Dáil debates

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement: Motion


1:30 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann: supports the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union (EU) and the European Atomic Energy Community, of the one part, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), of the other part, done on 30th December, 2020;

welcomes that:
— the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, together with the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland have ensured the achievement of Ireland’s key objectives in the Brexit process, including Ireland’s continued commitment to our place at the heart of Europe and protection of our place in the Single Market;

— the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, which protects the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, is now also in effect as of 1st January, 2021; and

— the Trade and Cooperation Agreement explicitly takes account of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, pursuant to which current bilateral arrangements are protected so that Irish and British citizens can continue to live, work, study, access healthcare, social security and public services in each jurisdiction; and
acknowledges that while the UK has left the EU, including the seamless trading environment provided by its Single Market and Customs Union, the Agreement provides stability to underpin a new EU-UK relationship, notably tariff and quota free trade and crucially avoids the alternative of a no deal scenario.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the trade and co-operation agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom. In the four and a half years since the decision was taken in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, there has been no guarantee that a future-oriented agreement would be reached. The intervening years have been bruising and uncertain. For Ireland, Brexit has been and is an unequivocal negative. It has caused considerable disruption and upheaval. While the Government led efforts to prepare for what was to come, it was difficult to do so against a background where a no-deal outcome on the future relationship remained a very real possibility. The withdrawal agreement reached in November 2019 meant that at least the United Kingdom's departure would take place in an orderly way. It provided certainty to European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom and their United Kingdom counterparts living throughout the European Union. It settled the financial terms on which the United Kingdom would leave.

Most importantly, through the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, it brought certainty and clarity on the most acute risks to Ireland, banishing the spectre of a hard border on this island. It protected the Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area.

The withdrawal agreement was one part - an important part - of the complicated jigsaw puzzle of Brexit. It opened the way for negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, and it started a period of transition that would end, one way or the other, on 31 December last. Progress in those negotiations was slow, at times painfully so. The EU team, ably led by our chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, sought to achieve an ambitious and comprehensive outcome that would pave the way for deep and close partnership into the future. As the endgame approached, the largest divisions remained on issues including governance, establishing a level playing field to ensure fair competition, and fishing. A breakthrough on all three was essential to reaching a deal. Given the essential need for trust in the process, and trust that any agreement would stick, Ireland and the EU were very clear also that the elements of the then United Kingdom Internal Market Bill that breached the withdrawal agreement had to be removed. All this was against the stark backdrop of Covid-19, and the ticking clock heralding the end of the transition period on 31 December last. Throughout, I expressed my belief that with political will, and a willingness to compromise, a deal was within our grasp. It was certainly in all of our interests. A no-deal outcome would have represented an historic failure of politics, with potentially irreversible political and geopolitical consequences and economic repercussions over a sustained period.

Today, therefore, it is right that we reflect on the positive significance of the motion before us. There was nothing inevitable about the agreement reached between EU-UK on Christmas Eve. The finalisation of the trade and co-operation agreement, together with the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, means that all of Ireland’s key objectives in the negotiations were achieved. In particular, these agreements ensure the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process; avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland; facilitate the maintenance of the common travel area; enshrine the best possible outcome, given UK choices, for trade and the economy, notably tariff-free and quota-free trade with the UK; protect Ireland's place in the Single Market; protect the Single Market itself; and ensure fair competition and a level playing field for Irish businesses.

The trade and co-operation agreement creates a new stable relationship with the UK for the Irish transport and energy sectors and ensures co-operation between police services on these islands can continue, based on protecting fundamental rights and the rule of law. Importantly, it allows EU-UK relations to move forward into 2021 from an agreed starting point, rather than from a point of division and rupture. I want today to put on the record of this House my gratitude to Michel Barnier and the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for the resourcefulness, determination, integrity and composure which were the hallmarks of their approach to the negotiations with the UK throughout. They both represent enormous grace under pressure.

The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which was agreed politically some 15 months ago and has been in law since 1 February last, only came into practical effect on 1 January 2021. During the final months of 2020, there was intense engagement between the EU and UK to agree a shared approach on all aspects and issues related to the interpretation and implementation of the protocol. I want to recognise the immense work of Commissioner Maroš Šefcovic and his team for their attentive, flexible and constructive approach to the operational decisions that were required to ensure the effective implementation of the protocol.

The decision of the UK to leave the Single Market and the customs union brings about considerable disruption for business in Northern Ireland, with new processes and obligations to be undertaken and respected. The protocol, however, ensures that Northern Irish traders continue to have access not only to markets in Great Britain, but also to the EU Single Market of 450 million consumers. This access for NI traders is also vital for all-island supply chains. That the trade and co-operation agreement puts in place an arrangement with no tariffs or quotas has had the important effect of making the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol less complex. The successful conclusion of the new EU-UK agreement has also created a positive stepping-off point for the future EU-UK relationship, which can feed in positively to the ongoing work of the joint committee and specialised committee on the implementation of the protocol over time.

The commitment by other EU member states, the European Commission, Ireland, the British Government and, in recent days, the Northern Ireland Executive to put in place a PEACE PLUS programme of real scale for the period from 2021 to 2027 is really significant. PEACE PLUS will deliver crucial community supports and vital cross-Border investment that will help to mitigate some of the negative consequences of Brexit. We thank all involved for all their work and support for this initiative. We are particularly grateful for the responsiveness of the Commission to our continuing efforts and our advocacy for such a fund, which as been well matched by all of the other stakeholders, including the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and our own Government, and will be significant into the future.

Despite the significance of the new trade and co-operation agreement, and the withdrawal agreement including the protocol, there remains a sizable gap between what trade and co-operation looked like during and after the UK's membership of the European Union. At an early point, the UK decided to leave the Single Market and the customs union, even if it sometimes baulked at what the inevitable consequences of this choice would be. Simply put, in choosing that path, the UK stepped outside the seamless trading environment of the EU. Being outside means friction - they are now in a market of one country, not 28 countries. While there are no tariffs and quotas under the agreement, there are new procedures and checks that apply to the movement of goods between Great Britain and the EU. This means greater complexity and greater expense.

The Government has worked hard to support businesses exposed to the British market to prepare. I pay tribute again to the efforts that many people have made despite the unprecedented difficulties 2020 presented. We are now experiencing the reality of the new arrangements. In particular, our agriculture sector, our small and medium-sized enterprises and all those involved in getting goods to market, including logistics, haulage and shipping companies, are working under new rules. The fishing sector is particularly affected by the compromises on fish quotas that were necessary to secure a deal. Therefore, I warmly welcome the European Commission's proposal in recent days for an allocation of over €1 billion to Ireland from the Brexit adjustment reserve – a fund which has been put in place to support those member states and sectors most affected by Brexit.

The Government has been working for several years to prepare for the real and substantive change that Brexit brings, with intensive efforts across many Departments and agencies. This has involved the development of necessary legislation, through two Brexit omnibus Acts; the provision of financial, upskilling and advisory supports for business; extensive stakeholder outreach; and a multi-year public communications campaign to promote readiness. The most visible element of the Government’s Brexit preparations is the substantial investment in infrastructure, systems and staffing at Dublin Airport, Dublin Port and Rosslare Port. In Dublin Port alone, 140,000 sq. m of building work has been completed involving 500,000 hours of effort. These facilities include new inspection bays, import and export facilities and over 300 parking spaces for HGVs. The capacity of customs and other ICT systems has been greatly enhanced to assist in managing the expected twelvefold increase in annual import and export declarations from approximately 1.6 million per annum to in excess of 20 million from 2021. Provision has also been made to deploy some additional 1,500 staff to support and carry out the increased customs, sanitary and phystosanitary, SPS, and food safety checks and controls.

Revenue, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the HSE all have 24-hour operations at Dublin Port.

Taking budget 2021 into account, our total Brexit-related expenditure since the United Kingdom referendum on EU membership is now in excess of €1 billion. Over recent years, the Government has put in place extensive financial supports for sectors to assist businesses to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of Brexit. This includes a €100 million scheme to help the agrifood sector adapt, with investments in new products and market diversification to make the sector stronger and more resilient and to reduce our reliance on exports to the United Kingdom. There is also a range of Government-funded Brexit loan options to assist business with potential cash flow issues arising out of Brexit, including the Brexit loan scheme, the future growth loan scheme and the Brexit business loan from Microfinance Ireland.

We listened to demands from business for support with new customs arrangements. The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2020 provides for a postponed accounting for VAT. The ready for customs grants assist companies to prepare for the new customs requirements, with up to €9,000 available per eligible employee placed in a customs role. We have continued to engage with stakeholders, representative bodies and businesses through the Brexit stakeholder forum, the retail forum, the enterprise forum, the Revenue consultative forum and the Brexit stakeholder consultative committee for the agriculture and fisheries sector. In recent months, with the added challenge of the Covid crisis, we have made great use of virtual platforms and webinars to connect and communicate with those groups and beyond.

We have also engaged with traders, hauliers and ferry companies on their preparations and to encourage the market to look at increasing the capacity on direct routes to Europe. A significant number of new direct ferry services with additional capacity between Ireland and the European Union have now come on stream. In fact, the number of ferry services running between Rosslare and mainland Europe has trebled in the past year.

Of course, it is not just business that will experience changes. We have been advising individuals on issues that will impact them, from driving licences and car insurance to pet travel and online retail. All of this work has been supported by sustained and intensive communications and the stakeholder outreach programme. Countrywide, people will have come across our Brexit advertisements on the radio, while watching television and in their newspapers and social media feeds. Accepting that there is no such thing as a good Brexit, my aim as Taoiseach has always been to mitigate the risks and reduce the impact on our economy and citizens to the extent that it was possible. The most important step towards that goal was the achievement of an agreement at the end of the negotiations, and that has now been achieved. As I said at the start, this outcome was by no means inevitable. Meanwhile, domestically, we have used every possible tool at our disposal, legislative, financial, administrative and advisory, to manage this change as best we can, to limit the disruption and to assist all who need help as they adapt to the new realities.

