Wednesday, 21 November 2018
That Dáil Éireann supports the Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community (the draft Withdrawal Agreement), as published on 14th November, 2018, including the draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland which forms an integral part of the Draft Agreement.
On behalf of the Government, I propose this motion asking Dáil Éireann to support the draft agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. This agreement was reached at negotiator level on 14 November 2018 and includes the draft protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which forms an integral part of it. After almost 20 months of intensive and difficult negotiations, I ask the House to join me in welcoming this agreement and also the outline of the joint political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. It is an agreement that fully secures the negotiating objectives we set out at the start. Most important, it fully protects the Good Friday Agreement and ensures the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland. I am pleased that Prime Minister May has secured her Cabinet’s approval for the draft agreement. On Sunday, President Tusk will convene a meeting of the European Council with a view to it formally endorsing the draft withdrawal agreement, including the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the joint political declaration on the future relationship.
It is worth restating that we have always said that we regret the decision of the UK to leave the European Union. The United Kingdom is our closest neighbour and our friend. We are bound together by geography and centuries of shared history, culture, kinship and trade. We deeply regret that the UK chose to leave the European Union, a Union which, together, we have helped to shape over the past 45 years. However, we respect the vote of the British people. We also regret that the British Government has ruled out ongoing membership of the EU customs union, Single Market and the European Economic Area, thus limiting the scope for a solution. Nevertheless, we respect the decision to do so.
At the outset, we agreed our unique concerns and identified our priorities for the negotiations and these have stayed constant throughout. These are protecting the peace and the Good Friday Agreement, maintaining the common travel area and its associated benefits for citizens, minimising the impact on our trade, jobs and our economy and reaffirming our place at the heart of a strong and prosperous European Union. On each of these priorities, we have reached a satisfactory outcome. From the very start, we worked to ensure our unique concerns were understood by our EU partners, the member states and the EU institutions.
As Taoiseach, I have had formal bilateral meetings with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia either in Dublin or in their capitals to emphasise these issues. I have also met many times with the presidents of the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission, as well as the chief EU negotiator, Mr. Michel Barnier, and the head of the European Parliament Brexit steering group. I have used the EPP network of sister parties of Fine Gael as well to Ireland’s advantage. The House will know that Presidents Juncker, Tusk and Tajani, Mr. Michel Barnier and Chancellor Merkel are both interlocutors and party colleagues. I have attended 11 formal and informal meetings of the European Council, as well as many other international meetings where I have engaged with EU leaders to explain and to contextualise our unique concerns and to ensure that our priorities were taken on board.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Helen McEntee, and their predecessors have traversed the Continent to engage with relevant EU counterparts. Other Ministers have met their counterparts and at official level there have been extensive and detailed consultations. I thank all concerned for their hard work and personal commitment, especially officials in my Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the permanent representation in Brussels and our ambassadors and diplomats on the ground in member state capitals. I recognise the Members of this House who have played their part in helping to ensure that Ireland’s concerns were communicated and understood through party and interparliamentary networks. All these efforts have been reflected in the series of European Council guidelines, Commission communications and European Parliament resolutions, as well as in speeches and statements by EU leaders across Europe.
They have taken Ireland's concerns to heart and have made them European concerns and priorities for the EU negotiators.
At the core of these concerns lies our awareness of the tragic history of violence in Northern Ireland and in Ireland and Britain. After 20 years of relative peace, we are determined to ensure that there can be no return to the past, so the Government has been determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement, an internationally and legally binding agreement, in all its parts. The absence of a hard border has been critical to what has been achieved North-South and the development of the all-island economy and practical co-operation in areas like education, health, infrastructure and tourism. We have insisted that there can be no going back on this and no new barriers to the movement of people or commerce.
The draft withdrawal agreement provides that, in the event that it is required after the period of transition, the UK and the EU will establish a shared customs territory. Northern Ireland will apply some additional rules for goods and ensure there would be no need for a hard border between North and South. To facilitate this and to ensure that there can be no unfair competitive advantage, the agreement also provides that, if the backstop is invoked, rules to ensure a level playing field in areas such as environment, state aid and labour standards will apply. The Union's customs code will apply to Northern Ireland so that businesses there do not face obstacles in accessing the Single Market for goods, including here, south of the Border. Northern Ireland business will continue to enjoy unfettered access to the Great Britain market as well as that of the whole of the European Union.
The text says that, if this backstop would apply, it should apply "unless and until" alternative arrangements are found to supersede it that make it no longer necessary in part or in full. It is therefore intended to be temporary and to act as a bridge to a future relationship. As I have said many times before, I hope and believe that those alternative arrangements will be negotiated. It is, however, important that we now have the insurance policy we need if all other efforts fail to produce a better solution. The agreement also provides a mechanism for review of the backstop, which would allow it to cease to apply, in whole or in part, if and when a better solution was agreed that superseded it.
It is important to underscore that any such decision will be a joint one for the European Union and the United Kingdom to take together. Therefore, the agreement says that there can be no unilateral withdrawal from the backstop if it is ever activated.
The draft withdrawal agreement contains other important commitments and assurances regarding the Good Friday Agreement, closer North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. Once again I would like to say that we have no hidden agenda or motivation here and the draft withdrawal agreement states in black and white that Ireland and the European Union fully respect the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, and that this can change only if the majority of people in Northern Ireland vote for it to change. It ensures that there will be no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, and it recognises the right of people in Northern Ireland to identify as Irish, become Irish citizens and, therefore, be European citizens as well.
It also ensures that Ireland and the UK can continue to operate the common travel area. This means that the arrangements that have enabled us to live, work, study and access services in each other's countries as though we are citizens of both will continue into the future. It confirms that the single electricity market will be maintained on the island of Ireland and confirms that PEACE and INTERREG funding will continue. This is really important for Northern Ireland and for the Border counties.
It is important to note that the UK agrees that it will facilitate the transit of goods moving to and from Ireland. This is significant, as the UK landbridge is the most important route from Ireland to mainland Europe and, of course, Ireland is a landbridge to Great Britain for a lot of exporters in Northern Ireland. The agreement provides a basis on which we can avoid a hard Brexit, which would see the United Kingdom crash out of the European Union without an agreement.
If it secures the necessary endorsement in Westminster next month and the consent of the European Parliament, there will be a period of transition, which will run until at least to the end of December 2020. As we approach the end of this period of transition, the UK will be empowered to ask for the period of transition to be extended - on one occasion - if agreement on a future relationship that would avoid a hard border is not yet in place.
I have acknowledged the integrity of Prime Minister May in honouring her promise to protect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and her commitment, despite the many difficulties along the way, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. For our part, we have consistently said that we are absolutely committed to working with Prime Minister Mary and the UK Government to secure a deep, comprehensive and ambitious future relationship between the UK and the European Union so that the backstop does not need to be invoked in full or in part.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express again my deep appreciation and gratitude to all of our EU partners - my fellow members of the European Council, the European Parliament and the Commission. They have understood our unique concerns and made them their concerns, and they have shown unwavering solidarity in ensuring that these have been taken into account in the draft withdrawal agreement. Many people predicted that, in the final moment, our European partners would turn on us or put pressure on us. That did not happen. We have had unwavering solidarity and support throughout.
In particular, I want to acknowledge the commitment and professionalism of Michel Barnier, Sabine Weyand and their team, with whom we have worked extremely closely over the past 20 months. There could be no better example of the advantages of EU membership for a small country. Sometimes, when people calculate the value of EU membership, they talk about how much we pay into the budget and how much we get out, but the intangible benefits of being part of the largest free trade area in the world and a single currency, and the intangible benefits of solidarity among 27 member states, are incalculable and enormous. We have seen that demonstrated for Ireland in recent months, so no matter what happens anywhere else, Ireland will stay a fully committed member of the European Union. It is a home that we have built together and it is where we will stay.
The draft agreement represents a finely balanced compromise between the concerns and priorities of all 28 countries involved. Finalising and approving it is the best way of ensuring an orderly withdrawal. I will attend the special meeting of the European Council in Brussels this Sunday, 25 November. I hope and expect that EU leaders will be in a position there to sign off on the draft withdrawal agreement and the joint political declaration. It is my sincere wish that the withdrawal agreement will then receive the necessary approval of both Westminster and the European Parliament. It represents a good outcome for Ireland, for the EU as a whole and for the UK itself. It protects people's jobs and the economy and defends the rights and freedoms of our citizens.
I commend this motion to the House.
As the Taoiseach has said, Ireland and the UK share profound and strong ties across many areas, which have benefitted greatly from both countries' membership of the EU. There could never in my view, therefore, be a positive outcome to our closest neighbour and friend leaving a European Union that we joined together in 1973. That remains the case today. While we respect the UK vote, we think it is bad for Britain, we think it is bad for Europe and we think it is bad for Ireland, too.
