04 April 2017

Speaking in Dáil Éireann on Statements on Brexit.

With the formal Brexit process now underway, and no certainty on what the outcome will be, Ireland faces years of uncertainty.

The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union will present Ireland with its greatest social, economic and diplomatic challenge since the Emergency.

For some time I have been calling for specific recognition of the unique challenges faced by Ireland in the negotiating mandate from Donald Tusk and the EU Council.

I want to acknowledge the success of the Government’s efforts so far on that aspect of the Brexit process.

Major diplomatic work went in to securing it, however, it appears that Spain have also used the framing of the mandate to score political points against the UK.

This was the first of many hurdles we will face.

From securing the approval of the European Parliament, to ensuring Spain will sign off on a free trade agreement there is too much we do not know, and too much we cannot control.

But there are some actions the Irish Government can take – both through planning, and through policy initiatives.

Last week, the Labour Party published our Brexit Policy Paper.

Throughout it we detail the challenges we as a country will face and what we can do about it.

It outlines 20 concrete actions aimed at protecting our society, economy and our highly integrated relationship with Northern Ireland.

Every party has been talking about Brexit,

Indeed Fianna Fáil went to the bother of recruiting a new TD so they could appoint him as their spokesperson.

But only Labour is proposing tangible actions that would protect Ireland against a hard Brexit.

We support the call by our sister party the SDLP for special status for Northern Ireland.

It is an absolute requirement that the special status and circumstances of Northern Ireland be recognised in the negotiations, and in the outcome.

Brexit will fundamentally alter relationships between ourselves and Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU.

It will disrupt trade across our islands, and could imperil the Peace Process.

It will impact every sector in ways that cannot be determined. It will dominate public discourse for the next decade and present numerous challenges to our State in that time.

Many problems will be resolved as they arise, but there are practical steps Ireland can take to outline specifically what we want to achieve, and what we must secure.

Nine months on from the referendum, the Irish Government has only outlined broad policy objectives on the Common Travel Area, preventing a hard border, and protecting the Peace Process.

We have yet to see the detailed actions and policy priorities that Ireland wants to see implemented and secured during the negotiations and post-Brexit.

At a minimum, we believe a new Irish Protocol to the EU Treaties will be required to recognise the Common Travel Area, the Good Friday Agreement, and the unique situation presented by the Irish border.

Europe must also adapt, and we have proposed changes to the Stability and Growth Pact and fiscal rules, along with the implementation of a European Pillar of Social Rights.

Last week I attended a meeting of all member parties of the Party of European Socialists to discuss in detail ways of revising the fiscal rules

Those rules are rigid, opaque and complex. Worse, they stop us from making investments that our society needs.

I raised this at Leader’s Questions last week and it appeared as though the Minister for Education agreed with me.

We have heard much about the experience that Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan have at EU level.

If the Government agrees with our position is time they started using that experience to achieve agreement on concrete actions that will help Ireland deal with the impact of Brexit.

We have also said that the €1 Billion rainy day fund must be deployed for capital investment from 2019.

The CAP budget should also be protected post 2020,

From an economic perspective, we have grave concerns on trade and employment.

A comprehensive EU-UK trade deal must now be an Irish priority,

That will not happen in the next two years however,

So in the meantime a transitional agreement will be essential to maintain our deep trading relationship with both Northern Ireland and Britain.

We have also called for a Brexit Early Warning system to be put in place.

Such an all-Island warning system would bring together trade unions, employers and other stakeholders

It would help to identify sectors and firms at particular risk as market conditions change and adapt.

We are also calling for State aid rules to be suspended for two years from the date of Brexit.

With this, a €250 million Brexit Trade Adjustment Fund should be set up to directly support business suffering from trade upheaval with the UK.

Regional fora need to be established to both help foster and create new jobs, and support current ones.

These fora could work in tandem with the ‘Early Warning system’ in order to Brexit-proof our regions.

The Minister for Jobs also needs to re-examine the regional Action Plans for Jobs.

These plans, drawn up in 2015 and 2016 are now largely redundant

We need a full analysis of the potential, and the risks to employment in our regions from the UK exiting the EU are needed.

In a worst case scenario situation where a hard-border between North and South is reinstated, an arsenal of funding must be available to support those worst affected.

We will also need new transport connections to Europe, and major changes in our ports and airports.

I have repeatedly called for the rules of the European Global Adjustment Fund to be amended and made available to reskill those workers impacted.

The current EGAF programme is now undergoing a mid-term evaluation.

For the rules to change our Government needs to engage with the EU Commission on this.

We also believe that the Oireachtas EU affairs committee should hold public hearings on the impact of Brexit on the EU Treaties.

The Seanad has now set up its own Brexit committee, while Taoiseach’s Questions has functioned as a way to find out from the Taoiseach what he is up to.

The Oireachtas needs to speak with one voice, rather than through multiple committees.

We are also concerned at the prospect of the status of the English language being used as a possible negotiating point and political football within the Brexit negotiations, and then the final agreement.

The small spat around Gibraltar shows the potential for political point scoring throughout the Brexit process.

English should remain both a working and official language of the EU.

And the current designation of Irish as an official language should be protected.

The head of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, Danuta Hübner for example, has warned that English will not be one of the European Union’s official languages after the UK leaves the EU.

To remove all doubt, the Irish Government should inform the EU that it also intends to notify English, as well as Irish, as an official EU language. There is no prohibition on more than one language being notified.

The Labour Party Paper on Brexit is available here:

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