Ireland has chosen our path and it is the path of the European Union and of multilateralism, where countries play by the same rules, co-operate freely and fairly and try to raise all boats. Never has our choice resonated more than it has over the past four years as we have seen the value of the solidarity that comes from being a member state of the European Union. I have always said that, though I regret it, I accept the choice that Britain has made and I wish it well as it embarks on this new chapter in its history. Our relationship with our nearest neighbour will always be close and special. The ties between us are so extensive and so strong. No country has more to gain than we have from positive and stable European Union-United Kingdom relations. Therefore, I welcome today's motion and the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, which provides the essential stability on which we will continue to build in the years to come.

1:50 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to recommend the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement to the House. Brexit is not good for Ireland, Britain or Europe, and Brexit was not our decision. It was a decision of the British people, one we regret but one we respect. From day one, our policy was to protect Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement, citizens' rights both North and South, jobs and businesses, to avoid a hard border and to ensure that Ireland's position in the European Union and its Single Market was not undermined.

After four years of hard work and careful diplomacy and alliance building, I believe we have achieved our aims. First, with the withdrawal agreement and the Irish protocol, we ensured there was no hard border, with any checks taking place in seaports and airports instead, that the all-island economy would not be damaged and that the Good Friday Agreement would be respected. Through unilateral action, we have protected the rights of citizens of Northern Ireland, including access to the ERASMUS programme and the EHIC scheme, and also ensured that European citizens in Northern Ireland can continue to work, travel and study anywhere within the European Union. Through bilateral agreement with the UK, we have reinforced the common travel area and the reciprocity of citizens' rights that goes with it. I am very grateful to the UK Government for facilitating that. With the EU-UK TCA, we ensure that market access and tariff-free and quota-free trade are still available to Irish businesses, thus protecting jobs, businesses, farmers, rural Ireland and exporters. Overall, it is as good an outcome as was possible in the circumstances and much better than many thought possible.

I want to record my thanks to European governments and institutions and their representatives for the solidarity they showed to Ireland, especially Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and the Heads of State and Government across the 27 member states. I also want to record my thanks to the British Prime Ministers, Mrs. May and Mr. Johnson, and their officials, who, notwithstanding the difficulties, honoured the promises they made, Prime Minister to Taoiseach, sovereign state to sovereign state. I want to thank our officials and diplomats in Dublin, Brussels and around the world for their professionalism and patriotism, former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and, particularly, the support of Irish America, which was crucial, especially at points of decision and difficulty. I also want to record my thanks to this House for the general support that all parties - or, at least, most parties - gave the Government in representing the national interest abroad.

I do have some regrets, particularly as I see difficulties now play out in Northern Ireland and, indeed, on trade between Ireland and Britain as a consequence of Brexit, and the border in the Irish Sea, as some people refer to it. This is, of course, primarily a consequence of Brexit. We never wanted any barriers to people or trade, North-South, between Britain and the Republic Ireland or between GB and NI. It is those who supported Brexit who must accept responsibility for that. However, we also must accept that it could have been mitigated and that some of the problems we face today could have been avoided. The backstop solution, for example, would have kept all of the United Kingdom in a single customs territory with the European Union, and that proposal could have passed the House of Commons had enough Northern Ireland MPs been willing to vote for it. Another alternative was a customs union involving the UK and the EU, which was also possible at one point. Let us not forget that it was defeated by only one vote in the House of Commons. Had one DUP MP or one Sinn Féin MP voted for it, we could have seen an even softer Brexit and a milder one for Northern Ireland than we have today. I do not say any of that to score political points but merely to speak the truth, and history will record it as fact. Nonetheless, what is done is done and we will work with the Executive in Northern Ireland, the European Commission and the UK Government to make the Irish protocol work better and more smoothly to minimise the disruption to GB-NI trade.

Brexit has few upsides but it does present a few opportunities, certainly for foreign direct investment into Ireland. Any British, American, Chinese or foreign firm seeking a base in the eurozone with access to the Single Market will certainly consider Ireland, and that is the case we will make as we fight for more FDI for Ireland. Absent Britain, Ireland can become a bridge between the US and the EU to help rebuild the Atlantic alliance, particularly now as a new Administration takes office there. It also creates the opportunity for us to build new alliances with like-minded EU countries away from the shadow of the United Kingdom.

The agreement, with its many parts, creates a framework for the new EU-UK relationship into the future. It creates a new stable relationship with the UK for the Irish transport and energy sectors. It ensures co-operation between police services on these islands can continue. It will protect the Single Market, which is so important for our future prosperity, and ensure fair competition for Irish businesses.

Some of the key positives from my Department's perspective include the market access provisions, tariff-free and quota-free trade as well as provisions aimed at preventing unnecessary technical barriers and requirements. In addition, it is welcome that there will be a memorandum of understanding on the handling of equivalence in financial services and decisions taken on data adequacy.

The agreement, however, does not replicate the status quo. Even with this agreement, Britain is still outside the Single Market and customs union and there are now a range of customs and regulatory controls at Irish, EU and UK ports. These checks are necessary to protect public health, food safety and the integrity of the Single Market. In no way do I want to underestimate the challenges that these new requirements have brought for business, especially small business. The evidence is that despite some initial difficulties systems are gearing up, with over 80% of goods imported into Dublin Port from the UK being green-routed. I acknowledge though that trade volumes into Irish ports from the UK are only approximately half of what they would normally be at this time of year. This is due to a combination of pre-Brexit stockpiling and Covid-19 restrictions. Many traders are using increased direct routes to and from continental Europe. This cuts out all the new customs and regulatory controls for Irish traders. Ferry companies have stepped up in delivering flexible capacity and I wish to thank them for this. There is approximately three times the capacity now on routes between Ireland and the Continent than there had been hitherto. There is also some evidence of trade being displaced to Northern Ireland ports. This requires further investigation and understanding.

The outcome on fisheries was a difficult compromise for us. I share the disappointment felt by many other member states on this matter. The Government will work to ensure that the fisheries sector and the coastal communities who depend on it are assisted through the period ahead.

We will work with all sectors as they experience the fall-out from Brexit by analysing the agreement in further detail to identify particular issues or gaps and we will put appropriate measures in place. This will be important to ensure the Irish economy withstands these major challenges.

As part of this response we will avail of the European Commission Brexit adjustment reserve to help those sectors worst affected. The Commission proposal to allocate €1 billion or 25% of the initial allocation of the fund to Ireland is welcome and is a good result. Unfortunately, however, it recognises that we are the state most affected. The allocation under the BAR is a further example of solidarity that Ireland has seen from the EU throughout the Brexit process. We know that supply chains will take time to adjust to their new arrangements and documentary requirements and we are actively engaging with logistics companies, retailers and wider stakeholders to deal with the issues arising to ensure the continued flow of goods. There is positive and reassuring feedback. Those in the retail sector are assuring us that due to the strength of their supply chains they do not anticipate shortages.

One point I wish to emphasise is that there are operating requirements to avail of the zero-tariff rate under the agreement. It does not happen automatically. Importers must show that the imported goods are proven to be of UK origin and actively claim the zero rate through import declarations. Similarly, Irish exporters need to show that their goods are of EU origin when exporting to the UK to qualify for the 0% tariff. It will not be assumed. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Damien English, has been communicating and trying to raise awareness on this point. For consumers, my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Robert Troy, recently issued a reminder about the new arrangements now in place for online retail from the UK. It includes the possibility of additional costs by way of VAT and customs charges that may apply depending on the value and origin of goods in question.

While the immediate focus is on the short-term logistical issues that have arisen from the interpretation of the agreement's provisions, we need to plan for the medium and long terms by continuing to diversify into new markets and growing our share in existing ones. The United Kingdom will always be an important market for Irish business. It is right next door and has 60 million people. However, it is not the only market available. The Single Market is not much farther away. It is far bigger with 450 million people and offers vast opportunities for business, especially SMEs.

I commend Mr. Michel Barnier and all those who contributed to this agreement and I thank our EU partners once again for their unwavering solidarity throughout the negotiations.

2:00 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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This year on 1 January we saw the single largest change in relations between the EU and UK for many decades as the transition period ended and the new framework of the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement took effect. This House knows all too well that Ireland is the EU member state most affected by this change. I warmly welcome that Deputies today have the opportunity to make statements on this important issue that affects all Irish citizens and businesses throughout the country. I look forward to engaging with Deputies in a questions-and-answers session tomorrow on these issues in more detail. Next week, this House will be invited to vote on a motion in support of the agreement reached. I sincerely hope we will have strong support from all parties in this House for the motion.

With that in mind, it is important to recall how we got to where we are today and what the agreement means for Ireland. It might seem difficult to believe, but this time last year the EU had not yet finalised our shared negotiating mandate. The negotiations began in earnest only in March, leaving nine short months for the vast task of creating an entirely new legal framework for our relationship with the UK. This was no easy task, especially when the EU and UK approached these issues with what were often different levels of ambition and preferred outcomes and given the severe logistical challenges occasioned by the pandemic. We have been extraordinarily fortunate in the leadership provided to the EU negotiating team by Michel Barnier. I am delighted he will be recognised later this week by the European Movement Ireland organisation as "European of the Year". I am also keen to recognise, as others have, the extraordinary solidarity Ireland has received from other EU leaders and the role this Taoiseach and his predecessor have played to get this outcome.

