On Monday, I held my weekly information clinic in Darndale and finished preparations for my Leaders’ Question on Tuesday. At Tuesday’s Leaders’ Questions I asked the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, about our financial preparedness for Brexit, what costings were being determined in advance of a possible no deal Brexit and again reiterated that there can be no wavering on the Brexit backstop. I also asked about reported bilateral arrangements between the UK and other Brexit-affected countries. Later that afternoon, the Minister for Finance released some figures which give a stark warning for the impact of a no deal Brexit on our economy.
Today, during Leaders’ Questions, Deputy Broughan asked the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to confirm that no works of any kind are taking place anywhere along the border on roads or laybys to facilitate the installation of any border apparatus. Deputy Broughan also noted that much of the proposed Irish legislation, the Omnibus Bill, in e.g. health, education and pensions, protects the rights of UK residents and citizens in the Republic and asked, in the case of a No Deal Brexit, will there be similar UK legislation protecting the rights of our people in the North and in England, Scotland and Wales and whether negotiations to that effect are being undertaken with the UK.
Last week, as the Taoiseach will be aware, the European Medicines Agency said farewell to London and the staff are now moving to Amsterdam. Their departure reminds us once again that we are now only 59 days away from Brexit. I think we were all heartened over the weekend by the comments of the Tánaiste and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs that the agreed backstop will not be renegotiated. We also saw over the weekend the clear wishes, as expressed in various polls, of our people North and South that no kind of hard border will be allowed to return to this island. I note that the Tánaiste has indicated that a codicil might be added to the political declaration regarding the backstop. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the 21 articles of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement will be fully adhered to, especially given the presence of Articles 17 and 20? Can the Taoiseach also confirm that no works of any kind are taking place anywhere along the Border on roads or lay-bys to facilitate the installation of any hard border apparatus?
On Monday morning I attended the Joint Policing Committee and later in the week I submitted my report to the Garda Policing Plan. Later on Monday I was delighted to attend the Mansion House and to take part in the centenary celebrations of the first Dáil which sat in that location on the 21st of January 1919. It was a wonderful afternoon and evening. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan spoke on behalf of the technical group of Independents of which I am a member.
Brexit is the overarching issue but we must also remember the European Union’s responsibility for the incredible mess that we are in now. It was the European Union which insisted on separate negotiations for the withdrawal, or divorce treaty, and the future relationship. In any divorce, the basic premise is that the future relationship will be at the forefront, but that is not what happened here, which people have often likened to The Eagles song “Hotel California” because “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. How the EU organised this is part of the problem, which is not only the responsibility of the horrendous Tory party and its crazy ideas, as my colleagues discussed earlier. We now have only 99 days to go. British Government ministers are buying fridges and are beginning to ramp up toward leaving at the end of March. It is profoundly affecting us. Even the timing of our general election has been affected by it. It is a great mess, but we should remember the European Union’s own responsibility for this.
I was delighted to see such a large turnout at the #HomesForAll rally in the city centre on Saturday and hope that there will also be a large turnout at the rally at the Spire tomorrow (December 8th) at 2pm calling for the National Maternity Hospital to be publicly owned.
On Tuesday evening, I hosted a meeting in Dáil Éireann with supporters from across the constituency of Dublin Bay North and we discussed matters of national, international and local importance, such as climate change, Brexit, housing and infrastructural issues around the constituency.
I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to speak in support of the European Investment Fund Agreement Bill 2018. The Minister of State wants to pass this Bill urgently and to have provisions in place to implement the scheme early in 2019. There is a sense of urgency every day as we see events taking place at Westminster.
The Bill gives the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Business, Enterprise and Innovation the power to enter into agreements with the European Investment Fund to facilitate the future growth loan scheme, which was announced in budget 2019. Initially I wondered why it was necessary. Why did the Attorney General state the Government could not establish the fund? When Mr. Andrew McDowell appeared before one of the finance committees – it may have been the Committee on Budgetary Oversight – he urged us to try to draw down more money from the European Investment Bank, of which he is our director, for infrastructural projects, small businesses and all types of business. Will the Minister of State comment on that?
On Tuesday morning I attended a board meeting of the Coolock Development Council, of which I am a member. At 11am that morning, I joined with hundreds of others as we walked with the Stardust Relatives’ and Victims’ Committee from Westland Row to the Attorney General’s office on Merrion Street. I carried one of the boxes which contained one thousand signed ‘Truth’ postcards and helped deliver the 48,000 postcards to the Merrion St. Later that afternoon, during Leaders’ Questions, I asked the Taoiseach if he will instruct the Attorney General to open a new inquest into the tragic deaths of 48 young people on the night of the 14th of February 1981. I welcomed news that the Attorney General, Seamus Wolfe, is awaiting the official papers to be served and will examine them once received.
When I downloaded the 585 page draft agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU last Wednesday evening in my office, like many others, I turned very quickly to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland on page 302. On first reading, the protocol seemed to satisfy Ireland’s core and essential demand that there could not be a return to a hard border in Ireland. The preface to the protocol acknowledged, among other basic realities, the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, the importance of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement and the rights of Irish and EU citizens in Northern Ireland. The commitment to unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK and the UK being committed to protecting and supporting continued North-South and east-west co-operation also seemed to indicate that Michel Barnier, the EU 27 and the various UK negotiators had produced a reasonable compromise on avoiding a hard border and arranging the exit of the UK from the EU. On a number of occasions during visits to this House, several Deputies stressed to Mr. Barnier how much we depended on EU solidarity with the Irish Government in this whole endeavour.
I am delighted to contribute to the debate. The illicit trade in cigarettes alcohol and solid fuel is reported to have cost the Exchequer up to €2.5 billion between 2010 and 2015. Of course, exact figures are difficult to come by but this is probably a conservative estimate. The problem became so acute that a group known as Retailers Against Smugglers, RAS, was established and is said to represent more than 3,000 small and medium-sized retailers throughout the country. Earlier this year an illegal cigarette factory was unearthed in Jenkinstown, County Louth, and RAS says that the fact that this factory existed at all demonstrated the demand for illicit tobacco products.