Ireland readies "mega" no-deal Brexit legislation package

DUBLIN, Jan 15 - Ireland will begin pushing through a "mega" package of legislation next month to deal with the fallout from a no-deal Brexit if there is still a prospect of Britain leaving the European Union without a divorce deal in March.

Ireland's cabinet on Tuesday began to build upon the no-deal contingency plans it issued last month by seeking to reassure business of the availability of additional transport capacity and patients of the security of medicine supplies.

Its preparations will be underpinned by one single emergency Brexit bill incorporating 17 new laws that Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney will, if required, begin moving through parliament in the final week of February.

"We don't want to have to do this of course, nobody wants a no-deal Brexit and everybody will work towards avoiding that but we also have to ensure that Ireland has done everything it can to protect itself and its citizens," Coveney told a news conference.

To allow officials to make preparations, the government will prioritise just six new proposed laws in other areas in the first half of the year compared to the 49 pieces of legislation given priority during the same period last year.

As part of Tuesday's plans, the Transport Ministry said sufficient capacity will be available for direct sailings from Ireland to continental EU ports as a potential alternative for the large amount of goods transited through the UK.

Should demand for further capacity arise, the shipping sector can respond quickly to meet it, it added.

However the department also said the scale of checks required in a no-deal Brexit would likely result in delays for goods moving through Irish ports, requiring measures to prevent congestion.

The plans again did not touch on the central issue for Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit: How it can defend the single market without imposing physical infrastructure on its border with the British province of Northern Ireland.

Transport Minister Shane Ross told the news conference he anticipated that there would be checks, but was interupted by Coveney who said the best way to deal with the border issue was through the draft agreement struck by Brexit negotiators.

"There are a number of areas where we haven't published contingency plans, not least because people are voting this evening on how to deal with this issue," Coveney said, speaking before British lawmakers resoundingly defeated the deal.

"If Britain leaves without a deal, well then we obviously have to have difficult discussions with the European Commission and the UK in terms of how we protect the EU single market but we have deliberatley not got into that detail because we have a way of dealing with this."