Thursday, 13 October 2016
UK Referendum on EU Membership: Statements
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht an cuireadh a thabhairt dom an tseachtain seo. I am pleased to be in the House to discuss the consequences for Ireland of the result of the EU-UK referendum.
I will begin by giving some details about the comprehensive series of actions my Department and I have undertaken in response to the UK referendum result. On the day of the referendum result, I established a co-ordination group on Brexit in my Department consisting of the chief executive officers of both IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, along with relevant enterprise, Single Market and trade officials from the Department. This group, which I chair, continues to meet regularly and oversees the management of our response to the referendum result.
I have met with a wide range of representative organisations including IBEC, ICTU, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, the Small Firms Association, the Irish Exporters Association, the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, and the Irish Farmers Association, to provide an update on immediate responses and to reassure business in the aftermath of the result.
Last month, I travelled to Brussels, where I had a series of meetings with the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elbieta Biekowska, the European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, and Vicky Ford MEP, Chair of the Internal Market Committee of the European Parliament. I used these meetings to convey the unique impact of Brexit on Ireland at the earliest stage, in advance of the commencement of the detailed exit negotiations.
On 2 November, I will have meetings in London with my two recently appointed UK counterparts, the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark. Similarly, I will be using these meetings to ensure the importance of the unique circumstances for Ireland is fully understood at Cabinet level in the UK. I am conscious that a decrease in the value and-or the volume of exports to the UK will directly affect Irish industry, including SMEs and agrifood sector enterprises. Enterprise Ireland has been systematically engaging with its 1,500 clients which export to the UK. A key element of counteracting Brexit impacts will be to diversify exports to third markets by growing client participation and sales into these markets.
Last week during international markets week, more than 140 international market advisers from over 30 Enterprise Ireland overseas offices returned home to assist over 400 client companies with developing new global export plans in the context of Brexit. At my request, Enterprise Ireland has extended its schedule of Minister-led trade missions with 36 missions and events in 2016 and a further 32 other trade events for the second half of 2016. During the next six weeks, I will be leading several trade and investment missions to the US, China and Japan. The UK is and will remain a key market for Enterprise Ireland clients. The agency will continue to help exporters deepen and strengthen their presence there by helping them become as lean and as innovative as possible.
Ireland will also continue to make the most effective use of the framework of trade agreements the EU already has in place, as well as supporting the opening of new markets through the EU. These agreements, such as the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, CETA, which will be signed by EU Ministers in Luxembourg next week, and future agreements in progress such as those with the US, Mexico, South American nations, Vietnam, Singapore and the EU-Japan free trade agreement, will all create sizeable new and diversified market access opportunities for Irish exporters.
This week's Budget Statement contains many measures which will assist Irish business to become more competitive and cope with the impact of Brexit. This includes an extra €52 million to support further job creation, innovation and support Irish companies to respond to the challenges and opportunities arising from Brexit. Importantly, we have secured additional moneys which will provide for an extra 50 staff for my Department and its agencies. The staff will be specifically tasked with assisting companies adjusting to the challenges faced as a result of Brexit, securing new business and innovation opportunities and diversifying into new markets. In addition, the rainy day fund of up to €1 billion per annum from 2019 onwards, announced as part of the budget, can be utilised in the event of a Brexit-related downturn or another global shock.
In our collective efforts to address the challenges arising from Brexit, we should not overlook whatever opportunities may emerge for Ireland on account of the UK's withdrawal. That is why I have directed IDA Ireland to explore the potential for winning more foreign direct investment. This will not be easy. The global foreign direct investment market is extremely competitive and we must fight hard to secure each and every new investment into Ireland. Other countries will also be doing their best to win potential new investments which may arise on account of Brexit. Thankfully, in our efforts to win more foreign direct investment, we can continue to rely on the selling points which make investing in Ireland attractive in the first place. The challenge for us is to make sure that these messages are communicated to the international business audience. It is for this reason my Department recently made €500,000 available to IDA Ireland to strengthen its communications capacity.
As for the implications of Brexit for relationships between North and South, it goes without saying our No. 1 priority is to ensure, no matter what happens, the peace process is protected and safeguarded. This view is shared fully by the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. My particular focus though is on the commercial and trade implications of Brexit for Ireland and the Border region in particular. Much will depend on the nature of the deal which will be negotiated between the UK and the EU. The Government will not be slow during that process to highlight our unique economic ties with Northern Ireland. We will also be doing our utmost to protect the interests of those companies and businesses which engage in cross-Border trade. InterTradeIreland, the cross-Border body tasked with supporting trade and commerce between North and South, will have an important role to play in this area in the time to come.
The EU's programme Horizon 2020 is an important source of funding for research and innovation activities in Ireland.It enables us to amplify the impact of domestic public investment by leveraging complementary funding from the EU. In addition to funding, Horizon 2020 provides a mechanism for researchers and companies in Ireland to network and collaborate with the best researchers and leading companies across Ireland and Europe. These benefits are particularly important for a small island nation. While the UK is the largest source of partners for Ireland in Horizon 2020 programmes, it is not by a large margin and we continue to strengthen our relationships with other European countries. It is useful to note that the UK Treasury has given an assurance that it will underwrite the payment of Horizon 2020 awards to all UK organisations for awards made while the UK is still a member of the EU, even when projects continue beyond the UK's departure from the EU.
