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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae]  Alongside the Brexit negotiations, we must continue the work of the European Union in other areas. It is encouraging that the approach to the migration crisis is finally yielding results and delivering a lasting solution. This must remain a priority. It is one of the trickiest public policy challenges and the risks are high for the lives of the many people who get into boats on the Mediterranean. At the same time, countries around the Mediterranean are working hard to deal with the numbers arriving.

While I cautiously welcome the ongoing work on the permanent structured co-operation on defence, we must take care. Ireland has a particular position on defence and we must be clear on what our role should be in that context.

I wish to discuss the digital Single Market. In order to be central to Europe's future, Ireland must lead. We have particular strengths in this regard. This week, I had the pleasure of meeting the Swedish ambassador and we discussed the benefits of digitalisation and the opportunities it presents. This is key to keeping Europe ahead of the curve and capable of competing with the rest of the world.

In continuing the pursuit of this agenda, I particularly commend the Irish involvement in the "Digital 9" group of member states. It is clear that the completion of the digital Single Market and the development of what many may call the fifth freedom, that being, the free movement of data, are integral to the building of this future.

Overall, this seemed to be a workmanlike European Council that progressed the issues but made no major breakthroughs. I would like to see much more progress by the European Council in December.

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, continued good work. She is performing well. She is also workmanlike with our committee, which I appreciate.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy Rae Zoom on Danny Healy Rae The IFA, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, and all other farming bodies are concerned about our €2.5 billion beef deal with England. That is how much we depend on the British market. If we were to lose that, it would be disastrous for the whole of the country, especially the western counties, of which County Kerry is one. Cow numbers will collapse. The bodies are asking that, before Britain exits the EU, Ireland be allowed to continue supplying beef to Britain. If we are not and there is a hard Brexit and large tariffs, it will be disastrous for the entire farming community.

We watched and listened to Prime Minister May saying that progress had been made. We wondered what that progress was. I certainly did anyway on behalf of everyone whom we represent, especially the farming community, which is under significant pressure. Prices are dropping as we speak.

Not for many years have farmers faced a winter like this one. They have been feeding cows and other animals for the past two months. That will make for a long winter before the animals can be put out to grass again in the middle of April or early May. That is more than six months, so we must be aware that there will be a shortage of fodder. On top of this, people are concerned about whether we will retain our British market. The farming organisations are asking that the market be assured before the UK exits the EU.

I am sorry for going over time by a bit, but my colleagues took some of mine.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Sure, you took up the whole time the other day.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher It is unusual for Deputy Danny Healy-Rae to exceed his time.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall While a specific reference to Ireland in the conclusions of the 20 October European Council meeting is welcome, it is with growing alarm that we note a complete absence of detail regarding what the new EU external frontier will look like post Brexit. I do not know how many more times we will have to stand in the Chamber and welcome vague assertions that a hard border will be avoided. Detail and a plan are needed. Unfortunately, these seem to have been absent thus far, especially from the UK.

In her post-European Council speech in Westminster, Prime Minister May stated that significant progress had been made on Northern Ireland. She again committed to having no physical infrastructure on the Border. There is nothing new in this assertion, yet we still have no detail of how it is to work. Visualising how it could work is extremely difficult.

It has been more than six months since Article 50 was triggered and the withdrawal process began, yet the EU is still requesting that the UK "present and commit to flexible and imaginative solutions called for by the unique situation of Ireland". That this assertion on such a basic and fundamental aspect of the Brexit process still needs to be made six months after the UK began the withdrawal process is alarming.

The unpublished internal Revenue Commissioners report that came to the media earlier this month paints a stark picture. I recognise the fact that the report dates from September of last year, but we must heed the warnings contained therein, given that not much has changed since then. Despite what is being said publicly, there is a view in Revenue that the idea of a frictionless border for trade is unworkable and naive. These are Revenue's words, not mine.

Along with additional infrastructure such as storage facilities for goods at Border crossings, greatly expanded ICT capabilities and increased staffing at ports and airports, it is estimated that an external frontier would mean an 800% increase in the volume of customs declarations by companies trading with the UK. This would mean a significantly increased volume and complexity of paperwork for firms, many delays, additional costs and an inevitable knock-on effect on the wider economy, North and South. In 2015, goods worth almost €18 billion were imported from the UK and goods worth €15.5 billion were exported by Ireland to the UK. Revenue has stated that the administrative and fiscal burden on the companies involved cannot be underestimated. Any restriction on this flow of trade would have severe negative consequences for the entire island of Ireland. The impact of this could be catastrophic on particular elements of Ireland's trade. We are not being realistic about the potential damage that can be done.

While we all hope for the best, we need to do much more. We must prepare for the worst. This means having clear contingency plans in place. While I agree with the Taoiseach that it is not up to Ireland to design solutions for the UK, we must be prudent, which means being prepared for all eventualities. We do not share the belief of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, that preparing for the prospect of a hard border is a self-fulfilling prophecy. His suggestion is short-sighted and dangerous. It is critical that we have good contingency plans in place in the event of the UK exiting without a deal. This does not mean putting in place the investments that are referenced in the Revenue report, but it does mean having in place contingency plans for such facilities.

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