€300m loan scheme aimed at helping to 'Brexit-proof' SMEs and agri-food
A new €300m loan scheme to help "Brexit-proof" the economy will be aimed at SMEs and the agri-food sector.
The scheme will provide long-term loans to businesses at what Business Minister Heather Humphreys called a "very competitive" interest rate.
It will be administered via the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI), a State body which faces a race against time to get the required infrastructure in place, with the UK set to depart the EU at the end of March.
SBCI boss Nick Ashmore told the Irish Independent that the body would shortly begin a process to make funds available to financial providers.
The scheme will draw on the European Investment Bank (EIB), with the Government having to pay a premium to the EIB in order to be able to draw down the funds. Mr Ashmore said businesses needed to start planning now to be able to take advantage of it.
A similar €300m scheme to provide short-term loans - launched at the end of March - had only seen €6.5m drawn down by the end of September, but Ms Humphreys said she expects demand to increase.
Ms Humphreys said 40pc of the scheme would be earmarked for agri-food businesses. That sector is seen as particularly exposed to Brexit given the large volume of trade it does with the UK.
The new scheme comes as negotiations over the manner in which the UK will leave the EU continue.
The Budget sees funding provided for extra customs officials, veterinary inspectors, and food safety inspectors.
That is in anticipation of a need for new checks to be carried out once the UK is no longer a member of the single market and customs union.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the inspectors were being recruited for checks on goods travelling between the island of Ireland and Britain, rather than checks on goods travelling between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
"We are not contingency planning for a physical Border on the island of Ireland, north-south... that's not what this funding is about."
He said the Government was not doing any contingency planning for the re-emergence of a hard Border between the North and south.
"What I think the strong likelihood in terms of outcome will be is that there will be a withdrawal treaty which will have as part of it a two-year transition period - which is necessary for companies and countries to get Brexit-ready over a period of time."
Mr Coveney said that if the UK was to leave "without a deal on anything", this would cause "carnage, particularly for Britain". However, he did not believe this would happen.