The consequences of the UK EU referendum result will have a profound impact on the policy areas of my Department. However, Senators can rest assured that my Department and its agencies, including Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, are working to ensure the most advantageous outcome for Ireland and the European Union with a view to minimising the impact on Irish enterprises, employees and consumers arising from the UK's departure.
It is great to see the Minister return to us again for what is almost her weekly round of the House at this stage. As the Minister has outlined, there are many serious implications, but this is not of Ireland's doing. I will outline some of the things we are trying to keep an eye on. Our unique relationship with Britain has been built up over years. Safeguarding the work and progress made in the peace process is evidently going to be one of the key points. The prospect of going back to a hard Border is a serious concern for everyone involved. All these issues have to be teased out, and we will have to wait to see what will realistically happen in practice. That is the key thing that we have to get around.
I am disappointed that the First Minister in the North was not as keen on certain proposals. Perhaps it was not handled as well as it could have been by the Government, although I am not getting political about it. The prospect of an all-Ireland forum to discuss Brexit was suggested as the way forward, but politically it did not work out for whatever reason. It would have been a great help if we had all tried to sing off the same hymn sheet. Perhaps it was never going to be that simple.
The common travel area is going to be an area of concern and Brexit is feeding in to that. Our strong trade links with the UK are vital. We know the figures. In agriculture, 55% of our beef exports are to the United Kingdom as are 30% of our dairy exports. These are concerning figures.
I am curious about two points, and the Minister might consider discussing them with her Cabinet colleagues. The Minister hit on the point about the money available in the budget from 2019 onwards. I was a little disappointed that there was nothing more forthcoming in the budget to put more money into the system and to front-load it and in some way do a little more. Since this is such a serious issue, there is another thing we should have looked at. Britain has done it, and I suppose it had to because it is going to affect the people there directly and it was their decision. We should have appointed a junior Minister or made a position to deal with Brexit. It would have shown how serious and earnest we were. As we know, it is probably going to have the most serious economic impact, apart from cultural and social impact and so on. We will see a new shifting landscape in time to come. We could have appointed a junior Minister to deal with this specifically, if not a full Ministry. These are some points the Minister might take on board.
I welcome the Minister to the House again. I welcome much of what she had to say in her opening statement. Obviously, the prospect of the UK leaving the EU is a major risk to Ireland's economic recovery. The Government has taken this seriously. I imagine we will not know the full extent of the risks until the negotiation process is complete. Already, we have seen the impact of falling sterling on our exports. We are a small, open economy and an exporting nation. It is important to restate that there will be no immediate change to the free flow of people, goods or services between our islands for quite some time, at least until Article 50 is invoked and for two years thereafter.
The bottom line is there will be numerous challenges for us. One is the significant uncertainty in the coming two years while the UK negotiates its withdrawal. We know that it has the potential, if we are not mindful, to reduce economic growth by 1.2% over two years, which corresponds to €2.5 billion. Access for Irish goods to the UK market, which is our largest market, as alluded to by the Minister, will be more difficult than heretofore. Irish goods are likely to be more expensive in the UK. The Government is cognisant of this and it is taking measures to help exporters. The possible re-introduction of hard borders is something Senator Davitt and the Minister have mentioned. These are things that we would very much guard against. As the Minister has pointed out, I do not believe the UK wants this either.
Advantages may come our way too as the only remaining English-speaking member state in the EU. We have a chance to attract businesses and investors who were either investing or planning to invest in Britain but who are now unsure. Ireland has become the sales platform for many goods for other countries outside the EU. That can now become the case for UK goods as well. IDA Ireland has a major opportunity to entice would-be UK companies into Ireland. Many financial services companies, for example, have already signalled their intention to leave London for new European bases. It is in our interest to attract them as well.
Let us consider the impact already. We have seen one major project in Belfast, a £25 million office block, shelved as a consequence of the Brexit vote. There is extraordinary potential for attracting jobs and investment. We have heard the Minister speak of her plans for further trade missions and for diversification into other markets. I welcome that, as, I am sure, does the House.
Clearly there are major challenges for our exporters. Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, the Government has been proactive in setting out Ireland's concerns, putting plans in place and ensuring our voice is heard at the highest political level throughout Europe. We have heard the Minister state that this is a top priority for her and every Minister, Department and agency.
The Minister has alluded to the next steps. These will include an all-Ireland civic dialogue on Brexit, with the initial meeting to be hosted by An Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on 2 November. We know that Brexit has the potential to impact on all businesses, but it is up to us to support business to ensure the impact is not negative. High-level Government meetings have taken place with Michel Barnier, the newly appointed European Commissioner and chief Brexit negotiator. He visited Dublin this week. Ireland has possibly more to lose from Brexit than any other European country. We must ensure our concerns are dealt with at the highest level.
