PREPARING FOR BREXIT

I recently questioned all Ministers and Departments on the number of staff allocated or hired to deal with the challenge of Brexit. The replies proved surprising and I raised this directly with the Taoiseach at question time

 

Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach  if he has had further discussions with Mr. Barnier, European chief negotiator for Brexit; and if he has sought specific reference for the island of Ireland in the EU 27 negotiating position.

 

The Taoiseach:

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 14, inclusive, together.

 

As I have previously reported to the House, I have met with the head of the Commission Brexit task force, Mr. Michel Barnier, on a number of occasions, most recently on 2 March when I visited Brussels. We also continue to have regular ministerial and official-level engagement with Mr. Barnier and the task force, particularly through our permanent representation in Brussels.

 

I see the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, regularly at meetings of the European Council. My most recent bilateral meeting with him was in Brussels on 2 March. Over recent months, I have continued my intensive programme of strategic engagement on Brexit. In addition to Mr. Tusk and Mr. Barnier, I have met with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Antonio Tajani. I have also held bilateral meetings with a number of EU counterparts including the leaders of France, Spain, Poland, Malta, Cyprus and Belgium. Most recently, I met with Chancellor Merkel in Berlin on Thursday, 6 April, when we had a very constructive discussion about the upcoming negotiations. Of course, I also speak regularly with my EU colleagues in the margins of the scheduled and the informal meetings of the European Council.

 

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for European Affairs have both also been engaging in extensive outreach with EU partners, while other Government Ministers continue to engage with their own EU counterparts. There has also of course been ongoing extensive engagement at senior official level.

 

In all these meetings, we have highlighted and explained in detail our particular concerns arising from Brexit in relation to Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement, the Border and citizenship issues and have stressed the need to reflect those in the negotiating guidelines and the final agreement. I very much welcome the fact that the guidelines, circulated by Mr. Tusk on 31 March, highlight these issues and identify the aim of protecting the peace process and avoiding a hard Border. This is the positive outcome of the Government’s patient and careful work over recent months. The guidelines will be discussed at ministerial and senior official level ahead of the European Council on 29 April.

 

Although we regret the UK’s decision to leave the EU, we have been preparing solidly for a long time and we are ready for the negotiations ahead. We understand our concerns and have a clear sense of our priorities, including in relation to trade and the economy. Now that the EU guidelines have issued, the Government is preparing a consolidated policy paper setting out our approach to the forthcoming negotiations. This will be published later this month. Ireland will be part of the EU 27 team and we look forward to working with our EU partners to ensure the negotiations are conducted in a calm and constructive way and that we achieve the best possible result for our country, our citizens and our businesses.

 

I have finalised a meeting with the leader of the Netherlands, Mr. Mark Rutte, and the Prime Minister of Denmark, Prime Minister Rasmussen. I think that is to go ahead on 21 April. We are the three countries that are indicated to be the most adversely affected by Brexit. I intend to have direct discussions with these prime ministers in the Hague.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is reported in today’s Financial Times that the 27 EU member states are set to approve tough draft Brexit guidelines, among which would be that Britain will have to accept EU laws, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and pay a determined amount in budget fees if Britain is to seek even a gradual transition from the Single Market. Is there any agreement within the EU 27 on the negotiating mandate? Is there a strategy for an interim deal after the two-year negotiating period as part of the negotiating strategy or has the Taoiseach a view on that?

 

With regard to the view expressed in this House many times of a bespoke deal for Northern Ireland, is there any progress on that? Does the Taoiseach have any further thoughts on how EU citizens living in Northern Ireland post-Brexit will vindicate their EU citizenship and Irish citizenship, though they will live at that stage outside the borders of the EU?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:

The next question is in the name of Deputy Joan Burton.

 

Deputy Joan Burton:

Last week I asked questions to each Minister and the Taoiseach about the number of people who are employed in each Department in working on Brexit. I did not expect to find huge numbers involved but I have to say I was shocked at the replies of the Taoiseach and his fellow Ministers. For example, in a very complicated area, the Department of Justice and Equality, which, as the Taoiseach has just said, has very serious responsibilities, not least in regard to the peace process, the division is headed up by an assistant secretary and there is existing team of 11. The Department of Justice and Equality has always had a big permanent representation, as Deputy Martin will know. Does the Taoiseach know what is being added to the team for Brexit? It is the powerful sum of one official.

 

Many of us in the House have experience of being involved in government. When we, and Fianna Fáil on previous occasions, were involved in the development of the Irish EU Presidency, as the Taoiseach will recall, people were brought in – some on a part-time basis and some for a limited period – to beef up the Irish Presidency both in the permanent representation in Brussels and in the individual Departments. I recall the Taoiseach speaking with some justifiable pride about it and Fianna Fáil in government also having justifiable pride in this regard.