Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019: Second Stage (Resumed)


Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

11:00 am

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is truly an historic debate we are having in this Parliament. It is important to remind the House of the value of the withdrawal agreement that has been put in place. It has the capacity to provide stability economically, socially and politically on these islands. It is, as it states itself, an opportunity for the negotiations that follow the withdrawal treaty to be an ambitious agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union and is something everyone in the EU, Ireland and the UK wants. We want to maximise the opportunity for trade and for the continuing close economic and social relationships we have enjoyed. Importantly, the agreement also provides for a transition period to avoid uncertainty and surprises, which would clearly have a profound impact on enterprise as well as ordinary citizens. The agreement provides an insurance policy, which has been important to Ireland, such that in the event of an agreement not being reached, there will still be a customs territory between the UK and the EU, level playing field rules will operate to allow that to work, there will be no customs obstacles for Northern Ireland in gaining access to the Single Market and there will be alignment of rules in Northern Ireland where necessary to avoid a hard border. The elements of the agreement form an agreed approach between all the member states of the European Union, including the UK, which is exiting. The agreement provides the framework within which we can develop really strong continuing economic relations.

Have I ten or 20 minutes?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister has 20 minutes, but I understand he may share time with the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, if he arrives. If not-----

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is grand.

There is no denying that Brexit has disturbed the balance of politics right across the island, and it is understandable that it provokes suspicions, as any separation will always do on different sides. The art of our calling, however, the art of politics, is the art of resolving conflict. This is more thoroughly tested by the kind of adversarial politics we have seen in recent times. This adversarial politics is very much enhanced by the echo chambers of social media, which have been so prevalent in politics in recent years.

Notwithstanding this, it is important to recall that Ireland has had significant breaks like this previously and we have managed through those relationships. Strangely - I do not know why this is the case - they seem to come every 20 years. I recall that in 1979 we broke the link with sterling for the first time and entered the exchange rate mechanism, ERM, as it was called. Twenty years later, in 1999, we entered the eurozone whereas Britain stayed out. Now, in 2019, we have pledged our future to the EU while Britain has decided to leave. It is important that we manage as effectively as possible these breaks which have occurred in recent years.

I wish to turn to the area for which I have responsibility, that is, Part 4 of the Bill. As the House will be aware, this is a set of contingency measures we are putting in place to ensure that in the event of a hard Brexit, the disruption that occurs will be minimised. There is no way we can avoid significant disruption but we can take appropriate measures to minimise that disruption. Under Part 4, we propose to give specific powers to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, to modify licences for operators in the event that unexpected, sudden events disrupt the market. We have thought long and hard about this, and both EirGrid and the regulator are taking every measure to ensure minimum disruption to the single energy market. However, we believe these powers are necessary as a precautionary measure. Deputies will see that the use of these measures is quite restricted in the legislation. The measures will only be used in the context of a disorderly Brexit. They will only be subject to a ministerial order, so they will not be used automatically. They will only last for a limited period in order that this is not seen as a continuing power but they will allow the CRU to modify the conditions of a licence where the CRU considers it necessary or expedient to do so in order for the State to continue to comply with EU rules on cross-border trade in electricity, as set out in the directives.

It is important we have this reserve power, but we believe that all sides want to preserve the significant effort that has been put into the creation of the single electricity market in the North and the South. I was recently in Northern Ireland meeting representatives of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, and there was a major appetite to see the benefits of the Single Market continue because they have allowed our electricity networks to run more efficiently and allowed us to integrate more renewables onto the grid. This is the only case of a totally integrated market in the EU and it offers significant benefits to the North and the South. These benefits are being realised in lower energy costs for users in both jurisdictions, and we are keen to maintain this. Some changes will be necessary if there is a sharp withdrawal by Britain in the event of Brexit and no agreement being put in place. It will take some time to put in place the kinds of long-term measures that will ensure the evolution of this market. There is, however, a desire both North and South and in Great Britain and the EU to see this continue. It is stated explicitly in the withdrawal agreement that the continuation of the single electricity market on these islands will be a core objective under the withdrawal treaty.

I am conscious that the time is short. We are pretty optimistic that the impact on other markets such as gas, oil and solid fuels will be minimal. We do not expect disruption in these areas. The gas market, unlike the single electricity market, is not wholly dependent on EU directives and EU oversight so it will continue based on the contracts in place and use a different platform for trading than is required in the single electricity market. It is, therefore, robust. We continue to have our oil reserves. Oil is accessible. While we do source a lot of oil in the UK market, we do not expect disruption to this. There is no expectation that the EU will impose tariffs on any trading with the UK in these products, so trade in oil, gas and solid fuels should continue.

I will leave it at that, given the short time available. I look forward to Committee Stage, when we will be able to go through any questions Members may have about Part 4.

