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 Header Item Brexit Issues (Continued)
 Header Item All-Island Civic Dialogue

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald] Will the Taoiseach simply place it on the record of the House that this is the position of the Government and that it will remain the position of the Government, irrespective of overtures from London or anywhere else?

Will the Taoiseach confirm or deny the news of members of An Garda Síochána being sent to the Border? This matter is important. Not to up the ante of dramatics around the Brexit issue but for people living in the Border areas, news like this certainly causes real concern. Perhaps the Taoiseach can shed some light on this. Is it true? Is the story - as carried in the media - true, yes or no?

Whatever way it happens, be it by accident or design, a no-deal Brexit means a hard border. That is the upshot of it. Will the Taoiseach tell us how he plans to mitigate that? How will the Taoiseach stop that hardening of the Border?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy for her questions. I cannot predict with absolute certainty or absolute clarity what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I do not believe that anybody can. All we can do is plan for different scenarios. I will say - and I am happy to say again - that we as a Government have made no plans for physical infrastructure, checks or controls on the land Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland under any scenario. If we end up with no deal in a few weeks, we will have to have difficult discussions involving the European Commission and the UK Government on how we can protect the integrity of the Single Market and the customs union while avoiding the emergence of a hard border on the island. The only workable solution we have come up with so far is what is written in the Irish protocol and the backstop, which is a system of regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the European Union, and also to an extent between the United Kingdom and the European Union. People talk about alternative arrangements but the only thing we have written down, that we know works in law and in reality, is what is contained in the backstop.

  On staffing, we had a memo to Cabinet today about no-deal Brexit planning. We will be in a position to have some 400 Revenue and Customs people in place at the end of the month. There also will be between 50 and 60 officials from the Department of Health and between 150 and 200 inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We are confident that the IT systems will be in place and that we will be able to implement the acquis at the ports and airports.

  With regard to Border policing, I did not have a chance to read the story in today's newspapers, but my note says that there was an article in today's edition of the Irish Independent stating "Armed support units will shortly be deployed around the clock in the Border region, under plans being finalised by Garda chiefs". Anybody will appreciate there is a difference between the Border and the Border region. The Border region is what other people would call the northern division of the Garda. I have been informed by An Garda Síochána that in 2018, a cross-Border threat assessment was prepared jointly by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. This assessment estimated that some 43% of organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland have a cross-Border dimension. Likewise mobile, organised crime groups responsible for multiple serious incidences of domestic burglary operate on an all-island basis. There are also increasing incidences of borderless crimes such as cyberfraud and international terrorism. This is the context in which the Garda Commissioner made an operational decision to establish another regional armed support unit, which will be based in County Cavan. Members will appreciate that the detail on the number of gardaí and resources allocated to this armed support unit is deemed to be operationally sensitive and cannot be disclosed for security reasons. The Cavan Garda district armed support unit, ASU, is expected to become operational in the near future. The Commissioner has now established armed support units in each of the six Garda regions to provide an armed response capacity and capability on a regional basis to support and supplement the national emergency response unit. In the northern region ASUs are currently based in Ballyshannon and Dundalk Garda stations serving all Garda divisions comprising the northern region. The unit based in Cavan will augment that.

  A further 200 Garda recruits will attest later this week. I understand that a further 49 newly attested gardaí will be assigned to the northern region, which comprises the Border counties, but not the actual physical Border itself, which of course does not exist.

  There is close and ongoing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI. This measure consists of additional gardaí and an additional armed support unit for what are the Border counties, but not the Border per se. I believe this will be welcomed by people, in particular by those who have been subjected to burglaries, in that region.

  Discussions are ongoing between the EU and the UK. I do not have clarity on the content or form of any further guarantees that may be made around the backstop. The ongoing work is focused on what guarantees could be given regarding the backstop that underline once again its temporary nature, and to give the appropriate legal assurances on both sides. Prime Minister May has acknowledged the EU's position that the withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated and that we cannot agree to anything that changes the meaning of the backstop therein.

  We are open to providing further assurances on the temporary nature of the backstop but these can in no way contradict, change or undermine the legal operability thereof.

All-Island Civic Dialogue

 6. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the all-island civic dialogue held on 15 February 2019..  [8465/19]

 7. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the all-island civic dialogue on 15 February 2019.  [9092/19]

 8. Deputy Eamon Ryan Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the all-island civic dialogue held on 15 February 2019.  [9391/19]

 9. Deputy Joan Burton Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on the fifth plenary session of the all-island civic dialogue on Brexit; if he had subsequent conversations with the political party leaders present; and the issues that were discussed.  [9421/19]

 10. 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 if he will report on the recent meeting of the all-island civic dialogue held on 15 February 2019.  [9459/19]

 11. 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 if he will report on the all-island civic dialogue on 15 February 2019.  [10515/19]

 12. 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 if he will report on the all-island civic dialogue held on 15 February 2019.  [10927/19]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 12, inclusive, together.

More than 400 political, business and civic society leaders from across the island attended the fifth plenary session of the all-island civic dialogue on Brexit in Dublin Castle on 15 February. This was a valuable opportunity to update participants on the Government’s position on the latest Brexit developments and on our intensive contingency planning work to prepare for a no-deal withdrawal by the UK.

Having met the five main political parties in Belfast the previous week, I welcomed the opportunity once again to engage with political parties, North and South, and to hear the concerns of society and business, through interactive discussions on people, citizens and rights and on business preparations. This has been a deep consultation exercise, which has helped to shape the Government’s policies, strategy and objectives in the Article 50 negotiations and our domestic response to Brexit. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will produce a report of the proceedings and this will be published on its website.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Some of the most consistent themes we heard at the all-island civic dialogue are the frustrations of people about the lack of detail on potential aid programmes and the clarity from the Government about what people will be faced with on 29 March, or whatever date Brexit kicks in. Many businesses have told me about how slow everything has been to move from calling on people to be prepared and actually delivering substantive aid at the level of individual companies. One and a half years after aid for the agrifood sector was announced, the loans are only beginning to be approved now. Since last summer we have been seeking an update from Government on the preparedness data, which were formerly being prepared on a six-monthly basis. For some reason the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and the Government have decided to discontinue this research series. Will the Taoiseach explain why the Government has not published any recent data on the level of business preparedness? We have lots of data on the number of companies seeking basic information, but the more important information on the impact of Brexit and preparedness levels has disappeared.

Last December the Taoiseach stated that the Government's intention was to ensure that every business which needs to be ready will be ready by 29 March. What is the Taoiseach's current assessment of the level of preparedness? Does the Taoiseach still believe that everything that can be done has been done? If, as expected, there is an extension, what will be done to address clear deficiencies in preparations in the added time?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The civic dialogue process has been an important and very useful device in confidence-building across the State. One of the aspects that impacted on that confidence over the last weekend was the sudden blowing up of the voisinage dispute when a Northern Ireland-registered vessel was arrested in Irish territorial waters. I am aware there was immediate contact between the Government and Fianna Fáil to fast-track legislation that has been stalled for some time. What exactly is the Taoiseach's legislative solution? There are concerns around finding a solution - which is important for all of us - but not one that does not address the issues that caused the court case to be taken in the first instance. The case was taken by a number of fishermen who were very concerned about the impact of mussel dredging by Northern registered boats.


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