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Dublin: 16 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019
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'Mega bill' provides for all-island electricity, buses and pensions in no-deal Brexit

The Tánaiste said that some ministers’ St Patrick’s Day visits abroad could be curtailed as they work on the Brexit legislation.

TÁNAISTE AND MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has outlined the provisions of a variety of new laws that will be enacted if there is a no-deal Brexit. 

The 15-part bill covers the provision of electricity, bus and train services, and pension and welfare payments across the island of Ireland post-Brexit.

It also provides third-level grants for students if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal on 29 March.

Coveney also said some ministers’ St Patrick’s Day visits may be shortened or curtailed as the government prioritises the Brexit legislation in the coming weeks.

“We will make appropriate decisions in relation to St Patrick’s Day and quite frankly everything else,” Coveney said.

He said it was very unlikely the Taoiseach’s annual visit to the White House would be affected, however, noting the event’s importance in terms of maintaining US-Irish relations.

Speaking at Government Buildings this morning, Coveney began the press conference by reiterating that the backstop represented the outcome of a fair negotiation between EU and UK.

“The backstop is a result of a fair negotiation, it was designed by the EU and the UK together, and it will not be jettisoned at the last minute,” he said.

The drafted Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected by the House of Commons, with most MPs opposing the deal over the backstop, which would provide for an EU-UK customs union if no other trade or customs agreement is struck that would avoid a border on the island of Ireland.

Because of this, with less than 40 days until the UK leaves the EU, a no-deal Brexit is looking more likely than ever.

What’s in the bill?

The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019, or the ‘mega bill’, as it has been dubbed by the Tánaiste, was signed off by Cabinet earlier this week and covers nine different government departments, incorporating 16 pieces of legislation.

Among the things it provides for is facilitating train services between Dublin and Belfast, and bus services that travel across the border, ensuring people will not be stopped for checks. 

Current pensions and welfare payments will continue as they are now post-Brexit. 

It also facilitates agreements between Ireland and the UK to ensure Irish and UK students will not be liable for foreign fees and provides for SUSI grants.

Legislative changes will allow for Common Travel Area healthcare arrangements (so that children in the North can access healthcare services in Dublin, for example), and businesses will receive extra support and investment from Enterprise Ireland, which will receive extra powers from this legislation.

Today, the Irish Independent reports that Dubliner cheese has received €6 million from Enterprise Ireland as part of EU state aid funding to prepare Ireland’s vulnerable agri-food industry for Brexit. It reports that shifting its production from cheddar to mozzarella (half of Ireland’s cheddar exports go to the UK).

The amendments also allow with the facilitation of all-island electricity services; if there’s a no-deal Brexit, “any issues of non-compliance with EU law can be addressed” on a temporary basis by the laws included in this bill.

Pilot Exemption Certificates, held by seafarers, have also been extended from one year to three years. Those who work in Irish harbours can apply for those certificates up to 29 March, even if their existing Exemption Certificate may not have expired.

Speaking about the no-deal legislation, Coveney said it was the product of “a root and branch trawl of our laws to determine what changes will be needed if the UK becomes a third country overnight”.

It is the painstaking work of our teams across the whole of government and I want to thank them for that.

Timeline

Just 5 weeks out from Brexit day, the government has a tight deadline to get the legislation passed in time. 

Opposition leaders will be keen to inspect the detail ahead of the debate on the legislation which is due to dominate Dáil proceedings next week. 

The government plans to have the Bill passed in the Dáil by 8 March, before it heads to the Seanad, where it is hoped it will pass by 15 March.

It is envisaged President Michael D Higgins will sign the Bill into law on Friday 29 March - the deadline for the UK to leave the EU.

“Our focus remains on the UK ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement, which was concluded following intensive negotiations between the UK and the EU,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in a statement today. 

“However, for the last two years we have also been preparing for the possibility that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement. We are doing all we can to avoid a no deal scenario, but we need to be ready in case it does happen.

This special law enables us to mitigate against some of the worst effects of no deal by protecting citizens’ rights, security, and facilitating extra supports for vulnerable businesses and employers.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said this week that the government will be relying on the “goodwill” of those on the opposition benches to ensure a speedy passage for the legislation. 

The Taoiseach has indicated that if extra days and hours are needed to ensure the legislation passes, then the Houses will sit out-of-hours. 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney will be leading the legislation through the Houses.

He maintains that if there if Britain crashes out, then all parties – in Ireland, Britain and the EU – will face a difficult time ahead in terms of managing the consequences. 

- with reporting from Daragh Brophy and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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