11:10 am

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Bill. As previous speakers have alluded to, the UK is due to leave the EU at the end of next month. We do not know how or under what conditions it will leave. This Bill is a product of that uncertainty. It is prudent legislation, which I hope will never be used, but hope is not a strategy upon which the Government can rely. As Minister of State with responsibility for financial services and insurance, the topic of Brexit is raised at every meeting I attend. The uncertainty surrounding the type of Brexit there will be is impacting on businesses and their investment decisions not just in the UK, but here in Ireland. A number of issues are repeated along with a number of problems Brexit poses in respect of insurance from a financial services perspective.

Contract continuity is the main risk posed in respect of insurance from a financial services perspective. In the absence of a political agreement between the EU and the UK, UK insurers will no longer be able to write new business in Ireland on freedom of service or freedom of establishment bases and will not have the authority to continue to service contracts that were concluded prior to the Brexit decision. In a worst-case scenario, this could mean that an insurer could not, or would not, pay claims or benefits under existing policies. This issue will impact some member states more than others but, given the substantial volume of cross-border insurance business between Ireland and the UK, it is important that we take the necessary steps to protect Irish policyholders through the proposed legislation for a temporary run-off regime. The Department of Finance and the Central Bank of Ireland have been working closely over recent months to come up with a solution to the issue addressed in this legislation. The Central Bank has also engaged with the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, EIOPA, to assess Brexit-related risks and mitigation as well as issues relating to ongoing supervisory co-operation.

With regard to the impact of Brexit, the decision of the UK to exit the EU undoubtedly poses challenges for the Irish insurance market given the level of cross-border insurance business. This will be the case no matter the outcome of negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Regarding general liability insurance, including employer and public liability insurance in particular, I understand that the majority of the main non-life insurers operating in Ireland also write this type of business. In this regard, the Central Bank of Ireland has advised that in 2017 40% of the domestic Irish liability market was provided by UK-authorised insurers, with one large UK insurer accounting for 22% of the total liability exposure. The Central Bank notes that this insurer has implemented its Brexit plan for both new and existing business. The majority of undertakings providing liability insurance have developed and are progressing and implementing Brexit plans on time for 29 March. As liability insurance is a commercial insurance product, the Central Bank expects that insurance brokers will review the capacity of the insurance market and ensure their commercial clients are provided with products from insurers suitable to match their needs.

The impact of Brexit on the provision of insurance will not be that significant. Of much more importance to the general health of the sector is the need to address the high level of awards for soft tissue injuries in line with the recommendations of the Personal Injuries Commission, PIC.

The Government strategy to develop the international financial services sector, IFS2020, was launched in 2015. That plan was based on the 2009 plan, so the plan has stood for the greater part of a decade. Since May 2018, officials in the Department of Finance and I have completed a substantial body of work to prepare a successor to the current strategy for the development of the international financial services sector as IFS2020 is now in its final year. I expect the work will be concluded and a proposal brought to Government in the coming weeks. I hope and anticipate that strategy will move through the Government processes before the end of March.

The growth in the sector arising from IFS2020 has not been limited to Dublin. More than a third of jobs are located in other areas of the country. The sector has a significant presence in a number of regional locations, including Cavan, Clare, Cork, Drogheda, Dundalk, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Leitrim, Limerick, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow. A number of international financial services companies have chosen to build centres of excellence in regional locations in Ireland, taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the higher staff retention rates associated with operations located outside Dublin.

I want to touch upon the new strategy because it will be important for the future. The crossover between Ireland and the UK in the area of financial services is enormous. The primary area in which international financial services are based is in funds. There are €4.4 trillion worth of funds under administration in Ireland . There is a lot of co-operation between Ireland and the UK. Without this legislation, this sector is at risk. Sectors operating in Ireland include aircraft leasing, financial technology, sustainable green finance, banking and payments, and other sectors. Considering moves in technology, it is really important that we ensure the sector is on a strong footing to be able to continue trading with our closest partner, the UK. The crossover is enormous.

The new strategy has four primary themes. One is communications and promotion. We have not been as good in this area as perhaps we should be. To some extent we have allowed others to pass us out because we have not focused ourselves in this sector.

The talent pool for the financial sector based in Ireland is second to none. That is not only my opinion. On every occasion I meet senior executives from outside of the country they always highlight the standard of staff available. This staff is very diverse. Many do not come from Ireland. A large percentage, though not a majority, are from outside of Ireland. The statistic I use is that at the time of the latest census one person in six was not born here. The figure for those working in the international financial services sector is much higher than that.

The operating environment will be crucial. That is why this legislation is so important. We have to put the correct operating environment in place for what will happen after Brexit. I have highlighted some of the sectors that are important, but new sectors based on new technologies will also develop. The payments sector in Ireland is enormous and getting bigger every year. We have to make sure that we can continue with the crossover of talent between the UK and Ireland. The common travel area agreement is hugely beneficial in that regard. Ireland will be the only country able to hire people from the EU 27 and from the UK because of the common travel area agreement that goes back to the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1921.

