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Recent Developments on Brexit: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Harty: Information on Michael Harty Zoom on Michael Harty] There is no alternative to a negotiated deal other than a hard Brexit. The European Union has compromised, as I have already stated, in broadening the backstop to become a UK-wide mechanism. When Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker spoke about reassurances on reassurances and clarifications on clarifications, he indicated that the EU does not want to trap the UK in any relationship with which it is not happy. It looks like a compromise would not be enough to satisfy the unionists, the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and committed remainers.

I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzmaurice. I did not realise he had entered the Chamber.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy should have sought agreement of the House in that regard.

Deputy Michael Harty: Information on Michael Harty Zoom on Michael Harty The document agreed on 8 December 2017, just over two years ago, identified all the matters we are now discussing, including upholding the Good Friday Agreement, not having a hard border and Northern Ireland remaining an integral part of the European Union. In paragraph 49 of that document, the matters we are debating were identified but no progress has been made on them in the interim.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy should have sought agreement of the House to share time but I will use my discretion.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. He is very obliging. There has been a vote in the past few minutes in the House of Commons, with an amendment rejecting a no-deal scenario being approved by 312 votes to 308 votes. I understand that the United Kingdom will now try to seek an extension, so I urge our Government to speak to people in Europe to ensure that is facilitated and a bit of common sense can come into the Brexit process.

For Ireland and its agricultural sector in particular, every day is like being on a surfboard, going up and down. One day it is going one way and the next day it goes the other, as we saw with this morning's announcements. It is a time for calm heads and accurate information because there is much trepidation, especially in the agricultural sector. Reference has been made to calves being sold for 50 cent in certain areas as a result of Brexit but this could not be further from the truth. The real reason is that beef farmers over the past three or four years, regardless of Brexit, have taken €200 per annum less because of what factories are doing and what our British counterparts are producing.

We will know from the votes in the next hour if the UK will seek an extension. If at the end there is a hard Brexit, the UK has indicated that it will not put up a border between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. Will we be forced by the European Union to put up a border or can we say we will not do it? We have always stated that we will not accept a border and we should concentrate on that.

In the context of the agricultural sector, we must implement plans to help with live exports. We can export 1 million animals by means of live exports but we are not doing so. For the Border communities in Donegal, Sligo, Monaghan and elsewhere, the programme for Government states that we will apply to the EU to put the area into the trans-European transport network, TEN-T. We call it the western arc. Three years after the announcement of the programme, however, this has not been done. Somebody needs to step up to the mark. If the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will not do so, then somebody else must.

We must ensure for the agricultural sector that people can export produce to the UK. Regardless of whether we like it, the UK is our biggest export destination for beef so we must ensure that it remains so.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I wish to share time with Deputy Shortall.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart Absolutely.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I am glad the amendment has just been passed in the House of Commons, despite the vote being so tight, because it provides clarity and there is less chance of a no-deal, crash-out Brexit at the end of the month. There is still real concern as it still gives no real clarity on the ultimate solution to this major crisis being experienced by the UK political system.

I have a couple of questions. If the Minister of State cannot reply this evening, a written response will suffice. One of the amendments that went through the House of Commons at the end of February was the Alberto Costa amendment, which proposed that the sections of the withdrawal agreement relating to citizens' rights would, in a sense, be protected and taken out in the event of a lack of agreement. This has been agreed by the House of Commons but it would have to be agreed by the EU side. I know the European Union said in the days following the passing of the amendment that it would not agree to negotiate "mini-deals" as it would imply that negotiations around the withdrawal agreement had failed. I do not know if we are yet at that stage, and it depends on to whom one might speak, but we are fairly close to it with respect to the current withdrawal agreement. I am interested to know the position of the Department or the Government - or that of the European Union if the Government is aware of it - if, in the worst-case scenario, there was no agreement at the end of any extension. In such a no-deal, crash-out Brexit, would we be willing to accept the recommendations in the Costa amendment, which make sense, if we were to try to minimise damage? It would affect approximately 4.5 million people in the UK and the European Union. It is a technical question but I am keen to get a response on it from the Government. A written reply will suffice if the Minister of State cannot answer this evening.

Reading the body language yesterday, it seemed that people were looking to get a withdrawal agreement concluded. There was a sense from those in the Tory Party who have been fighting for a hard Brexit at every stage that if the Attorney General had given evidence to the House of Commons that the legal mechanism agreed the previous night could have had a real effect, the withdrawal agreement might well have gone through. It is important to recognise this because such an observation should govern our approach. We can do very little except prepare as best we can for the event that even at the end of any extension period there would be a no-deal crash-out Brexit or for any new agreement that may be formed. We should maintain open lines of communication, particularly north of the Border.

As a party with a base in the North, we are supporting the backstop, North and South, because it provides real protection to our people. We do not agree with the DUP's assessment of the backstop but we should talk to its representatives. I agree with Deputy Micheál Martin that one of the first elements we should speak about now, as we have mentioned for quite some time, is the urgent need to re-establish the institutions in the North. Again, they would be a protection against what happens next. It is not right for us to say at this stage that we will wait until this all washes out and then we can come to reintroducing the institutions. Now more than ever we must have them and in a way that re-establishes a space where we can again have trust. I reiterate that call as one of the things we can do.

The ball is really to be played in the House of Commons. Will it be able to cross the divide? It seems there is a possible majority in the House of Commons for a deal allowing membership of the customs union in some form, and in agreeing that, the issue of the Irish backstop would become irrelevant. It is a core dividing issue and will influence whether there is a hard or soft Brexit. The European Greens have sought a second referendum but could this be done in the timelines that could be made available with any possible extension? I do not know. We should support that possibility if it arises.

Our role is really to prepare and maintain good relations and co-operation, as we have seen here. That has been beneficial. We must respond to developments as they occur in the United Kingdom in the same way we have done with certain calmness. That word has been used much in the past while but it serves us best.


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