We had an opportunity to discuss Brexit with the visit of Mr. Michael Barnier to this House last week. I commend the Ceann Comhairle on his role in allowing the Dáil to have that discussion, which was very valuable. A concern is that the impact of Brexit is beginning to be felt in our country. One area that has felt the impact, which has been made known to me, is the motor trade. We have seen a huge increase in the imports off used cars in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 2016. Has that been brought to the Minister’s attention as it is a matter of concern?
I welcome the opportunity we will have later in the week to hear directly from Mr. Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator of the task force for the preparation and conduct of negotiations with the United Kingdom. Last month, I spoke again of the need for Ireland to have direct representation at Brexit negotiations given the serious impact the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union will have on this country, first and foremost the North-South relationship but also the east-west relationship in the areas of trade and business. I have also called throughout for the appointment of a dedicated Brexit Minister. We were assured by the Taoiseach that he was best-placed to act as Brexit Minister because of his role in the European Council. It appears, however, that he will not be Brexit Minister for much longer.
On Tuesday, I asked Minister Noonan about concerns that a quarter of Ireland’s large national debt will have to be re-financed in a very tight timeframe in 2019/2020. Later that evening I spoke in a Topical Issues Debate on the Bus Éireann dispute and strongly called on Minister Ross to get involved to reach a fair settlement for the 2,600 workers and 100,000 commuters badly affected. In a Dáil Brexit debate, I called for a direct Irish presence in the EU/UK Brexit negotiations given the vital importance of the Common Travel Area to all of Ireland and of the East/West business, social and cultural connections with Britain.
The Taoiseach referred to the EU negotiating guidelines and to how the negotiations would proceed. Ireland needs direct representation at those negotiations because the sad Brexit decision by the UK is so significant for us. The Taoiseach said negotiations will take place under Michel Barnier and his team, who will report back to councils, but they will not necessarily be responsive enough to the minutiae of negotiations. Our vital national interests are at stake. Countries on the other side of Europe, such as Slovakia and Slovenia, have fundamentally different interests from ours. It is on the line for us as this is the most serious thing to have happened to us since the Second World War so it is not enough to be one of 27, as the Taoiseach suggested.
Deputy Broughan recently asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, to report on the continuing serious allegations of illegal pay and conditions for workers in the fishing industry. In a reply to his Parliamentary Question received last week, Deputy Broughan was informed that there 157 contraventions discovered during inspections of fleets by the Inspectorate and Enforcement Division of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). The reply states that two-thirds of the fleet “that comes within the aegis of the Atypical Worker Permission Scheme” were inspected by the end of 2016 and the remainder of inspections will be carried out by the summer of this year.
The United Kingdom is a few weeks away from the triggering of Article 50. I asked the Minister about this issue in the past. Obviously, the second largest net contributor to the European Union will be leaving, which will result in some residual costs and contributions. As a result of the 2015 revision of our GDP statistics, we were due to pay perhaps an additional €300 million this year. Has the position on our EU contribution become any clearer?
Pensions are on the Minister’s list of priorities that he published a few weeks ago for his action plan for pension reform. I think matters of concern include the transposition of the EU directive on institutions for occupational retirement provision, IORP; the revision of the directive, IORP II; and auto-enrolment in defined contribution pensions. I know we had a lengthy discussion about pensions earlier but I ask the Minister his progress in this regard. I think he mentioned he might bring forward legislation on at least one element of this in the near future. Pensions across both sides of the Irish Sea are of particular interest. I think the Minister has had some discussions with British Ministers on the impacts of Brexit on social protection in both countries. What has been achieved in this regard?
Since the shock Brexit result of last summer, Deputy Broughan has raised Ireland’s ‘readiness’ for the aftermath on many occasions in Dáil Éireann, in particular with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Most recently, Deputy Broughan asked Minister Mitchell O’Connor the number of requests her department had received from either IDA Ireland and or Enterprise Ireland since Brexit for permission to employ additional staff; the number of requests received, the number that were approved, pending or refused; and for a statement on the matter.
I note from October’s Exchequer returns that income tax is approximately €94 million, which is 0.6% below target, and VAT is €286 million, or 2.6% below target. Is the Minister concerned by these figures, given the fact that these taxes together comprise two thirds of revenue? Are we already beginning to see the impact of Brexit on domestic demand? Are the budget 2016 and budget 2017 figures beginning to unravel?
The news from the High Court in London this morning, if it is upheld by the Supreme Court, may give the Minister and this House a bit more time to prepare for the enormous challenge of Brexit. I followed the Minister’s earlier response to Deputy Collins and I wonder if the extra €52 million on the capital side, and €3 million on the current side, and the additional 50 posts, are enough across the many agencies the Minister supervises to address this huge challenge, one of the biggest we have faced since 1922.