The final primary area is the area of innovation and technology. We cannot ignore the opportunities, but it is even more important that we do not ignore the challenges that technology could pose. It is difficult to put a figure on it for each sector, but it is said that technology could cost one third of the jobs in some sectors. I do not believe the proportion will be that high in financial services, but it will be high. We want to make sure that the staff who are there continue in the sector and continue retraining.

There are also horizontals across those areas. One such horizontal is regionalisation, upon which I have touched. We are determined to continue developing jobs outside County Dublin. Everybody thinks that all of the financial services sector is based in the docks on the River Liffey; it is not. It is also based outside County Dublin.

Sustainable green finance is an enormous area now and into the future. The way we deploy capital cannot be done through only one stream. It will require private equity, borrowing, funds investment as well as Government funding and funding from the multilateral banks. There will be a blending of all those streams for the deployment of private capital.

The final sector is diversity and trying to ensure we have a higher diversity of not only males and females, which needs to be improved, but also in the space of people from different jurisdictions, continents, ethnicities and people with different sexualities because that reduces the group thinking in the sector. All of this will be contingent upon ensuring we have a good trading relationship with our closest trading partner in financial services. Without this Bill, there could be consequences that could cost many jobs.

11:20 am

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Fianna Fáil has the next 20-minute timeslot and I understand Deputy Billy Kelleher is sharing time with Deputy Niall Collins.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes, and Deputy Collins would like to have seven or eight minutes.

It is regrettable we are all in this House speaking on this legislation. We would all have preferred if the result of the UK referendum some years ago was that it would remain in the Union. That was not to be and we now have to deal with the serious consequences that may arise from the UK leaving the EU in whatever guise, be it a crash-out, a phased or an agreed withdrawal, but either way it will not be good for Ireland, the island of Ireland, the UK or the Union. For all those reasons, it is regrettable we find ourselves at this stage of the withdrawal process, not yet knowing what will happen in Westminster and how the UK will finally withdraw from the European Union.

We often look at the Union, even in this country which is quite pro-European and which has mainly pro-European parties, as an economic entity but it is much more than that. It is also an emotional entity. Many people would accept that the European Union stands for fundamental rights, gives people an opportunity to travel and to work and be educated abroad, and it instills in them a sense of a belonging to more than only their own country. It underpins a broader sense of what we are as a people. For all those reasons, the European Union means an awful lot to me, to the Irish people and to most political parties on the island of Ireland.

When we reflect on where we have got to as a country, we can accept the progression from the EEC, which we joined in 1973, to the European Union and the changes in the Maastricht treaty which allowed for that development with the euro currency, the integration of the institutions and now the move towards more democratic accountability with the expanded role of the European Parliament indicating that the European Union is changing. It is organic. It is responding to the needs and demands of the citizens across Europe in terms of accountability and democracy. We always want more of that and we insist that the European Union responds in a way that it listens to citizens and addresses their views and concerns. That was evident during the downturn and the economic crash of 2008. The Union was accused of not standing by us but with the benefit of hindsight while it foisted levels of debt on us with which no citizen could be happy, the overall principle of trying to keep the eurozone intact and ensuring the institutions of this State and other states that were under major pressure survived and that their economies were underpinned and supported have proved to be the correct decisions. As much as some Members may disagree with that, overall the right decisions were made, albeit they caused a great deal of hardship in the intervening years. There is evidence we have come out the other side. From that perspective, when we reflect on the way our economy has flourished recently, it shows that an open, global trading economy that is not afraid to step forward into the international sphere to sell its wares on the international market and that is confident in an international environment, which is something that has benefitted Ireland dramatically.

For many years, we had a closed economy; we looked inward. In the 1950s and 1960s, in particular, we started to look outward and there was a reduction in tariffs. An economy that is inefficient causes pain and difficulty but our economy recovered over time, efficiencies came into being and multinationals are now in place. For all those reasons, the strategies that were developed over many years by the State in advance of joining the EEC were the right ones in terms of opening up our economy, globalisation, starting to trade on the international markets and being able to access the EEC when we joined it in 1973 along with the UK and Denmark, which was quite an historic event for us. It was the first time as a nation we were able to independently have a voice at a table equal to the big players in the EEC, be it France, Germany, the UK and others. It gave us an opportunity to express ourselves and influence our destiny on the European stage.

It is regrettable for many reasons that the UK has decided on this course of action. First and foremost, we have a shared history that is intertwined and interwoven, much of it very traumatic even up until recently on the island of Ireland. We are also intertwined in many other ways, namely, economically, culturally, emotionally, through family ties and in the context of sharing a part of this island with the UK. We must accept that whatever happens with regard to the UK and the European Union in respect of the withdrawal treaty and our future relationship that what happens on the island of Ireland in that context is of greater significance to us than to any other country. We must ensure that the EU is very much on our side in the negotiations. Equally, being on our side means at times having to accept that the UK is in grave difficulty and that it needs flexibility and imagination to arrive at a deal that will allow the island of Ireland, in particular, to flourish without borders, frontiers, barriers, trade tariffs or inhibitors to the normal movement of people, goods and services, North and South. That must be the key issue in any discussions in the context of the withdrawal agreement and the future trading relationship, and relationships with the UK and the EU.

