Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

 

3:30 pm

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)

We will discuss the budget later. I want to raise on the Order of Business the possibility of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, coming to this House to discuss one aspect of Brexit which I think is of great significance. Today's revelation in The Spectatormagazine of what is really going on in the mind of Dominic Cummings deserves close scrutiny. It shows that what I said here last week is entirely true, namely, they have been gunning for a no-deal exit and they are entirely preoccupied with the blame game in which Ireland is going to take the brunt of the criticism.

The point I want to make about Brexit is a slightly different one. For 30 years, we have been resting in the shadow of the United Kingdom in regard to EU matters. The scrutiny and work that goes into developing EU policies, examining directives and regulations and considering the impact of proposals coming from the Commission that has taken place traditionally in the British system, not least in the parliamentary system in Westminster, with the House of Lords European Union Committee being an excellent analytical body, will cease and the Irish Government is not prepared to take up the slack. We do not have experts sitting at desks analysing what is happening in Europe. It was so easy to lift the phone and ask those intelligent people in Whitehall and in Westminster to give us a heads-up on what the implications of various European measures would be for a common law country such as Ireland or England. We were living, effectively, off the back of the British establishment in our dealings with Europe.We have not tooled up, so to speak, for being on our own in Europe and replacing the major intellectual and political analysis that has gone on in Britain for the past 20 or 30 years with every legislative and policy development matter in Europe. We have been living on borrowed time. This must change at a governmental and particularly a parliamentary level. Leinster House has been refurbished but nothing of significance happens here with regard to analysing European legislation or interacting with the European Parliament. Nothing happens in this House on that front and we do not look at what is being cooked up in Brussels. We pay no attention to it and, to be honest, that must end.

It is more serious at a governmental and analytical level. We must get our third level institutions, Departments and semi-State bodies to play an entirely different and professional game. They are not playing minor hurling any more and they will be our only defence and way of interacting with the European system from now on. We need in particular to change our entire structure of Government so the Minister with responsibility for European affairs is a full Cabinet member with a very substantial Department whose job it would be to regulate and analyse our relationship with the European Union.

I am not saying this to be critical of the Leader or the Government. Governments have lived on the back of British efforts for a long time. We will have to up our game, not just in the Rugby World Cup but for the long term and also in Europe.

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