For long periods of the negotiations the two sides were so far apart on many issues, including key issues of principle. Some doubted whether it would be possible to bridge the gap at all. I said on a number of occasions that a failure to reach agreement would have been a failure of politics and statecraft. Now that an agreement is indeed in place, it is perhaps too easy to forget how damaging the alternative of a no-deal scenario would have been, especially for Ireland. Both sides worked hard to find arrangements that respected our different approaches. The agreement reached is fundamentally in our interest, not least because the alternative was effectively a breakdown in relations that would have been fundamental.

As the Government motion notes, with the trade and co-operation agreement, the withdrawal agreement and the protocol now in place, Ireland's key Brexit objectives have been achieved. We have protected the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. The trade and co-operation agreement has ensured the best possible outcome for trade and the economy, including tariff-free and quota-free trade for qualifying goods, strong provisions to protect fair competition and the protection of Ireland's place in the Single Market. We have a platform for continued co-operation in key areas such as policing, energy and transport as well as the UK's continued participation in important EU programmes, including PEACE PLUS. The maintenance of the common travel area is also explicitly recognised in both agreements.

There are areas in which we would have wished to have closer co-operation and greater levels of ambition, not least with the outcome on fisheries. The EU offered a much closer trading relationship - others have referred to this - and a continuation of existing fishing arrangements. The UK preferred otherwise. The challenges some stakeholders face today are a consequence of this British choice. I assure people that we will continue to work closely with those impacted negatively to ensure they can navigate the new arrangements successfully and are supported in every way possible.

No agreement could ever have replaced the UK's membership of the EU. As we have said for many months, the UK's insistence that it was leaving the Single Market meant that certain things were inevitable and unavoidable. Even with this agreement, there are new layers of complication in the EU-UK relationship that many - those in industry in particular - are now having to adapt to, especially around processes for moving goods, SPS checks, health certificates, customs declarations, safety certificates and more. This means trade is far from as smooth as it would have been previously.

2 o’clock

We worked for several years to put the most comprehensive preparations possible in place for this change, from infrastructure to financial supports to step-by-step guides for the new rules. Now that these changes are upon us, we continue to work hand in hand with stakeholders to manage the disruption and the new realities they face. Brexit means change and challenges, but we face these together and with the support and resilience brought by our continued membership of the EU and its Single Market of more than 450 million consumers.

After several years of sustained and unprecedented political and sectoral focus on Brexit, we must now look forward. We must play a leadership role in shaping and developing our common European Union. We must promote and protect the values that are at the core of our shared European project. We must collectively deepen our alliances and friendships with our fellow member states. We must build a thriving, innovative and sustainable economic model though which our people can achieve their full potential. We must also reinvent our relationship with our closest neighbour, the United Kingdom, and the Government will be focused on that as well as the EU challenges we will face in the future.

I commend the motion to the House and I look forward to the questions tomorrow. I know there is a proposed amendment to the motion. I ask Sinn Féin to reconsider this approach. The Government is more than happy to talk to all parties about what we are trying to do to ensure we provide all the supports we can to the fisheries sector, but the idea that we would support an amendment today which calls for an effective redesign of the Common Fisheries Policy distracts from the core message we are trying to deliver here, which is that the Irish Parliament is united in supporting the deal that has been struck when everything is taken into account. Nobody is working harder than me and the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, to try to ensure there is a fair burden-sharing approach towards lost fishing opportunities and that there are the necessary financial supports and compensation for fishing communities that have lost fishing opportunities. I strongly encourage those who propose to amend the motion to think again. We have been strong because we have been united as a country on the clear messages we send to others in the European Union and to those in the British Government about what Ireland is achieving and has tried to achieve through these negotiations and the deal that was struck. Let us try to continue in that mould and to work together to ensure we protect fishing interests as best we can in the context of this deal. I look forward to Members' questions and comments tomorrow. I am happy to provide more detailed answers if they are necessary.

2:10 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To insert the following after “of a no deal scenario”: “notes that:
— the outcome of the Brexit trade deal amounts to a 15 per cent overall cut to the quota of Irish fishers and a much higher percentage cut for some quota species; and

— the proposed compensatory financial assistance on offer is nowhere near the levels of financial loss to Irish fishers that will arise from this deal; and
calls on the Government to urgently engage with the European Commission and their EU member state counterparts to renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy to ensure a fair and sustainable allocation of fishing quota to the affected Irish fishers from the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone and other waters.”

The completion on Christmas Eve of the EU-Britain trade and co-operation agreement was the culmination of four years of intense, difficult and extremely fraught negotiations. It is very important to acknowledge the efforts of all concerned, particularly those in the public and civil service, and I offer a special commendation to Michel Barnier and his team for their immense work and dedication over this period. I have always said there is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland and that the achievement of a trade agreement was critically important for the future of our island. Clearly, an agreement is better than a crash Brexit. It is regrettable, however, that Boris Johnson and his negotiators ensured that the outcome is still a hard Tory Brexit that will cause serious problems for workers, business and trade in Ireland and in Britain. The outcome reflects the approach taken by the Tory Government since the Brexit referendum of 2016, one characterised mostly by intransigence, belligerence and cynical brinkmanship and game-playing.

Of course, Ireland, North and South, is uniquely exposed to the very real threats and challenges that arise as a result of the route taken by the British Government. The full implementation of the Irish protocol is all-important as it is clear that the agreement marks the beginning of a new trading relationship built on permanent negotiation, dispute and recrimination. These bottom-line safeguards ensure that there is no hardening of the border, that the Good Friday Agreement is prioritised and that our all-Ireland economy is protected. These special arrangements for Ireland were hard-won through tireless work with our allies in Europe and America and they cannot be eroded by post-agreement trading and political frictions.

As the bluster has now died down, the realities of the hard Tory Brexit have already become all too apparent. Businesses and traders across Ireland are now being exposed to incredible levels of disruption and some confusion. We see disruptions to supply chains that have been built over decades. This was not an inevitable outcome of Britain leaving the EU. This is a result of the choices made by the Tory Government, including its refusal to remain in the customs union, its failure to negotiate sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, equivalences and its rejection of co-ordination with the EU. These choices have impaired businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. Irish supply chains have also been impeded by the British Government's failure to provide sufficient information and preparation concerning post-Brexit arrangements to its traders. The complexities regarding new paperwork and IT systems have also added to the problems faced by businesses. It is of the utmost importance that the Government brings all these groups together to identify the main difficulties and to put solutions in place before the current public health restrictions are relaxed and trade naturally increases.

There are also massive challenges to trade as a result of the North not being counted as EU-origin for the purposes of EU trade agreements with other countries. This is something to which the Irish Government must seek a common-sense solution through proactive engagement with our EU partners. We must work to have the North included by the EU in all existing and future trade agreements.

The Government must also stand up for Irish fishing communities. The recent incident at Rockall highlights the stark realities for the Irish fleet. The outcome of this Brexit deal amounts to another 15% cut in quota and income to our Irish fishing fleet, which was already struggling to survive. For the Irish fleet to be further ripped apart while there are immense fishing resources around our coast is unacceptable. It is time to revisit the EU Common Fisheries Policy quotas as they apply to Irish waters.

It is undeniable that we are now in circumstances in which the need to plan for constitutional change is irresistible. Brexit and the outcome of these negotiations have demonstrated once again that reunification and the ending of partition is the very best idea for the future of our island. That conversation is now live and an Irish unity referendum will happen. It is the duty of any Irish government to prepare for that change, to foster that conversation and to do everything possible to ensure that this process is inclusive of everybody who calls Ireland home.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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All sides were both exhausted and contented when a trade agreement was finally reached between the European Union and Britain at the end of December. The decision to leave the EU was one taken by the British people, or more specifically by people in England. That is their democratic decision, but it would be more palatable to many in this House if they were not dragging parts of our country out of the EU with them. Businesses and exporters have been contending with the new trading terms between the EU and Britain which came into force on 1 January. Unfortunately, these businesses are now being exposed to the realities of a hard Tory Brexit as we witness significant disruption to trading and supply chains that have been built over decades.

In negotiations, assumptions on the practical outworking of a deal are made by the negotiating teams. This was most certainly the case with the new trading arrangements. The reality is, however, that assumptions made in negotiations are often theoretical, abstract and academic compared with how the realities of the situation express themselves in practice on the ground. The current situation at ports and airports is an example of this, as businesses and exporters have battled to familiarise themselves with the new trading terms between the EU and Britain, the outworkings of which are significant disruptions to trading and supply chains that have been built up over decades. While it was important to get a deal, it is also important that the deal works for the State, for the whole island, for businesses, and for our fishing communities. There is an urgent need to renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy, and I urge all parties to support the Sinn Féin amendment. It is not intended, as the Minister tried to characterise it, to be divisive but rather to give this House an opportunity to unite behind our fishing communities, to stand with our fishers, and to express collectively our solidarity. It is the very opposite of division and is intended to unite people.

This means that the Government and the EU, where we have a direct say, have to iron out imperfections in how this new deal is operating. Naturally, with new systems, new customs officers and a whole new way of trading, there are issues which will rectify themselves over time. However, there are other areas where the State will have to push the matter and get involved in coming up with rapid and necessary solutions.

The low level of freight entering and exiting the State during the early days of 2021 have masked the serious problems which are developing due to the complications of the new trading arrangements. In recent weeks these complications have caused havoc for the export and importation of goods for Irish businesses. These problems are as a result of the complexity of the new trading arrangements and the paperwork and ICT systems which now exist to deal with this new post-Brexit trade deal. The Government must pull stakeholder and business groups together, as well as the State agencies such as Revenue and customs, so that the existing problems can be identified and rectified quickly.

