Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

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

 

10:30 am

Garret Ahearn (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and thank him for the work he has done not only in recent months but also in recent years. It has been a really difficult time over recent years for anyone in business with the uncertainty of Brexit and what that brings. Anyone who thought that uncertainty would end when Brexit was agreed was incorrect, and uncertainty continues. In my constituency, in a town like Clonmel there are an awful lot of small to medium-sized businesses that trade with the UK on a range of products. Bulmers does an awful lot of trade within the UK and has people working over there and in Ireland. The complications it has experienced post Brexit have been huge, and anything it ever imagined they would be before Brexit happened, they are ten times more in terms of workload and complications.

I have been working with my colleague in Clonmel, Councillor Michael Murphy, on a number of issues post Brexit and what we can do to help businesses. Obviously from our perspective, we look at Tipperary and Clonmel, but it is for all businesses across Ireland. It was welcome when the announcement was made that Ireland would receive €1.3 billion of the €5 billion Brexit fund, which is a huge amount of money for one country of the 27 member states to receive - almost a quarter of that fund - and then, on top of that, we have almost €1 billion from the recovery and resilience fund. We should look at how we spend that money and where we spend it. It needs to go directly to small and medium-sized businesses that have been affected by Brexit and not just the big projects and big groups. It needs to go to the small-time business people who employ two, three, seven, eight, nine, ten people and that have been directly affected. The people who are most in tune with those groups that are affected by that are the local authorities. We should give local authorities an enhanced role, especially with local enterprise offices, in singling out areas, groups and businesses that need that support over the next number of years. It would be really helpful and give local authorities a real influence and connection with the businesses that need that support. I would encourage it if it were possible.

One of the biggest sectors that has been affected by Brexit over recent years has been agriculture. It has been a really difficult time for many sectors in agriculture, particularly beef. Senator Joe O'Reilly was speaking earlier about how the price of beef in the UK is £300 more than it is in Ireland at the moment. It is a real challenge and it almost seems there are always challenges in agriculture, whether they are in dairy, beef or any other sector. Even this week, and it is not Brexit related but is related to agriculture and the challenges it has, we had an announcement with Glanbia that there is going to be a temporary cap on its milk supply, and this is going to cause restrictions of people's milk supply over a three-month period, in April, May and June, every year . To all intents and purposes, for dairy farmers that is quotas being brought back in a certain way. I am interested to get the Minister's perspective because we have been seen over the past ten years as a party and a Government that has promoted rural Ireland, agriculture and the dairy sector to expand and enhance. Now we have a situation where a body, An Taisce, which does not have a democratic mandate and has no mandate whatsoever, is essentially attacking a sector in rural Ireland, the dairy industry. When we are trying to encourage people, and certainly on a day when we have launched a rural strategy for Ireland for the next number of years, we now have a situation where this sector is effectively being hamstrung by decisions made by An Taisce. I would love to hear the Minister's views and thoughts on it.

In terms of the next number of months ahead, I wish the Minister well. It is a difficult challenge. I welcome the approach the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have adopted in terms of negotiating with the UK.I do not think what the EU has been doing in the last number of weeks is appropriate. We have to remember that these are our closest partners, with whom we will be trading for a long time. The approach the Taoiseach and the Minister have taken in negotiating with our partners across the water is the right approach to take going forward.

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