional consequences of Brexit will be. I am well aware of the issues to which the Deputy has referred. I am well aware that the communities to which he refers will feel the brunt of any disruption that may occur as a result of Brexit.
In the capital investment choices we will make in the coming years I am determined to do what I can to offer support through capital investment and other funding choices to ensure the issues to which the Deputy refers are addressed.
The situation will be very challenging and demanding. The issues relating to the nature of a border and the need to make sure we do not return to a hard border have been well recognised in the various texts that have been issued by the European Council, the European Parliament and Prime Minister May, all of which is being driven by the Government's recognition of the scale of the challenge the country faces, in particular the Border counties and communities.
I thank the Minister for his reply, which again reflects the debate we had at the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome the fact that the Minister will have an additional €2.65 billion available for capital expenditure following the review of the current plan, which ends in 2021. I hope a clear message will go from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to the line Departments that the needs of the Border region must be reprioritised. The Minister is well aware from his colleagues, listening to debates in this House, and engagement both North and South of the Border, that there is significant fear in the Border region due to the uncertainty affecting business there. We must be able to send out the message that the Government will act, and that within the competences available to it, it will make decisions and prioritise the needs of the Border region.
We are one of 27 member states negotiating with the British side on the terms of the EU-British agreement following Brexit. There are decisions the Government alone will make. The Minister and his colleagues in government will make the decisions on where capital expenditure goes. For historical reasons, due to the Troubles that maimed our country for so long, there was not investment in our area. Thankfully, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 there has been a remarkable transformation but we are still some way behind in terms of the infrastructure we need.
I again welcome the fact the Minister will have additional money available to him. I accept he faces huge challenges and plenty of demands but it is important to send a good message to the Border region, both North and South, about a reprioritisation of the capital funds that are available to him for the current plan and also in planning for post-2021.
It is a recognition of that fact and the points the Deputy has raised that drove my Department to move to deal with the maintenance of PEACE and INTERREG funding on the day following the Brexit referendum. I have discussed that with the Deputy previously. We know that funding plays a vital role in supporting projects in his community, and on both sides of the Border, that have contributed to the economic progress to which he refers, and also the social and political stability, especially in the North. We moved to address that. As the Deputy is aware, funding is now in place up to 2020. I recall that Deputy Brendan Smith made the point to me that 2020 can come very quickly. We are already working with other countries that participate in the INTERREG and PEACE funding and I will respond to a question on the issue later this afternoon. We are beginning to work to get a replacement for those funding streams. Deputy Smith recognised the competing demands on me. I will do what I can with the resources available to me to give a very high level of priority to the regional dimension of the consequences of Brexit because I well understand the issue the Deputy raised.
I thank the Minister. As he is aware, unfortunately, we do not have a rail network in the south of Ulster. Our industry is predominantly indigenous and composed of agrifood and construction products. Those sectors of the economy are more dependent on the sterling export area than any other sector in this country. The Border region is more heavily dependent on indigenous industry, which is also more heavily dependent on the sterling area for the export of products. In order to assist enterprises in agrifood, construction and other sectors that have built up good businesses through very difficult times we must try to ensure that we assist those companies to remain competitive. The fluctuation in sterling, Brexit, tariffs and border controls will add to the costs for companies and in order to assist them to maintain their current employment levels, which they built up in very difficult circumstances, the Government must give a clear message by investing in particular projects in the entire Border region. The area I am concerned about is the counties of Cavan and Monaghan. I bring to the attention of the Minister that the road network there needs upgrading.
I take the Deputy’s point. I am aware that the level of support that is needed is multifaceted. Deputy Smith referred to the impact of currency change. We know that is already having an impact on the competitiveness of Irish exports, in particular in the food sector. My view is that the bigger impact to be faced will be the nature of the negotiations that will take place on the trading relationship with the UK when it is no longer a member of the Single Market. It is only as those discussions take shape that it will be clear to us what kind of intervention we need to put in place, if any, but I believe support will be needed for Irish companies that seek to sell goods, in particular food, into the UK.
In response to the Deputy's point about roads, I have done my best to recognise the point by stating that in the criteria we have laid out for deciding where resources will go, we make specific reference to the regional consequences of Brexit. While I accept there are so many demands on the money and Deputy after Deputy raises different points each day – I do not refer to Deputy Brendan Smith – about where the funding should go – we have to try to make the wisest choices we can, which I will do my best to do, and I look forward to the support of the Deputy in doing that, if he can give it.