However, there are other problems such as rules of origin issues, where goods sent from Europe to Ireland orvice versastop off in Britain as part of the delivery process, are unpacked and then repacked, resulting in the goods losing their free tariff status. These matters have to be ironed out and resolved as quickly as possible. Similarly, we have to work with every sector to ensure issues with groupage transport are ironed out. Currently, groupage transport is only as strong as its weakest link. If a trailer has 30 consignments on it and the paperwork is correct for 29 of those loads but wrong for one, then that trailer is stuck in the port until the whole issue is rectified. Now that we have three weeks of experience in the new arrangements, businesses need to be reached out to again about the new trading systems, and if improvements can be made, they need to be made and made urgently.

We must also assess the evolving situation for opportunities for Irish businesses under these new arrangements. Inevitably, trade voids will appear due to Britain’s exit of the EU and the new trading relationship. The State must be prepared to invest in our SMEs and family businesses to help them expand to capture the lion’s share of this trade, especially the trade in goods. We should be requesting an elongated period of relaxed state aid rules so that we can invest in high productivity, high growth, and high value-added sectors which can see good jobs created in manufacturing and exporting. There are other areas where we do not produce the necessary ingredients or goods that we need, such as sugar and flour. I know that my colleague, Deputy Carthy, has raised this issue on a number of occasions. The State needs to look at investing and restoring these industries.

The deal is welcome and more welcome than no deal, but let us not be afraid to focus on the difficulties we now face and let us not rest on our laurels and think that the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement brings this situation to an end. This is only the beginning and we now need to respond diligently and effectively to the new difficulties that are being faced by our businesses and, indeed, by our fishing communities.

2:20 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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Following an initial period in the immediate aftermath of the 1 January deadline, when haulage traffic was much reduced, primarily due to stockpiling by companies, we are now facing into the full implications of Brexit and the withdrawal agreement that was designed to avoid the chaos that a no-deal scenario would have introduced. Measured against the undoubted catastrophe that the failure to secure a deal would have produced, it was and is too easy to overlook the fact that, in any guise, Brexit is bad for Britain, for Europe and for the whole island of Ireland.

The initial high-profile casualty of the agreement was the fishing industry. Ireland and Germany are set to face the worst hits to their fresh fishing industries. Compared with the 2020 figures, both countries will face a cut of 15% to their fishing quotas. In Ireland’s case, this will equate to an estimated loss somewhere in the region of €43 million to the fishing sector. This is an astonishing figure and one that will present enormous challenges to the entire sector. The Government needs to put in place specific targeted supports for our fishing industry to protect against these losses. We have already witnessed Irish fishing vessels being prevented from fishing by the British Navy in what are clearly Irish waters, even if Fine Gael would have us surrender these waters to the British, as it has attempted to do under the 2013 agreement with the British, one that has not been ratified by the Dáil. The Government needs to sort this mess out and to defend our fishing rights.

While we have entered a new paradigm in our business relationship with our nearest neighbour, one that we anticipated would introduce substantial challenges, that we all agreed would require substantial preparation, and that our Government argued that every effort had been made to address, it has nonetheless become clear that not all Irish businesses were prepared for Brexit. This factor, combined with the difficulties customs and Revenue staff have to face and come to terms with in preparing new computer systems at our ports, is hampering the running of our supply chains. Every effort must be made by the Government to ensure that businesses get a handle on this with immediate effect.

The impact of Brexit is being felt severely in the North of Ireland. The empty shelves in the supermarkets resonate with the echo of the empty promises of the champions of Brexit. We in this House must continue to challenge those who seek to blame the impact of Brexit and of Tory folly on the parts of the final agreement designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement. There is no doubt that the responsibility for the effect and consequences of Brexit lie firmly and solidly at the door of the British Government. The solution to the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland is, quite simply, the unification of the island of Ireland.

The Scottish people are very clear and becoming increasingly vocal in their belief in the independence of Scotland as the quickest and most correct route to get from under the yoke of Conservative Party mismanagement. It is apparent to the Welsh people, awake from their slumber, that the days of the union are clearly numbered. It is not, however, enough to give voice to aspirations. All of us, and the Government in particular, must put concrete plans in place, plans which are needed to respond to the challenges of Brexit and which involve all of the island of Ireland. We need to see the development of the infrastructure which will support and facilitate an all-Ireland supply chain. There is a need for all-Ireland systems, all-island corporate bodies, and above all an all-Ireland strategy designed to maximise the potential of the entire people of this island.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to speak briefly on this important issue. We were not sure that we would ever arrive at the point when we would actually have a trade agreement between the European Union and the UK to debate. It became a very close-run thing.

Although the details of this complex agreement will be unravelled over a period of time, a few points are clear from the outset. As I have done as our spokesperson on this issue for the past number of years, the Labour Party strongly welcomes that we have a deal and will support it today, but we cannot escape the fact that it is what others have described as a very thin deal, one that is much weaker and more insubstantial than any we might have hoped for at the outset when there was at least a hope that the UK might stay within the Single Market or the customs union. Unfortunately, that opportunity was lost over time and the hardness of Brexit was firmed up month after month.

This is a unique deal in all the trade deals the EU has transacted, in that it is one that is characterised by divergence between the contracting parties rather than convergence. In every other trade deal, the contracting parties have sought to come together, remove barriers and free up trade. This agreement is a unique set of proposals that puts additional barriers in place to make it more difficult to have trade. We will have to parse and analyse many parts of it as their actual effect is focused upon. As such, this is far from being the end. There will be ongoing and deep negotiations for a protracted period - forever in fact, because all of our trade agreements and trade interactions with the UK will be subject to ongoing evolution and negotiation.

Like other Deputies, I wish to thank those who argued for our interests. We have unique interests in this matter and a greater interest than anyone else in the EU. I pay tribute to Mr. Michel Barnier and his team, our Government and the civil servants who negotiated with great dexterity and patience over a protracted period on a dossier that was never of their making. I should also make mention of European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, who has done sterling work in understanding our unique issues and taking them as his own as a representative of the European Commission.

Obviously, we nailed down the Northern Ireland protocol in advance of this trade deal and issues like the common travel area and so on are protected, but there are difficulties with fisheries. Our view from the start, which was also the Irish Government's view as expressed years ago by the Minister, was that we should settle the fisheries issue first and get it off the agenda so that it would not be the last item, given that it would be a difficult one for us to address. Unfortunately, that was not achieved and it became one of the two or three last issues, if not the actual last issue. There are serious difficulties for the fishing communities, some of which I represent in the constituency of Wexford, that need to be addressed. The loss of quota that will result from the agreement will have to be addressed by the Government. I would like to hear specifically what proposals it has to deal with the matter.

In future discussions, I will deal in some detail with the specifics of trade in goods, how tariff free and quota free trade is subject to the rules of origin standards and how they are to be implemented, and how limited the trade in services is in comparison with any other agreement that the EU has contracted with third parties, but because I want to be forward looking, I wish to focus on something else in the few minutes available to me today, namely, the outworking of the agreement as it is in place right now. By this I mean how it is impacting on our communities, businesses and people's lives.

I will take one instance of that in the form of an issue that my office dealt with yesterday. A truck arrived from Wales on the Irish Ferries Pembroke-Rosslare ferry line on the MS Isle of Inishmoreon Monday evening. It was carrying medical supplies destined for Swords. Its driver was held up from 7 p.m. on Monday to 11 a.m. yesterday morning. The issue was a discrepancy of approximately €400 on a VAT invoice for a number of wheelchair parts that were going to a health centre in Dublin. The driver offered to cover the cost himself, but that was not accepted. Having overnighted there, he was eventually allowed to proceed.

The driver has allowed me to set out his views on this matter. I will put what he said on the record of the House:

As you are aware, I did 206 crossings [from Rosslare to Wales] last year. We as a company did well over 300.

We helped in the fight against covid during the difficult times, sometimes 5 trucks a week delivered essential medical supplies, i.e., hospital beds, mattresses, oxygen concentrators, wheelchairs, power chairs.

I pride myself on getting the goods delivered on time every time and I never once failed, regardless of the storms, boats etc. I found a way over.

But to be stopped delivering my goods this morning due to a technicality that could have been rectified was unbelievable.

I understand that everyone has a job to do at this uncertainty of covid and the new brexit regulations. I really see that,but to be held up for over 16 hours at the customs point at Rosslare even though I explained the situation was crazy.

At 9 pm, I was told if I had an I2 document I would be free to go. We sorted that problem within 2 hrs. Then they said there was an issue with one of the commercial invoices (which wasn’t mentioned previously).

I'm passionate about what I do and what I deliver as I know it makes a difference to many people.

We need flexibility in such matters. The Minister is listening and taking note. I accept that we did not create these problems and that we must protect our Single Market, but we must have some degree of flexibility. This is happening at a time when the number of trucks coming to Ireland from Britain is slightly less than half the normal supply. That supply will ratchet up and these issues will be compounded. The Minister will say that all exporters from the UK must be up to speed, but we need to help by alerting people to what is needed. In the interim, we need flexibilities for at least a short time so that the frustrations that I just instanced from one driver are not replicated for hundreds of drivers over the coming weeks. As we work out a new paradigm of a relationship with the UK, one that we did not want and do not welcome, we must do so in as flexible a way as we can so as not to disadvantage ourselves. I hope that, in responding to this debate or during the questions and answers session that will be available to us tomorrow, the Minister might show us the type of interaction he is having with all State agencies, in this instance Revenue, to ensure that people who are doing their best and need a technical fix can have one provided for them and that we are not just saying "There is Brexit for you, there are the consequences and live with them", which would not be in our interests.

While the Labour Party will support the agreement as the best that could be done and commends those who were involved in defending our interests, there is a great deal more work to do.

2:30 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Cairns.

