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All-Island Civic Dialogue (Continued)

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] The concern is that one cannot restrict the impact to Northern boats only, as all UK-registered boats could avail of this gentleman's agreement, as it has been constituted to date. Can the Taoiseach indicate, on foot of his deep involvement with this over the weekend, what exactly he understands the dispute to be and what specific legislative measures he wants to fast-track to address the matter into the future? Will that provide the guarantee and assurance to people that it will not be a backdoor to wholesale access to Irish waters from other UK registered or, indeed, London agreement vessels, which would be very significant for the Irish fishing industry?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The atmosphere at the conference was one of apprehension and concern, in particular on the part of the business people there. It is particularly an issue for small businesses, of which there are many on both sides of the Border. Most hauliers in Ireland are small to medium-sized businesses and the average fleet size is approximately five trucks. No matter what happens, there will be a significant increase in the volume of documentation that will have to accompany imports and exports. That means massive costs in time, administration and money for most medium-sized businesses. I heard on the fringe of the meeting people voicing their concern that very little has been made explicit to them. I understand that because the Taoiseach does not know exactly what is going to happen, he does not want to frighten people. On the other hand, people need to undertake a great deal more preparation than we have seen. There has not been enough outreach. For instance, works on the former customs building in Dundalk are the talk of that town, notwithstanding claims that nothing is going to happen. Clearly, however, documentation will have to increase with any change in the UK's status. It would be better if people were prepared for that now in order that they can minimise the disruption that might, unfortunately, happen.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I agree with the Taoiseach that the all-island civic dialogue has been a necessary and useful exercise. I am interested to know what his future plans for the dialogue are. Does he foresee it becoming a forum for exchanges on Ireland post Brexit? Whatever way this lands and whether it is hard or soft, Brexit will have huge implications for the entire island. We need to work to involve unionism in this format. I note that the Taoiseach spoke at the Alliance Party conference at the weekend, which was extremely positive. More unionist opinion needs to be engaged, whether that is through political parties or more generally across society, or civic unionism, if I can use that term. The forum needs to be a space for those views to be articulated. Can the Taoiseach share with the House what he sees as the future of the dialogue?

On the last occasion we met, in addition to issues around business, commerce and trade, huge issues were raised around citizens' rights. Famously, the Taoiseach assured Northern citizens that they would never again be left behind. The truth, however, is that they are being left behind. Even in the best-case scenario now, where the backstop or protocol is honoured and delivered, there nevertheless will be a significant move away from the initial promise to Irish and EU citizens that they would be free to exercise and enjoy their rights where they resided. That is now not the case, which is a very serious matter and one people are very seized of at this moment. It is a pity the Taoiseach did not avail of the opportunity to afford the two additional European Parliament seats to the people of the North. It could and should have been done. The Taoiseach should have put his money where his mouth was as regards not leaving people behind and allowed people right across society in the North to return two representatives to the European Parliament.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I also attended the dialogue and while dialogue is, of course, important in this current situation of Brexit, it is not much good if some of those involved are not in full possession of the real story. The Taoiseach says he has not read the report on the front page of one of the national newspapers on hundreds of gardaí being deployed to the Border counties. It is astonishing that he has not read the report. If I understood his reply correctly, the Taoiseach said the deployment had nothing to do with Brexit and the possibility of a hard border. It is simply a coincidence and involves a more general concern about organised crime. Can the Taoiseach clarify that is what he is actually saying in order that the House understands? Most people reading the newspapers today will have considered the report to have something to do with preparations by An Garda Síochána for the possibility of a hard border. That anxiety and fear will have been fuelled by comments the Taoiseach made in Davos referring to the deployment of the Army.

Another important item of information I seek in this regard is whether the Taoiseach has had any discussions with EU Commissioners, Barnier, Juncker or leaders like Macron and Merkel about what they mean when they talk about the need to protect the integrity of the Single Market in the event that there is no deal. What are they expecting? I am fearful that there will be pressure from that quarter on the Taoiseach in the event that there is no deal. I find it hard to believe the Taoiseach has not asked them what they mean when they make those sorts of statements.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar To clarify matters for Deputy Boyd Barrett, the position is that we are improving and increasing Garda resources all over the country. There are more gardaí, more armed support units, more vehicles and more investments and, as such, it should surprise no one that the Border region, or the northern division as the Garda calls it, should see increased deployment of gardaí and armed support units. It is happening everywhere in the country, which is the context in which it is happening there. I am happy to clarify that it would be happening, Brexit or no Brexit, due, unfortunately, to the level of crime people experience in Ireland, not least on foot of armed burglaries in rural areas on which we are determined to crack down, not only in Cavan, Donegal and Louth, but everywhere in the country.

  Deputy Burton asked about customs declarations. At the meeting, figures were released on the number of customs declarations which will increase from approximately 1 million to 20 million. That is a roughly 20-fold increase in the level of information and documentary obligations falling on business, which would impose considerable costs in time and administration. We are trying to make the process, if it happens, as simple as possible through the use of ICT that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago and training is also on offer for businesses that want it.

  The Government's policy on voisinage is to restore the situation to the status quo ante, which means going back to what we thought the law was before the Supreme Court struck it down in 2016. That situation involves a reciprocal arrangement to allow vessels from Northern Ireland to enter our six-mile limit just as vessels from Ireland can now enter the six-mile limit in Northern Ireland. It is quite an unfair situation currently as vessels from south of the Border can enter the Northern Ireland six-mile limit waters whereas vessels from Northern Ireland cannot enter ours. We want to correct that situation. While there were complications previously around large vessels, large vessels are all now banned from the six-mile limit and I hope we can, therefore, get cross-party support to get the relevant legislation through. The Bill has been published and passed on Second Stage in the Seanad and I hope it can be enacted by Easter. It would help if the UK Government clarified its intention not to withdraw Northern Ireland from the London convention, but we are not going to make that a precondition.

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