This Bill is to make provision in the event of there being a hard Brexit. We hope we will never have to use any of its provisions, but some of them, particularly in the areas of business enterprise and innovation, were contained in a previous Bill. They have just been brought into this omnibus Bill to address some of the issues that were of concern even in advance of this publication. Some elements of it would have to be enacted in any event, regardless of some of the issues that may arise in the context of a hard Brexit.

I do not like to make an overtly political point in this context because there is general agreement about Brexit, the fact that it is a lose-lose-lose for all of us and that it will not have a positive impact on any citizen on the island of Ireland but what Deputy Mary Lou McDonald said yesterday in her criticism of Fianna Fáil and the SDLP was scathing for whatever reason, and I cannot understand that. Having looked back on what she said, I have tried to assess the point she was trying to make, bearing in mind that Fianna Fáil is the most pro-European party in the Chamber, the party that led this country into the EEC-----

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Into bankruptcy.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----and has consistently campaigned in every referendum since. That is not the case with Deputy Mary Lou McDonald's new party, Sinn Féin, because its members have consistently campaigned against every referendum, including entry into EEC and consequent on it every referendum that allowed for further expansion of the EU, changes to the institutions and all that flowed from that. It is strange that she would come into this House and consistently attack the party that has brought us to the European table in more ways than one in terms of advocating for closer integration as a nation in the Union.

When one looks at the huge concerns that have been expressed by Sinn Féin on Brexit and the impact on Northern Ireland and the potential for a hard border, it is exactly to the point and shows how hypocritical the party is, because if we had followed its rule of thumb, we would have had a hard border in reverse, because the UK would been in the European Union and Ireland would not have been. A little bit of contrition from Sinn Féin on the issue of Europe and where we are globally as a nation would not go astray all.

11:30 am

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We will not be preached to by Fianna Fáil, that is for sure.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On the issue of the Border, North-South relations and the impact that any diminution of the freedom of people movement and the movement of goods and services could have on the island, there is no doubt that the people who make decisions in Westminster should bear in mind that they have responsibilities beyond their own immediate needs and political outlook. There is an obligation on every MP in Westminster, and even those who do not attend Westminster who draw the expenses, to point out-----

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Fianna Fáil should attend there-----

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----that there is an international agreement called the Good Friday Agreement-----

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----and take their seats in Westminster.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----that has been signed by two sovereign states that upholds the concept of consent, constitutional politics and constitutional republicanism, which Sinn Féin has eventually come to. They are welcome late to the party, very late.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This is not the Constitution-----

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Sinn Féin will take the queen's shilling, however, there is no problem with that.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Sinn Féin takes the salaries and expenses as well.

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There are no salaries being availed of.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement between two sovereign states which is to foster closer integration on the island of Ireland, to ensure there is no hard border, to ensure the concept of consent, of constitutional democracy and politics and the rights of citizens in the North to be Irish citizens, British citizens and to have dual citizenship, and to be citizens of the European Union. These particular issues are critically important. I said previously that if we have a hard Brexit that does not take into account the Good Friday Agreement we are allowing another Parliament to drive a coach and four through the Good Friday Agreement, when that same Parliament and Government has an obligation, like this Parliament and Government, to uphold the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. For all those reasons - I would like to have contributed more on the business and enterprise area of my brief - I believe Brexit and what flows from that must be put into a strong emotional and intellectual debate where we say to the Members of Westminster, that when they are making decisions they do and must and have an obligation to look beyond their own narrow ideological view of what Europe is and is not, because they have an obligation to the Good Friday Agreement itself.

I urge that when MPs are making decisions in the next number of weeks, that they look at their international responsibilities, what good neighbourliness is and means, and I hope they can come to an arrangement that facilitates the North-South institutions and the basic principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

What we are seeing being played out in Dáil Éireann this week, and indeed in Westminster, is what happens when a weak leader takes a decision based on populism. That is what David Cameron did. He caved in to a populist campaign to rally against Europe. He tried his hand at a referendum and lost. We are left picking up the pieces.

I am reminded of the very first all-Ireland civic dialogue which I attended after the referendum almost two years ago when one of the civic society speakers, a lady whose name I cannot unfortunately recall, said in Dublin Castle that she hoped that it would come around to a second referendum and that then an informed decision would be taken by the people of the United Kingdom. That may play out and hopefully play out to the benefit of all and may serve to avoiding the completeimpasse, with the potentially dire consequences for this country. It has been said on so many occasions that there is no upside to Brexit. It is lose-lose all round. More and more I get the sense people who are UK-based and people with connections within the UK - I had two people who attended my clinic on Monday morning and I spoke with their family who live in Ireland and who have family who live in the UK who voted to leave - are now coming around to the view where they now see the folly of that decision. They now see the lies that were told during the campaign. If we can give ourselves one small clap on the back in this country in relation to anything, it is the manner in which we approach referendums in terms of having a Citizens Assembly and Oireachtas committee to thrash out the issues so that our public, with the assistance of all the reportage and the discourse that flows from that, can make a properly informed decision.