Since the decision was taken in 2016, however, and even before it was reached, the Government has sought to ensure that we in Ireland can minimise the negative impact of Brexit for this island. We have had clear objectives throughout, centring on protecting our peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and our common travel area and avoiding any return to the borders or tensions of the past.
We could not expect that all EU governments would be familiar with the detail of these concerns, but we felt that they would listen. In truth, they have gone on to do so much more than that. Prime Ministers and foreign Ministers took the time to visit the Border for themselves and to see how it facilitated peace, North-South co-operation and our all-island economy in terms of how it functions today. The solidarity that flowed from these visits and meetings became a powerful shared bond across the 27 states in Brussels. Michel Barnier channelled that shared outlook with determination, great skill and subtlety throughout. He has been a formidable chief negotiator for the EU and for Ireland, leading a highly talented team that we have got to know very well.
Over the past two years, the complexity of the United Kingdom's departure from the EU and the scale of the challenge it presents have become only too clear. The draft withdrawal agreement that has been achieved by both sets of negotiators represents real compromise by both sides. It provides the best way of ensuring that the UK's departure can happen in an orderly manner, avoiding the UK crashing out, with all of the severe consequences that would undoubtedly bring.
The withdrawal agreement covers all elements of the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
This includes the protection of UK and EU citizens’ rights as well as protecting the current EU budget. It provides for the orderly winding down of current arrangements across the broad spectrum of EU co-operation as well as the governance structures for the implementation of the agreement. It also includes protocols on Gibraltar and the British sovereign bases in Cyprus.
The agreement provides for a period of transition up to December 2020 during which EU rules and regulations will continue to apply to the UK. This will allow for the negotiation of an agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the UK which we hope will be deep and comprehensive. The transition period should also provide certainty to citizens and businesses as we continue our preparations for a new relationship with the UK outside the EU. It is welcome that the agreement now includes an option to extend this transition if more time is needed to complete negotiations and conclude a future agreement, something I have long argued would be necessary in time.
Crucially, this draft agreement meets Ireland’s key objective of protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, with a protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland to address issues specific to this island. The protocol underpins in a dynamic way continued North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. It acknowledges the common travel area whereby Irish and British people can live, work, study and access healthcare, social security and public services in each other’s jurisdictions. In many ways, the common travel area has almost become a mutual recognition of citizenship on these islands. The agreement includes important commitments to ensure no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as set out in the Good Friday Agreement and confirms that people in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens. This will remain a significant priority for the Government throughout the Brexit process. We will do our utmost to ensure that the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland are protected to the fullest possible extent.
The withdrawal agreement provides for continued support for the North-South PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes. It also preserves the single electricity market which is crucial for the interests of Northern Ireland in particular, but also for the island as a whole. Vitally, nothing in the agreement will prejudice the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. This is explicitly laid out in the very first clause of the first article of the protocol and it is there for good reason. Most importantly, the protocol includes a backstop to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border on this island in all circumstances. The backstop is an insurance policy which we hope will never be used. It remains our priority to achieve a future EU-UK agreement that can in its own right maintain an open border while protecting North-South co-operation and our all-island economy. The withdrawal agreement itself includes a so-called best endeavours clause that commits both sides to pursuing this aim.
Over the next two years we will be working closely with our EU partners to meet that commitment. However, if this is not possible within that time, the draft agreement provides for the transition period to be extended once, for a limited time. If there is no subsequent agreement at the end of transition, then the backstop can apply. The UK-wide customs territory which would apply under the backstop will involve no tariffs or quotas and includes well-established rules with regard to ensuring a level playing field. Northern Ireland would remain aligned to the rules of the Single Market that are indispensable to avoiding a hard border. The only exception to those measures is fishing because there is recognition on both sides that a detailed negotiation is required to get a future relationship agreement on fishing that is balanced and fair.
A review mechanism for the backstop allows that these provisions can cease to apply, in whole or part, once a better solution has been found. The agreement makes clear, however, that this decision cannot be taken unilaterally but must be taken jointly by the EU and the UK. This translates the UK’s political commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland into a legal guarantee. I pay tribute to Prime Minister May in following through in full on the important commitments she made last December and again last March to this island as a whole.
The focus now is on ensuring that the agreement will be endorsed by a special meeting of the European Council on Sunday, 25 November, together with a political declaration on the framework for the EU-UK future relationship. It is hoped we will see the text of that declaration later this evening. The European Parliament will also have to provide its consent before the EU formally concludes the withdrawal agreement. At the same time, the UK must ratify the agreement according to its own constitutional arrangements. All going well, and I accept that is a significant caveat, from 30 March 2019 we will start the considerable work of negotiating a comprehensive and deep future relationship. Our goal has always been for the closest possible relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the UK and the EU. The draft political declaration expresses the hope of all sides that the future relationship will be as deep and comprehensive as possible. In doing this of course, we must also maintain the integrity of the EU Single Market.
Unfortunately however, as we know very well, developments over the coming weeks cannot be taken for granted. Therefore the Government continues to advance extensive and detailed Brexit preparedness and contingency work across all Departments and State agencies. This addresses the full range of Brexit scenarios to make sure Ireland is ready no matter what may come in the future. The Government has focused on preparedness measures needed on an east-west basis, preparing our ports and airports. The first phase of a recruitment programme of approximately 1,000 staff for customs and sanitary and phyto sanitary, SPS, controls, in addition to information and communications technology, ICT, and infrastructure measures, is already underway. This initial phase of recruitment will see staff in place by the end of March next year. The intention is that further recruitment will take place during the transition period. Planning is also in place to allow for these measures to be accelerated or adapted in the event of no deal.
In a number of key areas, it will be at the EU level that the appropriate response and mitigation will be needed. We have also actively engaged with the European Commission and its Brexit preparedness unit on areas where the lead policy role lies with the EU. We are working closely with the Commission and other affected member states to ensure continued effective use of the UK land bridge, for instance. This includes preparing EU ports to facilitate transit of EU products through the UK once they leave the EU. In Ireland, a cross-departmental land bridge project group, chaired by my Department, co-ordinates our approach. This is a priority given the importance of getting Irish products to market in Europe, particularly agrifood products. This work is intensifying and I am glad to say that good progress is being made. The importance has been recognised and agreed in the protocol to the draft withdrawal agreement which reaffirms the commitment of the UK to facilitate efficient and timely transit. I welcome the UK’s formal notification of its intention to join the common transit convention which would play an important role in ensuring Irish access to the EU using the UK as a land bridge.
In our last two budgets we announced a wide array of supports for business. To better inform business and the public at large, the Government has also overseen a co-ordinated communication and outreach campaign through the Brexit website, social media and public events. The getting Ireland Brexit ready public information campaign has seen very successful outreach events held throughout October in Cork, Galway, Monaghan and Dublin, with further events this week in Limerick and next week in Letterkenny.
We are grateful for the support and advice received from all sides of the House. We need to sustain this effort now. Leaders and spokespersons with sister parties in the UK need to ensure our British colleagues are fully seized of the protections for this island and our peace process in the agreement under consideration.
I am on the record as stating that parties with a vote in these landmark decisions should use that franchise in the interests of all the people on this island. As Theresa May has acknowledged, these are now difficult days as she tries to gain support in the House of Commons for this hard-won deal that has taken two years to put together. We can only hope the arguments which hold sway in the coming weeks are economic ones and practical ones that are aware of our shared history rather than forgetful of what we have overcome together. The support of this House for the draft withdrawal agreement, I am sure, will send a strong signal ahead of the European Council meeting on Sunday that Ireland is fully behind this deal, and I therefore ask the Dáil to support this motion.
I know there are two amendments to the motion the Government has proposed. On the Sinn Féin amendment in particular, while I agree with the sentiment and the words in it, I do not think it is helpful for us to take away from the core message we are trying to send from this House, which is that we support the text of the withdrawal agreement that was agreed last week by the British Government and the EU negotiating team. It is time that we kept our message simple and clear, and we have, I hope, all-party support for that text of last week. Of course, parties could add a lot to it in terms of emphasising points. We could have written a much longer motion, outlining many of the things in the motion that I have outlined and the Taoiseach has outlined in his speech, but I think that potentially loses the opportunity that we have tonight to be crystal clear on one message. That message has to be that the withdrawal agreement text of last week is fully supported across all parties in this Dáil. I ask parties to support us, please, in that singular effort, rather than looking to add to this motion, making points that are understandable and valid, but in a way that takes away from the clarity of what we are trying to achieve in terms of a clear, simple statement from Ireland that we fully support the text that was agreed last week and that we are encouraging others to do the same.
I am sharing my time with Deputies Lisa Chambers and Haughey.
This weekend's summit is an important moment as Europe works to create some shape and direction out of the dark, chaotic and destructive Brexit-----
I thank Deputy Howlin for his consideration and care.
