Two weeks ago (6th February 2017) Minister Heather Humphreys hosted an All Island Dialogue on the implications of Brexit on Culture, Heritage, Regional SMEs & the Impact on Border & other Rural Communities in Cavan. This was one of the fourteen All-Island sectoral dialogues which have taken place across the country over the recent weeks.
Over 100 stakeholders attended the event and there was engaged and active discussion of the issue throughout the day. To begin with the Minister outlined the Government’s ongoing response to Brexit. Then a panel of experts covering the broad range of sectors under the remit of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs each gave a short overview of the implications of Brexit for their sector.
- Overview –Katherine Licken, Secretary General, DAHRRGA
- Culture & Irish Language- Orlaith McBride, CEO, Arts Council
- Heritage & Outdoor Recreation –Dawn Livingstone, CEO, Waterways Ireland
- Regional SMEs –Arnold Dillon, IBEC
- Impact on Border Communities Allen McAdam, International Fund for Ireland
- Impact on other rural communities –Louise Lennon, Irish Rural Link
Roundtable discussions were then held to consider the immediate impact of Brexit, longer term impacts and how they might be mitigated. The focus was on arts, heritage, small businesses and rural communities. The discussions fed back into a broader panel discussion.
Common Themes from the discussions
A number of common themes emerged from the discussion (as well as detailed sector specific issues which are not covered in this post). A summary of the more general points raised by stakeholders, applicable to all sectors considered on the day, is provided below.
- Uncertainty over the form and impact of Brexit was key to all of the discussion. This was regarded as a particular problem as we are just emerging from recession. Uncertainty increases risks for businesses, communities, cultural organisations and people as they make decisions. Plans are therefore being delayed until a clearer picture emerges.
- This slowdown in individual and business decision making is affecting economic and social activities on both sides of the border, even before the full consequences of Brexit are known.
- There is very significant variation in the levels of knowledge of the possible implications of Brexit among businesses, communities and people. Some are well informed about possible difficulties or opportunities, others have very poor understanding and will therefore face more difficulty in making plans and developing responses to Brexit.
- Currency fluctuations and the loss of value of sterling have had the most immediate impact which has led to other direct impacts on tourism and retail businesses.
- Maintenance of the Common Travel Area and free movement of people was important to all involved in the discussion. Organisations staff and experts in various sectors move across borders regularly and any restrictions would negatively affect the functioning of these organisations and businesses.
- Ensuring the continued implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with associated institutions and commitments was regarded as essential.
- In future, changes to the way cross border services are provided in areas such as health and education will affect people living in border communities.
- Currently the UK and Ireland are in a common regulatory regime but this will change. Across all sectors there were concerns about the implications of divergence in regulation and implementation of different regulatory approaches. This is an issue in a variety of areas including, for example, procurement and data protection.
- The form of future taxation agreements, VAT rules and rates could be very significant and have important implications for businesses and arts and cultural enterprises.
- There will be a significant change to the funding landscape in the border region and beyond. It is unclear what will happen with the EU Peace programme, Interreg and other funding. It was agreed that the border counties will be most affected by Brexit, and of these counties some will be more severely affected (Donegal was mentioned as the example of this). There are over 300 border crossings and it is not clear whether they will all remain open in the future.
- There has been a significant increase in cross border activity since the Good Friday Agreement and there is concern that this will be diminished. This has business implications but also intangible effects on the mind-set of those living close to the border.
- A better understanding of the current trade and activities that take place across borders (between ROI and NI and between ROI and GB) is needed. This includes trade of goods and services, but we also have weak understanding of the reasons people are travelling across the border for work, trade or social reasons.
- Understanding of the cross border infrastructures which have been developing in recent decades is important. The implications of change for roads, energy infrastructure and broadband need to be considered. Changes in the way these are planned and managed will affect both Ireland as a whole and border communities in particular.
- There should be a focus on the development of new markets outside the UK and support both businesses and cultural organisations in doing this.
- There was a view that many of the benefits of Brexit will be felt in larger urban centres and that border and rural regions will be most negatively affected because of their proximity to the border, the nature of their enterprises and their smaller population base. There is concern that here could be further rural de-population if the opportunities that Brexit may bring are confined to the Dublin area. This needs to be addressed in a coherent manner.
- It was highlighted that if we want a sustainable, viable and vibrant Border region, we need to plan to achieve this
- There was a suggestion that the concentration on Brexit will take the focus off other important issues already affecting the Border region, such as access to services, infrastructure and access to employment.
- Finally, among many of the participants, in all areas, there was a positive, ‘can do’ attitude. It was felt that we have had problems and difficulties before and have dealt with them. There was concern that there might be an overly negative portrayal of the implications of Brexit, and that this in turn was affecting the confidence of enterprise, communities and people and in turn affecting their decision making.
Actions Suggested by Stakeholders during the discussion
- Clear information needs to be made available about the possible implications for Brexit for communities, cultural organisations and businesses, addressing their specific issues.
- It is important that there is more analysis and understanding of the current situation in regard to cross border trade, cross border service provision, and the on-going community engagement across borders. This information needs to be used as a basis for considering Brexit implications and appropriate response. With more detailed information we can have better policy responses.
- Analysis should not just address issues of business or trade but also the hard to measure issues of social integration, identity and sense of place along the border.
- It will be important that the implications of differing regulatory standards are well understood and that these are considered both in Brexit negotiations and in developing responses to this regulatory issue in future.
- We should use expertise from other member states which have borders with non EU countries to get a better understanding of the potential issues and to understand their models and means of ensuring that borders and relationships between EU and Non EU countries are smooth and seamless as possible.
- The potential for substitution of imports from the UK needs to be explored as it may provide opportunities across a range of sectors.
- The government needs to continue to consult stakeholders as the impacts of Brexit become clearer so that responses and actions can be developed.
- We should examine problems individually and develop responses to each. There cannot be one single policy response, each issue will need to be addressed. Brexit is complex and responses should be tailored to the individual issue.
- Both ROI and NI need to work closely together to understand the possible implications for Brexit for both jurisdictions and to work to achieve the best possible agreement. In this it is important that there is a close working relationship and significant engagement with the NI Executive so that all island solutions can be implemented where appropriate
- Future government policy, including the National Planning Framework, needs to take into account the potential implications of Brexit and the changing nature of the border and ensure that there is a plan for a positive, sustainable future for the border region.
- Special supports for the border region should be considered, in terms of structural funds as well as enterprise and community support and funding.
- A specific fund for EU regions with sharing a border with non EU countries should be developed to mitigate the difficulties faced by these regions.
The focus in this dialogue on rural communities and on the Border region was significant, as these are likely to be the most immediately and directly affected by Brexit. Uncertainty was a key theme of the discussion, and it is to be hoped that once Article 50 has been declared by the UK government and negotiations begin, that the situation may become clearer. You can sign up for on-going updates on Brexit here.