Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
67. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the way in which the national development plan, NDP, will help to deal with the ongoing challenge of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55551/21]
I thank the Deputy for his question and his ongoing interest in the Brexit issue. The full implications of the UK's departure from the EU remain to be seen but they will be significant. We need to remember that the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement does not replicate the status quo. Seamless trade no longer exists. This is why the Government has been working to prepare for Brexit for several years. Our total Brexit-related expenditure since the UK referendum on EU membership is now over €1 billion.
The Brexit adjustment reserve represents an important response by the EU to the challenges posed by the UK's departure from the EU and an important expression of solidarity with Ireland. The purpose of the reserve is to help counter the adverse economic and social consequences of Brexit in the sectors and member states that are worst affected.
Ireland will receive just over €1 billion in Brexit funding, the biggest single allocation for any member state, representing just over 20% of the total fund. It is appropriate that Ireland, as the member state most impacted by Brexit, would be the largest beneficiary.
On the NDP, I consider it prudent and more appropriate over the longer term to focus on core capital spending requirements, excluding the once-off spending that may be required to meet the emergency needs arising from Covid-19 and Brexit. These once-off costs can be considered as part of the annual budgetary process, and provision can be agreed upon for the upcoming year if required.
The substantial investment detailed in the NDP will more broadly support investment that is growth enhancing and will meet the challenges caused by Brexit. For example, there is a considerable investment to support the enterprise and agriculture sectors in innovating, with a particular focus on green and digital transition, to make both more sustainable in the longer term.
Under national strategic objective 6 of the NDP, which is to achieve the delivery of high-quality international connectivity, there is a commitment to continuing investment in our port and airport connections to the rest of the EU, the UK and the rest of the world. This is integral to underpinning international competitiveness and it is also central to responding to the challenges, as well as the opportunities, arising from Brexit.
I appreciate the insight the Minister has given. Could he elaborate on one or two of the points he made, particularly on the investment planned for our ports infrastructure to facilitate an increase in direct shipping to our largest market, continental Europe? We have seen over recent months a huge increase in the number of new shipping lanes from Dublin, Rosslare and Cork to countries such as France, Spain and the Netherlands, but we can agree that there is much more potential in this regard. The Minister pointed to the challenges of Brexit but also to the opportunities. When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, 55% of our exports went to Great Britain. This proportion is now down to 9%. There is still great potential, not only within the Single Market but also through it and European trade deals, but we cannot realise that potential if we cannot get goods to market. I stress that our biggest market is continental Europe.
I acknowledge and welcome the Deputy's comments on this. When it comes to the selection of individual projects, it is a matter for the line Minister and line Department but, as part of the NDP, we have agreed to multi-annual capital ceilings. For example, the Department of Transport now knows what it will have by way of a capital budget for each year until 2025. Indeed, it has its total envelope to 2030 confirmed as part of the NDP. It will amount to €35 billion over the period. I will be working with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and all of our Government colleagues to ensure our ambitious plans are implemented. That will involve significant investment in our ports and airports. As the Deputy knows, there has been significant investment in our ports to date to be prepared for Brexit, but we acknowledge that there will be further development of more direct connections to mainland Europe from our ports. That will require continued investment by the Government.
When we bear that in mind, we must recall it is also a matter of access to our ports on our roads, whether they are going to Rosslare or Cork. We must also remember the myriad of approaches to Dublin Port.
Considering the investment needed to promote the level of trade and enterprise I desire, I very much welcome the funding allocated last week by the Tánaiste and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, through the Department of the Minister for Finance, to support our agrifood industry in diversifying after Brexit. Throughout the discussions and negotiations on Brexit, people said 86% of our cheddar cheese goes to one market, so we have to start producing different types of cheeses. How are we supporting enterprises to ensure transport connectivity to the Continent? How are we ensuring that individuals and the Enterprise Irelands and IDA Irelands of the world have the resources they need, not only in Ireland but also elsewhere, including the commercial offices in Lyon or Frankfurt, to promote the sale of our goods in the markets in question?
I thank the Deputy. He has made some important points. The deployment of the Brexit adjustment reserve will be so important for our country.
We are getting the lion's share among member states because we are undoubtedly the country that is most impacted by Brexit. What we have to do is match those resources with the sectors that require additional support to counter the adverse consequences associated with Brexit. We have defined those areas already. Some of them are very much consistent with what the Deputy has stated. The Brexit adjustment reserve fund will be used in the area of enterprise supports, measures to support fisheries and coastal communities, targeted supports for the agrifood sector, reskilling, retraining and checks and controls at ports and airports, for example.
Ireland's allocation of €1.165 billion is significant. As the Deputy is aware, the spending of that money must take place between now and the end of 2023. One can bring into the reference period expenditure since 1 January 2020. My Department is working through the detail of that. The funding is most welcome and will be used in the areas the Deputy has identified as being of priority.