This weekend's summit is an important moment as Europe works to create some shape and direction out of the dark, chaotic and destructive Brexit vote of 2016. If things go as well as possible, the withdrawal treaty will be agreed and will then go forward to the United Kingdom and European Parliaments for ratification. While this would be very welcome, it is important that we do not waste this rare, full debate on Brexit by ignoring the fact that not only is the short-term outcome uncertain, there is still no clarity on many long-term issues. Even more importantly, Ireland is today well behind where it should be in preparing for the inevitable impact of Brexit.
A fully agreed and ratified withdrawal treaty will be, at best, the end of the beginning. We will still potentially face years of negotiations and damaging uncertainty. As we saw last year, overemphasising interim agreements, however welcome they may be, breeds a damaging complacency. It serves no useful purpose for us to waste our time here commenting on the ignorant and clownish behaviour of some Brexiteers. In meetings in different contexts, I have experienced the Brexit advocacy of certain of the loudest Tory Europhobes. It is clear they have no interest in rational discussion. Just like fundamentalists of all varieties, the more their ignorance is exposed, the more fanatical they are in their advocacy. I would go so far as to say that we have, as a country, spent too much time in the past two years feeling indignant about the dishonesty and ignorance of many Brexiteers. Some of this time and space would have been better spent on a more questioning approach to our national preparations for Brexit. There is simply no way of looking at the hard facts of preparations and missing the gap between the rhetoric and the reality.
The motion before the House will have no legal impact. The position of the majority in this House is well known and we are not in a position to ratify a text which has not been finalised or sent for ratification. It is the explicit policy of Government that the Dáil does not give it a negotiating mandate as we have seen in the Government’s dismissal of the Dáil’s views on matters such as the Middle East. In spite of this, we will of course be supporting the motion and we have already expressed our support for the draft text in our discussions with our European partners. I agree with the Tánaiste in terms of giving a simple message from the House. It was my understanding that it was to be a simple motion. We could all table amendments, emphasising this and aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and so on, but I think there has been an attempt just to support withdrawal treaty as negotiated – the draft agreement. I think that is the intention of this motion, that there would be unanimity from this House that we support this text, that is, the withdrawal treaty.
We have all been briefed by officials, and I pay tribute to our dedicated officials and diplomats for their regular briefings and their consistent hard work on the issues.
We are also supporting the motion in spite of the Taoiseach’s decision last week to refuse to supply any legal opinion on the impact of the proposed text. It is his position that we should rely only on the opinion of the EU’s legal service, something which will not be available until the text has been sent to the European Parliament.
It appears that there are significant practical issues over what checks would and would not be required for North-South trade under the proposed arrangements post 2020. Equally, the draft agreement does not include text on a range of issues which have to be sorted before the customs arrangement in the backstop could be implemented. We understand that Michel Barnier’s team has mentioned this in presentations and it has already been raised by the Parliament’s Brexit committee as a concern.
We obviously do not have the type of legal expertise available to us to assess whether the text is as certain as the claims being made for it. Regardless of whether the text delivers on what is claimed for it, it is politically and economically a welcome and essential step forward and its ratification would mark real good faith towards delivering on its claims.
If there are practical agreements required after next March, such as the road transport agreement, which is a fundamental requirement of a single customs territory, it is reasonable to assume that these will be addressed as a priority.
There were reports last night and again this morning that Prime Minister May is proposing an amendment concerning the backstop which may satisfy the less revolutionary Brexiteers in her party. Without any concrete details on this we are not in a position to comment, though we expect that there will be no agreement to any amendment which would in practice make the backstop unusable.
It appears to us to be a balanced text where the European Union’s negotiators went to the very limit of their mandate to show flexibility and to help London address its self-imposed preconditions. They did this in a highly professional and creative way.
I acknowledge the regular, comprehensive and professional information and briefings which my party has received from Michel Barnier and his team since their appointment. His commitment to Ireland and to the European Union has been both resolute and fair. We particularly welcome the fact that he considered technical suggestions from a wide range of sources.
Should the text change significantly this weekend, we will not be looking for issues to cause controversy. If the core principles of seeking to protect both the Good Friday Agreement and the integrity of the European Union are maintained, we will continue our unmatched, nearly 60 year record of choosing a European future for Ireland.
I want to address a series of urgent issues linked directly to Brexit on which we need to act. Before doing this, it is important to comment on a number of political matters. From very soon after the start of 2013 when David Cameron announced his disastrous decision to hold an in-or-out referendum, this has been an issue regularly addressed by Fianna Fáil. Unlike the Government, Fianna Fáil did not wait until mid-2016 to call for preparations. In fact it has been one of the most prominent and regular issues addressed by Fianna Fáil for more than five years, including the period of the Cameron government’s absurd review of EU competencies and its campaign to renegotiate European Union treaties.
Since the referendum, Fianna Fáil has been actively constructive. During the appearances of key EU leaders in Dublin, in meetings in Brussels and in wider political contexts, we have made it absolutely clear that there is a broad pro-EU, anti-Brexit consensus among the Irish population and the majority in Dáil Éireann.
We have also gone further than this in specifically assuring the Council, the Commission and Parliament of the stable support of the majority for the negotiating objectives which were first set out by Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach with the support of the Dáil and which have been reaffirmed since then. When the Government starting briefing that it might need to call an election to have a mandate for Brexit discussions we responded to European inquiries and confirmed our consistent position that nothing would be done to question this mandate or to bring down the Government at critical moments. Having checked with parties in other countries, I can confirm that the Irish Government is the only one of the many minority governments in Europe to have been offered a guarantee from the largest Opposition party that it will maintain its mandate during this critical phase of Brexit negotiation.
In the context of five years of addressing the issue, constant affirmation of a consensus on the key issues, and active lobbying for the Irish position, we will take no lectures about stability or responsible behaviour on Brexit from a government which has regularly sought to project instability. The Government has received far more backing and active support than any other government in Europe yet we have seen what I would regard as over-the-top and choreographed reactions to even the smallest criticisms. The record of the House shows that any challenge from any part of the House has been denounced as irresponsible. Always eager Fine Gael backbenchers have been sent out to amplify the message. The fact that the first reaction to last week’s deal was for Ministers to discuss how to trigger an election suggests a government which always puts politics first.
It has been always our position that we all have to look beyond the crisis in hand and realise that there are many broader issues to be discussed. The impact of Brexit on the peace settlement has quite rightly been the dominant focus of discussions here and throughout the country. When my party, while in government, negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, we ensured that throughout the agreement membership of the European Union was used as a way of providing common ground on political, legal, economic, social, and identity issues. Europe is in the DNA of the peace settlement because the Ahern and Blair Governments, along with John Hume, understood the European Union’s unmatched genius at breaking down barriers and overcoming historic conflict. However, while Europe was once a point of shared interest in Northern Irish politics, it has now become, as observed by Dr. Mary Murphy in her excellent publication, the greatest cause of division in the North over two decades. That is a worry in terms of the impact of Brexit.
Following next March, Northern Ireland will contain the largest number of EU citizens anywhere outside of the Union’s borders. The acknowledgement of the continued automatic right to EU citizenship of Northern Irish residents is a very important issue. It is an issue which we have raised consistently since the Brexit vote and we appreciate the steadfast support which European Union states have given the country in that regard. How the Northern Ireland-specific elements of a backstop will work is not very clear. Mechanisms for ensuring regulatory alignment and exactly how frictionless trade will be delivered have not been fully defined and remain to be negotiated during the next two years. However, as I have said, the withdrawal agreement demonstrates good faith and we will have to hope that discussions during the transition period get under way as soon as possible.
What the European Union is offering Northern Ireland is a very good deal which would make it the only place in the world with guaranteed free access to the single markets of the United Kingdom and the European Union. For the first time in its recent history, Northern Ireland would have a competitive edge to address the economic challenges which have been ignored for far too long. This is why so many organisations in Northern Ireland which are solidly non-political have come out in favour of the withdrawal agreement.
It has been the core position of democratic parties on this island for half a century that Northern Ireland can be peaceful and prosper only if minority views are capable of being heard and taken seriously. This applies to the minority views of those who oppose the withdrawal agreement. We achieve nothing by condemning them or engaging in a destructive war of words. In newspaper articles, speeches, and meetings, my party and I have sought to reach out to unionist opinion and to reaffirm the fact that the democratic majority in the Dáil in no way seeks to use Brexit as a way around the unequivocal protections which unionists have under the Good Friday Agreement. We welcome the Taoiseach and Government’s continued affirmation of this as well. For Northern Ireland to miss out on the European Union's generous offer would be to tragically miss an opportunity for economic development which would threaten none and benefit all.
It is important to say that the continued absence of the Assembly and Executive has damaged Northern Ireland’s interests profoundly. The institutions which were collapsed because of a heating scheme have been silenced at the time when they are needed the most. It is impossible not to comment on the fact that Sinn Féin has claimed that Brexit is a defining issue of our time but has denied Northern Ireland a voice on this issue. It is Ireland’s most consistently anti-European Union party and has directly sought to introduce long-term constitutional issues into the Brexit discussions. It cannot have intended to help sooth unionist fears when it announced that Brexit should be a cause for a unification referendum. Once again, unionists should listen instead to the majority voice in this place and throughout the island which says that their constitutional position is unaffected by anything in this draft agreement and that all they are being offered is unique access to a major market, access which offers unprecedented new opportunities for investment and growth.