As the Minister has pointed out, the UK accounted for a little under €14 billion of Irish goods exported in 2014 and €20 billion of services exports. In fairness, the Government has introduced measures in the budget which will help to soften the blow of Brexit. It is reducing capital gains tax for entrepreneurs, albeit with the lifetime limit remaining at €1 million. This is something the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has said will be reviewed. This is not Brexit specific, of course, but it is a help nonetheless. The Minister for Finance has also extended and amended the foreign earnings deduction to help Irish exporters diversify export markets.In addition, there was an extension of the contentious special assignee relief programme to help businesses to relocate key staff to Ireland, an increase in the earned income tax credit for self-employed taxpayers to encourage entrepreneurship and the introduction of an income averaging stepout in the agriculture sector because of expected volatility in demand for food products following severe price fluctuations.
It is welcome that the 9% VAT rate to help the tourism industry will remain in place. This is very important because tourism, one of our major industries, is affected by the weak pound. We must do everything we can to continue to encourage the huge number of visitors who come to the country from the United Kingdom.
This is a worrying time for farmers. A €150 million loan fund will be developed in conjunction with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland to improve cash flow management for them and reduce the cost of short-term borrowings.
Brexit presents a great opportunity for Ireland. Many companies in Britain are considering relocating here and since the result of the referendum the Government has demonstrated that it has a steady hand on the tiller. We are already encouraging these companies to move here and will develop further incentives for them to do so. The fact we are now the only English speaking nation in the European Union is a great advantage. In my constituency of Fingal which is quite near the border we have a wonderful opportunity because of the increased numbers passing through Dublin Airport, access to Dublin port and excellent infrastructure, including motorways. We need to encourage IDA Ireland and the Minister who was in my constituency with officials from IDA Ireland to support us further in making sure we have sufficient advance factories and other supports available for those who considering relocating to the area. It is an excellent area to which to relocate, with a young, diverse and well educated population. The fact that we now have more than 2 million citizens at work, the unemployment rate is under 8%, the economy remains the fastest growing in the European Union and that we are now able to borrow money at a rate of less than 0.5%, whereas before it was 14%, shows that the country has the capacity to deal with this challenge. My appeal is that we make it an opportunity and turn what could be seen as adversity into an advantage. The Government is making preparations to do this. I commend the Minister for the work she is doing in announcing the creation of new jobs, encouraging more firms to relocate here and undertaking more trade missions to new markets to diversify opportunities for business people and citizens.
The title of this debate is statements on the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. I want to reflect on it. The most serious consequences of Brexit will be for the Six Counties. It cannot be said it was the decision of the people of the North of Ireland or Scotland to leave the European Union; it was not. The opposite is true. Last Saturday in Bridgend, County Donegal, on the Border with Derry city, I attended a demonstration organised by Border Communities against Brexit. It was one of six protests held at various locations along what had been a hard border and which could evidently be one again if the Tory Party has its way. The protests were organised and attended by members of community, business and sports groups and included attendees from both sections of the community and both sides of the Border. Brexit has united people like never before because it does not make sense. A mock Border post was constructed in Carrickcarnan. It was done in jest, but the reality is that this will be the case unless the Oireachtas stands up for citizens and negotiates to prevent it from happening. Delays at checkpoints, tariffs on trade and passport controls will be standard.
Budget 2017 contains Government measures devised to address issues that will arise from Brexit. They include various tax and economic responses such as reduced capital gains tax, an amendment of the foreign earnings deduction, an extension of special assignee relief, an increase in the earned income tax credit for self-employed persons, income averaging in the agriculture sector and retention of the 9% VAT rate for the tourism industry. Economics will be a major factor in dealing with the consequences of Brexit once Article 50 is invoked by the Tory Government, about which we are extremely worried. There are many other consequences that will impact on people's lives and the Tory Government is at sixes and sevens. Sterling was in free fall earlier in the week owing to the hard rhetoric being spun at Westminster and by the Prime Minister, Theresa May. Sterling is probably now the most politicised currency in the world which is extremely dangerous for Irish businesses. We do not know what form Brexit will take because the British do not know. It was bravado and chest pumping by right-wing cheerleaders who were full of nationalistic pomp, but they are now picking up the pieces of what was a reckless act.
What can we do to pre-empt the consequences of the fallout from Brexit? I note in the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready document that we will have a number of arrangements to ensure a whole-of-government response. They will include the establishment of a new Cabinet committee, giving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade a bigger role and providing for a more focused EU function under a new Secretary General in the Department of the Taoiseach, integrating international, EU and North of Ireland functions. These are all welcome developments, but the Government is way behind the tide in developing a response. It is welcome that the Taoiseach has confirmed an all-Ireland forum will take place in November, but we need to know immediately when it will take place. In time the DUP, as chief detractor, will be found to be way behind public opinion, as it was when pushing for a "Leave" vote. It took its position, over which it stands, but it was wrong then and it is still wrong. This is the time to move on without it and go with the best interests of communities across the island.
IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will be crucial in the months and years ahead. There have been trade delegations and there are more to come. I hope they went and will continue to go well and encourage far more in the coming period as we need to support Irish businesses in opening new markets. Like all State agencies, in recent years they suffered staff and resource cuts. There has never been a more important time to fully resource both. This needs to happen now. We need to get back ahead of the tide. Protecting existing jobs is of crucial importance. We have already lost jobs owing to the effects of Brexit on the mushroom industry. At the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine we listened to deeply worrying contributions on the threats posed to that sector. These job losses and the volatility in the sterling exchange rate are only the tip of the iceberg. If direct Government intervention is needed in the form of finance to support these businesses and protect jobs in the short to medium term, we will have to look at providing it.
At the protest last weekend I noted the worries of Irish traders, particularly in the Border area. Traders on this side of the Border are worried about the impact in trading across the Border. I live on the Border and, as a Buncrana man, this has been a real issue. Depending on the currency exchange rate, businesses in my part of the Border region benefit and the benefits rotate towards Derry and Strabane where one will again see the supermarkets packed this Christmas to the disadvantage of businesses in County Donegal.
The sentiment in the United Kingdom that led to the vote in favour of Brexit was one of anger and resentment, particularly in working class areas in England, but they turned their anger the wrong way. This may also happen in America if people vote for Donald Trump, as well as in other elections across the world. Sometimes people who have been failed by the political system turn their anger the wrong way and vote against their own interests. The economic, social and political ideology of the Government which is all too similar to that of the establishment elsewhere in Europe needs to change. Sinn Féin was critical of the European Union when it needed to be in the past and has sought to hold it to account.We have four MEPs seeking to hold the European institutions to account. The system is not perfect. It has let people down. We were left with debts of €64 billion.
With every crisis or threat, there is an opportunity. Brexit is an opportunity - not like the one mentioned by former Minister, Senator James Reilly - for people across the island to discuss the reunification of our country and to assert that having one economy, currency, taxation system, health system and education system makes eminent sense. Those of us who believe this need to persuade the doubters. We need to win hearts and minds.
Last week, our party held a public meeting in this city to argue the case for the economic merits of a united Ireland. Our guest speaker was Professor Kurt Hübner, director of the Institute for European Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and co-author of the recently published and peer-reviewed report Modelling Irish Unification. I urge all Members to read these important findings. The lazy assumptions of too many commentators about the economic impact of a united Ireland on the State are robustly rebutted by this independent study and report. Irish unity makes absolute sense. The crisis and threat caused by Brexit serves to remind us all of this reality once again.
I welcome the Minister. This subject is very close to my heart as I have many family members who live in the North. We were all greatly surprised and shocked by the result of the Brexit referendum and are still coming to terms with the possible implications of this decision.
The setting up of a hard border between the North and South would be a huge setback to the progress made since 1998. Brexit poses a major challenge to this country. The economic effect of a hard border and the continuous decline in the value of sterling will have a massive impact on our competitiveness.
Let me break up this issue into a few topics, the first being the food and drink sector. An IBEC report states that were sterling to weaken to the 90p mark against the euro, it would result in losses of more than €700 million in food exports and of approximately 7,500 jobs, which is considerable. Exporters need Government assistance to help with these currency losses as the exchange rate is now extremely close to 90p to the euro.
Senator James Reilly spoke about tourism. We all know the tourism sector is one of Ireland's most important sectors economically. It has significant potential to play a further role in Ireland's economic renewal. In 2015, tourism was responsible for overseas earnings of €4.2 billion. Tourism also shapes Ireland's image and attractiveness as a place to live, work and invest. The UK market accounts for approximately 40% of visitors and any weakening of sterling could be devastating for the tourism industry. There were 3.55 million visitors to Ireland from Great Britain in 2015. There probably have been many more this year because of the 2016 centenary celebrations. British visitors accounted for €995 million in direct expenditure during their trips to Ireland in 2015. There are over 205,000 jobs in Ireland's tourism and hospitality sector, which supports one in every nine jobs in Ireland. The tourism sector accounts for one in four of all new jobs created in the State in the past five years. There is potential to create more than 40,000 additional jobs by 2021. Tourism accounts for 4% of GNP and generates more than €1.8 billion in taxes annually. Some of the lowest-paid people are working in the hospitality sector and the prospect of a decline in this industry should not be used to decrease their wages again.
Farming is one of the topics I am interested in because all my family in the North are farmers. Negotiations between the European Union and United Kingdom surrounding the latter's decision to leave the Union must take into consideration the links between the farming industries on both sides of the Border. In a statement made after a meeting between the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and the Ulster Farmers Union, the IFA deputy president, Mr. Richard Kennedy, said that maintaining a strong trading relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is of critical importance to the economy. The Common Agricultural Policy accounts for over 80% of farm income in the North. Following the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, this money no longer will be available and it is not at all certain that the UK Government will replace this funding. This would lead to a crisis in the agriculture sector.
