Friday 15 November 2019

Brexit may be a disaster for Ireland, but solutions can be found to minimise damage from its impact

"It is not clear what the UK side wants, nor is it clear who will be doing the negotiating throughout the process." Stock picture

Neale Richmond

Put simply, Brexit is a disaster for Ireland. Despite assertions of some commentators, there are very few - if any - positives for Ireland.

Minimising and managing the impact on Ireland of this decision will be arguably the most significant challenge the State has faced in its short history.

In recognition of the potential consequences of the UK's decision, the Seanad established a special select committee to consider the implications for Ireland and to suggest some possible solutions to identifiable problems. In order to support its thinking and considerations, the committee organised more than 50 hours of public hearings with former Taoisigh, former ministers, sectoral experts, representative organisations, local authorities, all-island bodies and many more.

In issuing invitations to witnesses, the committee specifically asked them to focus on potential solutions to the many challenges faced. Any relevant precedents and the manner in which potential solutions might be implemented were also asked for.

In looking at solutions, the committee was determined to remain open to all of them.

There are many challenges ahead, and we need to be innovative when it comes to finding solutions.

This committee believes all options should remain on the table, nothing should be ruled out.

The problems posed by Brexit are many and have been well documented elsewhere. While many might complain about Brexit fatigue, this is just the start of what will be a very long and perhaps inconclusive process. While it is clear the European side of negotiations is prepared and has clear goals, it is not clear what the UK side wants, nor is it clear who will be doing the negotiating throughout the process against a backdrop of political instability.

Some solutions are unclear, others will need to be teased out and compromise will be required from both sides to find a workable solution. A no-deal scenario would be the worst case for everyone involved, regardless of some ideological utterances from a fringe in the British Conservative Party.

From the work of our committee, it was clear there is quite a bit of low-hanging fruit, some relatively easy solutions that do not require any party to compromise and that will be of benefit to all concerned.

The following five are obvious solutions to problems posed by Brexit and which should be put in place quickly regardless of what a complete, final deal might look like, or how much of a transition period is going to be needed.

1) An EU-UK-US open skies agreement

Separate EU-UK and US-UK open skies agreements will need to be worked out to replace the current EU-US open skies arrangements, to which the UK will no longer be a party. A new agreement is needed before spring 2018.

2) German model for all-island trade

Using the example of a trade arrangement between East and West Germany before its reunification in 1990 and referenced in the Treaty of Rome. Under the 'German model', trade on the island of Ireland would be considered as all-island trade and within the one economy.

3) Anglo-Irish relations

Though no bilateral negotiations are permitted with regard to Brexit, both the British Irish Council and the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly can be expanded and used as tools to allow for this, both formally and informally.

4) Movement of goods

A pre-clearance model for goods may function as part of a solution, whereby trucks and drivers can pass through the UK land-bridge without incurring duties or checks.

5) Energy supply

In the event of a hard Brexit, the most obvious solution is the completion of the Celtic Interconnector between Ireland and France, which would reduce Ireland's reliance on the UK.

These are just five possible solutions out of nearly 100 in the report published by the Seanad committee.

They are not the answer to all the problems Brexit will present, but are examples of the imaginative solutions needed in order to overcome this huge issue for Ireland, the UK and the EU.

Senator Neale Richmond is the chairman of the Seanad Special Committee on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Irish Independent

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