In terms of the overall transition backstop and future trading relationship, what has been agreed by Michel Barnier is dramatically better for Ireland than a crash-out Brexit on World Trade Organisation terms. He has shown creativity, generosity and flexibility towards the United Kingdom. While the deal may be as good as it gets, people need to step back for one moment and realise that there is nothing to celebrate and that the agreement leaves in place much of the likely economic damage of Brexit. The European Union-United Kingdom relationship is intended to be a hybrid of a customs union, free trade area, and Single Market access. The balance within this hybrid relationship will change as time progresses and new agreements take effect. As such, it is unclear what the exact economic impact of this deal on Ireland will be, however we do know that it will be significant and damaging.
Based on the only independent economic impact assessment commissioned by the Government, the full implementation of the agreement will deliver a loss of between 2.8% and 4.3% of national income. In monetary terms, and using the conservative GNI* measure, the hit to national income will be between €5 billion and €7.7 billion per annum. This is over twice the size of the enormous unfunded tax promise announced by the Taoiseach at the weekend. There has been far too little attention paid to whether we are prepared to meet an economic threat of the level of at least €5 billion per year.
As everyone knows by now, the failure to turn words into action, combined with an obsession with marketing, is a defining characteristic of this Government. The delivery gap is acute across a wide range of policies, with policies on housing, health and critical infrastructure like broadband causing real social and economic damage. Unfortunately, this delivery gap is also being seen with Brexit preparations. There are many Brexit schemes, there is an increasing amount of advertising and there is a non-stop effort by Ministers to claim that everything is in hand. Unfortunately the growing evidence is that Ireland is nowhere near Brexit-ready. The Netherlands is the European Union member state most similar to Ireland in terms of the potential scale of Brexit impact. It has already hired and trained 1,000 customs and related staff who will be in place on 29 March next year. Ireland has just started the process of hiring 400 and there is no detail about when they may be trained and available. It is absolutely clear that we will not have the staff in place to meet all eventualities next March.
Many Brexit schemes have been announced but their impact has been minor at best. A €23 million working capital guarantee scheme was announced last year, with the European Investment Bank offering to leverage this up to €300 million. The latest available figures show that only 3% has been allocated and only 38 small and medium enterprises have been sanctioned for loans. A Brexit future loans scheme was announced in October 2017 with the intention of providing eight to ten-year loans for market and product diversification. This scheme has not even opened for applications yet and it is unlikely that a single company will have received funding before Brexit takes effect next March. Other small advisory grants are being allocated at a rate of 12 companies a month and are benefitting a small number of impacted companies. Wherever the fault for this lies, the simple fact is that Brexit supports are having only a marginal impact and all available surveys suggest critical parts of Irish business are not Brexit-ready.
According to Bord Bia which has published the most recent survey results available, 83% of companies likely to be impacted on have not yet modelled the impact of tariffs and regulatory compliance, 60% have no plans for dealing with increased costs, while 61% have no contingency plans for dealing with supply chain disruptions. Few have plans for dealing with disruptions on the landbridge route to continental Europe. Two thirds of companies have not begun to prepare for the trusted trader status which is central to avoiding major disruption.
Currency fluctuations are already a reality and the devaluation of sterling is something which may continue, irrespective of whatever deal is reached. In fact, 77% of companies included in the research state currency fluctuations are the biggest risk they face. This has become an emergency, with nearly one in five businesses exporting to the United Kingdom stating they will face severe difficulty at the exchange rate today, while most of the rest will face severe difficulty if the value of sterling declines by up to 3% more. Brexit is already hurting, with the Central Bank pointing to emerging problems in industrial production, including chemicals and machinery, and food export volumes down by nearly 5% because of the value of sterling.
There is simply no doubt that we need a dramatic improvement in the implementation and impact of Brexit supports. Much of the information activity under way should have been completed long ago, as most of the preparations needed are required, no matter what the outcome is of the transition period or the final relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The complacency of ministerial statements about being Brexit ready must be replaced by an urgent approach of going directly to companies to aid them in starting to address key risks. Absolutely everyone knows that 29 March is a critical date and that there are many possible outcomes. The fevered intensity of politics at Westminster means that there are no certainties. Ireland is simply not ready for many of the possible outcomes.
We will support any reasonable request for urgent legislation or funding which will help to speed up the current snail pace of implementation. It is our understanding the European Union will be flexible in providing aid which is essential to help companies and communities to address a threat of unprecedented scale, even if the draft agreement is ratified at Westminster and in Brussels.
It is more than two years since the two Governments and the European Union agreed that the common travel area should continue. It is welcome that this commitment has been repeated. However, the failure to move forward with more concrete measures is a source of serious concern. Most expert opinion points to the need for a legal approach to both formalise existing practice and manage future rights once the United Kingdom is no longer implementing common EU legislation. Some legal experts have suggested a new Anglo-Irish treaty is required. We need formal legal agreements on health and education, for example. Already students from the island of Ireland and the United Kingdom face challenges in deciding on courses because of the uncertainty in fee structures. Apparently, 20% fewer students have come to the South in this academic year.
We need systems that will ensure ongoing consultation and the avoidance of conflict. The common travel area is about much more than the lack of passport checks and the right of residence; it has significant fiscal and legal dimensions which have to be addressed. For that work to be done, we should seek the establishment of a task force between Dublin and London separated from the overall Brexit negotiations. If the withdrawal treaty is finalised and ratified, it will be an important and positive step, but it comes nowhere close to delivering a final form of Brexit for Ireland or the European Union as a whole. It is the end of the beginning of Brexit, not the final destination which potentially will require years of further negotiations. If it is not ratified, the first step should be an extension of the Article 50 process to avoid a cliff edge next March. Other than that, there is no useful purpose in escalating concerns at this point. What is for sure is that Brexit is already causing damage and will cause much more. We need a much greater sense of urgency to close the growing gap between words and the impact on preparations for Brexit.
The publication of the draft withdrawal agreement last Wednesday marked an important milestone in the Brexit process. The 585 page document represents the potential for a deal, but we are not yet there. It must be ratified at EU level and also at Westminster, a part of the process that no one is taking for granted. There is no such thing as a good Brexit, but this deal will be positive for Ireland if it is settled. It contains the necessary protections to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, respects the status of the Good Friday Agreement and works to address the continuance of North-South co-operation.
I acknowledge the good work done by our own team - the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, our diplomats and civil servants - in getting us to where we are. We have a draft withdrawal treaty text on the table and it has taken us two years to get here. I also acknowledge the hard work done by Michel Barnier and his team who negotiated on behalf of the EU 27 block, ensured the Irish issues were to the fore and that our concerns, particularly about the Border, were addressed. We know that at times pressure was applied from other quarters to try to shift the focus away from the Border issue, but Mr. Barnier and his team never wavered on the issue and there was no chink in the armour to be exploited.
This is the best and fairest deal that could have been negotiated and there is no room to reopen or revisit what has been agreed to by both teams. The European Union made a considerable concession on the Northern Ireland protocol, the backstop, by agreeing to a UK-wide customs territory. When the idea was first mooted, it was rejected by the European Union and caused concern among some member states who wanted to ensure the United Kingdom would not have a competitive advantage post-Brexit and that we would all be operating on a level playing field. Nonetheless, this compromise was offered by the European Union and it demonstrates its genuine and sincere wish to forge a new relationship with the United Kingdom and secure a Brexit deal that will work for everyone.
One of the most important aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol is the commitment in black and white to the Good Friday Agreement. The very first line of Article 1 of the protocol reads: "This Protocol is without prejudice to the provisions of the 1998 Agreement regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent, which provides that any change in that status can only be made with the consent of the majority of its people". That could not be clearer. The withdrawal treaty is not a back-door grab for territory. Nothing within the agreement seeks to undermine the Good Friday Agreement or in any way alter the constitutional position of the United Kingdom. That is a really important message to impress on the unionist community in Northern Ireland who are an important part of this all-island community. Under the terms of the deal, should the Northern Ireland protocol, the backstop, ever kick into action, Northern Ireland will retain the economic benefits of EU membership, while also retaining unfettered access to the UK market. That is a good outcome for Northern Ireland and broadly in line with my party's call that Northern Ireland be treated as a special economic zone.
There is also sensible provision made for the potential extension of the transition period post-2020. Article 3 recognises the monumental task which lies ahead, beyond ratification of the withdrawal treaty, that is, the negotiation of a future trading agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom. When one considers that it took nine years to negotiate and ratify the deal between the European Union and Canada, it is very ambitious to expect that a deal can be concluded between the United Kingdom and the European Union in just 20 months; therefore, this article is welcome.
