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 Header Item Rail Network Expansion (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 5

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  12 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín] This is also hurting people financially. People living in the west of my county are spending approximately €2,500 per year on tolls in addition to what it costs to run a car in the first instance. The Minister stated that the demand is not there for the service. Ten years ago, however, Fine Gael had a plan to build a rail line to Meath. It took that plan off the table and stated that there was not enough money in the Exchequer to build the line. Exchequer spending is back to 2008 levels so the money is there and the demand exists. I ask the Minister to ensure that this key infrastructure is built soon.

  Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Brexit will be damaging to the Irish economy, the British economy and Europe in general. Therefore, we must do everything possible to limit the damage through thorough preparations in order to make the country infrastructure-ready, particularly at ports and airports. We must also make interventions to assist companies to deal with fluctuations in sterling and to diversify and reduce their dependence on the UK market. Yesterday, I raised here a number of questions with the Taoiseach on our state of preparedness for a no-deal Brexit or even an orderly Brexit, which is what we hope for. According to the Government's data and that of its agencies, however, too many companies with the potential to suffer the greatest impact remain without Brexit plans or have not engaged sufficiently with the various Brexit-preparedness initiatives. The AIB Brexit sentiment survey of 1 November indicates that a substantial number of companies have simply not engaged and do not have any Brexit plan. In fact, the proportion of exporting companies with plans for Brexit is as low as 30%, which must be of huge concern.

  I note the 3,000 applications for positions with Customs and Excise. Can the Taoiseach say how many customs officials will be in place on 29 March and working at their desks? The Dutch Government has already hired 1,000 customs officials. Can the Taoiseach outline the work required on infrastructure at our ports and airports? I draw his attention to an article published in the Irish Examiner on 28 November 2018 and setting out the content of a leaked memorandum which had been brought to Government by the Tánaiste. The memorandum warned that a variety of challenges had arisen with the potential to impact on the country's capacity to be Brexit-ready. The memorandum sets out risks associated with site acquisition, potential lease-break rental options, statutory planning, procurement and construction issues at the ports and airports which will be most affected by Brexit. Ministers were warned that the scale of the problem facing the State is exceptional. The memorandum states, "In the case of Brexit, the scale and likely cost of infrastructure required, and the short time frame required to gear up for Brexit are exceptional and fall well beyond the routine demands of the State, especially in the case of our ports." The memorandum further warns Ministers of detailed plans on the upgrading of Rosslare Harbour, Dublin Airport and Dublin Port. Significant issues were identified regarding the capacity of Rosslare to be ready by 29 March 2019. The memorandum also details specific site issues at Rosslare.

  A number of issues arise. I will make the same point I made yesterday. There has been a general tendency on the part of the Government to be coy and to withhold information from the public on contingency planning for Brexit, specifically a no-deal Brexit, on the apparent basis that it would cause undue panic. I disagree with that view and believe the public should be made fully aware of all the implications of Brexit, irrespective of the scenario that ultimately emerges. The challenges and lack of preparation for Brexit should be shared with the public in full. We should not have to rely on the high standard of investigative journalism so evident in the Irish Examiner to make this basic information available. I ask the Taoiseach to commit to the publication of a detailed plan, including timelines, costs and challenges at our ports and airports, and to publish it without delay.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. He is correct to say Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit, will be damaging for our economy. However, it is worth noting the ESRI projections released this morning. The ESRI states:

The Irish economy looks set to register another exceptional performance in 2018; employment is growing at 3 per cent with taxation receipts across most headings also experiencing better than expected returns. The ESRI’s latest Quarterly Economic Commentary states that GDP is expected to grow by 8.2 per cent in 2018, followed by 4.2 per cent growth in 2019 [...] Our forecasts for 2019 are subject to the technical assumption that the UK's continued membership in the EU will effectively remain in place after March 2019. However, the economy faces an unprecedented degree of uncertainty in 2019; the outcome of the Brexit process, combined with the possibility of increased international trade tensions, could have significant implications for the economy’s performance in the new year. In the Commentary, we illustrate how a Brexit scenario, where WTO tariffs would apply, could almost halve the growth outlook in 2019.

As such, the analysis of the ESRI is that even in the event of a hard Brexit in which World Trade Organization, WTO, tariffs apply, the economy would still grow next year, although the rate of that growth would be slower. The economy would not go into recession. It is a very reassuring analysis and projection from the ESRI, but it is something we cannot take for granted. The ESRI projection that the Irish economy will grow, albeit at a slower rate, is because our economy is so strong that it will continue to grow and not go into recession even in the event of a hard Brexit next year. Even so, we cannot take anything for granted or assume that the ESRI projections are necessarily correct.

  This morning, I had the privilege to open the new European headquarters of Barclays Bank on the site where the Passport Office used to be located. the road, the new headquarters of Barclays Bank. This means that every branch in Europe will now be a branch of Barclays Bank Ireland on Molesworth Street. The bank is going to employ 400 people when fully staffed and will have a balance sheet of €250 billion based here in Dublin. This is an example of what is happening in the wider economy. While there are huge downsides to Brexit, particularly for SMEs and the agrifood sector, money and jobs are also coming into the country because people know Ireland is a good place to do business. That is because our economy is strong, we have a good education system, a favourable tax regime for companies, pro-enterprise policies and a political consensus in that regard across the House and because we know our position is at the heart of Europe no matter what happens anywhere else.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach did not answer even one of the questions I asked. I have read the ESRI report and am fully aware of our open, foreign direct investment-based economy, which has been successful and effective for 40 years. Our decision to join the European Union is one about which I have always been enthusiastic as one of the great game-changers historically for Irish society. Certainly, I would not be complacent about a WTO-type Brexit and I consider that the impact for the agrifood section in particular will be very difficult. There is no point pretending. It will be very difficult for the Border counties. The Government's own economic analysis from the Department of Finance and the Copenhagen report point to severe difficulties for the agrifood sector and the Border counties. My basic question to the Taoiseach related to the number of customs officials who will be in place by 29 March 2019. I asked if he would publish a detailed plan outlining the challenges, work to be done, timelines for doing it and the cost of works at Dublin Port, Rosslare Harbour and our airports.

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