Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Matters Arising from the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for coming before the House and I echo the comments of others in thanking him for his commitment on this rather tricky issue. I also thank all of the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and other Departments for their work in this area.

Some of my colleagues have already covered a number of the issues involved. At the Brexit committee, I raise four issues on a regular basis, namely, data, flour, the question of Rosslare Europort and education. On a previous occasion, I raised the issue of data protection with the Minister. It is an issue that does not tend to get the same level of attention as other issues in the Brexit debate. As we know, there is a draft adequacy decision to the effect that the data rules in the UK must be adequate to match those of the EU. I am concerned, however, that if at some stage in the future the UK's data regime does not remain in line with our data protection laws or that if the UK were to breach fundamental rights concerning the handling of personal data, it would lead to a suspension. This is not just about the interruption that will happen to business with data flows back and forward - the estimated cost here could potentially be more than €1 billion.There are also implications with regard to sharing sensitive security and law enforcement data. This is a concern, particularly knowing the issues on this island around the need in certain circumstances to share particular information about security. It is important.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport wrote recently in the Financial Times that the UK now has the freedom to strike out on its own in international data partnerships with the world's fastest growing economies. Depending on the UK Government's attitude, I worry whether we are sufficiently prepared if the UK diverges and whether the Data Protection Commission has all the resources, with all the other work it has to do. As colleagues have said, every four years the adequacy decision will expire and this is something we need to address.

The importation of flour and the rules of importation has a direct impact on consumers. It could add 9% to the price of bread or bread products. In light of that, we need to examine import substitution. I hope that some of the resources from the Brexit adjustment reserve fund could be used perhaps to set up our own mills but certainly to address some of the concerns around import substitution.

Senator Black just mentioned Rosslare Europort. It is finally booming. It is now our nearest point to France and the EU. There are 36 weekly direct services linking Rosslare and continental Europe. I ask that we move towards granting Rosslare tier 1 port status, that it is recognised for the national contribution it is making and will continue to make. As part of the review of the national development plan it ought to include the completion of the M11 motorway from Oilgate to Rosslare, as hauliers and others raised regularly with the Brexit committee. It is an absolutely essential piece of infrastructure, not only for County Wexford but also nationally.

Education is one of the areas where Brexit provides an opportunity. Others have spoken about Erasmus and particularly the Government's generosity towards students in the North but there is also an opportunity to attract a greater number of Erasmus students from continental Europe to study here in Ireland. There are issues around capacity in student accommodation and other issues but it provides a real opportunity for Ireland. We need to further explore higher education links with continental Europe.

The Minister mentioned how we continue to expand our role internationally with new embassies in Ukraine, Morocco and the Philippines, as well as the consulate in Manchester. These are very welcome. All this has taught us why it is important for Ireland to continue to be at the heart of the European project. I am proud to be Irish but I am equally proud to be European. It is a message that we need to continue to spread. Our soft power has been very much on show in recent years. Globally, the EU will play a major role in facing some of the world's challenges. I commend the Minister on his work and wish him well in everything he has to do in the months ahead.


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