I wish to refer briefly to Article 18 which states: "If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate measures". I acknowledge the assurances the Tánaiste has given me in respect of the article, but it is important to flag it. The treaty must withstand the inevitable changes in personnel across governments over time. We need to ensure this provision will never be abused.
An EU summit has been set for 25 November, but the resignations from the UK Government and the lack of support for the agreement from the Labour Party, the DUP and within the Conservative Party underscore the very difficult task ahead for the British Prime Minister. At this point the outcome is uncertain, but it is essential that calm prevail and that every effort be made to advocate for the deal to try to get it across the line. My party will do everything it can to advocate that it be ratified.
When speaking in the Dáil about Brexit after the vote in the United Kingdom on 23 June, I paraphrased Yeats in saying "everything is changed, changed utterly." In this case a terrible beast was born, the beast of Brexit. Sometimes it is hard to believe all of this is happening, but, as the saying goes, we are where we are and must deal with the so-called Brexit disaster as best we can.
Fianna Fáil supports the motion before the House and welcomes the draft withdrawal agreement. I assume that it will be agreed to by the EU 27 on Sunday, despite last minute concerns expressed by Spain about the status of Gibraltar and France about fisheries. Considerable time, effort and resources have been expended by the Government and the public administration on this issue since 2016, possibly to the neglect of other policy priorities, which is a pity. The efforts of diplomatic officials in Brussels and Dublin in getting to this stage deserve our highest praise.
Our civil servants do exceptional work on our behalf and that should be acknowledged. In passing, I wish to note that the offer by Fianna Fáil to provide political stability until this process is finalised should not be underestimated.
We should acknowledge the steadfast solidarity shown to Ireland by other EU states. We appreciate the understanding of our position that they have displayed. Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt have shown exceptional understanding of our position as well.
I have fears for Anglo-Irish relations. Ireland has a unique relationship with the UK economically, socially and culturally. There has been a serious cooling in this relationship in recent years and I do not think that was necessary. Many in this country are too young to remember the IRA campaign of violence and daily atrocities. The Taoiseach and his Government must never allow us to return to those days again. Brit-bashing can be popular and electorally advantageous but it is dangerous in the long term. Far more should be done, even while these Brexit negotiations are under way, to restore Anglo-Irish relations to previous levels of co-operation and understanding.
Our main concern should be the situation in Northern Ireland. The draft withdrawal agreement protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects. Therefore, it is difficult to understand the position of the DUP in all of this. The draft withdrawal agreement makes clear that it does not provide for a change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in the absence of consent. A majority of citizens in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. The agreement offers unique opportunities for the economic development of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland can have the best of all worlds. Northern Ireland is different in many ways to the rest of the UK. The differences in social legislation represent only one example. It is unbelievable that the DUP is opposed to the agreement on ideological grounds. The DUP would appear to be adhering to old-fashioned unionism which surely must be outdated in today's globalised and interdependent world. One glimmer of hope is that farming organisations, tourism interests and business organisations in Northern Ireland see the positive advantages of the agreement and are making their voices heard with their MPs. Let us hope they will be listened to. It cannot be emphasised enough that everything possible should be done to get the Northern Ireland institutions up and running and to get normal political processes back on track.
The exit of the UK from the EU will have more impact on Ireland than on any other EU state. This draft withdrawal agreement offers us the best prospect of minimising the damage that could be done to our economy. There is a real possibility that the UK will crash out with no deal. That would be a disaster. We would then be in uncharted waters. The options to consider in such circumstances can be debated on another day, including the possibility of a second vote. Let us hope that the deal now on the table succeeds.
Tairgim leasú Uimh. 2:
To insert the following after “an integral part of the Draft Agreement”:
“— further resolves that the rights of citizens in the North are protected and vindicated as outlined in the Joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom's orderly withdrawal from the European Union, published in December 2017.”
Táim fíorbhuíoch as an deis labhairt ar an rún tábhachtach seo um thráthnóna agus leasú a bhogadh ar son Teachtaí Shinn Féin. This is an important motion and I hope all Members support it along with the amendment I have moved in the name of Sinn Féin Deputies.
Earlier this year we marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. It was, and remains, an agreement that, despite the challenges and difficulties that remain as a result of the partition of our country, we can collectively hold up as an illustration that tolerance and inclusivity will ultimately always triumph over division and mistrust. The first line of the Good Friday Agreement reads: "We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning." That it was. Over the past 20 years our island has changed beyond recognition. Children born today in Belfast, Cork, Derry, Galway or here in Dublin are born to a society that is now more prosperous, open and tolerant. It is a society that is more confident and outward looking. It is a country that is, in almost every respect, better. That is because our fear and suspicion gave way to hope and because we all collectively embraced peace. There have been ups and downs, setbacks and knocks along the way, but the trajectory has been constant. We have moved, and we are moving, forward.
Yet, there is a problem and that problem is Brexit. Our island's progress and our island's future did not feature as part of the debate surrounding the Brexit referendum. Let us face it: the referendum was held primarily because of a squabble among the Tories. Ireland was, at best and as ever, an afterthought in the minds of the English establishment. No thought was given to our peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, the social and cultural fabric of our island or our island's shared economy.
Those on this island who voted - citizens in the North - recognised that it did not make sense for one part of our island to be inside the European Union and the other outside. That is why the electorate in the North, from all backgrounds, by the way, voted to remain. They did not consent to leave. This was not due to a fawning admiration for the EU – far from it - but was driven by common sense. Many a staunch unionist recognises that all-island trade, commerce, co-operation and movement are vital to our collective economic capacity and progress. Citizens recognise that it makes sense for Ireland in its entirety to be part of the same trading bloc and the same Single Market. That is what the people of the North want. That is what the people of the South want. That is why, since the Brexit referendum result became clear, we in Sinn Féin have been unequivocal in stating that Brexit represents the most serious social, economic and political threat to our island in a generation. It threatens to undermine the progress of the past 20 years. It threatens to undermine the new landscape of our island. It threatens the future of our country.
We have been clear in stating that the Government's approach to negotiations had to be guided by an appreciation of the fact that citizens in the North voted to remain and how this must be recognised and respected. We first put the case for a special deal that would take cognisance of the unique circumstances that present on our island. This meant ensuring no return to a hard border. It meant ensuring that citizens' rights are explicitly protected and that the Good Friday Agreement is held up in all its parts.
Many people have been rightfully acknowledged here this evening. I wish to recognise and appreciate the work of Michel Barnier and his colleagues. The Barnier deal agreed last week, on which we are voting today, is not perfect. I cannot even describe it as a good one, because the fact is there is no such thing as a good Brexit. Brexit is bad for our island, whatever the circumstances or whatever the deal on the table. We need to be clear on that. However, I acknowledge that last week's deal is one that mitigates some of the worst aspects of Brexit. There are other issues, including issues of citizens' rights, that ought to have been contained in the withdrawal agreement but do not feature. To that end we have submitted an amendment to the motion. It is submitted by way of additionality, not to take from the substance of the motion but to add to it. This is because we must ensure that rights are protected. We must ensure in practical ways that basic rights that are now taken for granted prevail into the future. We must ensure that citizens in the North continue to have access to the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. We must ensure that citizens in the North continue to have access to third level education throughout Europe and to the EU health insurance card.
Issues pertaining to these rights and more were raised in some detail with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste last week by a delegation of the four pro-remain parties in the North, namely, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Green Party. Our parties represent the majority view of citizens in the North. The DUP does not. It got it catastrophically wrong on Brexit and in the referendum debate and it has been wrong in its aftermath. It is also wrong about the draft agreement that is now on the table. It is disappointing and disturbing that the DUP has sought to take the side of Tory Brexiteers and UKIP over the needs and aspirations of citizens in the North and across the island. It has decided to be reckless and irresponsible. The truth is that ordinary citizens in the North, whether republican, nationalist, unionist, loyalist or otherwise, recognise that Brexit is not good and they want a deal that protects their livelihoods and future.
Sinn Féin speaks for all communities on this issue, not narrow interests. We have consistently brought our view to Europe, the Irish Government and the British Government over the past year and a half. When we first articulated a policy of special status for the North, some of the parties in this House accused us of grandstanding and claimed our approach was unrealistic. It has since become the agreed EU position in negotiations. I welcome that and acknowledge the shift in the Government’s position. I believe we have made an impact in that regard. I pay particular tribute to my party colleague and Member of the European Parliament for the North of Ireland, Martina Anderson, who has been extremely active at European level in pushing all of these bottom line requirements.