The people living in the Border regions will feel the impact of Brexit most. It would be unthinkable to have one part of this island operating within the European Union and another outside it but that is exactly what the British Government is proposing. It is vital that the wishes of the people in the North, the majority of whom voted to remain in the European Union, be taken into consideration in any further negotiations. It is possible that Brexit goes against the Good Friday Agreement. My concern is that the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people on this island will be ignored.
Another concern I have is over the status of Irish people living in the United Kingdom after Brexit. According to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right of Irish people to live and work in Britain should not be affected by Brexit. He told a House of Lords select committee that the British Government stood fully behind its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement, including in regard to the right of people born in Northern Ireland to be citizens of the United Kingdom or Ireland and to be treated equally in both jurisdictions. The committee also heard from Mr. Robin Walker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, who said maintaining the soft Border on the island of Ireland would be a red line in the United Kingdom's Brexit negotiations with Europe. Even with these statements, can we be sure this will be the case? Has the Irish Government received any indications or assurances from the European Union about the post-Brexit status of the many Irish living in the United Kingdom?
The possible fallout from Brexit for the Irish economy is very worrying, as the progress that has been achieved in the past few years through the sacrifices made and still being made by the people may suffer a real setback with any increase in unemployment in the food and drink, agrifood and tourism industries. These issues now need to be addressed. A plan must be made to ensure the negative effects of Brexit should be kept to a minimum.
I thank the Minister for attending today to outline the Government's preparations for what will be a seismic event for both islands. Clearly, a considerable amount of preparatory work has already been done at the front and devoted to this multifaceted challenge.
I was invited to the House of Commons last May regarding the Irish for Europe campaign. Those concerned were trying to obtain support among the Irish in the United Kingdom for the cause of remaining in the European Union. I said to them the United Kingdom did not have a history of referendums and that the Republic had a clear history, with 27 referendums effectively within 27 years. Unfortunately, the electorate sometimes votes in a referendum on a question that is different from the one put to it. It may not like the government and may have other issues. While it is water under the bridge, the referendum absolutely was the wrong mechanism to use. We are in a very dangerous position.
I was reminded that a number of supports and measures were announced in the budget this week for those affected. Senator Mac Lochlainn is correct in that mushroom growers are already going to the wall. Sandwich makers in Enniskillen are not able to compete. There is considerable uncertainty over the value of sterling. Today we hear about the Marmite emergency. One individual said that while the United Kingdom can do with immigrants being deported, there is a Marmite emergency that must stop. This is only the start of it. All the ingredients of Marmite are sourced in the United Kingdom. Seemingly, Unilever wanted to put up the price and now one cannot get Marmite in Tesco stores. I am alarmed that this is the first time that people are beginning to take the matter seriously. Effectively, we are sleepwalking our way into a very dangerous situation. This farce of a Marmite emergency is drawing attention to the matter. It just tells us that we are in a very dangerous zone. We need all governments and the European Union to try to retrace our steps out of this crisis. I welcome the many supports provided for farmers, all of whom are worried about the implications of Brexit. The farming and agricultural community is going through a very challenging time, with lower prices internationally and adverse weather conditions. We simply do not know at this stage what will be the terms and conditions of Britain's departure from the EU. However, as the Minister for Finance noted in his Budget Statement, we do know Brexit has increased the risks to the Irish economy. There really are no winners out of this for our country, notwithstanding the opportunities that may present. Having said that, we must be to the forefront in seeking to avail of any such opportunities. For example, the European Medicines Agency, which provides 900 top-quality jobs, has indicated that it intends to move out of its Canary Wharf location. I hope those jobs come to Ireland - specifically, to my constituency in the north west. I am encouraged that many companies might look to the Republic of Ireland or the island of Ireland as a bridgehead to Europe. However, we must work hard if we are to realise any advantage in that regard.
On the question of a broader debate involving the public and interest groups, I am looking forward to the all-Ireland civic dialogue on Brexit, which takes place next month. It will give us an opportunity to discuss the key areas of concern, such as the economy and trade, the common travel area, the Border and the future of EU peace process funding. We have been guilty of treating our relationship with Northern Ireland and with the United Kingdom very casually, including the €1 billion of goods traded between the two countries every week and the hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by that trade. Following the Queen's visit to Ireland in 2011, we set up the first British Irish Chamber of Commerce. That ease of trade was something we took for granted. Now we are in a situation where we must review all aspects of our relationship with Northern Ireland and the relationship of this island with Britain, Europe and the world. Everything should be on the table to ensure we work together effectively to lessen the severity of the impact of Brexit as much as possible.
I thank the Minister for the work she is doing. I thank, too, my colleagues across the floor for coming up with proposals and solutions. We have a long journey ahead and we must work together to lessen the impact of the UK's departure from the Union.
