Thursday, 14 February 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Finance the status of preparedness for all Brexit scenarios from a customs perspective; the steps being taken by his Department and the agencies under his remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7511/19]
My question relates to Brexit and our preparedness for Brexit for all possible scenarios, particularly from a customs perspective. We had an update from the Minister at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and from the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach within the past three weeks. We are now just six weeks away from a potentially cliff-edge hard Brexit. I am looking for an update to the House on the state of preparedness from a customs perspective.
The continued efficient flow of legitimate trade through Ireland's ports and airports is a key priority for the Government. In this regard, the Revenue Commissioners have undertaken significant preparations to date, with work intensifying in recent months. With resource requirements, the Revenue Commissioners determine that an additional 600 staff will be required to manage the impact of Brexit. Those staff are to be deployed on a phased basis up to the end of December 2020. It is estimated that approximately half the staff will be assigned to import and export trade facilitation activities and half to national divisions that will be engaged in trade facilitation, customs control and oversight activities, including at specific trade or case level. I am advised that Revenue has accelerated and expanded their recruitment and training schedules to meet the 29 March deadline, and will deliver the target of 400 additional staff in place by that point. The balancing complement of additional staff will be recruited during the rest of the year.
During 2018, the Revenue Commissioners chaired an interdepartmental group that was established to consider the adequacy of port and airport infrastructure and facilities post Brexit. The group considered both the central case and no-deal scenarios. Infrastructure requirements were necessary at Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and Dublin Airport. Intensive work is under way to have the infrastructure in place by 29 March and this work is now being led by the Office of Public Works. Significant work has happened to upgrade our IT systems to have advanced systems in place. I am assured by Revenue that their IT systems will have the required capacity to manage the increased transaction levels which are anticipated in a no-deal scenario, and this will be in place by 29 March.
Allied to this work, Revenue have undertaken significant trader engagement by working closely with businesses, trade and representative bodies.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he confirm the number of additional staff Revenue has in place right now? He said that by the end of March, 400 staff are expected to be in place but six weeks out from Brexit can he confirm how many of them are in place? There will be a training requirement taking several weeks.
It remains a major concern that so many SMEs are not prepared for Brexit. The chairman of Revenue told us that they estimate some 70,000 Irish SMEs traded with the UK in 2017. We have had survey after survey telling us that many of them, regrettably, have not taken significant steps to prepare for what could be an enormous challenge. Perhaps the Minister could address that point in his response. Will he acknowledge that much of the work with regard to our ports is not significantly advanced, that they are not going to be ready and that this will be the reality as of the end of March?
On the first of the Deputy's three points, I do not have the information available on how many staff have been recruited. I will be able to get that information quickly and I will share it with him.
The second question was on engagement with traders. It is fair to say that many businesses still have a lot of work that needs to be done quickly in the case of a no-deal scenario. The Revenue Commissioners have now engaged with 85,000 traders, including 70,000 businesses in the SME sector.
The Deputy is also concerned about the readiness of our ports and airports in a no-deal scenario. We have done a significant amount to be as ready as we can. The Government made decisions on the planning processes that would be needed to deliver this. We know what needs to be done with regard to Rosslare Port, Dublin Port and Dublin Airport and we are doing all that can be done to ensure the right level of infrastructure is in place to deal with a no-deal risk.
I am aware of the correspondence that Revenue has sent to SMEs setting out the issues involved for them. This is a good opportunity for the Minister to give his perspective as to where things currently stand overall with Brexit. What is his sense of the likelihood of a no-deal scenario? We have discussed our preparedness as a country for that terrible scenario but, as the overall guardian of the economy at this point in time, what is his perspective on the overall likelihood of a deal being done with regard to an extension to Article 50, or the worst of all cases a crash-out Brexit on 29 March? Will he update the House on that issue?
My assessment of the likelihood of a no-deal scenario is that it is a clear and distinct risk we are now planning for. In the past week, I met the Revenue Commissioners, the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, and the Central Bank to review where we are from a preparedness point of view, with a particular focus on how we will respond to challenges for the State, to our financial position and financial markets regulation. I am satisfied that all that can be done in those areas has now happened. I am not in a position where I can be a commentator on this, as the Deputy will appreciate, because I am a participant.
I know that all will be done inside the parameters the Government has laid out to look to secure an agreement, but we clearly have a difficult period ahead in seeing whether that agreement can be secured.