The Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union was established on 23 February 2017 to “consider the implications [of Brexit] for Ireland and to suggest some possible solutions to identifiable problems”. The Committee had membership from across political parties and was chaired by Senator Neale Richmond. It heard public testimonies from stakeholders, including European Movement Ireland Executive Director, Noelle O Connell, on 1 June 2017. On 4 July 2017, the Committee published a report on their findings and potential solutions to the problems created by Brexit.
The Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) report on Brexit: Implications and Potential Solutions included sections on: 1) Implications for the Irish economy; 2) The Common Travel Area; 3) Northern Ireland; 4) Citizenship and Social Rights; 5) Agriculture; 6) The Future of the EU; 7) Transport; 8) Energy; 9) Education, Research and the Irish Language; and 10) Health. Each section provided background, challenges and potential solutions. In this Just the Facts, some of the potential solutions offered by the Committee in the report are summarised, with particular emphasis on the Future of the EU.
Launching the report on 4 July 2017, Committee Chair, Senator Neale Richmond, said that while Brexit was a “disaster” for Ireland: “Every single opportunity needs to be taken advantage to try and mitigate against that disaster but I remain optimistic that the Irish people and the European people will be able to take on the challenges of Brexit, meet them and hopefully come out of it stronger.”
The Future of the EU
The report cited a May 2017 Red C poll commissioned by European Movement (EM) Ireland which found that 88% of Irish adults asked agreed that ‘Ireland should remain a part of the EU’ and 87% agreed that ‘taking everything into consideration, Ireland has on balance, benefited from being a member of the EU’.
When giving evidence to the Committee on 1 June 2017, EM Ireland Executive Director, Noelle O Connell, called for a Citizens’ Assembly on the Future of Europe. This was reflected in the report’s potential solutions, which suggested that the government should “consider holding an All-Island Civic Dialogue on the Future of Europe every year so that citizens and stakeholders can increase their ongoing involvement and participation in Ireland’s EU involvement”.
EM Ireland also called for Ireland to diversify and intensify its existing European alliances. Given the upcoming withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the Committee recommended that the government and Oireachtas should continue to deepen existing relationships with other like-minded EU Member States.
Implications for the Irish economy
Potential solutions to the issues Brexit creates for the Irish economy were listed in the report as including: an island-wide Common Trading Area; attracting foreign direct investment; using funding from the European Investment Bank for capital projects.
The Common Travel Area
As neither Ireland nor the UK is part of the Schengen Area, the report suggests maintaining the status quo of border controls between the Common Travel Area (CTA) and the Schengen Area.
The report stated that the Good Friday Agreement is the basis for island-wide stability, and that Brexit negotiations must respect and continue its provisions.
Citizenship and Social Rights
The report suggested exploring an all-island approach to human rights protection and allowing residence in Northern Ireland to count towards naturalisation as an Irish citizen.
Potential solutions cited in the report include advocating for the UK to remain in the Single Market and/or the Customs Union to avoid loss of access to UK markets without high tariffs and to not disrupt existing all-island supply chains. The report also suggested that a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the UK which includes agri-food products could ease potential problems.
The report suggested that maintaining the CTA would solve many transport problems. The Committee recommended that there should be an EU-UK Open Skies Agreement in place before spring 2018 so as to not adversely impact air routes. It added that there is also a need for Ireland to deepen long-haul connectivity.
One of the potential solutions outlined in the report was the completion of the Celtic Interconnector between Ireland and France, which the Committee heard would help reduce Ireland’s reliance on the UK as a source of energy imports. The report also highlighted the importance of maintaining the all-island Single Electricity Market (SEM) and the progression of the Integrated Single Electricity Market (I-SEM).
Education, Research and the Irish Language
The report recommended that Ireland should seek to attract new research opportunities through the Horizon 2020 programme as well as academics from the UK. For Irish speakers in Northern Ireland, access to Irish language education should be preserved, the Committee suggested.
The report suggested that maintaining the CTA would help people in Border regions have continued access to healthcare. The Committee welcomed Ireland’s bid for the relocation of the European Medicines Agency, suggesting it could present opportunities for Ireland and Northern Ireland.