Friday, 19 February 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus leis an Aire Stáit fosta as an gceist seo a ghlacadh. Tá a fhios agam go mbeidh mórán eolais aige agus aitheantais tugtha aige freisin don ábhar seo agus ar na fadhbanna atá ann fós maidir leis. The Minister of State will know that mutual recognition of professional qualifications is a live issue. I appreciate that and also that the matter is still being negotiated and discussed at committee level. The Minister of State will also appreciate and understand the uncertainty that prevails about this issue and the need to get it resolved.
Brexit has taken many rights and entitlements away from us. One area on which we were steadfast, sure and assertive was the need to protect the common travel area, CTA. Mutual recognition of professional qualifications is part and parcel of that. One of the Irish Government’s key commitments, supported right across political, civic and business life here, was the very clear and firm need to defend and uphold the Good Friday Agreement, protect citizens' rights and, crucially in this instance, protect the all-Ireland economy. If qualifications are not being mutually recognised, North and South and between these islands, it has the potential to cause harm to our economy and could have a real impact on workers and businesses and those who hope to plan a better professional future for themselves. The matter, as the Minister of State will see, is straightforward. I appreciate him coming to the House to take this Commencement matter. It is important and timely to get an update from the Government on the status of this issue and, more important, how it sees it developing.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus leis an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile as an ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú ag tús imeachtaí an tSeanaid.
North-South co-operation, as we all agree, is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement and a priority for the Government. It is protected under the protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland. The protocol’s recognition of the role of North-South co-operation is important. It is also a recognition of the importance of strand two of the Good Friday Agreement and of the way lives are led and business is conducted on the island of Ireland. The mapping exercise of North-South co-operation undertaken by the UK and EU provided valuable information on its breadth and depth. It confirmed that many areas have either expressly relied upon or been significantly enabled by the overarching EU legal and policy framework.
The context for North-South co-operation has unfortunately now changed. We will continue to work hard to find new ways of working in the areas where the underlying EU law no longer applies in Northern Ireland. The recognition of professional qualifications is one of a number of cross-cutting issues that impact on North-South co-operation. Unfortunately, it has been affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, as the Senator acknowledged, and is also important in the context of the common travel area. The Government is fully committed to the CTA and remains in close contact with UK authorities to ensure its smooth operation.
As of 1 January 2021, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, as laid down in EU Directive 2013/55/EU, no longer applies with regard to the UK. The recognition of qualifications has formed a key part of the Government’s Brexit preparations, with a view to mitigating the challenges, where possible, and has been led by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The Department, in collaboration with the British Government, has encouraged regulatory authorities in Ireland, a small number of which operate on an all-island basis, to engage with their UK counterparts to manage the process of continued recognition of UK qualifications in national law in Ireland. Departments, together with their regulators, have confirmed that in the majority of cases arrangements are in place to ensure continued recognition of professional qualifications. Individuals who have already had their qualifications recognised by the relevant EU regulator before the end of the transition period will experience no change and can continue to practise in Ireland or elsewhere in the EU.Those who attain their qualifications after the end of the transition period will need to take the necessary steps to get their qualifications recognised in the other jurisdiction, as per the agreed regulator-to-regulator approach.
We recommend that anyone with a question about the process should contact the regulator. There certainly are a small number of sectors in respect of which further work is required or where primary EU law regarding certain regulated professions requires establishment or residence in the EU member state. The EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement also foresees a mechanism whereby the EU and the UK may later agree, on a case-by-case basis and for specific professions, on additional arrangements for the mutual recognition of certain professional qualifications. We look forward to and will work towards further progress on this important work.
Go raibh maith agat as an eolas cuimsitheach sin. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I appreciate that this is a movable feast at the minute, and that the Minister of State is in the midst of it. What is crucial and important for the people affected is that they hear an update from the Government. However, going forward, beyond the details of what the Minister of State is suggesting, as welcome as that is, it is vital that the Government assures people it is doing everything in its power to mitigate the worst excesses of Brexit, and this is one of those excesses of Brexit. I know there is an EU-UK meeting next Wednesday. I ask the Minister of State to commit, on behalf of the Government, to a comprehensive effort to establish bilateral agreements, where necessary, to ensure that issues like this around the mutual recognition of professional qualifications are maintained, recognised and upheld, and that we do not heap even further injustice, unnecessary denial and removal of rights onto people where it does not need to be.
I have taken strong note of what the Senator has said on what is a really important issue. There are huge challenges for citizens across a number of sectors, North and South, with regard to the all-island economy. We all agree that those problems caused by Brexit require solutions. We have solutions to some problems, such as the CTA, and we have a trade agreement with Britain which resolves some problems but does not resolve every problem. The protocol is the solution to the problem of Brexit. Brexit is a problem for us - there is no two ways about it - and it is a problem for a number of professionals. This is a priority for the Government, however, and it will work to support ongoing work between the European Union and the UK in this context.
Individuals concerned can take note of the current measures for the recognition of professional qualifications and they can contact the regulatory bodies as issues arise. Regulatory bodies have been asked to do this work, and I know they are co-operating and doing as much as they can. The co-operation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on an all-island basis remains an important priority, including the new transition context. It is a central part of the Good Friday Agreement and it is essential for achieving reconciliation, social development and economic progress on the island of Ireland.