I wish to put two notes of criticism on the record which I believe are fair. We are coming to this debate very late. This legislation, which hopefully will never be enacted, is coming very late. When one looks around Europe, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Finland and Denmark all have their Brexit legislation at a far more advanced point in their process. Indeed many of them have it enacted and it is on their statute books.

The Minister will also be aware of the criticism we have been making on a repeated basis on preparedness, and business preparedness in particular, is valid. One just has to look at the recent AIB Brexit sentiment survey which revealed that only 8% of SMEs surveyed in the Republic of Ireland had a formal Brexit plan in place, despite this matter being raised repeatedly by me when I was in the role discharged by Deputy Kelleher now, and by him in his current role. It just has not happened in terms of business being informed and prepared. Survey after survey, whether it is the Chartered Accountants Ireland, AIB, or any of these non-governmental agencies which are carrying out these surveys which are independent, attest to the fact that business just has not performed. Only 5% of the Brexit loan scheme has been sanctioned and the €25 million allocation for the Brexit loan scheme for farmers announced in budget 2018 has still not opened.

I also want to mention a number of specifics which particularly impact the mid-west area and my Limerick constituency. Hauliers are very concerned because there is a complete unknown as to how the arrangements and the circumstances for facilitating the land bridge that hauliers rely on to get product across the UK and further into Europe and further afield will be catered for. There simply is not any plan in place in relation to that at the moment.

I also want to mention the Shannon Foynes Port Company in Limerick, one of our major ports. It has quite ambitious plans in a worst-case Brexit scenario where it has looked at and put a lot of thought into developing new shipping business which will circumvent the land bridge and go straight to destinations in Europe carrying product and opening up new channels for our supply chains. I am disappointed that the Government has not engaged more with the Shannon Foynes Port Company on this. I also ask and urge the Government to invest more in the Shannon Foynes Port Company because it is a huge economic driver in Limerick and in the mid west, servicing all the shipping on the Shannon estuary and all that goes with that in terms of trade and industry in the area.

I want to mention Shannon Airport as well as I recently had the benefit of a briefing from the airport which dealt with the lack of adequate capital investment and funding which is being provided by Government. Government may cite state aid rules. We have heard that there will be a relaxation of state aid rules as a measure and reaction to Brexit. Unfortunately Shannon Airport is slipping. One has to look at the growth in passenger numbers in this country, but Shannon Airport has an ever-declining market share. The airport will tell us that passenger numbers are up but the real barometer in air traffic is the falling market share.

Unfortunately, Dublin continues to gobble up the lion's share of the increase in market share while the rest of our airport infrastructure is lagging way behind. We need investment in Shannon Airport and to have a serious look at opening up more cargo hubs and cargo routes as a way to service industry in the event of no deal and a hard Brexit.

As regards the farming community, there are in excess of 4,000 farm families in my constituency in the wider Limerick area, comprising dairy farmers, beef farmers and suckler farmers, who are all very worried. We know about the pressure and stress the beef sector is under, and there was a meeting at Kilmallock mart recently where more than 350 beef farmers convened on the issue of falling beef prices. I saw the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on RTÉ's "Prime Time" last Thursday night. He said that the Government and the EU stood ready, willing and able to step in to help our farming sector, in particular our beef sector. However, he was light on details so we need to hear more from Government, it is hoped in this debate, about how it intends to step in to help farm families and farming communities in Limerick and throughout the country. The Minister said the relaxation of state aid rules will allow for an increase in state aid from €15,000 to approximately €20,000 per farm but that will not be enough. I ask the Minister to address my issues in his reply.

It is to be hoped the legislation we are debating today will never have to be enacted. We hope a proper agreement will be reached or common sense will prevail in the United Kingdom and they rethink their decision and reverse it in its entirety.

11:40 am

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Cuirim in iúl mo bhuíochas fá choinne an deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an Bhille seo. Is Bille cuimsitheach é atá curtha chun tosaigh os comhair na Dála. Bhí sé á phlé inné freisin. Mar a dúirt mo chomhghleacaithe a labhair ar an díospóireacht go dtí seo, ár gceannaire, an Teachta McDonald, agus ár n-urlabhraí um Bhreatimeacht, an Teachta Cullinane, beimid ag tabhairt tacaíochta don Bhille seo ach beimid ag cur leasuithe síos chun é a dhéanamh níos fearr agus chun díriú isteach ar cheantair agus áiteanna nach bhfuil go leor déanta iontu ná go leor beartaithe dóibh ó thaobh an Rialtais de le dul i ngleic leis na fadhbanna ollmhóra a bheas ann mar gheall ar an Bhreatimeacht.

