Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions
4. To ask the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department and the positions they hold specifically dealing with implementing the Government's approach to Ireland and the negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. [24362/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.
I have restructured my Department to ensure that Brexit is treated as a crucial cross-cutting issue by creating an amalgamated international, EU and Northern Ireland division under a second Secretary General who also acts as the Government's Sherpa for EU business, including Brexit. The work of this division includes supporting the Cabinet committee on Brexit and the Cabinet committee on European affairs. There are 32 staff assigned to this division.
The international, EU and Northern Ireland division comprises three sections.
The international section advises me on international policy and supports me in my international engagements with a particular focus on driving economic growth, trade, investment and job creation, as well as protecting and strengthening Ireland’s strategic relationships, interests and reputation overseas. The EU section supports me in my role as a member of the European Council and provides a coherent, whole-of-Government strategic direction on priority EU policies, including on Brexit. The Britain and Northern Ireland affairs section supports my work and the work of the Government in helping to maintain peace and to develop new relationships on the island of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland. This section supports me and the Government in ensuring there is a whole-of-Government response to the UK’s decision to leave the EU and the implications of that decision for Northern Ireland and the British-Irish relationship. Staff in other divisions also contribute to the work on Brexit. For example, the economic policy division advises me on economic policy aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth, with a particular focus on jobs and competitiveness, including possible economic impacts of Brexit.
I have three special advisers, including my chief of staff. The Government Chief Whip has two special advisers. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, the EU digital single market and data protection has one special adviser, whose salary is paid by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Minister of State with responsibility for defence has two special advisers, both of whom are paid by the Department of Defence. The Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora has no special adviser. Although they are not special advisers, the chief strategist for the Independent Alliance and the political co-ordinator for Independent Ministers are also based in my Department.
It seems from the references in the Taoiseach's response to the work of various sections that everybody is in charge. This leads me to wonder who is actually in charge. I do not doubt that the Taoiseach will have the seen the reports that a senior, although not very well informed, CDU spokesperson has said he cannot see how a hard Border can be avoided. His argument is that the achievement of a soft Border will not be conceivable unless the four freedoms are recognised. As the Taoiseach knows, the UK Government has already ruled out membership of the Single Market and the customs union. It has not made a commitment to the free movement of people. It is apparent that the four freedoms will not even be discussed, let alone delivered.
There is an avalanche of evidence that we need to step up our work on the specifics of what exactly we are looking for and how it might work in practice. We have to be prepared for the negotiations with the UK and the EU and for the major staffing implications of Brexit. An audit of the staffing implications of the negotiations and the ongoing management of our relationship with the UK was promised some time ago. Where is this audit? Deputy Donnelly has done some very good work in this regard recently. Yesterday, he highlighted that Enterprise Ireland has filled just 12 of the 39 additional posts it was sanctioned. Ten additional posts were sanctioned for IDA Ireland, but just one of those positions has been filled. Science Foundation Ireland and the Health and Safety Authority both received sanction for two extra posts, but none of those positions has been filled. There is no sense of people looking forward to the negotiations and, beyond the negotiations, to the future strategic direction of this country. There needs to be an assessment of where we need to deploy our strengths, our staff and our supports.
I suggest there are inherent dangers in the approach that has been taken so far. It is somewhat similar to the approach that was taken before last year's referendum in the UK, when there seemed to be a hope that everything will be all right on the night. I believe people in Irish officialdom did not anticipate that the Brexit referendum would have a negative result and that people would vote to leave. I think most of them believed that everything would work out and the "Remain" side would win. I think there was a lack of preparation in advance of the Brexit vote and in the early days following the referendum. I acknowledge that there has been a great deal of activity since then. It seems from the Taoiseach's reply that we have yet to get our act together from a structural or staffing perspective in terms of our diplomatic postings, market diversification, Enterprise Ireland and foreign direct investment. The Taoiseach might indicate the status of the audit he promised.
According to a report in this morning's The Irish Times, a close ally of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has dismissed as "illusory" Prime Minister Theresa May's claim that there will be no hard Border. His comments could equally apply to the stance of the Irish Government. Dr. Pfeiffer has raised doubts about the guarantee given by EU leaders last month that following Brexit, the North could rejoin the EU as part of a united Ireland. Has the Taoiseach read this report? Dr. Pfeiffer's comments draw attention again to the Taoiseach's insistence that the North must leave the EU as part of the Brexit negotiations. This is a deeply flawed strategy. The British are locked in a course of action that threatens the Good Friday Agreement. All of this could be prevented if the North were to be designated as having special status within the EU. This suggestion has been rejected by the Taoiseach even though he constantly tells us how special the North is and how he hopes Mrs. May will agree some mitigating measures in the Brexit negotiations. This is gambling with the future of citizens in the North and along the Border corridor in the North and the South.
While I wish the Taoiseach well personally for the future, I believe his approach to Brexit has been gravely mistaken. It is lacking in vision. The British Government has recruited hundreds of additional staff to cope with the Brexit negotiations. The EU has also allocated significant staffing and other resources to the negotiations. Is the Taoiseach concerned that the Government has failed to recruit the relatively small number of additional staff that it said would be required by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland? Will he confirm the staff numbers required by the two agencies? When will those posts will be sanctioned?
