Saturday 21 September 2019

Irish economy is 'so strong' it will grow even if there's a hard Brexit - Varadkar

Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar
Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

IRELAND’S economy will still grow next year even if there is a hard Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Insisting that the Government is prepared for a worst case scenario, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that the economy is “so strong, we’d continue to grow and not go into recession”.

However, he repeatedly sought to avoid direct questions on the plans in place to soften the blow of the UK crashing out of the EU next March.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked for exact figures for the number of new customs officers that will be in place on Brexit Day and details of what infrastructural changes are being made at ports and airports.

He said businesses had not engaged sufficiently in the various Brexit preparedness initiatives.

Mr Martin claimed there was a “genuine tendency” on the part of the Government to be “coy and withhold information from the public” on the basis the truth would cause “undue panic”.

“I believe the public should be made aware of all the scenarios of Brexit,” he said.

In response the Taoiseach said that while there are “huge downsides” to Brexit, the economy is well-positioned to cope.

Mr Varadkar quoted an analysis released by the ESRI today which forecasts that even if there is a hard Brexit, the economy will grow by 2.8pc in 2019.

He said 3,000 people have applied for customs posts, of which 200 will be in place by March. However, this could be “flexed up to a greater number if needed”.

Mr Varadkar then clashed with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who called on the Government to start preparing for a united Ireland referendum.

She said the crisis in Westminster meant Ireland needs to start “ploughing our own furrow” and “a referendum on unity must be advanced as a matter of urgency”.

Ms McDonald said a united Ireland was the “ultimate contingency plan” and the “logical, sensible option to avoid the calamity of a crash”.

But Mr Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of trying to push their own agenda rather than the national interest.

He said while most TDs support the concept of a 32-county republic, “this is not the time to go about it”.

Mr Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of “stirring up tensions in Northern Ireland” and attempting to turn Brexit into an “orange versus green” issue.

He said if Ms McDonald really wanted to do something practical to help the situation, she could get her MPs to take up their seats in Westminster and vote for the Withdrawal Agreement.

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