I welcome that there is a deal.

I thank Michel Barnier and his EU negotiating team for working so hard to conclude a deal in very challenging circumstances. It is worth noting that it is a very unusual situation to have a reverse trade co-operation deal in place. None of us knows exactly how much damage it is going to do because there is no precedent.

I wish to address three points relating to key weaknesses I see in this deal in terms of the level playing field provisions, increased costs to Irish households, in particular low-income households, as a direct result of Brexit, and the impact of the cost of steel to the construction industry. We know that steel being imported into Northern Ireland is being hit with a 25% tariff. Given that the two ports on the island of Ireland that are best able to receive large imports of steel are located in the North this could have an effect on the construction industry here. The fact that steel destined for the Republic has been hit with a 25% tariff could have major implications in terms of costs for the construction industry. This is an area on which the Government needs to take action to avert the increased costs that would affect the cost of construction and have knock-on effects on the cost of new homes.

Regarding the impact on low-income households, a couple of years ago the ESRI did a study on the potential impacts and costs of Brexit and it concluded that in the worst-case scenario, with a deal like this in place, we would be seeing increased costs for households of approximately €900 a year. We do not know the exact cost impact on households. We do not know how much costs will be absorbed or how much households will be able to avert them by switching to different products and the difference in supply chains, but we know there will be increased costs. There will be an increase in disruption and bureaucracy, resulting in increased costs. We need the Government to monitor this very carefully to see what the impact is and for that to inform any decisions on what measures it needs to take to mitigate against costs for low-income households. I am concerned that in almost an hour of speeches by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, there was no mention of that at all. Is it on the Government's radar and are low-income households invisible to the Government? I ask that because three of its most senior members have come into the House and not addressed the potential impact.

In terms of the provisions of the deal on the level playing field, we have seen Boris Johnson already talking up the fact that he will use Brexit as a way to redraw regulation to give UK businesses a competitive advantage. He has said that they are considering ripping up the working time directive and the corresponding legislation in the UK, including bringing an end to the 40-hour working week and changing rules around rest breaks. We know that in the OECD the UK already has one of the lowest protections for workers. The UK is already looking at doing that. Ireland is exposed given that the UK is our largest trading partner and because we are right next door to the UK. Previously, the European Union has been very slow to enforce any arrangements on labour standards in bilateral agreements. We also know that the level playing field only applies to workers' rights, climate change, environmental standards and state aid, but it does not apply in other areas and the onus is on industry to prove material effects from a lowering of standards by the UK. We need very active monitoring by the Government of changes in the UK so that we can look for fast action from the European Union if any lowering of standards affects Irish jobs and industries.

2:40 pm

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I echo Deputy Cian O'Callaghan in welcoming a deal. Brexit has added considerable uncertainty and worry to families, farmers, fishing communities and small businesses across Ireland. The EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement is a welcome alternative to a no-deal Brexit, as is the Minister's work in prioritising the Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area. Small independent producers in west Cork are contacting me because they are worried about the impact of the agreement and the ongoing uncertainty and they need more reassurance. The Government must put in place targeted supports to help these sectors transition through this period and continue to push such supports at EU level.

With the UK leaving the Single Market the agrifood sector is facing additional costs. It is essential that families, especially low-income households and local enterprises, are not the ones to bear the brunt of these changes. The beef barons and industrial-scale players can adapt, but the likes of inshore fishermen, small farmers, artisan food producers and low-income households simply cannot afford to bear the brunt of excessive barriers. The absence of mutual recognition of sanitary standards is resulting in more controls on goods of animal and plant origin. The Government needs to pursue agreement in these areas to ensure that agrifood trade is as seamless as possible.

Fishing communities are disappointed with the agreement, which sees a total loss of €43 million, with Ireland surrendering a greater percentage of quota than most other EU states. The Minister referred to it as a sacrifice. It is essential that the Government puts in place schemes to support the sector. The process for designating ports for landings of UK-registered Northern Ireland boats was poorly handled. It should have had more consideration, planning and troubleshooting to reflect the realities of the industry. The designation of additional ports is welcome, but it should have happened sooner. More needs to be done to assist those impacted by Brexit and its fallout, both directly and indirectly.

Smaller fishing communities are left wondering how this came about, and whose interests are being served. The excessive re-registering costs, amounting to hundreds of thousands of euro in some cases, is simply not an option for many without assistance. In addition, 24-hours' notice of landing is unworkable for some. There are more and more bureaucratic barriers for smaller fishing operators. The further designation of additional ports if necessary and the use of exemptions to notice periods until fishers have a chance to adapt to the new arrangements should be considered while the impact of new requirements is being assessed.

For many in the industry it feels like the Government is working against them rather than fighting for them. I am sure that is not entirely the case, but that is sometimes how it seems and looks. Small-scale fishers represent the type of sustainable fishing that has been practised for generations in places like west Cork, the islands and coastal communities. It is the kind of fishing we should be prioritising. However, successive Governments are only focused on the larger and more damaging types of fishing, which is more lucrative for the few rather than the many. That is evident in that these are the only ones being represented by producer organisations, POs. Many of these issues can be connected to how decisions are made and whose interests are being served. That is incredibly problematic and must be addressed.

The fishing sector is complex, with fishers of different types and scales working in the industry. However, the Government and the media rarely reflect this nuance. This is evident in the disconnect between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and many fishing communities. It is essential that the Minister grants PO status to other representative groups, such as those representing the islands and other inshore fisheries groups, to better represent all of the sector, especially small-scale and family businesses, which are often overshadowed by the larger players and their producer organisations. The organisations that are actively seeking PO status should be urgently assisted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There can be no more delays or excuses. This is such a crucial time for the industry, and we need to hear all their voices in order to fix the situation.

In the tourism area, small businesses are worried about the effect on them. The imposition of VAT and customs duty and the bureaucratic barriers can be met by large corporations but are prohibitive for family enterprises. These obstacles are a serious threat at a time when we are attempting to foster campaigns to buy local and to promote online trading for small-scale businesses. The Government's change to the retail export scheme, which allows non-EU tourists to claim back VAT on purchases made in Ireland, is a particular blow to the tourism and craft industries, which are a significant source of employment for younger people especially in rural areas. I urge the Minister for Finance to immediately reverse the increase to enable VAT relief on the majority of purchases to help support local enterprises.

The EU-UK agreement is the new trading reality, which will have considerable impacts on agrifood, fishing and small businesses. The Government must engage directly with those involved in these sectors and prioritise the voice of small and independent producers to ensure practical and more equitable solutions.

2:50 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Barry. For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Tory right, Brexit was always about a reckless drive to accelerate the race to the bottom, undermine standards in worker rights or the environment, for example, and, no doubt, to further enhance the role of the City of London as a centre for financial speculation and emulate this country in trying to develop a tax haven model that would reduce corporate tax obligations on multinationals in order to encourage investment to the United Kingdom. It was about whipping up anti-immigration sentiment and tightening what are essentially racist immigration laws in the UK. In pursuit of that ultra-neoliberal and right-wing race to the bottom agenda, Boris Johnson was reckless and willing to run the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and the erection of a hard border, which would have been a disaster for this country.

Europe was also very concerned about protecting the Single Market and insofar as the protocol or agreement guarantees no hard border, it is very much to be welcomed. I have no doubt many officials worked very hard on the details of this arrangement on many levels. Ultimately, the greatest credit must go to the majority of people, North and South, in this country who utterly reject the Johnson ultra-neoliberal, right-wing, reckless and, frankly, racist agenda and, equally, who have opposed any notion that there should be a border erected between North and South. That was pressure from ordinary people, with a majority in the North and South recognising that a border would be an absolute disaster. That pressure guaranteed that we got the protocol.

That is very much to be welcomed and I go further in saying it opens the possibility we should pursue actively of trying to get rid of the Border altogether. The logic both around Covid and the possible consequences of a hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit opens the real possibility of ending the disaster of partition and we should actively pursue a border poll to bring about that end to partition. It should be one of the key lessons we take out of this.

Having said all that, we should be absolutely clear that the Scottish Parliament voted against this deal. The Stormont Assembly voted against this deal. The left in Britain voted against the deal. Apart from the protocol and guaranteeing no hard border, it is a terrible deal. It is a terrible deal for fishing communities, for example. This is not just because of the recklessness of Mr. Johnson but the historic mistreatment of the fishing industry and communities in this country at the hands of the European Union.

It is a terrible deal in that it looks to hold on to prohibitions on certain types of state aid. State aid in Europe and the UK seems to be fine for banks, for example. They can gamble and wreck the economy but we will have state aid for them. If we tried to have state aid for public enterprise, public infrastructure or services that ordinary people need, Europe would cry foul, as would the Johnsonites and ultra-neoliberals.

What about the Mercosur deal? The EU opposes protection against a race to the bottom deal but it has signed up to a rotten Mercosur deal that will flood Europe with cheap beef, damage the interests of small farmers and do immense damage to the environment. It is good we will not have a hard border, and that has been achieved, but let us not paint this deal in overly rosy colours.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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This agreement ends a chapter in the Brexit saga but it does not bring to an end the tensions between the capitalist powers. The agreement sets a framework in which ongoing tensions can be increased. The deal was negotiated and drawn up by representatives of British big business and their European counterparts. Such an agreement can never be in the fundamental interests of working people in Ireland, Britain or the EU.

On the EU side, Brexit is a major blow but this agreement will allow the Union to protect its Single Market and, by extension, its imperialist trade policies. On the British side, the deal will allow the Tory Government to move towards its bargain basement Brexit dream of a Singapore-on-Thames, a low-tax, lightly regulated economy that would have a competitive advantage over EU economies. The Tories do not want to break free from EU state aid rules in order to launch nationalisation, save jobs or redevelop the economy. Instead, they want to use state aid to boost the profits of British business and boost their competitive edge against competitors in Europe, Japan, China and the US.

