Brexit is a wanton act of vandalism against the Good Friday Agreement

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It should come as no shock to anyone following the Brexit vote that the British government’s position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland is both short on specifics and demonstrates what little understanding that Tory Ministers have of the recent history of Northern Ireland and the peace process.

The document opens with a none too subtle misreading of the Good Friday Agreement, specifically on the principle of consent, that underpins many of the erroneous presumptions of the latter sections.

The Good Friday Agreement clearly states that the two Governments recognise:

“…that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”

The wording here is precise and was hard negotiated and reflects the complex nature of relationships North and South.

It is deeply disappointing therefore to see Section 6 of the British government position paper attempt to restate the principle of consent as just one sided, crudely stating:

“…that Northern Ireland’s constitutional status is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland alone to determine.”

The word “alone” is a lazy and incompetent misreading of one of the key underpinnings of the Good Friday Agreement and should not be allowed stand unchallenged in an official UK government position paper. It is also ironic for this British government to belabour this point in a paper which justifies taking Northern Ireland out of the EU against the freely expressed will of the majority of voters there.

Since the Brexit result we have heard Prime Minister May, Northern Secretary Brokenshire, and other British Ministers talk about their commitment to the Common Travel Area and their desire to see as smooth and frictionless a border as possible.

It is, as Guy Verhofstadt has stated, a fantasy to pretend that there can be a free and frictionless border between the two parts of this island while the Westminster Government remains intent on pulling Britain out of the Customs Union.

The British position paper on Ireland should be read alongside the previous one on customs and trade. The two are linked, indeed the sequenced publication of the papers suggests that one is contingent on the other.

This, effectively, makes Northern Ireland  a bargaining chip in the UK’s negotiations with the EU27. The British government is saying: “give us what we want on customs and trade or we will make you re-impose the border”. All in the guise of pretending that they are opposed to it. It is shameful.

While the Irish government has an obligation to mitigate the hugely negative impact that a British exit from the Customs Union will have on the border region, it cannot be expected to assist the British government in undermining the Good Friday Agreement and turning the clock on community relations back three or four decades.

Customs posts, be they real or virtual, are unacceptable.

There is no such thing as a technological solution to a political problem.

I do not want any form of border across this island.  If Teresa May, David Davis, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Michael Gove really want a Border, then they will to run it down the middle of the Irish Sea.

Brexit is a wanton act of vandalism against the Good Friday Agreement and an affront to the majority of voters in Northern Ireland, especially younger voters, who opposed Brexit and want to retain their relationship with the EU.

I believe that the Irish Government should now publicly reserve the right to vote against any Withdrawal Treaty that attempts to reinstate even the slightest hint of a border, or that disrupts services and trade across this island.

While we do not have a veto on the Withdrawal Treaty, as it is decided by a qualified majority of the EU-27, we will have a veto on any comprehensive EU-UK Treaty on the New Arrangements post-Brexit.

This is not the kind of action that any Irish government would wish to pursue against a friendly neighbour, but Mrs May’s confusion and recklessness is not intended to be friendly. She is leaving us with no option – the peace and progress made on this island was too hard won to be allowed to suffer at the hands of the Tory party’s political incompetence.

Delayed discharges shows clear need for additional home support packages.

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says new figures, which reveal the extent of bed losses at Cavan General Hospital in the first half of the year, as alarming.

The statistics show that 3,350 beds have been lost as a result of delayed discharges in the first six months of the year.

Deputy Brendan Smith commented, “The level of bed losses at Cavan General Hospital is truly shocking and should send a clear signal to Government TDs and Senators in this constituency that its current health plan is simply not working.  The issue of delayed discharges has been an issue for years, but has now reached staggeringly high levels and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“Our health system is seriously lacking when it comes to step-down care facilities – it’s something which my party has been highlighting for years.  The provision of step-down beds would greatly relieve the pressure on the acute hospital system, however this and the previous Fine Gael Government have failed to move on the issue.  One of the proposals that Fianna Fáil put forward was the possible expansion of the use of District Hospitals – along with the provision of step-down services and beds, they could also be used in the treatment of relatively minor conditions and thereby preventing the need for admission into an acute hospital.

“The fact that more than 3,000 beds have been lost already when there are thousands of people on waiting lists for inpatient procedures is scandalous and there is no doubt that the loss of these beds is having an impact on the escalating trolley crisis in our Emergency Departments.  If a fraction of these lost days were put back into use through better supports for older people, we could radically reduce the number of people lying on trolleys.