I take it that all three questions are being followed up together. When we took the previous group of questions, the Taoiseach was allowed to respond separately to each Deputy's supplementary questions.
I take a different view from that of my Sinn Féin colleague. I commend the Taoiseach on the work he has done on Brexit. We all have views on what could have been done differently. I believe we will miss the extraordinary level of experience and, more importantly, real personal contact at the highest levels of government across the EU that the Taoiseach has brought to this State's negotiating capacity and its influence. The Taoiseach might have a view on that. Does he see any role for himself when he stands down as Taoiseach? Maybe that will be a matter for his successor. Having worked for several years with most of those who will be the key decision-makers as the negotiations unfold, the Taoiseach has a capacity to know their thinking. What role does he see for himself in that regard? I presume he will make himself available in the interests of the State to hold onto those contacts. Perhaps this will be as an ambassador who brokers deals and talks to people to make sure the Irish point of view is heard, if not as a Minister with Brexit responsibility.
Like others, I have been listening in great detail to some of the rhetoric and all of the discussion during the current UK election campaign. I find it very worrying. There is an extraordinary lack of detail on any level about how this is going to unfold. There is an extraordinary confidence that somehow it is going to work out right. This is in the absence of any knowledge of what the endgame - the desirable conclusion - should be. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been repeating the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal. Bluntly, no deal would be a catastrophe for this country and for her country. We need to ensure our views and analyses continue to be heard strongly within the UK and EU negotiating teams.
I can supply Deputy Martin with the audit he mentioned. I will forward him the numbers we have in terms of the appointments of diplomats and other staff who are working in different places. The Deputy made the point previously that it may become necessary to recruit or appoint people with particular experience, for instance, in trade and in the complex issues involved in that area. There is a willingness that when that becomes necessary, we can and will do that. When the issue was raised about Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, as I said, they look for particular types of people, but these negotiations have not started. Deputy Howlin is right on this. We still have a great deal of information to get from those with whom we will negotiate.
Deputy Howlin made the point about knowing the thinking of people at a European level. From his experience and from that of Deputy Martin as a former Minister, it is about the building of relationships that last over a long period.
At the end of the day, this Brexit business will have to be decided by the European Council and every country represented on it has a veto. If issues arise that are not acceptable, as I have no doubt they will-----
Yes, but if somebody at the European Council will not accept the outcome of the deal, we will have a real problem.
Deputy Howling made a point about knowing the thinking of other European colleagues, and it takes time to build those relationships, but, as he is aware, it comes down to the European Council's decision, it is the Heads of Government who will make the ultimate decision. I take the Deputy's comments in the spirit that he made them.
The presentation of our priorities, as we see them, without having all of the information in so far as what the British Government's thinking is on this, have been reflected in the Commission, Parliament and Council. However, as the Deputy pointed out, in terms of having as close as possible a working relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which is what we have now as a member of the European Union, that will be changed by virtue of the fact that the Single Market will be gone and the trading status will be changed. Therefore, when we go around that loop and come back to where we started we will be in a different position. Even if no tariffs will apply in terms of trade, we will still have two different jurisdictions and the complications that would involve are obvious. An Open Skies arrangement will have to be drawn up between the European Union and the United Kingdom, otherwise, aircraft will not be able cannot take off from here and land in London and go on to collect other passengers. That is an issue that needs to be dealt with and it is being worked upon now. We cannot wait for divorce to be concluded to do that.
The three issues identified by Michael Barnier here and agreed by Europe are the border, modalities and liabilities in terms of what the bill might be and the question of citizen's rights and reciprocal rights. All these matters, as was rightly said, were never put to the people in a way that they would have had a real discussion about understanding them. That is why our common travel area, which has been in place for 90 years covering travel, residence and the right to work and to draw social benefits, is a bilateral arrangement between Ireland and the UK and it is different with respect to rights of the Polish people or Lithuanians or Latvians who live in Great Britain. The European position is that if we want to have a parallel discussion begun, where we get into the meat of trade, we will have to make substantial progress in respect of the first three issues. I hear comments from some people across the water to the effect that progress will not be made on this, which clearly will lead to other complications.
I take the Deputy's point. A no deal situation would be catastrophic for Ireland in, for example, the beef and agrifood sectors. Deputy Nolan spoke about the Brexit position. We did not cause this, we were not responsible for it and we did not want it but we have to deal with it. In respecting the vote of the British electorate, clearly, the issues that are priority have been set out for us.
Dr. Pfeiffer is perfectly entitled to his opinion but this is decided at the European Council from a European point of view. One can have all the opinions, all the ideas and all the propositions one wants but at the end of the day, political leaders have to make decisions and the choices sometimes are not very palatable. That is why we were happy to get unanimous support from all the other 26 member states to say that Ireland's priorities are understood and Ireland's unique position is understood. We should remember that Brexit does not interfere with the Good Friday Agreement and we will not let it interfere with it. The Agreement was signed 19 years before Brexit ever became a reality.
Thank you. In recognising the visionaries of the Good Friday Agreement, we have had support from Europe, in that, if the Agreement is ever implemented in full, that is, with a vote for consent by the democratic decision of people to join the Republic, the entire Island would be recognised as an entity of the European Union in full without having to reapply for membership.