I made the point on previous occasions that Brexit is not a temporary phase. It has consequences that are very real, lasting and enduring. They are for keeps and we need a solution to match, one that is lasting and not time bound or temporary. That is why I so strenuously put the case here a fortnight ago that a temporary or transitory backstop was not a backstop at all. Temporary protections mean no protection. We need permanent guarantees regardless of the machinations at Westminster over the coming weeks. There can be no backsliding from the backstop. It must be durable, permanent and legally robust. There must never, ever be a hard border in Ireland again. In fact, we need to move to a point where there is no border. In that regard, there is considerable merit in looking at the post-Brexit environment through a new lens. In time, I believe we will collectively come to the conclusion that the real, lasting guarantee we desire is the unity of our country. It is, I believe, safe to say that there are now many within unionism who are assessing old allegiances. That is not to say that they are not British; they are and always will be British. However, I believe that a significant number of people who would traditionally have staunchly opposed any notion of unity have been challenged to ponder the future. A large number of unionists recognise the benefits of continuing and enhancing all-Ireland co-operation and breaking down barriers.
We are on the road to a unity referendum. It is no longer a case of if but rather when. Sinn Féin has made it very clear to Theresa May that, in the event of a Brexit crash-out or a no deal scenario, it will be incumbent on the British Government to put the constitutional future of the North to the people by way of a unity referendum. The Irish Government should articulate that same position. It should, in any event, commence a discussion with the European Commission and other institutions to explore their role and support in facilitating an efficient process of reunification. If the people of the North are to be disregarded by London and have their futures toyed with by a British Government that has no regard for Ireland, then the people of the North should have their say. This is a reasonable position which I believe all parties in the Dáil could support. The European Council, on 29 April 2017, agreed that in the event of national reunification the whole of our island will automatically be afforded membership of the European Union. That is right, proper and welcome. All options must be on the table as we shape the future.
There are other big issues to consider. Britain leaving the EU presents new challenges, but also a new opportunity to reassess our entire approach to Europe. This will be important work. If we are to be honest, we should acknowledge that the British did not decide to leave the EU for no reason. While the Brexit debate centred in the main on immigration and became mired in racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, there are other serious matters to consider. Hundreds of millions of citizens are disillusioned with the European Union and believe it has become removed from its citizens. It is no longer seen by many as a vehicle for co-operation, but has become associated with elites with power and control. We must propose and initiate radical reform. It will not be easy, but it can be done. A social Europe can be built, one that cherishes its citizens and which, instead of placing narrow economic interests at its core, puts people front and centre.
Ireland’s place is in the European Union but the EU needs to change. We need to construct a democratic Europe and ensure that certain aspects of the current system are reformed. We must ensure that member states have a greater say in formulating positive policy. We want a Europe of equals, partnership and solidarity, one in which member states, in times of adversity, work together in the spirit of internationalist co-operation to collectively tackle the problems we face. We want a union which works together to build opportunity and prosperity, one that can respond when a member state faces economic difficulties or hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples look for the assistance of a prosperous and peaceful region of the world.
Europe can play a role as a catalyst for co-operation and progress on the big issues that affect all of us, including trade, climate change, human rights, regulation, migration and immigration. It is notable that the debate under way on the future of Europe does not focus on these issues. In a time of political flux following Brexit, there is a danger that the simplistic narrative being peddled by some, that a more federal Europe will cure the ills of the EU, will prevail. That is in spite of most recent studies that show that a majority of citizens in Europe do not support the transfer of further powers to Brussels. They do not want more Europe, they want better Europe. The EU needs to begin listening to citizens. It needs to move away from a bureaucratic model intended for the benefit of a few and towards a social Europe which reflects the interests of the many. That is the only way to address the imbalance of power we currently have.
The withdrawal agreement on offer is not perfect, but it is reasonable. It is the least worst option, given the cards that have been dealt, and we will support it. There is an onus on political leaders to do what is right to defend our country’s political and economic interests. That has guided us in Sinn Féin. We have supported the Government and the European negotiating team in their endeavours and attempt to get the best deal possible. We want that as the final outcome, and that should be the position of everybody on this island. We want to avert the imposition of a hard border, ensure the protection of citizens’ rights and, crucially, ensure that the hard-won gains and progress of the past 20 years are not squandered but are built on. We can do that with this deal but, more important, with a lot of hard work, we can deliver. I urge support for the motion before the Dáil and the Sinn Féin amendment.
The starting point of any debate on Brexit and this withdrawal agreement for Members of this House is to acknowledge that there is no good Brexit. We have to remind ourselves, as Teachta McDonald has done, that a majority of people in the North voted to stay in the European Union.
That has to be the catalyst for us to respond to the needs of people in the North. The majority cross-party view in the North of Ireland is that we should not have a hardening of the Border. Brexit, as it was presented, is not what the majority of people want. The draft agreement, therefore, is the absolute bare minimum needed to protect the rights of the people of the North.
My party has worked constructively with the Government through the stakeholder forum which the Tánaiste led, in Dáil committees, inside this Chamber and outside this Chamber through the work of our MEPs and MPs dealing with parties in Westminster and the European Parliament. Sinn Féin was clear on the need for a special or unique arrangement for the North to ensure the Good Friday Agreement was protected in all its parts, there was no hardening of the Border on the island of Ireland and the rights of Irish and EU citizens were fully protected. While there has been movement and we acknowledge the gains that have been made in this agreement on the Border, the same progress has not been made in protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the rights of citizens in the North. I hope the Taoiseach understands that while citizens and businesses North and South need certainty on trade and the Border, they also need certainty on rights. A person who lives in the North of Ireland, whether an Irish citizen or a British citizen, needs to be able to vindicate his or her rights as a European citizen where he or she lives. There is an obligation and a responsibility on the Irish Government to make sure of that.
Sinn Féin also argued that frictionless movement of goods from Ireland through Britain on their way to the rest of the European Union was required. While there are outstanding issues, the draft agreement provides some assurance for the citizens of the North and businesses in regard to the Border and trade.
The agreement is now on the table and subject to ratification. All eyes will be on the summit in the next few days. However, in the short and medium terms we need to turn our attention to the issue of Europe. The uncomfortable truth that some people in this Chamber need to face up to is that the drive to create a European superstate which acts in the interests of an elite, lacks democracy and is becoming increasingly militarised is pushing voters into the hands of the far right. What Europe needs is more democracy, not less. Senior figures in the European institutions are in many cases unelected and unaccountable to the people they serve. The economic crisis showed that when push came to shove, the European Union backed the banks and the financial elite over the needs of ordinary people. That message is not lost on people in Ireland and across the European Union. The federalists need to be sent a very clear message by politicians in Ireland. The Irish people do not want a European superstate. That would be a more undemocratic Europe in which the big institutions would have far too much power, making decisions affecting the lives of others without being fully held to account. We all know what happens in that scenario. In this State we can point to many examples, including the most recent scandals, to show that it does not work.
The creeping federalisation of Europe did not happen by chance or overnight. It happened with the passing of every single treaty, treaties that my party did not support and champion. We saw that the creation of a European superstate, unelected people having the powers they have and the economic orthodoxy underpinning the European Union were not in the interests of people who live on the island of Ireland. All of the treaties that gave the big institutions their power created the undemocratic Europe we live in today. It is absolutely clear that the actions of the European Union, especially the European Commission, are feeding the growth of Europe's extreme right. Poll after poll shows that trust in the institutions is falling, adding to the rise of what are essentially fascist parties in Europe. That is not in the interests of anybody who lives in Europe. We are fortunate that we have not seen the rise of the far right in this State-----
-----but we are not immune to it. We must realise the need to work for a more democratic and social Europe and ensure that is what we get.
It is also important to point out that the vast majority of people who live in Ireland want the island of Ireland to stay in the European Union. In recent several months, indeed since the Brexit referendum, people in the North have been very concerned that Brexit would not be good for them. I commend Teachta Adams on being one of the first Members of the Dáil to put forward the proposition that what the North needed and what Ireland needed was a unique set of bespoke solutions and that special status for the North was necessary. Those protections are the absolute bare minimum to meet our needs.
Teachta Adams will deal with some of the outstanding issues that need to be dealt with, but I will say this. The Taoiseach said earlier this year that citizens in the North would never be left behind again. People in the North listened to that. They are also watching what is happening. They will acknowledge the progress made on the Border and that there has been an Irish approach to this, with both Government and Opposition in this State working constructively to deal with the issue of the Border. However, they are now looking at the issue of rights. I urge the Taoiseach to remember the majority view in the North, reflected by Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the Green Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP. Those parties have also been working collectively, with one voice in Britain and Europe, to send a message that they want these issues dealt with. That is the majority view in the North. That is the voice of the majority of people and their rights have to be vindicated.
Notwithstanding the progress that has been made, there is concern among people in the North about the issues which have not been resolved. It is important to place on the record that Sinn Féin has worked constructively with the Government and to recognise the gains that have been made. It is equally important to point out the gains that have not been made and to very forcibly make the point that the people who want these issues dealt with are watching and are concerned.
Sinn Féin will support the Government's motion on the draft agreement because as Teachta McDonald has said, if this works it is probably the least worst Brexit. We do not support it because it is the best option. It is not the best option because, among other issues, it disregards and ignores the vote of the people in the North to remain in the European Union. Abiding by the will of the people would be the best option but that is an option which the Government failed to secure. It failed because it never pressed for it or accepted it, either in Deputy Enda Kenny's time or in Deputy Leo Varadkar's time as Taoiseach.
