Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 8 June 2021
Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union
Brexit Issues: Discussion
It is great to see everyone on board. I can feel Ms. Walsh's pain in that for Senator Ó Donnghaile and I, and whoever else is on this call, all the questions have been asked at this stage. I was beginning to think that Senators Joe O'Reilly and Malcolm Byrne were the spokespersons for the entire committee. I am only messing of course.
On a more serious note, this is a very welcome opportunity to speak with MEPs. Other speakers have mentioned the fact that perhaps some ongoing engagement like this would be very welcome. I, for one, am very much in favour that. It is refreshing and encouraging to see from all the contributions this afternoon that all the MEPs are collectively wearing the green jersey for the betterment of all our citizens. That is great to see. As Senator Joe O'Reilly outlined, we are very fortunate to have such a competent team representing us in Europe. Mr. Andrews mentioned EU scrutiny of legislation, which, again, is vitally important. I believe the Seanad has a great role to play in that. It is something I would like to see develop if we ever get to a point where Brexit does not get the main headline of the day. I look forward to that happening.
The European Parliament and the role of MEPs are so important. I would not underestimate that because many laws and regulations emanate from Europe. I still feel that citizens of this State do not fully get that. We all have a job of work to do in educating not just ourselves, but the entire population, of the importance of Europe and the importance of us all tuning into what is going on there. I know this is an old chestnut, but how do we make people sit up and take notice of what goes on and of the role of MEPs? There is a job of work to be done there, not that MEPs should sell themselves by any means, as they are all well fit to do that, to make Europe and its goings-on centre stage for Irish citizens.
Regarding the point on the protocol, is the rest of the EU pulling the hair out of its head at this stage? Brexit has dominated and been the main headline in Europe for the last number of years. Even though the vote has now taken place, we are still talking about it and it just seems to be ongoing. Is there a sense of frustration among other EU countries that this particular topic still dominates the landscape, perhaps at the expense of other issues be they climate change or whatever? Do the witnesses get a sense of frustration among their colleagues when they are in Europe?
Mr. Cuffe mentioned an issue I was thinking about as well, which is the protocol and the temptation for the EU to just go and get this done once and for all, and the effect it could have on us here, particularly on the situation in Northern Ireland. Edwin Poots is the new Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, leader and we are all watching that space at the moment to see how things pan out. It is a worrying time for us all as we watch the goings-on in Northern Ireland. Senator Ó Donnghaile is speaking after me and is closer to it than I am, but I have concerns and worries about it. I can certainly understand the temptation and desire in Europe to finally get Brexit done, get all the parts of the protocol wrapped up and get on with life again, so to speak. We have to keep an eye on the calendar as well because we are coming towards the marching season in Northern Ireland. Edwin Poots is trying to find his space and trying to appeal, perhaps, to both sides of the DUP coin. That is fraught with danger because there are elections just around the corner as well.
That is all in the mix and I am fearful about it. Frustrating as it might be, I am conscious that we should take a deep breath again and try to tread carefully in the context of any decisions we make in this regard.
My main concern is the frustration that might exist in other EU countries. They are sick and tired of talking about Brexit, Ireland and all the rest of it. Do the witnesses envisage this having a negative impact on relationships among themselves and their colleagues as we move forward?