Wednesday, 5 October 2016
I welcome the Minister of State and thank her for taking this very important debate.
I have said it here and in many other forums that Brexit will be an absolute disaster. It will be massively negative, especially for Ireland, in economic terms. However, it will present a few slim opportunities on which Ireland must capitalise in order to offset the negative economic impacts. In the financial services sector and attracting foreign direct investment, the opportunities are quite obvious. However, from an institutional point of view, the European Medicines Agency is one of just two decentralised EU agencies in the United Kingdom, the other of course being the European Banking Authority. With the European Medicines Agency seeking a new home, Ireland could and should be the obvious location for it.
Why do we want the European Medicines Agency to relocate to Ireland? It has a secretariat of over 600 people and an annual budget of over €300 million. Relocating from London to Ireland would provide a massive, direct boost to the economy. The European Medicines Agency is a beacon for many international pharmaceutical companies which wish to be based close to the central regulatory body for the industry. Bringing it to Ireland would see a surge in interest among pharmaceutical companies that are looking to relocate to Ireland. A number of Japanese pharmaceutical companies based in London are on record as stating they will go wherever the European Medicines Agency goes. As matters stands, the European Union is the source of about one third of the new drugs brought onto the world market each year. Bringing the European Medicines Agency to Dublin would provide a huge boost for the research and development sector.
The question is where in Ireland should the European Medicines Agency be located. I know that my colleague, Senator Frank Feighan, has put the case for it to relocate to Carrick-on-Shannon. While a case could be made for its relocation to Cork or Galway, the obvious destination would be Dublin which meets many of the criteria various media outlets and trade publications have laid out as being vital to wherever the European Medicines Agency relocates. Ireland is home to many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, including GSK, Pfizer, Abbott and Wyeth, all of which, among others, have offices in Dublin. Both Trinity College Dublin and UCD have large schools of pharmacy. Loughlinstown in south Dublin has already enjoyed great success in being home to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and its staff of about 100. In south Dublin, in particular, there are three international schools, St. Andrew’s College in Booterstown, St. Killian’s Deutsche Schule in Clonskeagh and the Lycée Français in Foxrock, that offer the international baccalaureate, a very important aspect when looking to relocate the families of people working for the European Medicines Agency.
Dublin is only a short flight from London, which would allow for easy telecommuting for those who for various reasons would remain in London during the early stages of relocation, particularly when compared to the other leading candidate cities, namely, Milan and Stockholm. As we always say on the world stage, Ireland is a country in which English is spoken and has a low-tax and open economy, with a highly intelligent local population, something Milan and Stockholm do not offer.
I wish the Minister of State and the Government the very best in their efforts to bring the European Medicines Agency to Ireland. Much like the bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it is vital that all of our political, civic society and commercial leaders come together to back the bid to have the European Medicines Agency relocate to Ireland.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. He has been very clear in flagging the challenges we will face as a consequence of Brexit. I acknowledge that he has also been to the forefront in having the European Medicines Agency relocate to Ireland.
The European Medicines Agency plays a very important role in the protection and promotion of public health through the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines for human and veterinary use in the European Union. As a consequence of Brexit, a decision will have to be made on a new location for the European Medicines Agency. The Government believes this decision should be made relatively quickly once Article 50 is triggered, which, as we know, is to happen in March next year.It is imperative that the relocation be managed in a way that will ensure it has minimal impact on the vital work of the European Medicines Agency during the transition period and beyond. My colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, has made public his intention to put forward Dublin as a suitable location for the European Medicines Agency and requested officials to prepare a bid setting out the reasons it would be a suitable location. To date, his officials have consulted other Departments, including the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as well as the Irish Healthcare Products Authority, HPRA, State agencies such as IDA Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, SEl, and pharmaceutical industry representatives. There has also been a range of informal contacts on this issue with individuals at home and abroad who have provided useful insights.
Arising from this consultation process, officials have identified a number of factors which would make Dublin particularly suitable to host the European Medicines Agency, including, as the Senator noted, the fact that the city is an English language location and English is the working language of the agency and the pharmaceutical industry. A further factor is proximity to the Irish medicines regulator, the Health Products Regulatory Authority, which has an excellent track record, already made a significant contribution to the workings of the European Medicines Agency and would provide strong support in the event of a move. On the retention of expertise, Dublin’s proximity to London would prove attractive to some EMA staff with families who are well established in the UK capital as they could decide to commute. In addition, commonality of language arid other facets of life may make it more likely that staff would remain with the European Medicines Agency, rather than leave when the agency has to move from the United Kingdom.
A further factor is that Ireland is one of the leading locations for the pharmaceutical industry in the European Union. Nine out of the ten largest pharmaceutical companies in the world have operations in Ireland and we also have a strong research and development sector. In addition, Dublin has an airport located between 20 and 30 minutes from the city centre, with excellent air connectivity with EU capitals and internationally. The airport also continues to expand its routes.
Last week I had a bilateral meeting with the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Mr. Vytenis Andriukaitis, following a seminar in Brussels on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. As recently as last Monday, at a meeting of EU Health Ministers in Bratislava the Minister for Health discussed with the Commissioner Ireland's interest in hosting the European Medicines Agency. Work will continue in the coming weeks to prepare Ireland's bid and Ministers and officials will use every possible opportunity to present the case for Dublin, both at home and abroad.
I welcome the reassurance the Minister of State has provided regarding the great efforts being undertaken by the Minister and his ministerial team to bring the European Medicines Agency to Ireland. I underline my view that we must involve the private and commercial sector and civic society in this process and make clear to them that they have a vested interest in achieving this objective. The Government will not be successful if it acts alone, which means that the process must be all-inclusive.
When negotiations commence following the invocation of Article 50, it must be made clear that Ireland will suffer more than all other member states as a result of Brexit. The economic and social decline we will inevitably experience as a result of Brexit must be offset by policy changes at European level. The European Union must pay more attention to Ireland, for example, by making it a key location for financial services companies which decide to move their operations from the United Kingdom. These companies are calling themselves "the old exiles". One of the EU agencies based in the United Kingdom, preferably the European Medicines Agency, should also relocate to Ireland to give something back to a country that has always been pro-European and a positive member state.
The Government is concerned about the impact Brexit will have on the economy and society. While we can do a certain amount, there is also much that we cannot do or control. For this reason, we must try to mitigate the consequences of Brexit. No stone is being left unturned in our efforts to attract the European Medicines Agency to relocate here.
The Senator's comments on engaging with the private sector and civic society resonate with me as such an engagement would be a positive step forward. The Government will not be found wanting in its efforts to mitigate the consequences of Brexit and attract companies and agencies, including the European Medicines Agency, to locate here in the aftermath of the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union.