The agreement sees a major attack on worker and democratic rights. Many of the rights enjoyed by ordinary people in Britain and Ireland in each other's jurisdictions have been given some assurance. Nevertheless, the agreement sees a major attack on the rights of other EU and British citizens in each other's jurisdictions. These include attacks on the right to live and work, the right to study, the right to social protection and pensions and access to public services. All these have been diminished.

This is part of a plan to drive a race to the bottom and undermine worker rights. The deal will also provide for the undermining of consumer rights and, crucially, important environmental standards. These plans must be met with organised opposition by working people and trade unions, including international solidarity across Britain and the rest of Europe.

The endorsement of the Northern Ireland protocol will be met with relief by many people in Border communities. A hardening of the North-South Border would have been a major imposition on these communities, causing much economic hardship. It would also have served as a reminder of the Troubles and partition, thereby increasing sectarian tensions. However, it must also be noted that the agreement will see a hardening of the east-west border, particularly as the British economy and its regulations diverge. The deal will add to the legitimate feeling of insecurity of many ordinary Protestants about the future and the sense that they are being coerced into an economic united Ireland. Socialists are opposed to coercion and stand for a solution to the conflict and the differing national aspirations based on shared worker interests.

Under the protocol, the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote every four years on the arrangements. This is a blueprint for sectarian conflict and tensions that will be stoked by the likes of the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin and other sectarian forces. We also note the threat of food shortages in the North and increased food prices North and South. Workers must not pay the price and the trade union movement has a responsibility to ensure they do not do so. The calling of a conference of workers' movements, with representatives from communities and workplaces to push back on that threat, would be an important step.

Under capitalism, a system based on competition and cut-throat profiteering, we have seen international relations increasingly being marked by imperialism, conflict and division. As a socialist and internationalist, I, along with the Socialist Party and Solidarity, stand for a fundamentally different way of organising society. We stand for a society based on co-operation and we want to register our opposition to this agreement. Instead of an agreement providing a new framework of imperialist, nationalist and sectarian tensions, we stand for a very different road, where the interests of working people are placed at the forefront.

3:00 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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As a Member of the Irish Parliament, I would like to congratulate Joe Biden today on his investiture as President of the United States of America. I hope he will continue to foster and promote the strong relationship and ties between Ireland and the US.

After four years of intense discussion and political posturing, a negotiated future trade agreement between the EU and the UK is very welcome. The major issues with respect to Ireland's trading and political relationship with the UK appear to have been largely settled in principle, but in practice the new regulatory constraints are fast becoming apparent.

I wish to acknowledge the work undertaken by our European offices and Government Departments which ensured the continued support of the European Commission for a fair resolution of the UK withdrawal agreement, particularly with respect to the implications of Brexit for Ireland. The UK has been for many years one of our largest trading partners and is our most accessible market, particularly for our agriculture and food sectors. The fact that the UK is now considered to be a third country has completely changed what was a frictionless trade relationship. In the area of food and agricultural exports, this poses the greatest risk in terms of a loss of competitiveness due to the increased regulation and transport costs being forced on the sector.

Our fishermen face a significant reduction in access and catch over the coming years in UK and EU fishing grounds. The Government must now liaise with the fishing sector in respect of financial assistance to offset future quota losses. I call on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to include Dunmore East as a designated port for UK-registered vessels to offload their catches. Dunmore East harbour has processing facilities on site as well as fisheries protection officers to provide the necessary oversight following inclusion on the list of approved landing ports in Ireland. This is needed to shorten landing times and reduce the carbon footprint of those vessels accessing southern fishing grounds.

As a consequence of delays in accessing the UK land bridge, exporters are now looking to new direct routes to the Continent. I welcome the additional services provided at Rosslare by DFDS and Stena Line. I also remind the Government that we have a very viable bulk port in the south east at Belview, Waterford. The potential exists here to develop rail freight from this port through a western rail corridor, and I hope to see capital investment in Irish Rail in the near future to achieve this strategic objective which would benefit so many business that require additional import and export options.

One of the new learnings that has come to light is the incredible amount of regulation governing the movement of agricultural base products to and from the UK. It is apparent that we do not have enough trained customs clearance agents. Furthermore, phytosanitary checks and origin certificates are causing major delays and imposing additional costs on Irish exporters. I have been informed that up to eight different software systems, which are not integrated, are now being used to develop documentation for food exports to the UK. These systems are not integrated with Revenue either. This is a perilous situation for our food and agricultural sectors. I urge the Government to convene immediately a specific task force to look at these issues and provide resolution. We have lauded our export performance for many years, and rightly so, but indigenous producers in this country cannot make up the ground that will be lost by a failure to resolve these logistical and clearance issues as soon as possible. The Government regularly reminds us that it does not create employment but rather sets the policies to assist market demand. These new constraints and restrictions have arisen as a result of policy changes, and we need to see Government agencies and Departments responding to these transport issues with appropriate urgency and attention.

The issue of Brexit contingency funding has also been raised by the Government, and many sectors will need support over the coming months to adapt to the new trading conditions. I hope that in framing its policy response, the Government will support the primary producers in our food, agricultural and manufacturing sectors who will, ultimately, pay the largest price in terms of this new policy implementation. Everyone who has been following the Brexit saga will feel, on balance, that Ireland's position has been vindicated and supported by our EU colleagues and that the agreement reached is probably as good as we could have hoped for given the political circumstances in the UK. The UK was and still is our biggest trading partner, and it is to be hoped that will continue to be the case as we learn to manage new ways of doing business and of progressing our relationship.

Photo of Cathal BerryCathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for bringing this motion before the House today. I will support it reluctantly and with a heavy heart because I recognise that this is part of the formal ratification process by this Parliament of the new EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement. It is difficult in such a short time to convey adequately my feelings on an event that is so solemn and serious for this country. The UK and Ireland have been companions on the same European journey for many years, and it is very sad to see that we are parting company now, especially under these circumstances. Perhaps it is fitting that we are having this debate in this very large and empty chamber because the vacant seats emphasise the fact that we have lost our nearest neighbour and closest friend at EU level. If we are all honest, the European Union is much worse off because the UK is no longer involved. It is like Hamletwithout the prince. All that the deal before us today does is ensure that there is parity of pain across all of the parties and that all sides to this agreement will be diminished to the same extent. That is all it achieves and the Minister is aware of that fact.

While I accept the collective and sovereign decision of the entire population of the UK, I am also mindful of the fact that 48% voted to remain. Remain voters were predominantly those in the younger generations. Furthermore, Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain but they are being wrenched out of the European Union against their explicit and democratic wishes. That is an issue that must be resolved. On top of that, many of those who voted for Brexit did so under false pretences. They were sold the allure of a Brexit dream which is rapidly becoming a Brexit nightmare. The truth is starting to emerge now that free trade does not mean frictionless trade and that free travel does not mean frictionless travel. All of the certainties of the past that we took for granted are no longer in place. This is another issue that needs to be resolved. I look forward to Scotland and Northern Ireland returning to their rightful place in the European Union as soon as possible. I very much look forward to that day.

I compliment and commend all of those on team Ireland who engaged in the Brexit project over the past four years. Our diplomats and officials and even our politicians tried to strike a deal with a country that seemed hell-bent on an extraordinary act of self harm, which was a very difficult endeavour. The deal that we have in front of us is not perfect, of course. It causes huge difficulties for our hauliers, exporters and our fishing and coastal communities, but on balance it is probably the best deal that could have been struck in that it prevents a hard border on this island and ensures that we have direct access to the Single Market. It also prevents the catastrophic economic consequences that would have resulted from a no-deal, hard Brexit. On that basis, I will support this deal.

In 1921 a deal was struck that allowed Ireland to withdraw from the United Kingdom. It is quite ironic that almost exactly 100 years to the day, a new deal is struck that allows the United Kingdom to withdraw from Ireland and the wider European Union project. It is a very, very sad day. It is sad day for me personally. I have a lot of contacts all across these islands, and in my previous profession I learned as much on Salisbury Plain as I did on the Curragh Plain. I wish my British friends the very best for the future but I hope that, in whole or in part, they will return to the European family. I wish them "so long" rather than "goodbye".

3:10 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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3 o’clock

I too am glad to be able to speak here today. I am really quite sad. The Minister and I have spoken about this several times. Indeed, I attended a number of briefings with him and the then Taoiseach throughout 2019 and earlier. I know the Minister has put endless hours, including hours of debate, into this matter. It is a massive blow to our economy, our agriculture and fisheries sectors and trade more broadly. Shortly before Christmas, Deputy Verona Murphy, who was formerly involved in the road haulage business, and I raised the issues facing us. It was like it was getting dark towards nightfall. The Ministers and their officials told us blatantly that everything would be hunky-dory, that everything was in order and that everything that needed to be in place was in place. Sadly, very little was in place.

I heard a lady from Revenue the other morning giving out about how the hauliers did not have all their paperwork in order. Hauliers, and all other businesses, are snowed under with paperwork. I believe that the issue of paperwork and bureaucracy was one of the main reasons the British disengaged from the EU. Our mandarins here are exemplary at putting more paperwork, rules and regulations on top of all of that. We do not have access ports and we have not thought of new initiatives and ways to get our goods to the UK. We were all informed by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and others that everything was going to be hunky-dory. Officials told us that. Is there any accountability for the officials who told us that and let us believe it? They put their heads in a bag and decided everything was grand. A multiplicity of problems was staring us in the face.

