Monday, 29 March 2021
Matters Arising from the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU: Statements
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim buíoch go bhfuil seal againn leis an ábhar seo a phlé. I welcome the Minister. I am glad we have the opportunity to hear from him as well as the opportunity to discuss some of the very important issues that pertain, which colleagues have rightly raised in this debate.
Brexit is the product of a project of collaboration between the DUP and the British Conservative Government that has lasted more than four years. Despite the rather hollow and hypocritical howls of protest from the DUP and others about the so-called border in the Irish Sea, Brexit and its consequences are to be owned by those who drove them. The campaign to leave the EU was championed by the DUP and right-wing Tory Brexiteers. They did so without consideration of the political, economic and social implications for Ireland and our peace process. The EU was integral in supporting and underpinning peace in Ireland. Joint membership of the EU by Ireland and Britain, and in particular joint access to the Single Market and customs union, enabled many of the rights and freedoms of peace to be realised. Despite this, the implications for the peace process of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU played no significant role in the Brexit campaign. Instead, withdrawal was backed by some of those supposed to support and protect our peace process.
The people of this country and in the North thought differently. Brexit was rejected by the people of the North in 2016. It was rejected by the North's Executive and Assembly. Despite the majority of people and their elected representatives in the North rejecting Brexit, the DUP, in partnership with the Conservative Government, embarked on trying to withdraw the North from the EU, a key institution in uniting the people of the North and South. That great party of unionism, the DUP, who lectured anyone and everyone who was foolish enough to listen to it about the importance of the ballot box and democracy, engaged in an undemocratic campaign in its failed attempts to undermine the expressed will of the people of the North.Against the will of the people and the will of the North's Executive and Assembly, against our express democratic will, the DUP supported every effort the Tories made to take Britain and the people of the North out of the EU. After years of negotiations, the Irish protocols were agreed alongside the wider EU-UK withdrawal agreement, which mitigated the worst consequences of the right-wing DUP-Tory Brexit agenda. The Irish protocol provided the mechanics to avoid a hard border in Ireland. The protocol not only allows for unfettered trade to continue between the North and South but also allows for the North's continued access to the EU market and the opportunities that come with it. As for east-west arrangements, the protocol also avoids the need for unnecessary customs duties on goods moving from Britain into the North.
The protocol has successfully tailored all the interests of the parties and created the best opportunities for business to carry on largely unhindered, yet the Brexiteers, the very people who required its existence in the first place, are attacking it. The principal target has been the so-called Irish Sea border, referring to the need for paperwork and checks on certain goods moving from Britain to the North, yet the sea border is the direct product of Brexit and all those who championed it. It was not inevitable, as the Minister knows. This is a clear case of the more local Brexiteers having to reap what they sowed with the English Tories. The need for red tape anywhere was caused by Brexit and the rejection by the DUP and the Tories of sensible proposals on access to the customs union. Contrary to the now changed DUP narrative that the protections of the protocol and continued access to the EU Single Market offer a unique opportunity to build and develop new all-Ireland trading opportunities while minimising the negative effects of Brexit, the Minister will remember that the DUP, along with every other right-thinking person, acknowledged the opportunities the protocol presented. That has perhaps changed, however, with the findings of recent opinion polls in the North.
While trading between Ireland and Britain is in decline, trade across Ireland has been increasing, as other Members have indicated. In January, trade going south increased by 10% as trade going north increased by 17%. Supply chains have already begun orientating towards the all-Ireland model. Hauliers north and south of the Border have shifted towards using direct ferry services from Ireland to the European Continent in order to avoid the British land bridge and the associated red tape. The surge in demand has been mirrored by an increase in supply services offered at south-eastern ports, increasing from 12 per week to over 40 since the end of the transition period.
The changing trading arrangements imposed by Brexit present opportunities to deepen North-South co-operation in terms of trade and economic and social progress and to bring investment and jobs. Central to this is the full implementation of the protocol and the protections it contains. It did not matter to the DUP or the Tories that the consequences of Brexit would damage the economies of this country and would add to the economic difficulties presented by the pandemic. Now the EU, the Government here, the North's executive, business people and the workers of this entire country have to ensure that the EU-British Government deal, the withdrawal agreement and the Irish protocols are fully implemented to minimise any potential damage caused by Brexit to Ireland's two economies.
At two levels last week, Ireland's constitutional future had a particular focus. On national television and various other platforms it was being debated while others were bringing forward ideas and proposals to protect and develop Ireland's economies despite the problems created by Brexit. Dublin Port Company published a series of discussion papers to contribute to the consultation process on increasing the long-term capacity of the port between 2030 and 2040, including moving the port to Bremore, County Dublin, which would mean additional capacity required elsewhere and would open up other port locations along the eastern corridor, namely, Rosslare, Drogheda and Waterford. The Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and the executive's finance minister, Conor Murphy, joined representatives from eight councils, including Dublin and Belfast and all in between, to discuss a report jointly prepared by Dublin City University and Ulster University on developing the eastern corridor as an economic powerhouse. It has to be business as usual for the people of Ireland, North and South, as they develop all-Ireland plans to minimise the impact of Covid-19, Brexit and partition. I agree with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that legally binding agreements must be upheld and implemented fully - and that does not pertain just to the two we deal specifically with tonight - and that solo runs serve no one. Problems, whether perceived or actual, should be dealt with around the committee table.
I thank the Minister. I have been asking for these statements for some considerable time and, while appreciating that this is a live dynamic and it is not always easy to come in and give a fully comprehensive report, it was important we had the opportunity to discuss this before Easter.I appreciate the Minister making himself available to the Seanad as he very often does and, indeed, the Leader facilitating my request.
Other colleagues have regularly said that, in the context of the pandemic, we have perhaps taken our eye slightly off this at a political and institutional level, for understandable reasons, but the work goes on. That is not to do down the sterling work of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU and our chairperson. The need to protect the protocols and the withdrawal agreement by the Minister, his colleagues in the Executive who wish to do so and, indeed, colleagues across the EU, is of vital importance as we steer our way through the unwanted consequences of Brexit and the dangers posed to our economies as a result of the pandemic.
I wish the Minister well in his endeavours. He has very willing colleagues on this side of the House in ensuring that we work to uphold those agreements.