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber for the latest of several discussions on Brexit in this House. I commend the Government's action before the referendum in doing as much as it possibly could to speak to the Irish community in Britain and all British voters about the importance of this issue for Irish people. However, no message should go out from this or any chamber which does not state clearly that Brexit is an absolute, complete and unmitigated disaster. When the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, came to the House, I talked about the importance of European connectivity, noted that the EU has in general been a force for good, born out of the ashes of the Second World War, and that we must re-evaluate the European project. The UK exit from the Union, at the behest of the people of England and Wales, is a disaster for Ireland and the EU. As Senator Mac Lochlainn rightly noted, it was narrow-minded nationalism and the whims of a small group which took over the mindset and mainstream of British politics and led to this disaster. That mindset is being replicated, unfortunately, across the world.
The regional development committee, of which I am a member, recently received a delegation from Blacklion in County Cavan. I was interested to hear about Senator Black's connections with that area, particularly as own mother is from Blacklion and my grandfather was an IRA volunteer in the Civil War. He was imprisoned, went on hunger strike and escaped before spending the rest of his life as a customs officer on the Border, which was an ironic change of career. My mother recalls there being a time zone difference between North and South during the Second World War. The delegates from Blacklion told us that Brexit has already had a devastating impact on their community. People who were envisaging buying homes in Cavan and working in Enniskillen are pulling out left right and centre, with their plans for their future and raising their families in disarray.
In recent years, because we have come to a collective complacency around peace in Europe and peace on this island, we never envisaged that this would happen. A case currently before the High Court in Belfast, which Senator Ó Donnghaile has mentioned in the House, involves a challenge by all but one of the major political parties in the North to the constitutional validity of what the British Government has done. Their argument is that it requires a vote of Parliament in order for Brexit to proceed and that no such vote has taken place. I am interested to hear the Minister's view on that case.
I welcome the Government's announcement that an all-party forum will take place at the beginning of next month. We in this House are national politicians and we must think of the country as a whole. The Border region will be particularly affected by this issue. In our negotiations and discussions about what happens next, we must be mindful of that impact. The message needs to go out from the Government to all our European partners that this no small deal. If any other EU member state has sympathy with what Britain has done or feels there might be some political advantage in going down that road itself, we must say to it that this has been an unmitigated disaster. We cannot say there are advantages in it for Ireland. The message from this country must be that this was a right-wing conspiracy which has gone belly-up and will cause untold misery economically and socially across the Continent.
Any dilution of that message would be a major mistake for this Government to make.
Senator Black has brought a section of the Minister's speech to my attention. A motion was passed in this House last week, drafted by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, concerning the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, CETA. The Minister stated:
Ireland will also continue to make the most effective use of the framework of trade agreements the EU already has in place, as well as supporting the opening of new markets through the EU. These agreements, such as the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, CETA, which will be signed by EU Ministers in Luxembourg next week ...
Is the Minister mindful that this House rejected that particular agreement, by way of Senator Higgins's motion, and will she respond to that? Is it something she will take into consideration? I am not sure whether there has been a vote on the matter in the Lower House but this House had a robust debate on it and most Members rejected the idea of this deal.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to ensure the Government places a particular focus on the Border regions in considering the impact of Brexit, is mindful of not being complacent about the peace process North and South and is an absolutely unwavering advocate for the European project. Minsters must speak in stark and forthright terms about how damaging this whole event has been in order to ward off other member states from going down the same road. I ask the Minister to respond to the expressed will of this House on the particular trade agreement to which she referred. I wish her well in her endeavours but I reiterate that there should be no message from this House or from Ministers which dilutes the reality that Brexit is an unmitigated political, economic and social disaster.
I join in welcoming the Minister to the House. I thank her for her thorough remarks. I am greatly enthused that the suggestion made by Senators from all sides of the House following the outcome of Brexit vote to have a series of debates with the relevant Ministers has been arranged by the Leader of the House, and we have had a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, this week. That is extremely welcome as we dissect the impact of Brexit and try to plan for the next few years while Article 50 is being invoked.
I was greatly enthused by the Minister's address and I followed it on the monitor upstairs. I welcome many of her comments and her commitment to her Department. It is vital that Ireland takes an aggressive step to counter Brexit and makes sure everyone knows we are open for business, that we are up for trading with all nations, including Canada, and that we will continue along this path to make sure that Ireland makes the most of what is an absolute and unmitigated disaster. In that respect I fully agree with Senator Ó Ríordáin. Brexit presents Ireland with many challenges but it also presents us with a few small opportunities that we can definitely make the most of but we need to be proactive and work on them now.
Last week in the House I raised with the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, the case for bringing the European Medicines Agency from London to Ireland, preferably to Dublin. The Department of Health is chasing hard to achieve that objective. That is the attitude we need to take, and that is welcome.
The financial services sector is another area where there is a good opportunity for us to create additional enterprise and employment. This sector already accounts for 8% of our GDP, and 30% of the jobs in that sector, many of which are back office jobs, are located outside Dublin. County Kerry is a particular hub and I know the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, was there with Deputy Griffin last week. I appreciate that her Department, together with Deputy Flanagan's Department, are constantly putting the competitive case for Ireland as being a viable alternative for financial services companies and institutions seeking to relocate from London. Dublin is especially on the platform against rivals such as Luxembourg, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, but there are one or two other obstacles. I have already raised the issue of the delay in processing banking licences. It takes twice as long to get a banking licence to operate in Ireland as it does in Luxembourg, which takes a little less time than Paris. When companies want to move their jobs, that is one of the issues that comes up.