The fishing industry was traded and sold out. It happened in 1973 when the Minister's late dad was in the Dáil - God rest him - and it has now happened again. It has been the sacrificial lamb and has been destroyed. Mr. Barnier, who was supposed to be the EU's trade commissioner, was looking after the French fishermen at the expense of the Irish fishermen. Deputy Michael Collins asked from where the percentage of the fishing quota being spoken about was to come. It was our fish that was being talked about. It was Irish people's fish and Irish people whose livelihoods in the fishing industry were to be decimated. It has happened as sure as night follows day and as sure as it gets dark and there is a morning after. We have such a bureaucratic system. What do we do? We allow one of our senior civil servants to take over the Department of Health and reward him with an extra €81,000 a year. It is time they were held accountable to the people and had to face them. They are not fit for purpose.

We had plenty of warning. The British people decided. The previous Deputy said that he was sorry and that they had made a mistake. They are sovereign. Unlike Ireland, where we were made vote twice for the Lisbon and Nice treaties, they respect democracy over there. They gave us plenty of warning but we did not heed it and we now have a mess to engage with. It is a pity that the UK has gone but its people decided to leave for very good reasons.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call on Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, who has three minutes.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I believe I have two minutes while Deputy Michael Collins has three, if that is all right with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. Obviously, we in this country wanted a Brexit deal to be agreed. It is certain that nobody here wanted a hard border. We did not, however, want a deal at the cost at which it has come for certain sectors. I put the blame for how the Irish fishing sector has been affected firmly on the Irish Government.

I have consistently called on the Government to be straight with the fisheries sector and the public as to why it sold out the entire sector during Brexit negotiations. The Government and its Ministers have attempted to downplay the impact on, and damage to, the Irish fisheries sectors through constant spin. For instance, on Christmas Eve, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, claimed that the total loss to Irish fishermen would be €34 million following the agreed Brexit deal. The Minister shockingly spun this to suggest that it somehow represented a fair deal. Not only is the Minister's position astonishing, but it also represents a deep betrayal of the entire sector and every coastal community.

The latest analysis released by officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine illustrates how out of touch the Minister really is on this issue, as are all Ministers for that matter. The preliminary analysis now confirms that the transfer of quota shares from Ireland is a staggering 27% higher than the Minister initially announced. The official report indicates a total loss to Ireland's fishermen of €43 million by 2026, with the mackerel sector, which is the most vulnerable element of the Irish fleet, hardest hit. This sector faces a 26% cut in quota share, which is worth €28.6 million. Approximately 60% of this cut will emerge in 2021 so the impact will be felt immediately. The enormity of the difference between what the Minister stated and the actual figures merits a full investigation. Such gross incompetence is intolerable and will cost thousands of jobs as it ends livelihoods around the coast.

I pleaded with the Minister, with the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and with the Taoiseach in the run-up to this deal to get involved with the negotiator, Michel Barnier. Unfortunately, while Emmanuel Macron was fully involved in negotiations in terms of what was going on, our Deputies and Ministers were completely out of touch and they have now done a shocking deal. The deal on Irish fish represents a dreadful loss to Ireland. I again put on the record of the Dáil that I have called for a minister for fisheries. I have been ignored and so has the fishing community of Ireland. History will show that this Government has sold our waters and our Irish fish again. Unfortunately, I have run out of time. I wanted to talk about the cross-border directive. Perhaps other Deputies might get a chance to do so.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I have to put on the record that I acknowledge the Trojan efforts and work of the Minister and his officials. I acknowledge that because it would be wrong and unfair of me not to. Am I happy with the outcome? No, I am not, but we were put into an impossible situation as a result of the whole Brexit fiasco.

I will start with our fishermen and the Irish fleet. Our fishermen, who have been blackguarded over years and who were sold out many years ago, have been sold out again. Their potential livelihoods and those of their families have been further diminished by the deal - if one wants to call it that - that we have got. I also want to talk about the smaller fishermen who are struggling today - the inshore fishermen. These are the fishermen I represent in the county that I am from. They fish the Kenmare river and in places like Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen and Dingle. These people are struggling to make a living and this deal will impact greatly upon them and their income in a negative way.

I will also speak about the hauliers. Using the land bridge has become very cumbersome and slow. The alternatives that have been put in place, even in recent days, such as the route from Dublin to Cherbourg, are very costly. Hauliers tell me that they cannot recoup the additional expenses they face from their customers, so the situation is dreadful.

I acknowledge the recent announcement regarding the bilateral agreement on the cross-border healthcare directive, which I fought very hard for. I am glad that we will be able to continue taking people up to the North to have cataract surgery, and other surgeries, carried out for another 12-month period, although I acknowledge that these procedures should be carried out here in the South and that these people should not have to go to the North.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am very concerned about the cut in quotas for our fishermen. I see a noticeable reduction in the number of lorries going through Kilgarvan village from Castletownbere. They traditionally travelled that way every evening and night. There has already been a serious reduction in traffic on that route.

Many businesses throughout the County of Kerry have contacted me regarding problems with data protection in respect of goods they have traditionally sourced from the UK which they are having brought in by couriers and hauliers. They say that they have to complete unnecessary invoices specifying the goods and their cost as the couriers and hauliers need them to get through customs. They are worried that this will expose them to more competition as the cost of everything will be known, as will what they get for their produce after bringing it in. Regulatory barriers are a problem.

This is one of them. We hear much about data protection. We must look after our businesses here; they are bad enough with the coronavirus and everything else. These invoices should not need to be shown. There should be some other way such as a customs clearance certificate not specifying the value of their goods or how much they paid for them. I ask the Minister to ensure that problem is sorted out.

There is agri-friction in respect of the British bringing beef and other food into their country. That will definitely have a negative impact on our farmers and we must do our best to ensure that we do not accommodate those outside sources in the European Union in order to counteract them.

3:20 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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We have only been dealing with Covid-19 and its impacts for a year now, whereas Brexit feels like the never-ending saga. It is almost five years since the Brexit vote. It has taken five years to get us to this point where an EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement was finally agreed by negotiators on Christmas Eve 2020 and was provisionally applicable from 1 January 2021. At that time, the EU was given until 28 February 2021 to ratify the agreement. This involves the complex legal text being translated and there are reports that an extension will be sought until the end of April.

One of the pieces of literature available online is the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement - A New Relationship with Big Changes - Overview of Consequences and Benefits. It is a two-page bullet-pointed synopsis of EU-UK relations. In the Trade and Goods section, for example, it states a consequence of the UK leaving the EU is that the "UK goods no longer benefit from free movement of goods, leading to more red tape for businesses and adjustments in EU-UK supply chains." However, it points out that a benefit of there being an agreement means "Zero tariffs or quotas on goods traded, ensuring lower prices for consumers - provided agreed rules of origin are met." It seems as childish as the "Good Idea - Bad Idea" skit on "Animaniacs".

The agreement is necessary for both the UK and members of the EU. Much of the conversation about the impact of Brexit on our island is rightly about the threat to peace and the return of a hard border on the island. Many of the day-to-day impacts are on the people working in the fishing industry; people who did not swop over their drivers' licences; websites with a ".ie" domain which use a UK company for distribution; and NGOs reliant on EU funding etc. These are just a few examples of issues that have been highlighted in recent weeks. The wider impacts have yet to be seen and we also have the double-whammy of Brexit plus Covid-19 level 5 restrictions to deal with.

Regarding security and thematic co-operation, the two-page document states a consequence of the UK leaving the EU is that the "UK no longer participates in or shapes rules of EU agencies for police and judicial cooperation (Europol, Eurojust) and no longer benefits from privileged cooperation amongst police and judicial authorities". However, it lists benefits of this agreement including "Arrangements for a strong cooperation between national police and judicial authorities of the UK and Member States, including on surrender."

Late last year, Dr. Vicky Conway, produced a very useful paper on Brexit and cross-border policing. In the paper, Dr. Conway raised excellent points about the relationship between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI and the mechanisms which have been used to strengthen cross-border policing and security co-operation on the island of Ireland, particularly in areas such as child protection. How will these now be impacted by Brexit?

A very worrying part of the impact of the trade deal is the fiasco that we have seen this week regarding UK-registered fishing vessels operating in Irish waters. How could the Government in the three years since the Brexit deal not have considered this issue? It has meant that fishermen have had to push and lobby to have a realistic operating procedure put in place. With the announcement on Monday, the Minister has moved to allay some of the problems but is this all that he could come up? This will go on for a long time yet. When we consider that fishing and quotas were to the fore in every discussion about Brexit over the last three years, how did this situation arise? In what other Departments and areas could other problems arise? What has the Government been doing over the last three years if this is what we get?

When we look at how the quota situation was dealt with, we see that the problems are even bigger with the Government and the Department. It seems that the fishery organisations decided to team up with the coastal states to protect our fishing rights. The State also seems to have done so and that really worked out well for us and our fishing communities, as we can see. We have ended up losing 15% of our fishing quotas which translates to 24% of mackerel which is particularly bad because we could have caught all our mackerel quota within Irish waters if we wanted too. However, the Government and fishing organisations insisted that we could not mention that. Let us now consider where it has got us.

At least if the Government had the guts to say that we are going to sell fishing down the tubes to get other things, we might have some respect for that stance. If our so-called partners had said if we had wanted them to support the Good Friday Agreement, they wanted our fishing to go, it might be explainable. However, the Government is constantly selling the line that we are all in it together, which is simply not the case. If the Minister were serious about that, he would announce today that he would push for a complete renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy, but I doubt he will do that.

