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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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An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Amendments Nos. 37 to 40, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Deputy Kathleen Funchion: Information on Kathleen Funchion Zoom on Kathleen Funchion I move amendment No. 37:

In page 21, line 31, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.

I am speaking to amendment No. 38 which we discussed briefly at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. I spoke about it last week when we were discussing Brexit in this Chamber. The amendment proposes: "That the Minister may establish a specific section within the student support scheme of SUSI to address all potential post Brexit queries from students". The reasoning behind this is that if this Bill is intended to deal with a no-deal or crash-out Brexit, which nobody wants to see, it is extremely important that within Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, there is a special branch to deal with all the potential queries. I foresee many difficulties in this area. We are being told students are protected, there will be no changes and it will all be okay but I can envisage students telephoning SUSI and maybe getting a different answer. I mean no disrespect to SUSI but that is the way these things sometimes go. The amendment would allay many fears. It is not a very big request and it would be very positive for students and their parents to know that they would have a specific line where they could get all the relevant information.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Amendment No. 37 proposes to change the word "may" to "shall". This would allow the Minister to render people from the North and Britain eligible for the student support scheme, equivalent to EU students. Our party represents people in the North and people in Britain will be concerned about what level of access they will have to educational services. Can the Minister for Education and Skills explain why the word "may" is in the Bill and not "shall"? We believe this is a reasonable and necessary amendment to ensure guaranteed access. The Minister, however, might be able to address my concerns about why it is "may". I support Deputy Funchion's amendment No. 38 too because none of us knows exactly what will happen in a hard crash and SUSI already faces challenges with queries and processing grants. For years there have been delays in processing grants. We do not want a backlog to develop because of an avalanche of queries from people in the North and Britain. It makes sense to set up a new administrative office to deal with the queries. I support amendments Nos. 37 and 38.

Not wishing to be in any way confrontational, the Ministers who have spoken previously have been very helpful - maybe not in supporting amendments - and they have accepted some amendments and the spirit of others. I could be wrong but my understanding is that the Minister will support Fianna Fáil's amendments Nos. 39 and 40 but will oppose Sinn Féin's amendments Nos. 37 and 38. I am not sure if that is an outworking of the confidence and supply agreement or some backroom deal that was done with Fianna Fáil but all amendments should be considered and supported or not on their merits. Will the Minister clarify whether it is the case that he is accepting the two Fianna Fáil amendments but does not see fit to support the equally reasonable amendments tabled by Sinn Féin?

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Tá mise agus mo pháirtí tar éis na leasuithe seo a leagan síos ionas go mbeidh cinnteacht i gceist do mhic léinn ó Thuaisceart Éireann agus ón mBreatain i gcás na dtáillí a chaithfidh siad a íoc. Tá neamhchinnteacht maidir leis an gceist seo soiléir faoi láthair. Aontaím leis an Teachta Cullinane go mbraitheann an reachtaíocht seo ar an mBreatain ag titim amach as an Aontas Eorpach gan chonradh. Ag an am céanna, toisc go bhfuil neamhchinnteacht ann maidir leis na táillí a bheidh á n-íoc ag mic léinn ó Thuaisceart Éireann agus ón Bhreatain, tá sé i gceist ag níos lú daoine teacht ag staidéar in Éirinn amach anseo. Admhaím gur thug an tAire gealltanas dóibh siúd atá ag tosú i mbliana nach mbeidh táillí iasachta nó táillí neamh-Aontas Eorpach acu ar feadh tréimhse an chúrsa iomlán. Measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go mbeadh cinnteacht ag na daoine a thiocfaidh ina dhiaidh sin agus iad ag teacht anseo, ionas go mbeidís in ann pleanáil a dhéanamh. Tá muidne ag rá go bhfuil na doirse oscailte dár muintir i dTuaisceart Éireann, dár muintir sa Bhreatain agus do mhuintir na Breataine uilig.

These amendments deal with an issue I have pressed before and the Minister has given certainty in respect of fees for students from the North of Ireland and from Great Britain starting this year and for the duration of their courses. I acknowledge that. The fact that there is uncertainty about the position of the State after that is damaging. It is saying that our doors are closed. As Deputy Cullinane said, this is predicated on a no-deal Brexit. We need to be as certain as possible that, regardless of what happens, the free movement of students, North and South, east and west, continues and that we in this House do what we can to ensure that. We cannot control everything. We cannot control what the British are doing but I hope if this amendment is accepted by the House that there would be ongoing reciprocity on this. Perhaps the Minister could set out what discussions he has had on this issue with his British counterpart and with parties in the North.

If amendment No. 39 is accepted, I am not sure about amendment No. 40. I will consider that when I hear what the Minister says. It is really a belt and braces approach and I do not want to put extra work on civil servants in respect of producing reports, if that is unnecessary. It is important to give that certainty in legislation and do something practical for students from the North and from Great Britain. I accept that the details would have to be worked out by the Minister but if this amendment is agreed to at least we can say definitively to students from the North and from Britain that they can come here to study on the same basis as they have always done here. We have done it in respect of SUSI grants and now we are doing in respect of fees.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí fá choinne seans a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an reachtaíocht seo agus ar son na leasuithe. I welcome the contribution of my colleagues to this debate and acknowledge the time they have devoted to this. I have considered the four amendments objectively, as have the officials in the Department, and there is spirit in the amendments. I know what Deputy Funchion is trying to do in amendment No. 38 and I acknowledge the fact that she is looking for equal treatment, which is something I am very conscious of too. Whether a student is from Ballaghaderreen or Bangor, he or she will be treated equally as far as I am concerned. I know that the services and help provided by SUSI are available whether the matters are Brexit-related, Northern Ireland-related, Welsh-related, Scottish-related or English-related and that they are all treated as priorities.

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