The Government will argue that it had to abide by the United Kingdom's vote. Mar dhea. I do not accept that. I am with Parnell, who said "No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation." At any time of big change, those special big moments of history, big imaginations are needed to determine how we proceed. There was an absence of this type of thinking within the Fianna Fáil leadership and the Government as they came to terms with what was happening as a consequence of the Brexit referendum.
I am pleased to note that the Government was persuaded by Sinn Féin of the need for an all-island view. Eventually the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister of State and their officials applied themselves to this, especially after the change of the Fine Gael leadership. I commend all involved, including the officials.
I also acknowledge the positive role that Sinn Féin played, including and especially our team in the European Parliament, which engaged regularly with Mr. Michel Barnier and other EU officials, as did the party president, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, and Michelle O'Neill, MLA. They presented clear and cogent arguments for a special designated status for the North. The outlined backstop proposal owes much to their hard work.
Sinn Féin has tabled an amendment on the need to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the North. An cuimhin leis an Taoiseach that last December he said that citizens in the North would never again be left behind by an Irish Government? He added: "These rights will, of course, be available to everyone in Northern Ireland who chooses to exercise his or her right to be an Irish citizen, regardless of his or her political persuasion or religious beliefs."
Last December's joint report stated there would be "no diminution of rights" and that "Irish citizens will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland". That has now been deleted and it is a significant backward step. The draft agreement contains a clause on rights, but it is not legally binding and not what the Taoiseach committed to last December. The Government should be aware that Irish citizens in the North are conscious of this. Recently 1,000 leaders of civic nationalism reminded the Taoiseach of his commitments. I am sure the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach have got to know some of them. They are same as me and other Deputies; they are thinking human beings who are now locked out of the rights the Taoiseach promised to uphold for them.
There is particular annoyance that Irish and EU citizens in the North will not be able to elect an MEP. The State is being allocated an additional two seats in the European Parliament. Has the Government considered allocating them to the North? In addition, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights will no longer apply in the North, which means that certain rights will be undermined. There are a range of other social and economic rights, including workers' rights, which people currently enjoy in the European Union which will be left to the British Government's discretion. Will the Government insist - I wrote to the Minister involved some time ago - on the publication of the mapping report which identified 142 areas of all-island co-operation as called for by the EU Ombudsman?
Let us be clear that Brexit is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement demands that the British Government exercise its power in the North with rigorous impartiality. Many of us justifiably remain sceptical about this, but that is what the British Government signed up to and that is to what the Irish Government must hold it. The refusal of the British to defend the rights of Irish language speakers and women's rights, protect equality and human rights for gay and lesbian citizens, implement legacy agreements, or honour outstanding agreement commitments to establish a Bill of Rights and create a civic forum is evidence of the absence of rigorous impartiality. Moreover, following Brexit, British Conservatives remain wedded to ending the role of the European Court of Justice and getting rid of the UK Human Rights Act 1998 which protects the equality and human rights principles of the agreement. I outline all of this to bring context and reality to this discussion. There is also, in that context, greater significance attached to the objective of Irish unity. From our point of view, it is a logical, common-sense outcome to the political, social and economic divisions imposed by partition, but it also makes sense in the current Brexit-provoked crisis. Apart from other considerations, reunification would allow the North to again become part of the European Union. Rather than having a hard or soft border, it would be better to have no border at all. That is what the Government and the Oireachtas should be working for.
Brexit revealed the serious inability of our public discourse to deal with complex issues such as that entailed by membership of the European Union. Looking back over the last five decades, the British media have portrayed the European Union in a simplistic and hostile way. One need only read the front pages of tabloid newspapers - not only the tabloids - to be forgiven for believing all sorts of crazy lies about the European Union. This is not trivial. The office of the European Commission in the United Kingdom set up a website to counter myths about the European Union, covering the period 1992 to 2017. It lists nearly 700 myths that have been circulated in Britain about the European Union, from false claims that it would ban fresh pasta, colouring pencils and vitamin supplements through to that it would standardise the sizes of vegetables, rename popular British products and even abolish the double-decker bus. Seen collectively, it is preposterous nonsense, but for many the relentless background noise about the European Union is the only information they have received on European co-operation and the major political movement on the continent since the devastation caused by two world wars. This bias was not helped by generations of politicians who took the credit for popular policies but blamed Brussels for imposing anything from which they wanted to distance themselves. It is no wonder that UKIP grew from this fertile soil. It is no wonder that the European Union began to be seen as the problem and that leaving it was the solution.
As my colleague, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, MP, reminds us, we have to understand the reasons many British people voted to leave the European Union in the referendum two years ago. For some Leave voters, it was because they had been lied to, not just during the referendum campaign when illegal campaign spending and a host of lies were exposed but throughout years of anti-EU propaganda. For many other Leave voters, it was due to domestic policies and choices made by the Government of Britain but which had been blamed on Brussels or foreigners generally. For now, the fact that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union raises three simple questions for Ireland. What is the likely future of the United Kingdom? How does this future potentially affect Ireland? How should we react?
Let us consider an island nation with a distinctive culture and identity which includes its tradition of monarchy; a nation that has given up aggressive imperialism and is now reliant on the United States as a military partner; one of the world's largest economies, with a welfare state; a nation that possesses one of the world's safe currencies; a trading nation, with investment in high-tech industries, that sells its products across the world but that keeps strong control of immigration; a nation with a stable democratic system, with guaranteed civil liberties and a dominant conservative party; a nation that co-operates on an intergovernmental basis with its neighbours but that has a history of not getting on with the continental states beside it; and a nation that rejects political unions or other close economic unions. The nation I describe is Japan.
One possible post-Brexit future is for Britain to become more like Japan in going it alone. It is a vision of fortress Britain, a country that wants to trade with the world but that does not want to share decision-making with another country through co-operation or partnership arrangements, that prefers strictly limited trading deals instead. Clearly, there are some who are pro-Brexit who believe the United Kingdom can pull up the drawbridge and, as they put it, have greater control of its borders, laws and moneys, but there are serious flaws in any such vision of a Britain in splendid isolation. First, it was telling that one of the first news items in response to the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May’s big reveal last week was not the Opposition's reaction but the reaction of the global currency markets. A version of Brexit that stays close to the EU customs union and Single Market is good for business and the currency markets respond favourably, but the risk of a no deal scenario is greeted with panic and the relative value of the pound drops. That is where the comparison with Japan breaks down.
The UK economy is more globally integrated than Japan's and the pound is a global currency. The United Kingdom is part of European supply chains, many of which operate on a just-in-time basis.
The UK is primarily a services economy with leading companies in finance, IT and communications, all of which require regulatory alignment and close integration with other countries' markets in order to sell their wares. A Fortress Britain could take back control of migration but to what end?
What motivated the concern with migration? Some surveys suggest the main fears about migration are about competition for jobs, concern about crime and access to housing. Just before the June 2016 vote to leave the EU, UK unemployment was just under 5% and employment was nearly 75%. Clearly, migrants were not leaving many British people outside the jobs market. Crime rates have been static or falling across the UK for a number of years with no evidence that recent migration has increased crime. Housing is a problem with issues similar to here in terms of unaffordable housing but in the north of England, where I canvassed and where large majorities of people voted to leave, pressure on housing is far less acute than it is in London and the south east of England, which largely voted to remain. None of these reasons is convincing when it comes to why so many people voted to leave the EU. A more plausible explanation is that British people are dissatisfied with the status quo because a fifth of the UK population live in poverty. A total of 1.5 million people are unable to afford the essentials of life and we have seen the soaring use of food banks in Britain in recent years. Jeremy Corbyn is right to say that investment is needed across the UK to create decent jobs and better living conditions for all but that is not something that Fortress Britain can deliver and it is not fair to lay the blame for so-called "neo-liberal" policies at the door of the European Union. The European Single Market has vibrant State industries alongside the private sector in many countries. There is little or nothing in the British Labour Party's industrial strategies that could not be achieved within the EU. There has been a right-wing turn in recent European policies associated with the rise of conservative parties across Europe and not least the influence of the strong Conservative Party in the UK itself in shaping the EU Single Market but the EU also has the strongest protections for workers and the environment of any single market in the world. A strong Labour Government in the UK could help to enhance these protections, expand the social dimension of European co-operation and create a social Europe.
UK Labour desires a future relationship that is very close to the EU with a customs union to protect jobs and close alignment to the Single Market. This type of future relationship may well be possible as one outworking of Theresa May's deal but in addition to the inevitable extra costs and delays of so-called "friction" at the border, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has pointed out a profound political flaw in May's Brexit deal. She has tried to give Brexiteers a form of Brexit while minimising the economic damage. This makes the UK a rule taker instead of a rule maker. Having the theoretical ability to strike independent trade deals elsewhere will not soften this genuine loss of sovereignty for those who so wanted to "take back control". This is the same problem that Jeremy Corbyn faces by trying to keep the UK close to the EU Single Market.