Baineann páirt mhór den Bhille seo le cúrsaí airgid agus leis an Roinn Airgeadais. Is rudaí teicniúla atá bainte leis na moltaí atá curtha chun tosaigh atá ann i bpáirt mhór den Bhille. Is é an rud atá ar chúl é seo ná go gcoinníonn sé an córas mar atá sé i bhfeidhm i ndiaidh na Breatimeachta. Glacaimid leis sin.

Deirtear linn go bhfuil an toil pholaitiúil ann ó thaobh an Bhreatain de agus go gcuirfear na moltaí céanna i bhfeidhm sa dóigh is go mbeidh na deiseanna céanna ag Éireannaigh sa Bhreatain ó thaobh na cánach de. Caithfimid cinntiú go dtarlaíonn sin ach caithfimid a admháil feasta nach bhfuil sé chomh furasta sin toisc go bhfuil an dá chóras cánach difriúil óna chéile. Glacaimid leis an méid atá ráite, is é sin go bhfuil an toil pholaitiúil ann leis an rud atá muidne á dhéanamh sa Pharlaimint seo á dhéanamh i bParlaimint Shasana freisin sa dóigh nach mbeidh impleachtaí dona ann d'Éireannaigh atá i Sasana agus a íocann a gcuid cánach ansin.

Caithfimid glacadh leis, agus admhaíonn muid, go bhfuil cuid mhór de na gnéithe a bhaineann leis an Bhille seo sealadach agus go bhfuil sé beartaithe go mbeidh siad ann sa ghearrthéarma amháin. Tuigimid go maith, ó thaobh cúrsaí polaitiúla de, gur féidir le rudaí sealadacha a mhaireachtáil sa fadtéarma mura bhfuil scrúdú agus maoirseacht cheart déanta orthu. Caithfimid déanamh cinnte go mbeidh sin déanta.

Sula dtéim isteach sna himpleachtaí cánach agus cúrsaí níos leithne ó thaobh cúrsaí airgeadais agus eacnamaíochta de, ba mhaith liom cúpla rud beag a rá ó thaobh ábhair nach bhfuil clúdaithe sa Bhille. Mar shampla, níl aon rud sa Bhille ó thaobh an Teorann de. Is é sin an príomhthosaíocht atá ann ó thaobh na Breatimeachta. Ar lámh amháin bíonn commitment ag teacht ón Rialtas nach mbeidh teorainn chrua ann, agus ar an lámh eile tá an fhíric ann go mbeidh an Teorainn idir Dún na nGall agus Tír Eoghain agus idir Muineachán agus Fear Manach ina teorainn idirnáisiúnta idir an tAontas Eorpach agus an Bhreatain má imíonn an Bhreatain ón Aontas Eorpach gan phlean. Tá fadhbanna leis an dá ráiteas sin a thabhairt le chéile. Ar an drochuair nílimid ag cluinstin cad iad na pleananna atá ag an Rialtas chun cinntiú nach éireoidh an Teorainn, atá ann ag an bpointe agus atáimid ag iarraidh réiteach a fháil di, níos crua do na daoine, cosúil liom féin agus cuid mhór de mo chomhghleacaithe i nDún na nGall, a thrasnaíonn í go laethúil nó go seachtainiúil. Deirtear linn i gcónaí go gcaithfimid na comhráite crua a bheith againn leis an Aontas Eorpach, ach is beag tacaíocht é sin do ghnólachtaí beaga, d'fheirmeoirí agus do dhaoine atá ag taisteal an Teorainn sin lá i ndiaidh lae gan a fhios a bheith acu caidé atá ag dul a tharlú taobh istigh de ceithre seachtaine.

Maidir le cúrsaí eacnamaíochta níos leithne, dúirt an tAire Airgeadais leis an Chomhchoiste um Airgeadas, Caiteachas Poiblí agus Athchóiriú, agus an Taoiseach go mbeidh scrúdú níos doimhne á dhéanamh ag an Roinn agus ag an ESRI agus go mbeidh a dtuarascáil foilsithe níos moille sa dara ceathrú den bhliain seo. Tá a fhios againn uilig go mbeidh an Bhreatimeacht thart faoin dara ceathrú den bhliain. Beidh an damáiste déanta faoin am sin. Is sampla eile é seo den mhéid réamhoibre nach bhfuil déanta ag an Rialtas seo ó thaobh na Breatimeachta, cé go raibh a fhios againn go raibh sé seo ar na bacáin le níos mó ná dhá bhliain.

