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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Harris tells public and pharmacies NOT to stockpile medicines for no-deal Brexit

The Irish government published contingency plans on medicines, transport and the Common Travel Area.

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has warned the public and pharmacies not to stockpile medicines for a no-deal Brexit. 

Briefing the media on one of the four Brexit contingency plan memos brought before Cabinet today, the health minister said there are several weeks of medicines available in Ireland. 

He said it is important to note that medicine shortages happen everyday, and there are procedures in place to deal with it.

“There is no reason to stockpile medicines,” he said, adding that to do so could disrupt the supply chain. 

“If there is a no-deal Brexit, there would not be an immediate effect,” said Harris, who said he understood that the public is concerned.

As of today, he said the department has not been notified of any medicines that would experience a shortage post 29 March – the day Britain is due to leave the EU.

Stockpiling

If people take it upon themselves to stockpile their own medicines, it could have “inadvertent consequences” and could disrupt supply, said Harris.

Similar to food supply issues, some medicines could have a shorter shelf-life, admitted Harris. These include intravenous foods and some radiotherapy products, but the minister said there is “no cause for concern”. 

The minster said a department sub-group has been set up in order for the government to be “vigilant” at monitoring all medicines. 

Earlier today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the government is working closely with suppliers to ensure supply chain is not broken, stating that 24 medicines are on a watch list.

Transport

The other memo discussed today is on transport in a no-deal scenario. 

Transport Minister Shane Ross said flights between Ireland and UK should be operating as normal on 30 March and predicted there would be no major disruptions. 

However, he said airlines like Ryanair and Aer Lingus will have to prove that they are majority owned within the EU, which might provide some disruption, but only for a very short time. Ross later added that he expected all those issues to be resolved by the 29 March.

In terms of the ports, he said “it would be wrong to say there would be no disruption in a no-deal scenario” given the volume of checks needed for products going through the UK would be significant. 

“What we are trying to avoid is traffic congestion,” he said. When asked if the government has considered staging a mock exercise of the delays, the minister said he would be surprised if the interdepartmental group had not. 

The UK government recently paid truck drivers to take part in a test of how one element of trade would be handled in the event of a no-deal. The Port of Dover is Europe’s busiest ferry port, and is the second busiest in England.

A no-deal Brexit would see additional custom and regulatory checks at ports and airports, and possibly along the Irish border unless the Good Friday Agreement supersedes no-deal Brexit arrangements.

The test was criticised as “a waste of time” and not accurate to how bad the traffic would actually be in the event of a no-deal.

Mock exercise

However, on Ireland running a similar exercise, Ross said:

“I would amazed if it hasn’t consider that as a possibility… they’ve almost certainly considered it.”

Autumn weather Nov 27th 2018 Source: Niall Carson

Ross said direct sea routes from Dublin to Cherbourg or Rosslare is being investigated in order to see if there is capacity. “Initial findings is there is capacity there,” he said, but this option has knock-on impacts and would cause “major difficulties” for perishable goods and products with a short shelf-life.

An additional complication regarding Dublin Port is that ‘no deal’ border check sites need to be separate to the sites for any permanent checkpoints. Construction is continuing at the site to facilitate extra parking bays and control posts.

There was tension in the briefing room when Ross was asked if food shipping driven into Ireland would require checks. 

Ross answered: “I’d imagine there would be checks…”.

Coveney quickly interjected stating, “Well, no…”, and stated that the issue will be thrashed out with EU and UK if the agreement fails.

Common Travel Area 

The Tanáiste also confirmed this evening that “deal or no deal”, there will be new agreements with Britain on the Common Travel Area relating to social security, education and healthcare. 

Despite countless denials from the Irish government that a ‘no-deal deal’ was being discussed bilaterally, Coveney said this deal was agreed at official level between the Irish and UK governments. 

This will ensure that patients travelling from Donegal to the north will continue to be able to do that, as will students travelling to college in Queens University.

“We are going to protect that status quo,” he said.

Coveney said the longest memo discussed today was on the legislative challenges the government faces with a no deal scenario.

There is “quite a lot” of legislation that will need to be in place before the UK leaves the EU. 

There are 17 areas where legislation change will be needed across multiple government departments. This will be done by what the Tánaiste dubbed a “mega Bill”. 

He outlined that it is envisage that the heads of that Bill will be finalised and published next week. They will then go to the Attorney General’s office and they will have a number of weeks to turn that into piece of legislation that is ready for the end of March. 

Coveney said the Bill will be published on 22 February and introduced for Second Stage in the Dail on 26,27, 28 February. Committee stage will take place the week of 5 March. It will then go to the Seanad on 11-12 March with the plan that it will be enacted by 29 March. 

“We don’t want to have to do this — but we have to ensure should it happen that Ireland has done everything it can to protect itself and its citizens,” he said. 

On the secondary legislation that is needed, the majority of this will be one liners in existing laws, but others are more complicated. Examples of this is ensuring that British drivers licences are recognised in Ireland, and ensuring student supports remain in place for those studying in the UK. 

He said opposition leaders briefed today appear to be on board with the legislative schedule. 

Coveney was quick to state that he didn’t want these contingency plans to be read in any way that they expect a no-deal Brexit to happen. “I don’t expect it to happen,” he said. 

Despite the Taoiseach stating before Christmas that the act of the guillotine will need to be enforced in order to get the legislation over the line in time, Coveney said he did not envisage it.

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