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Snippet Contents:

Michel Barnier was not overly optimistic about the potential to avoid a hard border when he spoke to us in the Chamber earlier this year. Whether one accepts that there is potential to address the movement of people, he was bordering on the pessimistic in respect of the movement of goods. Of course, we share the hope that these issues can be resolved as part of a trade deal that may come after the Brexit negotiations have concluded but the pace of negotiations thus far and the ongoing wrangling over the divorce bill do not inspire confidence that a full agreement will be in place before 2019.
I welcome the progress on work to secure the common travel area. The flow of our people across the two islands must be allowed to continue uninhibited. The Government and the EU seem to have secured that, which is welcome. The question then returns to the free movement of people between the UK and Ireland and between Ireland and the EU. This stumbling block is one to which we seem to return again and again. Will Ireland be forced to act as a clearing house for fellow EU nationals entering the country to ensure that they do not attempt to travel to Northern Ireland or onwards to the mainland UK? What are the full implications of that? Will Ireland be centrally involved in the design of any such arrangements or will they be handed down to us by the EU? Will there be compensation for the considerable expenditure involved for Ireland where we have to man a border to monitor the movement of people within the EU or on entry to Northern Ireland and the UK? There are many unanswered questions on Brexit and there is a great deal of concern at a level of complacency on the part of Government. That needs to stop and we need to start to get real about this. The potential is undoubtedly extremely serious for this country, which is why it is important to develop confidence among people and the business community that, in the event of things not working out to Ireland's satisfaction, there are clear contingency plans in place which can be mobilised. There is a strong sense that we are not very well prepared at this stage and that we are engaging in wishful thinking.
In its conclusions on the meeting of 19 October, the Council welcomed the significant progress being made by member states to establish closer security and defence co-operation through permanent structured co-operation, or PESCO. It noted that this programme could be launched by the end of 2017. The Taoiseach has stated that he is open to Ireland participating in this new security arrangement. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister of State to clarify which aspects of PESCO they are open to participating in. It is important that we hear it. Our current remit within the common security and defence policy, CSDP, is limited to humanitarian missions, crisis response and peacekeeping. As it stands, PESCO alludes to closer co-operation with NATO and makes overtures on a defence industry Single Market. I urge the Taoiseach to stress Irish non-alignment in the context of the development of PESCO, thereby ensuring that our participation is limited to our current involvement with the CSDP.