Tá an tiománaí atá ag dul trasna na Teorann go laethúil ná go seachtainiúil fágtha ar an trá fholamh arís toisc nach bhfuil an réamhobair déanta ag an Rialtas ón taobh seo. Mar shampla, táimid anois ag cur scairt gutháin ar ár gcomhlachtaí árachais ag iarraidh a fháil amach an bhfuil an cárta glas le fáil againn. Má chuirimid an cheist fá choinne na gcártaí glasa ag an bpointe seo, táimid ag fáil amach go mbeidh siad ag baint amach táille orainn. Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil tíortha eile taobh amuigh den Aontas Eorpach nach bhfuil gá ag a ndaoine na cártaí glasa seo a fháil. Tuigimid go mbeidh cead ag tiománaithe le ceadúnais tiomána Éireannacha sa Bhreatain - in Albain, sa Tuaisceart, ná sa Bhreatain Bheag - tiomáint i ndiaidh na Breatimeachta ach go gcaithfidh tiománaithe le ceadúnais Shasanaigh sa tír seo a gceadúnais a athrú agus go gcuirfear pionós agus an dlí orthu mura déanfaidh siad sin agus má thiomáineann siad i ndiaidh na Breatimeachta. Léiríonn sé seo arís an méid réamhoibre nach bhfuil déanta ag an Rialtas ó thaobh na Breatimeachta.

The tax measures before us are about maintaining the status quoand, in the normal course of a finance Bill, I would object to a number of such measures on the basis that I believe some of them to be unjustifiable. I recognise that we are in a different situation and that this is a continuation of existing measures in regard to Brexit, but I will consider the issue before Committee Stage.

There is a complete disregard in this Brexit Bill of the impact on the regions and absolutely no impact assessment has been done on how regions will be impacted. We have heard from all the experts that the south east and the north west are going to be most seriously impacted outside the Six Counties. Donegal is not in a position to take any impact from Brexit. Results of surveys coming out today show that the county has the highest levels of poverty and, because a person is born there, he or she is more likely to be poor than if he or she had been born in any other county in the State. Because they are born in Donegal, people there are less likely to be in employment than if they had been born in any other county and likely to have less disposable income and worse health outcomes. Brexit is going to impact on Donegal more than it will on many other regions and counties in the State, but there is not one thing in this Bill in terms of regional support for a county that is crying out for it because of the neglect of this and previous Governments. This needs to be put right and the Government needs to fix it.

The Minister needs to understand that Donegal is no longer going to be tolerated as an afterthought. The fact that the Government has not done this screams loudly of the disrespect and disregard it has for the regions that are going to be affected by this British policy.

11:50 am

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Section 4 of the Bill facilitates the continuing operation of the single electricity market, SEM. It is a very important section and the only one that deals with what is already truly an all-Ireland situation. It shows the direct benefit of an all-Ireland economy, of which the SEM is a brilliant example. It must be maintained after Brexit if we are to continue it benefits for householders, businesses and the environment, North and South. The SEM, which works on a 32-county basis, has been in place for a decade. It is the perfect example of the benefits of operating on an all-Ireland basis. We have created an integrated model of infrastructure that proves the immense potential of this island. The new market rules for the integrated single electricity market, I-SEM, were launched last year and it is reported that it could cut energy bills for businesses and householders by up to €200 million a year. A key element in addressing climate change, protecting the environment and using it sustainably, and maintaining the supply of electricity is the SEM, which is an all-island basis for meeting our energy needs.

Stopping power infrastructure at the Border will not benefit customers across the island and will make it more difficult for both the Six Counties and the Twenty-six Counties to develop diverse forms of renewable energy. In the future, our energy grid will be powered by a variety of energy types from different sources in order to displace fossil fuels. To keep the lights on, these need to feed into an all-island grid in order to best maintain supply. Having two separate electricity grids back to back on this island would make no sense for customers, suppliers, operators or generators of electricity. This island can be a world leader when it comes to renewable power. Wave and tidal power resources have immense potential and, again, are most feasible on an all-island basis. Natural sources of power such as wind and water do not stop at borders so the infrastructure to harness them cannot do so either

Following Brexit there will also be security of energy supply issues in terms of our gas supply, which comes from Britain, and our oil reserves, held in Britain and the Six Counties. Almost 50% of our electricity is generated from natural gas and most of this gas comes through the interconnector with Britain. I heard the Minister replying on this matter earlier in the context of whether tariffs will apply. We believe further work needs to be done on this. We must consider that with the point of entry of that gas into Britain - I do not use the term "UK" because I am not sure what it stands for - and the point of exit from there into this country, there are two points of contention at which tariffs could be introduced.

There is also the issue of environmental protection, which is not mentioned in the Bill. Ensuring that we maintain good air and water quality, for example, needs some cross-Border co-operation. That will have to be monitored and we will need to be vigilant. These are matters that are not separated by a border, hard or soft.