“Unless the Government starts getting serious about step down care, residential care and home care facilities this problem will continue to deteriorate, our hospitals will be under pressure and our waiting lists will grow longer.  These issues need to be addressed now”.

Insurance Cost Crisis

I asked the Minister for Finance his plans to deal with the escalating costs of insurance premiums; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

My predecessor as Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan T.D. established the Cost of Insurance Working Group in 2016 in order to examine the factors contributing to the
increasing cost of insurance and identify what short, medium and long-term measures
can be introduced to help reduce the cost of insurance for consumers and
businesses. The initial focus of the Working Group was the problem of rising motor
insurance premiums and a broad range of issues affecting the cost of motor insurance
were examined.

The Working Group’s Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance was published in January
2017. The Report makes 33 recommendations with 71 associated actions to be carried out in agreed timeframes, which are clearly set out in an Action Plan. 45 of these action
points are due to be implemented by the end of this year with the remainder scheduled
for completion before the conclusion of 2018.

There is a commitment within the Report that the Working Group will prepare quarterly
updates on its progress and the first such update was published in early May. The
second quarterly update was published on the Department’s website on 21 July 2017
and shows the progress to date on the overall implementation of the recommendations,
with a particular focus on the 17 action points which were due for completion in the
second quarter of 2017. All 17 of these action points have been completed by their
deadline.

It should be noted that the most recent CSO data (for June) indicates that motor
insurance premiums have reduced by 10.2% year-on-year. I do, however, accept that
while CSO statistics indicate a greater degree of stability on an overall basis, these
figures only represent a broad average and that there are many people who are still
seeing increases. I take the view that while the greater stability in pricing is a good
thing, premiums are still at a very high level.

However, I believe that the implementation of the Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance
will make a difference to the pricing of insurance premiums over the next 18 months. I
also believe that the Setanta judgment, by finding that MIBI is not liable to meet third
party claims, removes a major uncertainty from industry, which I would expect to be
reflected in pricing in the short to medium term.

Additionally, in January, the Cost of Insurance Working Group embarked on its second
phase to examine issues around the cost of insurance for businesses, specifically
Employer Liability (EL) Insurance and Public Liability (PL) Insurance. It is envisaged
that the final results of this second phase will take the form of an addendum to the
existing Report. As with the first phase, the aim is for all relevant bodies and
stakeholders to work together in order to deliver fairer premiums for businesses without
unnecessary delay. It is hoped that a final report will be published in the autumn.
The Working Group is building upon the previous work done in the motor phase in order
to determine how it can be applied in the employer liability and public liability insurance
claims areas particularly in relation to:

  •  Personal Injury data and information
  •  Effects of legal costs and litigation processes on insurance costs
  •  Current claims compensation arrangements and cost of claims
  •  Impact of unlawful activity on insurance sector

The Working Group is also considering the impact of the cost of insurance on the
competitiveness of particular business sectors, the impact of health and safety issues
on the cost of insurance and other market issues.

The Working Group has met nine times this year and has held extensive consultations
with a range of stakeholders including the Hotels Federation of Ireland, IBEC, ISME, the
Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), the Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA), the
Retail Grocery Dairy & Allied Trades Association (RGDATA), Chambers Ireland, the
Law Society of Ireland and the Health and Safety Authority.

 

Further consultations are also planned and I would invite further submissions from interested parties to insurance@finance.gov.ie

Cavan and Virginia sites being considered as potential Data Centre locations

Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil T.D. Brendan Smith has received confirmation from Chief Executive IDA Ireland that the IDA Cavan Business and Technology Park at Killygarry and County Council lands in Virginia are being considered as potential sites for the location of a large scale Data Centre.

“Earlier this year through Parliamentary Questions in Dáil Éireann and in meetings with the Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Minister I had specifically requested that Co. Cavan be considered in a study then being commissioned by IDA Ireland to identify potential strategic land banks for the sustainable development of large scale Data Centres.

The Minister at that time undertook to convey my proposal directly to IDA Ireland. I am glad that in recent correspondence from IDA Ireland the CEO has confirmed to me that the IDA is currently evaluating a number of property solutions throughout the country and Cavan and Virginia sites are included”, stated Brendan Smith T.D.

The IDA Ireland CEO replied as follows;

In relation to your query, IDA Ireland is working with key stakeholders nationally to identify and evaluate property & infrastructural solutions that will meet the stringent needs of data centre investors, particularly around the areas of accessibility, planning, power and telecommunications infrastructure.
 
