Monday, 29 March 2021
Matters Arising from the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU: Statements
As the Minister knows well and has often said, Brexit is not good for Ireland at all and nor is it good for Europe. The Minister's steady steering of Ireland and the key role he has played with our European colleagues in softening the blow of Brexit is commendable. He has done this country and Europe enormous service in his calm, sure-footed approach to dealing with a tricky, complex and difficult issue that will, if not done right, have long-term implications for the country. At least we can minimise those implications. I listened to Senator Byrne and others talking about flour.There is a case to be made. It will be an issue because it is likely to increase the price of bread, which is a key consumable, by 10% or 15%. We will have to consider alternative suppliers or developing mills and producing flour ourselves. These trade issues will not be resolved overnight, but they will be in due course with proper Government intervention. I have no doubt that the Government is working on them.
We have discussed the negatives and challenges. A variety of areas face challenges that were probably not expected, but the unexpected was always going to appear after Brexit. Car importers are experiencing significant difficulties. Many of our cars come through the UK, including second-hand models. Not everyone can afford to buy a new car. However, there is a commitment at Government level to working through and resolving such problems. The whole-of-government approach to Brexit is appropriate and welcome. It has moved seamlessly from the previous Government to this one. Brexit is a political issue, but not a political football and everyone in the Chamber is on the same page when it comes to cushioning the effects for our citizens as much as we can.
Senator Black spoke about Deputy O'Connor's proposal for a Minister of State over the all-Ireland unit in the Department of the Taoiseach. A positive element of the programme for Government was the setting up of that shared island unit. There is a case to be made for considering the appointment of such a Minister of State, albeit perhaps not immediately. It could be done in this Government's lifetime. For a long time, there was a Minister of State with specific responsibility for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is within the remit of the Department of Foreign Affairs now, but that ministerial role could be reconstituted in terms of a shared island and building relationships and understanding on the ground. For example, a great deal could be achieved through connectivity in the arts, sport, entertainment, fashion and tourism. We share an interest and commonality in more areas than we differ on. Education is a key component in that regard. I welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, that the Government would fund students from the North who wished to participate in the Erasmus+ programme. That programme has enriched many people of various ages. They learned a great deal from participating in the programme. Making that opportunity available to every young person on the island of Ireland is an example of the importance that we place on education and our realisation of the benefits of education.
I wish to flag a couple more issues for the Minister. First, it would be great to have him back in the Chamber after Easter to update us on the work that Ireland is doing on the UN Security Council. We need to be updated on that work constantly during the two years we hold that very important position. Second, the military coup in Myanmar saw 100 people slaughtered over the weekend. That is appalling. We cannot just issue statements expressing our horror. We have to use our influence in the world, in particular through the UN Security Council, to do something about it. It is clear that there will have to be international interventions, and not just sanctions. There will have to be serious interventions to deal with this affront to democracy, which is happening before the world's eyes. The world has to do something about it.