Brexit is the "political, economic and diplomatic challenge of our generation", Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said as he announced budgetary measures worth more than €770 million to protect against its effect on Ireland.
In his Budget 2019 speech, the Minister said he was launching "a human capital initiative worth €300 million" and a future growth loan scheme of €300 million for small and medium-sized enterprises and the agri-food sector.
He allocated more than €110 million towards Brexit measures across many departments, including funding for “essential customs requirements”.
“This budget will help to ensure that Ireland is in the best possible position to respond to the challenges, and, indeed, even some opportunities that Brexit will bring,” he said.
Mr Donohoe listed the UK’s withdrawal from the EU next March as one of the risks and challenges facing the country next year.
He described 2019 as “the year of Brexit” and said the country was “Brexit ready”.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the measures and the establishment of the Government's €2 billion "Rainy Day Fund" and decision to invest key infrastructure, including ports and airports, would "help ensure Ireland is ready for whatever change Brexit brings".
The other measures included an additional €18 million in funding for the Department of Foreign Affairs to boost public awareness and diplomatic work on Brexit, along with €4 million for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) inspectors for animal health checks on post-Brexit trade between Ireland and Britain.
Some €3.5 million has been allocated to technology supports for the Revenue Commissioners, and €3 million to support agricultural and SPS inspectors.
There will be €2.5 million for HSE staffing for food safety inspectors as well.
The Government will provide a further €8 million in business funding for Brexit staff and resources across IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and regulatory agencies targeting new markets.
Some €10 million will used to fund the IDA’s regional properties in the border and midlands region, the area deemed most vulnerable to Brexit.
Mr Donohoe in his budget speech said that the best preparation for Brexit was “responsible budgetary policy”.
“Brexit, the outcome of which is still unclear, edges closer each day, increasing trade barriers are raising the spectre of protectionism and the international tax landscape is changing rapidly,” he said.
Government departments were taking necessary measures to prepare for Brexit, and plans were based on “a central case” that there would be an agreement between the EU and UK in the coming weeks.
“However, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit has influenced decisions we have regarding our finances, balancing our books and investing in our capital infrastructure,” the Minister said.
The Government’s “most important next step” was to conclude negotiations between the EU and the UK on the withdrawal agreement, including the so-called backstop to ensure no hard border in Ireland, and a political declaration on the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK.
“In these negotiations we acknowledge our unique shared past . . . our social, our economic and culture links, so this is why Ireland will press for the closest possible relationship across the UK,” said Mr Donohoe.
The EU and the UK remain deadlocked in negotiations over the withdrawal agreement and in particular on the no-hard-border guarantee that must be agreed within the overall Brexit treaty as both sides prepare for a crucial summit of EU leaders in Brussels next week.
Mr Donohoe said the Government had been “clear on our objectives” around Brexit, “robust in our negotiations and thorough in our planning”.
"We will remain at the heart of the European Union and open to the world. We will protect a hard-won peace. We will implement responsible but ambitious policies for the future of our country."