Monday, 29 March 2021
Matters Arising from the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU: Statements
I welcome the Minister. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. We are very fortunate to have in the Minister such a strong advocate for Ireland in the EU. Officials and staff in his Department have demonstrated clearly the negative impact on Ireland of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, as evidenced by Ireland winning over €1 billion of a €5 billion post-Brexit EU fund. The impact on our society, trade and travel is enormous. The challenges we face are clear, including the health crisis arising from a pandemic that does not recognise boundaries and climate change, which threatens us all.
The Minister mentioned the difficult months relating to the Northern Ireland protocol and the Good Friday Agreement. The quality of leadership in the EU, representing Ireland and protecting this protocol, is a top priority. It is also positive to see President Biden's unequivocal support for the Belfast agreement.
In terms of Brexit itself, I ask the Minister to consider how the Brexit adjustment fund could be used in a number of areas. First, as a society we have family and friendship connections with Northern Ireland and must work towards a safe society, with respect for identities taking account of all. As a student of Irish history in Galway, I went on to study further at the University of Ulster in Coleraine and made friends on all sides. That experience gave me a deeper understanding, having walked in others' shoes, of how important it was to achieve peace.
The second area is trade and especially agriculture. How can we use this fund to prepare farmers for the impact of UK import controls? As we know, half of all our beef exports previously went to the UK market. How can we use Bord Bia in a more effective way?
Third, as Fine Gael spokesperson on further and higher education, research and innovation, I look forward to exploring opportunities for Science Foundation Ireland to engage in joint research projects with Northern Ireland universities. I also support the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Deputy Harris's engagement on a Derry campus which is part of the work of the shared island unit. The Government has also committed to supporting students in Northern Ireland to participate in the Erasmus scheme. I had the opportunity to study for a postgraduate diploma in the University of Ulster which led to an internship for a few months at the European Commission office in Belfast. As Senator Currie mentioned, we have just come from a talk on Northern Ireland by a branch of Young Fine Gael in Queen's University, Belfast. It was sad to see the aforementioned European Commission office close last year. Would it be possible to review that decision in the future?
As Senator Burke mentioned, departmental officials and groups in the ports have done phenomenal work to maintain trade and to create new direct trading and shipping lines. I am also aware that €500 million has been allocated to the shared island unit to deepen North-South co-operation, an all-island economy and an all-island climate strategy. I urge the Government to maintain, protect and further develop cross-Border potential in healthcare, particularly under the health directive, and to examine how our health resources can be shared to the benefit of all.
We have difficult challenges ahead but we have a very strong team in place. I look forward to working with the Minister and his team to achieve the best for Ireland and the island as a whole.