DÁIL QUESTIONS WITH MINISTER DONOHUE ON BREXIT

  1. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his role in funding Departments and agencies to address the challenge of Brexit; if there are provisions and plans for any necessary additional spending in the period 2017 to 2019 to make Ireland Brexit ready; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30778/16]

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Brexit represents one of the biggest challenges to the State since 1922. As I said in the first debate we had in the House just after the vote in the UK, there should be a Minister for Brexit here. Fianna Fáil has now taken a similar position. The issue is so important and critical to our future that we should adopt that position. The Minister has allocated certain moneys in the budget to address Brexit, including the farmers’ loan and the continuation of the 9% VAT rate, which is very expensive. Tourism from the UK is already down 12% in recent months. However, the actual figure the Minister has allocated for Brexit per se is very small. How does the Minister interact with the Taoiseach’s committee and what kind of funding will be needed in the next few years?

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I am a member of the Taoiseach’s committee and attended a further meeting of it this morning along with the Minister of State in my Department, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I anticipate that the committee will meet even more frequently in the coming weeks and months. At meetings of the committee, I am obliged to update the Taoiseach and other Ministers on work I am undertaking in respect of dealing with the consequences of Brexit. Deputy Broughan acknowledged the provisions in the budget to deal with the consequences of Brexit. These include funding we have put in place for the regional development plan, the rural development plan and agriculture. The decision on the 9% VAT rate was taken in the context of Brexit and the effect it might have on our tourism and services sector. I have also provided additional current funding to allow Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to hire more people to work abroad and represent our companies. Those are measures we have put in place to deal with the consequences of Brexit.

On the need for a Brexit-focused Minister, I respectfully take a different view to the Deputy. This is a matter of such importance to the State that it is more appropriate that our approach to it be headed up by the Taoiseach. Other countries are taking a different approach and I am keeping on eye on that to see if it is working elsewhere. Mindful, however, of its importance, the only way it can be done is to have it headed up directly by the Department of the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach holds all Ministers to account for action steps to which we have committed in respect of dealing with Brexit.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: It is likely that when Article 50 is triggered next spring, the challenge will intensify and grow deeper. We have a particular responsibility to our own workers, jobs in this country, agriculture and the Common Fisheries Policy, about which hardly anyone has spoken so far. My own constituency has an interest in both fisheries and the fact that there may well be profound changes in that area. Most of all, there is the issue of the future status of Northern Ireland and the fact that we want it to have a special status. Clearly, Brexit has huge implications in that regard. The desire of the House has always been to have a national union of our country. Hopefully, that will happen. The circumstances which are now evolving in the North, however, with the responsibility of the Executive, as well as in Scotland and possibly Wales and England itself, may well accelerate the situation. Have other Departments come to the Minister to ask for additional resources as the Brexit process intensifies next year?

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Yes, they have in the context of discussions we had on the recent budget. In particular, I was approached by the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There was also a particular focus on Brexit by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton. Much of his focus was on the development of the third-level education sector here in the context of the challenges we face with Brexit and the pressure that will be exerted on our universities and institutes of technology in the coming years. It was a process in which additional spending requests were made to me. I did my best to respond to them and it played a significant role in the decision we made on the allocation of funding for education and in respect of where we ended up with agriculture, in particular, and the funding for State agencies such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. Deputy Broughan is correct that when the actual decision to trigger Article 50 is made, this will have further consequences, not least of which should be that in the run-up to this the nature of the Brexit the British Government is looking to achieve will become clear. Fisheries policy was discussed as recently as this morning and it is acknowledged as a significant issue of concern.