IDA, through our consultants, is currently evaluating a number of property solutions in each of the 8 regional locations. IDA has engaged with Cavan County Council as part of this process.  The IDA Cavan Business & Technology Park and the lands in Virginia in the ownership of Cavan County Council has been incorporated into the continuing evaluation process.
 
Regional business development is of core focus for IDA and in respect of this national data centre evaluation, it will focus on key investments in the likes of power generation, supply, national & international connectivity, amongst other items,  that make Ireland’s regions competitive for data centre investments.

Oireachtas Insurance Report must be acted on without delay – Smith

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says the recommendations of the Oireachtas report on motor insurance must be acted upon as a matter of urgency.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, which was charged with investigating the spiralling costs of motor insurance, accused the insurance industry of “cartel-like” behaviour and it published 71 recommendations to make the process more transparent.

Deputy Smith commented, “The findings of this report will not come as any surprise to drivers in Cavan and Monaghan who are forking out extortionate amounts for car insurance premiums, which have been rising year on year.  For many it has become a major financial burden and source of increased anxiety and worry.  These increases not only impact personal customers, but small businesses have been pushed to breaking point as the cost of premiums for their fleets soar.  This is putting jobs and livelihoods at risk.

“This report is hard hitting and calls into question the behaviour of insurance companies over the last number of years.

“One of the recommendations is that the Central Bank should take a more hands-on role in regulating the insurance sector to ensure greater transparency.  It’s unfair that customers have been left in the dark over rising premiums and just expected to pay out.

“It is important that these recommendations are acted on without delay so that consumers are protected against these rip-off motor insurance costs.  I along with my party colleagues will continue to push for the speedy implementation of these measures so that drivers and businesses can finally avail of affordable insurance premiums”.

Border farmers under pressure as vital farm funding still not paid – Smith

– Only half of RDP payments made in the first 10 months of the year –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says hundreds of farmers across Cavan and Monaghan are being placed under increased financial pressure because essential farm payments have not been paid.

New figures released to Fianna Fáil reveal that only 52% of Rural Development Plan payments have been made in the first 10 months of this year.

Deputy Smith commented, “Many farmers in Cavan and Monaghan rely on funding from schemes in the Rural Development Programme to keep their farms profitable. However new figures obtained by Fianna Fáil show that only half of this year’s funding for agri-schemes has been paid to date.  This will result in serious financial hardship for farmers in the border region.

“The fact that less than 4% of GLAS payments and fewer than 13% of TAMS payments have been made to date is particularly worrying and will add to the financial pressure already being experienced by small family farmers.  Payments under the Beef Genomics scheme and AEOS are also seriously delayed.  This is completely unacceptable and is very unfair to local farmers.

“Many farmers have had to take out loans to keep their businesses going while they wait for their payments to come through, and these delays will exacerbate an already difficult situation.  Farmers should not have to rely on banks and other financial institutions to cover the cost of works, which these agri-schemes cover. This is creating a major cash flow crisis, which is completely preventable.

“Farm families in Cavan and Monaghan have already faced a difficult year, with significant price cuts and the collapse of Sterling following the British Brexit vote.  The delays in these important payments will exacerbate an already difficult situation for farmers.  Minister Creed needs to examine what is leading to these delays and ensure that these payments are made before the end of the year”.

FF tables amendments to tackle pension inequality – Smith

– Measures will also reverse changes to the One Parent Family Payment –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says his party has tabled amendments to the Social Welfare Bill that will see the eligibility criteria for the State pension reviewed to ensure that women, who took time out of work to look after children or to care for a loved one, are not penalised.

Under the current system workers must make a minimum of 520 paid contributions before they qualify for the State pension.  This is not always possible for women who have stepped out of the workplace to care for children.

Deputy Smith commented, “The last government introduced a range of punitive changes which discriminated against women.  It raised the number of paid contributions needed to qualify for a State pension increased from 260 to 520, making it more difficult for women who took career breaks, to reach this target.

“This is a deeply unfair situation and fails to recognise the important contribution that these women have made to the workplace, but also to their families and to society.  My Party Spokesperson on Social Protection Willie O’Dea has submitted a number of amendments to the Social Welfare Bill to address this discrimination.

“Measures which were brought in under Fine Gael and Labour have plunged many one parent families into poverty and they must be reversed. The evidence is clear on this matter- social exclusion is increasing in lone parent households and more and more families are falling below the breadline.  This needs to be urgently addressed.

“The amendments that Fianna Fáil has tabled are aimed at addressing these imbalances and improving the effectiveness of the social welfare system to ensure that it’s fit for purpose and serving those who need it the most”.