Communications, too, could see radical change with any possible reintroduction of roaming charges on this island. In June 2017, the European Union scrapped additional charges for roaming when travelling to another EU country. Thousands of people cross the Border every day. Some have farms that straddle the Border. Students, workers and others will face huge hikes if those charges are reintroduced. Before the rules changed, using a mobile phone in Europe was expensive, as many people discovered when they came back from trips abroad to find bills for hundreds or even thousands of euro waiting for them. If Britain crashes out of the EU, we will have to watch that roaming charges are not reintroduced.

Sinn Féin will be supporting the thrust of this section of the Bill. We know that it is important for all 36 counties of Ireland and for businesses and families, North and South. We will be putting forward an amendment to strengthen the Bill. We want to work with other parties in the Oireachtas to expedite this.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As has been stated, this is a very unusual Bill for very unusual times. Most of my comments are on how it will affect business. However, I first want to highlight that Brexit is primarily about people. I am married to an Englishwoman. My in-laws are English. My uncle lives in England. I have first and second cousins; some of them consider themselves Irish and some of them consider themselves English. Almost every family in Ireland has some sort of connection to England.

It is vitally important that the Government puts in place contingencies to protect Irish business and people’s jobs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. As a result, I welcome the provisions contained in the section relating to business, enterprise and innovation section, which aim primarily to give Enterprise Ireland more power to assist Irish businesses exposed to the consequences Brexit will bring. I agree with what my colleagues have stated regarding the timing of the Bill. We would have preferred if the Government had brought it forward earlier, particularly in light of its significance, in to ensure there was ample time to scrutinise it and table amendments where necessary.

It is truly farcical that we now find ourselves preparing for a hard Brexit. Almost three years after the referendum vote, British politicians cannot agree on a plan to manage their orderly withdrawal from the EU, while outside onlookers are none the wiser on what is to come. Unfortunately, Britain's form in this area would not inspire confidence. Using Britain’s colonial history of withdrawal as an example, departure will probably take far too long, considerable damage will be caused along the way, and the possibility remains that they might not leave at all, as we in Ireland know only too well. It has taken an enormous amount of time for many in Westminster to realise they cannot have their cake and eat it.

The failure of politicians in England to take account of the economic reality or social upheaval of Brexit is now coming home to roost. Unfortunately, it will not be the investment fund-owning Jacob Rees-Mogg or the Eton-educated Boris Johnson who will suffer as a result of a chaotic Brexit. It will be ordinary workers and their families who will suffer. As for the North of Ireland, the Tories have shown nothing but utter contempt for our citizens living there. It did not factor by one iota in their referendum campaign. The Government in England has completely ignored the democratic decision of the people of the North who voted to stay in the EU, and its attempts to scrap the backstop highlight a very worrying disregard for our peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. The British have no interest in the development and enrichment of the North of Ireland or the people living there, and they never had. As Patrick Kielty articulated in a recent article in The Guardian:

When Conservatives say they care about Northern Ireland, they actually just mean the freehold. Like a stable block with planning permission, they know the extra square footage adds value but they’ve no intention of actually developing it. Just as long as they can see it from the big house, they’re happy. As for those who live in the stable? If Brexit has proved anything, it’s that many Tories don’t give a stuff about the people of Northern Ireland – not even the unionists.

This is no surprise, particularly as British interference in Irish affairs has always resulted in a terrible experience for our country and our people. The only good thing that could come from Brexit is the possible acceleration of the holding of a referendum on the reunification of our country. Partition of this island has been an unmitigated disaster that has come at a great cost, and the day that a foreign government has no hand, act or part in the governance of Ireland will be a very welcome day for all of us. On that note, now is the time we need to start planning for what a united Ireland will look like.

It is astonishing that the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation holds absolutely no information or data whatsoever regarding a reunified Irish economy, considering we have had nearly 100 years of governance from the so-called republican party and the questionably named united Ireland party. I am at a loss to understand how no one in the past hundred years has asked how the national question might benefit our economy and businesses. I have asked the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on numerous occasions to commission a report or set up a working group within her Department to examine the challenges and opportunities a reunified island and economy would bring to businesses, North and South. Unfortunately, the Minister has steadfastly refused to do this. This is a great shame and a definite mistake in the long run. Whether we have a vote on reunification in the next five, ten or 15 years, now is the time to start planning for it. I again ask the Minister to consider this.

I will turn to some of the provisions of the Bill. The proposed change to the rules on VAT payments for imports from third countries is welcome. Currently, unless specifically excluded, VAT on third-country imports is payable at the point of entry.

However, for imports from EU states this VAT is payable under the normal returns made every second month.

Sinn Féin will table several amendments to the Bill. The first will ask the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, to undertake a review of the current Brexit business support schemes, examine why there has been such a low uptake of these supports and propose solutions in terms of how more business can avail of them. The second amendment will seek to implement the provisions contained in Part 3 relating to business, enterprise and innovation, regardless of whether a hard Brexit takes place. We also support a move to maximise state aid rules.

12:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I ask the Deputy to move the adjournment of the debate. He will have more than a minute remaining when we resume.

Debate adjourned.