For this reason, I will not support this deal.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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As a Member of the European Parliament for about three years during the Brexit negotiations, I had a dual perspective. As an Irish MEP, I worked with others to ensure overwhelming support in the European Parliament for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and no hardening of the Irish Border. Equally, from a distance as it were, I could see Brexit through the eyes of MEPs from different member states. Throughout that entire process Irish politicians and officials in Dublin and Brussels were efficient and coherent. They were on top of the issues and crucially worked hand-in-glove with the EU negotiators. I believe we took the right decision and I was proud as an Irish MEP to see how our national politicians and officials played such an important role in negotiations. We often talk about punching above our weight and we certainly did that with Brexit.

In his departing address last night, President Trump spoke of the importance of luck. We were lucky with Michel Barnier as lead negotiator. Apart from his abilities and his sound judgment and that of his team, Michel Barnier had context. As Regional Affairs Commissioner, he oversaw the setting up of the PEACE funds. He knew the history and the background; he had context. That was very important when it came to issues like the Good Friday Agreement. All of that filtered through the negotiations and was vital. I am delighted that he is to be honoured by the Institute of International and European Affairs. Commissioner Sefcovic also hit the ground running. I also recognise the role of Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's lead negotiator, who fully supported Ireland's position. I was delighted to be able to welcome him to Ireland for a few days during those negotiations when he got a real sense of the impact of Brexit and the Border on local communities, SMEs and agriculture.

However, we are where we are. Earlier the Tánaiste spoke about the Brexit fund and how well we had done from that fund. However, how we spend that money will be crucial. I have read the Commission's proposal on the fund. At 41 pages, it is not a long document. The word "territorial" is mentioned 14 times and the word "cohesion" is mentioned 31 times. The Commission's intent is clear. I will quote one short sentence from the proposal:

...it is appropriate that Member States, when designing support measures, focus in particular on the regions, areas and local communities...most negatively impacted by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom [from the Union].

It is crucial that the Government takes that into consideration. As the greatest negative impact is being felt in the north west and the Border region, that is where the bulk of this fund must be spent.

The Government must commit to territorial balance, which is what is referred to in the EU regulation. The fund, therefore, has to be largely regionally-specific. It is a fund which will support the agrifood sector, SMEs, retraining and upskilling and, hopefully, Internet access so we can be part of the digital economy. I reiterate that the Brexit support fund must be spent in a way which will help support those regions worst affected. Enterprise Ireland figures released this week show that the drop in employment nationally was 0.4% in 2020, but the highest drop in any region was in the north west, where it was 2.9%. Some of that loss of employment was because of Covid-19, but some of it was also because of Brexit. The north-west and the Border region had also been previously downgraded from a development region to a region in transition. When the Government is deciding where and how to spend these funds, I ask that it keep to the original territorial cohesion objective of the Commission. In other words, that is balanced regional development.

3:30 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies from all sides of the House who participated in today's session. The trade and co-operation agreement and indeed the broader questions regarding our bilateral relationship with the UK, are vital issues for everybody on this island. It is appropriate that the Dáil should be fully engaged in considering the issues arising. I echo the call made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs for unity today. There will be a question and answer session tomorrow, when the Minister and I will be here. There will also be a question and answer session with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue on fisheries. There is no end of time for any motions which parties might want to table regarding Europe, fishing and-or any other aspects. Today, however, is a day on which this Dáil should show a united front. The united front which all parties showed in recent years was a major source of strength to both Governments in their negotiations. The eyes of Europe are watching the Dáil today. I take this opportunity to thank the parties for co-operation which we have seen, and which I have referred to, in recent years. It has been appreciated.

The changes to our relationship with the UK are comprehensive. Generations of citizens, including me, were born during the period of our shared European Union membership. We never had to think about the invisible web of co-operation implicit in membership. For the first time in almost 50 years, however, we are engaging with the United Kingdom outside of that shared framework. A new framework is in place, however. Imperfect though it is, it is there and it is what we will have to work with.

We are fully aware, and Members have outlined this aspect in great detail, of the challenges of the new situation, especially for the business and trading communities. I have heard first-hand from traders who are finding real difficulty in adapting to the requirements of the co-operation and trade agreement and the requirements arising from Britain's decision to leave the Single Market and the customs union. The Government is listening closely to what Deputies and industry representatives are saying, and we have been doing that for quite some time. I remember the Taoiseach outlining that aspect.

We see the difficulties occurring directly as a result of Britain deciding to leave the European Union. Those difficulties are multiplying daily, particularly in Britain. We will continue to work with business and other stakeholders to ensure that they have all the information they need to comply with the requirements of the new situation. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach referred to the considerable supports available to businesses. Fundamental change has occurred in the way the European Union does business with the United Kingdom. We would have preferred if that had not happened, and we said that all along. All these changes, however, are direct consequences of decisions made by the British people and, subsequently, the British Government. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs said, the European Union offered a much closer comprehensive trading relationship. Britain took a different path. This is regrettable, but it is a reality of that decision made by Britain and we have had to adapt to it. The quicker that we adapt, the better our interests will be protected.

We already see huge adaptations in transportation to the Continent. Our ambassador to France, H.E. Patricia O'Brien, was in Cherbourg several days ago. She was told that normally 35,000 Irish trucks go through that port, based on the 2019 figures, but that up to 9,000 or 10,000 Irish trucks have already gone through Cherbourg this year. We have also seen the establishment of many new services going directly to the Continent. Rosslare Europort has seen a trebling of services, including daily services to France. Brittany Ferries has a weekly service, Stena Line has a service from Dublin and we have also seen the announcement of the load on, load off service from Dublin to Amsterdam. Stena Line has also put a new ship running from Rosslare, a ship which I understand came off of a British ferry route. DFDS has launched its Rosslare to Dunkirk route and CLdN has established routes from Dublin to Zeebrugge, Santander and Portugal. That may not be a comprehensive list, but a raft of new services has been created. By the way, if any company is thinking of putting on services such as those I mentioned, all those new routes are heavily booked and there is a strong market in that regard.

We have invested significant resources, as the Taoiseach outlined, to ensure we have been as prepared as possible for the new arrangements. We will continue to work hand-in-hand with industry. I thank all the officials at every level of the public service who have worked really hard in recent years. I refer not only to those in the areas of diplomacy and trade, but also to officials in Customs, the HSE, the Office of Public Works, OPW, and had many other Departments, who have been working hard to ensure that the requisite infrastructure is in place. That infrastructure can be seen by driving just five minutes down the road to Dublin Port.

The challenges we, and Britain, are facing are a direct result of Britain's departure from the European Union. This shows us how valuable the Single Market is to us and why it was first put in place, with Britain as the driving force in that process. It is a tragedy to see delays and food rotting with truck drivers and importers bypassing Britain and trying to come directly to Ireland. All the hassle and bureaucracy now being experienced had been stopped by the Single Market. We are part of that Single Market, however, and we can continue to avail of it. Our place is at the heart of Europe. Our European Union partners have been our closest allies throughout this process and they will continue to be. This has been clearly shown in the way they made it their priority to ensure that the unique ways in which Brexit affects this island would be recognised in the withdrawal agreement and in the trade and co-operation agreement.

Earlier, the Taoiseach touched on the importance of the protocol for Ireland and Northern Ireland. Together with the trade and co-operation agreement, the protocol plays an extremely important part in mitigating, but not eliminating, the effects of Brexit on this island, North and South. Ensuring its effective application in a way that works for those on the ground is our priority. We will be engaging with the European Union in that regard, including as part of our membership of the specialised committees on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Right from the start, even before the Brexit referendum took place, the Dáil has consistently played a central role. This engagement has ensured that the complex issues involved have been fully understood and communicated to citizens. The Dáil has demonstrated to our external partners how seriously Ireland takes these issues in respect of engagement at the heart of our democracy. We gave public voice to a cross-party commitment to protecting Ireland's interests as well as is possible during what has been a challenging process. Ensuring that the Dáil and the Oireachtas remained properly apprised of developments arising from Britain's departure from the EU has been, and is, a priority for the Government. I thank our civil servants who did several direct briefings with Members of the Oireachtas in recent weeks. That can happen again, if necessary.

As the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister for Foreign Affairs made clear, and as has been underlined by many interventions, we all regret that the structures of our relationship with Britain can no longer be as close as they were. The agreement, however, represents a firm commitment from all of us, the EU and Britain, to work together comprehensively and it is an implicit recognition that our prosperity, our businesses, our citizens' lives and our futures will remain intertwined. After the challenges, frustrations and delays which have characterised the Brexit process, a new chapter is beginning. The trade and co-operation agreement gives us some of the most important tools we need to navigate the challenges ahead. Many of those challenges will remain and we will never eliminate them.

Britain has decided to leave and has left the Single Market and the customs union. Those challenges that have arisen will remain. We can mitigate those challenges but we cannot eliminate them.

I thank businesses for the role they have played in this over the past years. I believe they are, even still, learning a lot. This is welcome and we do understand their concern. Please bring forward the concerns to me or to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, about issues that may arise. Some issues have arisen over the first few weeks of January, which is natural with a new system. The Revenue Commissioners in particular have responded in a very pragmatic way. Undoubtedly, the Government is remaining in touch with the European Commission about the application of the agreement to ensure the agreement does what it is supposed to do and that we can get every possible benefit from it. That benefit, however, will never be the same as Britain being a member of the European Union.

I was struck by Deputy Cathal Berry's sadness at Britain leaving the European Union. I am sad too, and I want this on the record. It was a bad move by Britain and I believe they are now coming to see the consequences of that. They remain, and always will be, a very important partner for Ireland. The Taoiseach is absolutely committed to rekindling that crucial relationship between Britain and Ireland. I am aware that Britain is keen to do that too.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 27; Staon, 0.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Ruairí Ó Murchú; Níl, Deputies Jack Chambers and Marc Ó Cathasaigh.

Amendment declared lost.

Motion put and declared carried.