Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
I ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of planning for all Brexit scenarios, including a no-deal Brexit. We are only a few short weeks away from the Brexit deadline of 29 March and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit remains worryingly high.
I thank the Deputy for the question. As she knows, we both have a lot of work to do in this regard, as has every party in this House in terms of working together to ensure Ireland is as prepared as it can be for a no-deal Brexit should it happen.
Our work across Government has identified key issues arising in each Brexit scenario, including, in particular, a central case scenario and a no-deal scenario. The central case scenario assumes the ratification of the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as a transition period and a future relationship between the EU and the UK based on a free trade agreement.
Since July 2018, the Government has made a number of key decisions on Brexit preparedness including on staffing, ICT and infrastructure at ports and airports. At its meeting on 11 December, the Government agreed that, while work on Brexit preparedness for the central-case scenario should continue, in light of ongoing political uncertainties and the Brexit deadline of 29 March, greater immediate priority must now be given to preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Following this, the Government published its Brexit contingency plan on 19 December 2018, which set out detailed sectoral analyses - 20 different sectors were examined - and approaches to mitigating the impacts of a no-deal Brexit. Ireland's action plan is consistent with, and complementary to, the approach being taken at EU 27 level to prepare for the UK's withdrawal. On 15 January, further discussions at Cabinet took this work forward in the important areas of transport connectivity and medicines, with memos brought to Government by the Ministers, Deputy Ross and Deputy Harris.
A number of the actions identified in a no-deal scenario will still be required even in a central-case scenario but with a longer timeframe for implementation. While ratification of the withdrawal agreement is still the Government's preferred outcome, last week the Government published the general scheme of the proposed primary legislative measures required in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We published the heads of the omnibus Bill, which has 17 parts. We will also introduce 28 secondary statutory instruments to protect Irish citizens at home and in the UK.
We absolutely want to see a deal reached. My party and I have always co-operated to ensure the best outcome for Ireland. We have been critical of the Government's preparedness. With regard to the €300 million Brexit loan scheme, 40% of which was supposed to be ring-fenced for the agrifood sector, just one in five eligible loans for that sector have been approved, a measly €3.8 million or just 1% of the total €300 million.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, still has not published her analysis of the impact of Brexit on reciprocal arrangements and social insurance schemes. Why has it not been published?
We still have no solutions as to how we will cope with delays at Dover.
With regard to the heads of Bill that have been published, why, when other countries such as France and Germany have published legislation, have we only been given the heads of a Bill and not a full Bill? Given we could provide feedback on it, would it not be prudent and in the country's interest to publish the full Bill? While the Tánaiste says preparations have been stepped up, there is evidence to suggest the contrary.
It will be published on 22 February. That has been very clear since we began discussing this issue at the start of January. Let us not try to create problems or crises where they do not exist. We have enough challenges to deal with in Brexit without trying to create new ones. We agreed - I hope, anyway - how the House might co-operate to get emergency legislation through if we need to. That set of legislation is more comprehensive than any other country has been planning for. My understanding is the legislation the French Parliament was considering was to give essentially emergency powers to a Minister to be able to act in an emergency. We have gone way beyond that. We have effectively produced 17 heads of Bill from nine Departments. We will publish a full Bill on 22 February and we will ready to go with a schedule to get it through this House if we need to get it done and put in place.
Let us be very clear, the questions I asked have not been answered. I have never accepted that 22 February is an acceptable date for publication. I have always said to the Tánaiste I felt it was very late in the day and we wanted to see the full Bill. My position has remained unchanged.
In terms of our own preparations, can the Tánaiste clarify the Taoiseach's comments in Davos about Army personnel on the Border? Can the Tánaiste clarify whether anybody spoke to the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces before those comments were made? The questions being asked are reasonable. To suggest there is full agreement on the strategy is not fair or an accurate reflection of what has been said.. We have met regularly but I have always said I felt it was very late in the day to publish a full Bill on 22 February given other member states published their legislation a long time ago. We are the most affected member state.
The Tánaiste has not addressed the criticisms regarding the take-up of Brexit supports, which are low. Just 3% of Enterprise Ireland firms have taken up the Be Prepared grant. According to AIB, in quarter 3 last year, only 5% of SMEs had a Brexit plan. They are fair criticisms and the Tánaiste has not answered the questions. The answers have not been provided.
With regard to the legislation we produced, no other country in the European Union, that I am aware of, has legislation to the level of detail we are proposing. The Deputy might let me know if there is but I am not aware of it.
They have legislation but nothing like what we are proposing. None of them has the common travel area arrangements we are putting in place. The reason we did not sign confirmation of memorandums of understanding and common travel area arrangements in December was we did not want to be seen to be sorting out Irish citizens while we were still negotiating as a collective. The Deputy knows that. We have discussed it.
I appreciate the co-operation of all parties in the House on this issue. It is not party-political. It is not a Government versus Opposition arrangement in terms of some of the emergency stuff we may have to do together. There are clear reasons the earliest we could have published the detail of detailed legislation of the scale we are proposing is 22 February. Most people who have been following this understand that.
With regard to what the Taoiseach said in Davos, which is a fair question, if one listens to the interview, he was asked to describe what a hard border would look like and he described it. It essentially reminded people of what things were like more than two decades ago.