Another issue that arises is that of accommodation. I read quite a number of public and private reports from financial institutions, media groups such as Bloomberg and Politico and some of the big financial houses here and in London and they say there are two great obstacles in moving to Ireland but more specifically to Dublin. We want to see as many jobs moving across the island but when it comes to financial services, for front end jobs, Dublin is a key location. We already have the International Financial Services Centre. It is not the be all and end all but Dublin is our international comparative city. The issue that keeps coming up is the availability of accommodation, both residential and commercial. In terms of residential accommodation, I have full faith in the action plan for housing launched by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and I commend the Government on it. I hope what it proposes comes to pass. However, we are not paying enough attention to the provision of office space and I call on the Minister to examine that area.
A great report was published by Savills during the week which highlighted that 35 projects are under way in terms of building large-scale commercial developments in the city, but of those 35 developments, 60% are already let. When we have companies seeking to relocate, probably within two to two and half years time, they need to know that they will be able to move full-scale jobs to Dublin, the 900 jobs that Senator Reilly spoke of and the big companies like BNP Paribas and HSBC. That is what we want to attract. We need to get the message out that we are on top of that issue. I would like the Government to follow up the action plan for housing with an action plan for office space. It is not glamorous. It is something I said earlier and got mocked for mentioning because I am not very good at coming up with catchy titles. It would be very worthwhile.
We can continue to suggest that Brexit was a disaster, but the major challenge it poses presents some small opportunities that we will be required to take in order to offset the disaster that is Brexit and the obvious decline that we will see across the country. I wish the Minister well in her endeavours. I know she is travelling next week to sell Ireland on the international stage. As a nation we are great at that. People say that Irish pubs are the best small embassies in the world but this Government and the previous one during the past six years have done much to repair the image of Ireland, which was in the gutter in recent years. I commend the Minister on her work and I wish her the best. I hope she will be able to take on board the need to tackle the problem of commercial vacancies, particularly in Dublin. Let us use that to our advantage and bring as many financial services jobs to Dublin as possible.
The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a cur i láthair. Tá mé buartha gur chaill mé é. I am sorry I missed the Minister's contribution in the Chamber but I read through it subsequently.
I will avoid going into the whole broader politics of Brexit with the Minister because we have debated that issue at length, and some may even accuse us of debating it ad nauseamover the last few weeks. It is something I raised consistently before the Brexit vote. I am getting to the point now where we need to get beyond the long-fingering and the benign bland statements, "We do not know, we are preparing, we are talking." I am not advocating a haphazard, knee-jerk or reactive approach to this, but the negative implications of Brexit are happening now. They are happening today, they were happening yesterday, and last week and last month, and there is much worse ahead of us. I am not the only one who has that view. Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and one of his famous lyrics is: "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows." The wind is blowing very much against our favour in this regard, and it is blowing very coldly and, unfortunately, very loudly from a Tory Administration in London, which does not give two damns about the welfare of anywhere beyond the south east of England, let alone the north east of Ireland.
I would like to use this opportunity with the Minister present not to grandstand around the political implications of Brexit but to draw from the response at the weekend rallies along the Border, which were very well attended, and I took great heart from the fact that they were very broadly attended. There were people there from every community. There were people there from a broad range of political parties. People spoke from the platform at the rally I was at on the Louth-Armagh border, people from the trade union movement, the community and voluntary sector, the agricultural sector and the chambers of commerce, North and South.
A number of tweets were put up during the course of that rally. I want to refer to a few of them. They include the following tweets: £4.4 billion of business is done by businesses in the South with businesses in Britain; 60% of produce sold from the North is sold to EU member states; 30% of milk produced in the North is processed in the South; has England not learned that imposing an English solution on an Irish situation is doomed to failure; and does Nigel Farage represent us?
They also include the following comments: 40% of farmers' produce in the South goes to Britain, what will added tariffs do to working farming families? Other tweets include the following: EU peace funding helps some of the most marginalised in our society into employment, improves connectively, assists carers, I do not think we are going to get a replacement of those funds from the British Chancellor; and the scary thing in all of this is the British never planned for this, they are flying blind and that is very dangerous.
The following is a tweet from the representative form the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce: we do not want to see Newry boom and bust, we do not want to see Dundalk boom and bust, we want to see both of them grow and proposer together, this is going to put small businesses along the Border out of business, it is as simple as that. This Brexit is four square, head on a challenge to the future well-being of us all. With the Good Friday Agreement, the British and Unionists have constitutionally recognised that the North is not like Norfolk or Devon. This Brexit will be a crisis that risks reversing all the progress we have made here. As everyone knows, regardless of the common travel area here in the past, the Border was hard, what broke that was joint membership of the EU and the advance of our peace process. How do the proponents of Brexit think it will help employment regeneration and welfare in this region? Anyone concerned about the future economic welfare of this island should be worried.
