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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Brexit Issues

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 4

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Ceisteanna - Questions

Brexit Issues

 1. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the role of his Department in contingency planning for Brexit; and the number of meetings that have been held since September 2018 on same.  [8464/19]

 2. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the role of his Department in contingency planning for Brexit; and the number of meetings held since September 2018 on the issue.  [9093/19]

 3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the role of his Department in contingency planning for Brexit; and the number of meetings that have been held on this issue since September 2018.  [9306/19]

 4. Deputy Eamon Ryan Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the role of his Department in contingency planning for Brexit; and the number of meetings that have been held since September 2018 on same.  [9390/19]

 5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the role of his Department in contingency planning in respect of Brexit.  [9457/19]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

  My Department works closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has overall responsibility for Brexit. A comprehensive set of Government structures has been put in place to ensure that all Departments and their agencies are engaged in detailed preparedness and contingency activities. Since well before the referendum in the UK, Brexit has been the subject of detailed contingency planning across all relevant Departments. Staff across several divisions in my Department contribute to the work on Brexit, including the international, European Union and Northern Ireland divisions, as well as the economic division. To augment this ongoing work, my Department also has a dedicated unit on Brexit preparedness and contingency planning. The unit, working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, focuses on cross-Government co-ordination, planning and programme management. The unit provides assistance to a Secretaries General group, chaired by the Secretary General to the Government, which meets weekly to oversee ongoing work on national Brexit preparedness and contingency planning.

  The unit also assists an assistant secretaries group on no-deal Brexit planning which meets on a regular basis. This group is wholly focused on planning for a no-deal scenario based on the Government’s contingency action plan published last December. That plan provides detailed sectoral analyses and approaches to mitigate the impacts of a no-deal Brexit. On 30 January, an update to the contingency action plan was published, setting out how preparations for a no-deal scenario have intensified since December.

  Our preparedness and contingency planning takes full account of and complements the steps under way at EU level to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal, notably as regards the implementation of the European Commission’s contingency action plan. There is ongoing engagement between Irish officials and their European Commission counterparts. The unit, in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, also assists a senior officials group on Brexit-related legislation, which also meets on a regular basis. The group is overseeing the necessary primary and secondary legislation required for a no-deal Brexit. This has involved a painstaking, whole-of-Government screening of our laws to determine what changes will be needed if the UK becomes a third country overnight.

On 22 February, the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019, known as the Brexit omnibus Bill or BOB, was published. This landmark legislation crosses the remit of nine Ministers and is made up of 15 parts, all of which are designed to prepare Ireland for a no-deal Brexit. The senior officials group on legislation will continue to work on the omnibus Bill as it progresses through both Houses of the Oireachtas. Work is continuing in parallel on complementary and necessary secondary legislation. The Government will continue to work very closely with Opposition parties in the Oireachtas and all members of the Dáil and Seanad to ensure that this necessary legislation will be in place by 29 March 2019 in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Since the beginning of the year I have been asking the Taoiseach on every sitting day to outline what will happen if there is a no-deal scenario in the coming months. Every time, the Taoiseach has replied that he is not contemplating or planning for a hard border but he has steadfastly refused to actually answer the specific question. Even for him, this has been a remarkable display of ignoring what one has been asked. It may very well be that Brexit will not be happening on 29 March due to an extension, as yet not agreed, but the Taoiseach has repeatedly said that we have to be ready for any eventuality. He has also said that the United Kingdom leaving without a deal has major implications for the Border. He is saying that we have to be ready and that something will happen but, with 24 days to go, he refuses to say what exactly will happen.

Does the Taoiseach not realise that there are orders already under production that will be delivered after 29 March? Why is Ireland the only member of the EU that has not said what will happen on its borders in a no-deal scenario? Today it is being reported that armed units of An Garda Síochána are being sent to the Border in anticipation of a no-deal Brexit. Are these reports false or are they confirmation that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, was correct and the Tánaiste was wrong when the former claimed that there were "immediate security implications"? Last week Dublin Port confirmed that it will have enough custom checkpoints available on 29 March but that there will not be enough customs officials to staff them. Does the Taoiseach think this is acceptable, given past assurances that everything would be ready by 29 March?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The British Attorney General is in Brussels this week for talks to find what the British describe as a "legally binding" undertaking to ensure that there is no permanent tying of the UK into the EU. I have been seeking clarification for some time as to what might constitute this legally binding assurance. I understand that the British have abandoned the notion of altering the withdrawal agreement itself. It has been the very clear position of the EU from the start that the agreement will not be altered. I asked previously if the assurance might take the shape of an amendment to the political declaration. While I understand that this is still a possibility, it will not constitute a legally binding commitment as far as the British are concerned. What is the Taoiseach's understanding of the nature of the discussions now taking place in terms of what will give the British the guarantee they are seeking? Will it be a European Council declaration that could be interpreted as legally binding? Could it be, as was suggested this morning on the national airwaves, some sort of new arbitration system? The latter hardly gives the British the guarantees they need. I ask the Taoiseach to provide clarity to this House so that Members here are at least as well briefed as our British counterparts on what exactly is being negotiated to give the British the guarantee they require. Does the Taoiseach agree that this is a very important issue for us? This is a moment of peril for Ireland and we must not weaken in the firm resolve have shown thus far, in this House and across the European Union, to hold fast on an unalterable backstop until and unless something better replaces it.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett By far the most dangerous potential outcome of a no-deal Brexit is the reinstallation of a border between the North and South of this country. Amendments that my colleagues and I put forward to the omnibus Bill have been ruled out of order and the Government does not deal with the possibility of such a border in that Bill. The Taoiseach says publicly that the Government has done nothing to prepare for the possibility of a hard border between the North and South and yet we are hearing a constant drip, drip of commentary and reports which suggest that behind the scenes, the Government may be considering installing a physical border. The latest of such reports, emblazoned on the front page of today's national newspapers, suggests that hundreds of gardaí are being sent to the Border counties. At Davos, the Taoiseach talked about the possibility of the Army being deployed along the Border and we have heard leading figures in the EU saying that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, measures would be needed to protect the integrity of the Single Market. To say that there is a lack of clarity and certainty about the Government's intention to absolutely prevent, under all circumstances, a hard border between North and South would be putting it mildly. Can the Taoiseach shed any light on this? As the clock ticks down, there has to be a real fear that, unthinkable as it, such a border is being planned for, either by the Irish Government or the European Union.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald At this stage, with just 24 days to go, I ask the Taoiseach to confirm to the Oireachtas that he has not given any undertaking or intimation to any negotiating party that his Government or the Irish State will be in any way resiling from the backstop or Irish protocol, as it is currently drafted. It is important that he makes that clear. We may speculate as to what the British Government might seek to negotiate but important though that is, it is outside of our control. We need a clear understanding of the resolve of the Taoiseach and his Government to remain steady and firm in a position for the backstop.


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