17 February 2017

It is nearly four months since we first met in plenary.

Since November, we have received some clarity as to what Brexit will mean.

Our closest neighbour will leave the Single Market, and in all likelihood the Customs Union.

Thousands of questions have been asked, and much remains to be answered.

There are two key concerns emerging – the return of the Border; and the impact on the economy of our island.

At this remove it is still all but impossible to know the arrangements that will be put in place.

It will likely involve custom checks of some kind.

Every walk of life, every sector, every household and business will be impacted in some way.

There will be much technical discussion, and sector by sector I am confident that solutions will be found.

Yet, we cannot pretend that it will be alright. We will have to work to find constructive solutions in each area affected.

The impact on the Peace Process and cross-border relations will be profound.

I hope that following the Assembly elections that a power-sharing Executive will be speedily formed – one that is focused on finding solutions to these problems.

Turning to the economy, I am deeply troubled at the impact Brexit will have on our island.

The ESRI has found that Ireland “would lose 4% of its total exports under the hard Brexit outcome” – a huge hit on agri-food and tourism.

When we last met, I raised two ideas that we should pursue –

One is seeking to allow expenditure under the European Globalisation Fund to support reskilling and retraining opportunities in those sectors worst hit by Brexit.

Of the EU 27, Ireland will be worst hit, so EU structural and cohesion funding should be deployed to mitigate the impact as far as possible

As I said in November, I would be interested in hearing how we are interacting with the European Commission to ensure that funding that is there can be deployed effectively.

Since then I have also said that Social pillar of Europe must be reinvigorated, the Stability and Growth pact rules around investment must be amended.

The Government has now said it will request EU backing for measures to support business along with EU financial support.

As a former Minister with experience of negotiating Interreg and PEACE funding, I know how difficult this will be.

So in the interim, we must deploy our own money, to support sectors being hit here and now.

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