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Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019: Committee Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten] That is the reality of it. These businesses will struggle. At the moment, all of the focus is on a hard Brexit in 24 days and, with all due respect, the Government had to focus on that. I fully accept that it had to focus on exporters and importers but regardless of whether it is a soft or a hard Brexit, within 21 months we will have Brexit in Ireland. This will not just impact on importers and exporters but also on small businesses throughout this country. They are not exporters because they do not have the opportunity to export but they are creating a lot of jobs in provincial towns and rural Ireland. However, they do not fall under any of the support criteria in place at the moment. We need to broaden the definition of the supports that are available through the LEOs. The LEOs themselves want to be able to assist these companies. We also need to broaden the definition of support provided by Enterprise Ireland, not just focusing on exports but also on import substitution, particularly when our nearest neighbour is going to be a third country. This will open up opportunities for import substitution and will allow Irish companies to fill that void.

The Minister made reference to a review report in quarter three of this year but to me, that is live horse, and get grass. These companies cannot wait that length of time. That is why I have laid out in my amendment that the report would be presented to Dáil Éireann within 90 days, regardless of whether we have a hard or a soft Brexit. The report should detail how we can support the non-exporting indigenous local businesses that are the backbone and bedrock of employment throughout this country. These companies must be supported but there is a gap in the system. As a State, we must put the mechanisms in place to support those companies in the context of Brexit. Regardless of whether it is in 24 days or 21 months, Brexit is happening and these companies need support.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys There are many supports available to non-exporting indigenous businesses, some of which I listed. We are looking at providing more supports through the future jobs initiative which I will be launching on Sunday. I have met all of the LEOs and assure the Deputy that they can provide a broad range of supports to non-exporting Irish companies. I have read out the list of supports. It is on the record of the House and I do not propose to go through it again.

In terms of state aid, the issue is looked at case by case. The EU's state aid approved rescue and restructure scheme is in place to deal with sudden shocks. Funding under that scheme has been increased to €200 million, which will provide an important safety net for Irish businesses. This increased budget is prudent as part of our overall contingency plan for Brexit. I was delighted with the recent announcement that the European Commission has given state aid approval for investment in an Irish cheese company, Carbery Foods Ingredients Limited. The fact that this company has received such funding is an indication that the supports are there. A wide range of supports are available and Deputy Cullinane should familiarise himself with the full range of supports that are available through Enterprise Ireland, IntertradeIreland, the LEOs and through-----

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane The Minister is inviting me to come back with a long list of what is not there.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys No.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I am more than happy to do that. I could educate the Minister. I do not need to be educated on what is there.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy will have another opportunity to contribute.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I may take that opportunity if the Minister persists.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys To be fair, there is a long list of available supports. A total of 168 Be Prepared grants have been approved, 251 projects have been approved under the Enterprise Ireland market discovery fund, and 43 agile innovation projects have been approved under the aforementioned Enterprise Ireland fund. A total of 13 Brexit advisory clinics have been run with more than 1,000 in attendance and 190 act on plans have been completed. To date, 4,435 Brexit scorecards have been completed and-----

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Scorecards?

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys -----722 LEO clients have completed a scorecard. The list goes on and on. In fairness, businesses are responding and seeking out these supports. We are here to help them and want to continue to do so. This is emergency legislation before us today but all of these supports have been in place for some time. Since 2016 we have been helping businesses to prepare for Brexit. Admittedly, some businesses asked initially what they should prepare for and left it until very late in the day. However, there has been a huge take-up of Brexit supports in recent weeks as the situation has crystallised. This legislation will give Enterprise Ireland more powers to enable it to provide more supports to businesses.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher At the end of the day we must all be conscious of the fact that we do not know what will transpire in the weeks and months ahead, in terms of the legislative flow from decisions made in this House and the impact that Brexit will have on the broader economy. While it could be argued that the non-exporting indigenous sector may not be immediately impacted by Brexit because it is not exporting, there is no doubt that there could be negative knock-on effects from a slowdown in the economy or a squeeze on credit, for example. In that context, the proposal by Deputy Naughten has merit. We are unsure and we must take imaginative steps to assess the potential impacts of Brexit in the time ahead. The Deputy's provision of a 90-day limit would bring a sense of urgency to the process undertaken by the agency tasked with carrying out the assessment of the non-exporting indigenous sector to see if there are pinch points affecting it. Credit and cashflow are issues in that regard. We have consistently said that small and medium businesses have serious difficulties in accessing funding from the pillar banks. Some companies may need cashflow carry over in terms of inventory, stock and so on, but the banks are very reticent about lending to the SME sector. In that context, there is a lot of merit in Deputy Naughten's proposal and I urge the Minister to give it serious consideration, especially as it does not do anything materially to undermine the legislation's aim of ensuring that there is a legislative bulwark against a hard Brexit.

  Regardless of what type of Brexit transpires, it will have an impact. As the Taoiseach said, Brexit of whatever type is a lose, lose, lose. Who gains from Brexit? Nobody gains and in that context, even the indigenous, non-exporting sector could find itself in real difficulty. I urge the Minister to give the proposal serious consideration. Beyond that, there is the fact that Enterprise Ireland is statutorily charged with dealing with companies that are exporting and which have more than a certain number of employees. There is a gap there in terms of indigenous non-exporting companies that may want to put out feelers vis-à-vis international markets. They may want to take that next step but there is a shortage of policy and supports in that area to enable those in the non-exporting indigenous sector to move into the exporting sector. It is a daunting task and while I know that toolboxes are available for assessing export markets and so on, it is still a big leap for smaller companies. This is an area that the Department should keep an eye on, given that these companies are the backbone of our economy. They are not often flagged and heralded but they provide the majority of employment throughout this State.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I am glad that I have provoked some of the Fianna Fáil Deputies and that Deputy Kelleher has at least put something on the record for Fianna Fáil. Fair play to him for that. He is right in saying that businesses are unsure. We are all unsure as to what exactly is going to happen and that uncertainty is creating problems.

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