Thursday, 4 October 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures in place to secure the common travel area between Britain and Ireland post Brexit; the measures in place to protect pension payments to those in receipt of a British pension here and those in receipt of an Irish pension in Britain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40421/18]
Deputy Cullinane is out of the country. Will the Tánaiste outline the measures the Government is taking to ensure the rights and entitlements of citizens in Ireland are protected post Brexit? In an answer to an earlier question the Tánaiste said that the Government was planning for all scenarios. Perhaps he could outline some of those measures.
This question concerns the common travel area, CTA, which is a long-standing arrangement between Ireland and the UK. It means Irish citizens can move freely to live, work, and study in the UK on the same basis as UK citizens and vice versa. I, and I suspect many others in this House, have benefited from the provisions of the CTA. It is an arrangement that is valued by both islands and the continuation of this arrangement is a stated commitment of both the Irish and UK Governments. In the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, it is important that any arrangements necessary to maintain the CTA are made. The CTA provides for associated rights and entitlements which enable Irish and UK citizens to move freely between and reside in both jurisdictions. These rights and entitlements include access to employment, healthcare, education, and social benefits, as well as the right to vote in certain elections.
Article 2 of the draft protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, within the draft withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK, is a translation into legal terms of the acknowledgment between the EU and UK negotiators made in their joint report of December 2017 that the UK and Ireland may “continue to make arrangements between themselves relating to the movement of persons between their territories”. This has been marked as green, indicating it has been agreed at negotiator level, and it is a welcome provision in seeking to maintain the CTA, insofar as it relates to the EU-UK negotiations.
The maintenance of the CTA is a bilateral matter. Work is ongoing in the UK and domestically to ensure that the necessary provisions are made in both jurisdictions so that the CTA continues to function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.
The objective of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is to ensure that the reciprocity of social welfare rights and entitlements, which currently exists for Irish and UK citizens moving within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain under the CTA, are safeguarded and maintained. There is broad agreement to preserve the status quoin that regard.
The Department of Finance and the Central Bank of Ireland are working with the regulated financial services providers to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to ensure that insurance and pension providers can continue to operate post Brexit.
Brexit will also impact on students, as the Tánaiste has said. There has been much talk about securing the Good Friday Agreement. It is rarely mentioned that the Good Friday Agreement is a rights-based document and, as such the rights enshrined in it must be protected. The recent comments by the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, and people within the Tory Party on the Good Friday Agreement are unacceptable and reveal a reckless disregard for the peace process, prosperity and progress. The Irish Government must make it clear that the Good Friday Agreement will be protected and will remain the basis for peace, stability and progress. It was endorsed by the majority of people in the North and the South. It is a people's agreement, and is not a chip to be bargained with by the Tories or the DUP.
Much has been said about the effect Brexit will have on trade, but it must be remembered that it will impact on the Good Friday Agreement itself. Does the Tánaiste have any concerns about the impact it will have on the agreement, particularly given the recent statements made by Arlene Foster and Theresa May?
I made it clear during the week that, while I have respect for Arlene Foster, she is wrong on this issue. The Good Friday Agreement is not up for discussion or negotiation. It is a treaty which has been lodged with the UN. It was voted on by people across this island, North and South, and was endorsed with a very large majority in both jurisdictions. It has been the basis for peace for the past two decades. There have been updates to it, and agreements have been signed since it was agreed, but those agreements involved two Governments and negotiations between political parties. We have a clear commitment from the British Prime Minister that every facet of the Good Friday Agreement will be protected through the Brexit process, and we intend to ensure that commitment is followed through on. To the credit of the Prime Minister, she has repeated that commitment on more than one occasion.
The Good Friday Agreement, as a basis and a foundation for Irish relationships North and South, and relationships east and west, is something that we will insist on defending and protecting through the Brexit debates, as we have done to date.
The EU and the Government must remain true to their word and ensure that without the agreed, legally enforceable backstop, there will be no withdrawal agreement. As such, the Good Friday Agreement must be protected in all its parts. We need to maintain the free movement of people on the island of Ireland between Britain and Ireland. There must be a complete absence of a land border on the island of Ireland, and the rights of EU and non-EU nationals must be protected, in line with EU rules and regulations. There must be continued access to EU funds and payments for the North of Ireland and greater autonomy for the devolved assembly in these policy areas, which are not excluded matters and are within the competence. These things must be protected via the backstop agreement, and I ask the Tánaiste to reiterate that that is the direction the Government is taking during these talks.
I do not believe that I or the Taoiseach could be clearer on this matter. We cannot and will not sign up to any withdrawal treaty that does not involve a backstop that follows through on the commitments that have been made to Ireland. I have repeatedly said that the British Prime Minister, to her credit, understands the fragility and complexity of relationships on the island of Ireland and wants to protect those through Brexit. I believe that all parties in Northern Ireland, including the DUP, recognise that too. We are trying to ensure that a legal text emerges here in a way that reassures nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland that we can provide the guarantees necessary to reassure people that no physical border infrastructure is going to re-emerge on the island of Ireland and that we are not going to create new barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom either, recognising the sovereign integrity of the United Kingdom as a whole. We need maturity and flexibility to ensure that, through an intensification of negotiation, we can get that job done. I believe it is possible to do it. The alternatives to doing so remind people of the consequences of failure, which in my view are unlikely to materialise.