There has rarely been a time in history when the Members of one Parliament watched the actions of another assembly – the House of Commons is voting as we speak – with such profound frustration and sadness. Although all communities on the islands of Britain and Ireland, including business, farmers and civic society leaders, plead for some degree of certainty regarding the Brexit decision by the British people in 2016, the tortuous manoeuvres at Westminster and between the UK and the EU just go on and on. Of course, even the Theresa May deal only extends to December 2020 and we hear with dismay that major trade deals, such as that between the EU and the UK, may take up to seven years. This ordeal might continue throughout the 2020s.
I attended the Committee for Budgetary Oversight earlier today and it was good to hear that the Minister for Finance is to introduce a Brexit package to support Irish businesses, exporters and hopefully the Irish farming sector. Witnesses at a recent Committee for Budgetary Oversight, including the Irish Tax Institute, IBEC and the chambers of commerce, all called for additional supports for companies that will be strongly impacted by Brexit whether in 2019 or 2021. I hope that any such tax expenditure will have detailed costings and that a time cap is put on whatever provisions the Minister will bring forward. Undoubtedly some supports are necessary for Irish industry and agriculture and the EU 27 should contribute heavily to their funding. I welcome that the Minster for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, inaugurated the stakeholders’ forum. The reality of the vital necessity to protect the North of Ireland and its people, in respect of Brexit, came home to us recently when the UK Office for National Statistics, in conjunction with Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and Ireland’s Central Statistics Office showed us quite clearly the incredible amount of interaction between the North and the South. There are 110 million Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland crossings back and forth annually and a huge number of rail passengers.
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.