One comment that struck me was the contribution of one business leader who highlighted the hypocrisy of Brexiteers when they tell us there will be no return to a Border of the past when the whole raison d'êtreof their Brexit campaign was about borders. It is exactly what they have done.
I will finish on the following point.The community along the Border has been quiet on this issue for too long, but that is the end of that. We now have a mobilised, organised, energised and above all concerned broad range of society, North and South, who are making it very clear that the economic and social implications are massive and tangible, and, back to my original point, they are live and ongoing.
Many messages have been advocated on the floor of this Chamber and rightfully should go from this Chamber. Senator Mac Lochlainn made clear the benefit of exploring the Kurt Hübner report into Irish unification.
The Minister mentioned other issues regarding InterTradeIreland. I ask her to expand on the role she envisages for InterTradeIreland as opposed to just saying it will have an important one; that goes without saying.
The most important message is that 56%, a majority, of people in the North voted to remain. That should be our stance and the stance of the Government.
I thank Senators for their valuable contributions, which we will take on board. I have taken a note from each of them. Today's debate has provided a helpful opportunity for further engagement on the matter of key importance for Ireland and the EU. The issues raised today will help to inform my Department's policy deliberations in this sphere, as we move towards the detailed negotiations that lie ahead.
A number of Senators have rightly mentioned the impact of Brexit at regional level. Of course, Brexit remains a key challenge across all the regions and especially, as the previous speaker mentioned, along the Border. While the full impact of Brexit is still uncertain, businesses around the country with significant exposure to the UK market, for example, in the agrifood sector, are already feeling the effects of the weak sterling. In addition, companies that had been considering scaling up their operations have put plans on hold in light of the uncertainty.
The implications of the Brexit vote and the challenges and opportunities that the decision poses for the regions has been discussed at meetings of the implementation committees for the regional action plan for jobs that have taken place since the June decision. I have attended those meetings. The regional action plans, which build on the template of the Government's Action Plan for Jobs, seek to build on local strengths and deliver jobs across every region, in partnership with the enterprise sector.
Senators will be aware that in regard to Brexit, the priority areas for this Government remain unchanged. In all negotiations, the Government will seek to ensure that the best possible outcomes will be achieved for our citizens, for the economy, for Northern Ireland and for the common travel area. I will ensure that my Department plays its part in this regard.
We will seek to preserve our existing full-market access to the UK in the framework of any future trade deal between the EU and the UK, and in line with the Government's position that access to the Single Market must be on the basis of full acceptance of all four freedoms - goods, services, capital and people - which is in accordance with the stated position of the EU.
As I outlined earlier, I expect to meet my two UK counterparts, the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, in London shortly, where I will discuss issues of common interest in regard to the areas of Single Market and trade. I will also use these meetings to convey the Government's objective of ensuring the best possible outcome for all parties in the UK exit process.
Separately, I have already had valuable meetings at the European Commission and the European Parliament, conveying the unique impact of Brexit on Ireland to the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, the Commissioner for Trade, and the Chair of the Internal Market Committee of the European Parliament. In addition, senior officials from my Department have ongoing engagement with their UK trade and Single Market counterparts in London to monitor relevant EU-related issues relevant to my Department.
Following the recent announcement by the UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May, of the March date for triggering the Article 50 process, it is essential for Ireland and Europe that the transition process now moves forward in the most pragmatic manner. In this regard, the Government, including my Department, is continuing to intensify our preparations and to develop risk analysis and contingency plans. Of course, Senators will appreciate that detailed contingency planning is challenging given the lack of certainty in regard to what new trading and other arrangements may be put in place between the EU and the UK. As part of these preparations, I will continue to lead the co-ordination of the ongoing response, both of my Department and of the enterprise agencies to challenges as they emerge. I will continue to maintain open communication channels with colleagues at EU and UK level in order to ensure the best possible outcomes. I again assure Members of this House, that the Government, my Department and the enterprise agencies are fully committed to supporting business and all of our stakeholders in this period of heightened uncertainty.
I was asked about the CETA agreement. The provisional application of the CETA agreement has been approved by a Government decision. This is for provisional application of the agreement and approval by both Houses is not required at this stage. Approval of the Dáil and Seanad will be required for the final ratification of CETA.
I was asked about InterTradeIreland. InterTradeIreland is one of the North-South bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. It has a targeted portfolio of programmes to assist businesses, especially SMEs, including to stimulate cross-Border trade. Already in the first part of 2016 it has had a job-creation impact of 739 people and 1,512 companies were engaged in cross-Border business through Enterprise Ireland's programme. I have met representatives of InterTradeIreland in this context when we were discussing the action plan for jobs for the Border region.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, has dealt with these issues. It is important to have a whole cross-Government response at this stage, and that is what is happening. There is a Cabinet committee led by the Taoiseach. A Secretary General has been appointed to look after Brexit. Obviously, I will deal with jobs and enterprise, and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, will deal with foreign policy. All of us report into Cabinet. Since the result of the referendum, Brexit has been on the agenda at nearly every Cabinet meeting.