Another former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has made the sensible suggestion of running citizens' assemblies up and down the UK to at least lay out all the sides and test whether pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit voters can find common ground. Gordon Brown is right to identify that the UK is still deeply and bitterly divided on the issue of Europe and that some way needs to be found to heal those divisions. He believes that a second referendum must be carefully prepared for to avoid a situation where even if the UK people voted to remain after all, there would be millions of Leave voters who would feel betrayed, humiliated and resentful.
The deal to exit the EU is what it is and I pay tribute to Irish Ministers and diplomats who so valiantly protected Irish interests in the negotiations. The UK will pay around €41 billion - €18.5 billion in 2019 and 2020 during the transition. It must be emphasised that this is a significantly discounted entry fee for full access to the EU's customs union and Single Market. People talk about the UK paying a divorce bill. It is paying a discounted rate for the benefits of the Single Market for two years. The remainder in the following years will go towards projects that the UK agreed to fund in the last MFF round and its contribution to the pensions of UK civil servants working in Brussels for the past 40 years and British MEPs. It is hardly money for nothing as the Brexiteers pretend. Given that the UK actually spent more than €900 billion in 2016, its contribution to the EU as part of the withdrawal agreement can be shown to be relatively small.
The withdrawal agreement protects the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens across Europe. That provides additional legal certainty for Irish citizens in Great Britain and the British in Ireland. We cannot assume that our historical agreements under the common travel area would flawlessly fall into place once Brexit happens. This is an issue I have been pursuing over the past year. We should remember that this agreement on rights is particularly important for Irish families where one or more family member is a British or EU national.
It is important to recall that we are not voting today with regard to that future relationship; we are simply being asked to endorse the orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU by March next year. There are really only two deeply contentious aspects of the withdrawal agreement from my perspective. One is our core concern, which is that there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland. Second, the extent to which the withdrawal agreement constrains or limits the future relationship agreement is of concern to the most ardent Leave supporters.
In respect of Ireland, the negotiation process showed solidarity between member states of the EU. Ireland’s concerns were well flagged in advance and the EU negotiation team has delivered a viable proposal from our perspective. Our friends in the British Labour party and across Westminster have also listened to and understood our serious concerns about the border and I am grateful for their solidarity. The bottom line is that we want people north and south of the border to continue to enjoy the most significant benefit of the Good Friday Agreement, which is the free and unfettered access to both jurisdictions. This free and genuinely frictionless movement of people facilitates family and personal relationships and facilitates doing business on a cross-Border basis. This has boosted prosperity and embedded peace. What made this possible was shared European law. Brexit means that for these benefits to continue, we must be certain to have a body of law that continues to facilitate that open border. The transition period as the UK leaves the EU contains that legal certainty because existing EU laws continue to operate. The future relationship agreement is expected to contain equivalent legal certainty to maintain such a non-existent border. Of course, that has not yet been negotiated but in the unlikely event that the future relationship does not provide such certainty or that no future relationship agreement can be made at all, we need to have a legally operable backstop in the withdrawal agreement as an insurance policy. That has been the position of this House and of the Government.
We have this in the document revealed last week, alongside a commitment to use our best efforts to ensure we never need to use that insurance policy. Unionists do have a legitimate concern about the backstop because it does single out Northern Ireland in certain respects, but this has to be examined in a measured way. For centuries, the United Kingdom has treated Scotland and Northern Ireland - and all of Ireland - differently from England and Wales. Different legislation and policies applied and continue to apply in each jurisdiction. Devolution has enhanced regional differences. The UK was never a unitary state where all parts enjoyed or operated the same body of law. It is not a radical suggestion that Northern Ireland might do some things differently in the interests of its people and businesses. As it happens, Northern Ireland benefits from the all-island energy market under EU rules, and the draft withdrawal agreement provides a legal basis for this to continue. An all-island wholesale electricity market does not undermine anyone's sovereignty, identity or constitutional preferences. Northern Ireland benefits from an all-island food health and safety regime. For years, live animals moving between Britain and Northern Ireland have been tested before transport across the Irish Sea, and this has never been raised as a constitutional issue. If, and only if, the backstop is needed, this will be extended to other food products.
If our insurance policy is needed, Northern Ireland will remain in the EU customs union and subject to parts of the Single Market rules to the extent necessary to keep the Border open. This will create some paperwork east-west between Northern Ireland and Britain if, and only if, the future relationship between the UK and EU is so distant that this is rendered necessary. The benefit to Northern Ireland's people and businesses is that the backstop gives them free access to the entire EU market. It is potentially a tremendous win-win scenario, but it will require political leadership in Northern Ireland to explain its potential fully.
At any rate, this is only hypothetical as we do not yet know the shape of the future relationship. There is a danger of countries playing constitutional politics with the draft withdrawal agreement, as we heard in the mutterings in the past hour or so, with Spain and France threatening the agreement in regard to Gibraltar and other matters. There is no such constitutional manoeuvring going on in the Irish case. Let us be clear about that across this House. We should not try to muscle constitutional issues into this agreement. We will not accept a backstop that moves backwards and would take away the tangible benefits of the Good Friday Agreement, or leverages in something that is not agreed in the Good Friday Agreement.
There is nothing in the Irish component of the draft withdrawal agreement that should concern unionists. In this regard, I include unionists across all parties in Westminster. The real and substantial sticking point is whether the draft withdrawal agreement constrains or limits the future relationship agreement, to which the answer is, yes it does. The draft withdrawal agreement has close co-operation on customs built into it, which strongly signals close alignment on customs into the future. Is this a problem? For most people of most political persuasions, it most certainly is not. Deeper economic co-operation is happening across the globe. Countries everywhere are in customs unions and negotiating new arrangements, including, for example, south-east Asia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, east Africa, central Africa, west Africa and southern Africa through the Gulf Co-operation Council and in the Eurasian customs union. Most of the world is in one or more customs or free trade agreement. The future UK-EU relationship will inevitably involve economic co-operation. Both sides have talked up an ambitious close future relationship. It is in our best interests that east-west trade between Ireland and Britain be as free and open as possible. We would prefer a scenario wherein the British people got to vote again. I tend to agree with Mr. Gordon Brown that not enough has been done to allow people across the UK to address their sense of frustration properly. Not enough has been done to counteract a media environment that has dripped poison about the EU for decades, not least through the toxic pen of former Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson.
A significant number of people in the UK have serious doubts about the EU. We need to understand these doubts. I do not believe they are due to nationalist xenophobia. Rather, I believe they are largely because of domestic economic policies that have left far too many people behind, especially in the north of England and in rural England. Fuel has been poured on the fire of Euroscepticism by cynical public commentary over too many years. Following a process of national deliberation, including business and civil society alongside ordinary citizens, we might see the kind of societal shift of attitudes that we have seen in our society through citizens' assemblies, which have profoundly moved and shifted public attitudes on issues that we thought were entrenched. This, in turn, would make it possible to believe that a second referendum might produce a very different result, but not just a narrow victory for Remain that would leave behind too much bitterness and cynicism.
There is nothing undemocratic about consulting the people a second time as long as something substantial has changed that might reasonably cause people to change their views. Two things have certainly changed. First, the level of general knowledge about the EU has grown immeasurably. Leading politicians apparently knew little about the detail of the customs union, atomic energy co-operation or countless other details of the European Union. They do now. Second, there is a deal on the table. It has its strengths, weaknesses, upsides and downsides. It is telling that many of the arch-Brexiteers only talk about the downsides and still fail to articulate any vision of how Britain might prosper outside of the European Union. In my view, this is because the UK cannot become another Japan. The UK economy does not produce the kinds of goods and services that would make fortress Britain a viable model in global trade. Enough has changed since June 2016 that it would be reasonable and sensible to ask the British people if they are sure that they still want what they voted for in 2016. Who wins from Brexit? It is not the people of the UK, who will almost certainly be poorer under even the most generous future relationship. Clearly, certain wealthy individuals and organisations see opportunities for themselves.
The draft withdrawal agreement deal that is on the table is as good as the circumstances allow. It is a sad loss for the European Union but we can hope that a process of reconciliation can occur between the UK and the European Union post Brexit. We would certainly welcome the return of the UK people as full members of the European project into the future. We would warmly welcome a second referendum before the door is firmly closed, perhaps after a postponement of the trigger date of Article 50. As for this motion, the Labour Party will support it as the best deal that could be negotiated in the circumstances that prevail.
Brexit is without doubt the biggest disrupter and challenge to Ireland, North and South, since the building, construction and banking collapse of 2008. So much has been spoken and written about it that many people are weary of this convoluted and complex discussion. The document presented by Mr. Barnier and his team represents one of the better possibilities for Ireland, or the least worst. Few people on this island, North and South, wanted a referendum. The possibility of a hard border is an enormous threat to livelihoods North and South and so the backstop is essential.
The UK and Ireland have now been in the European Union for more than 45 years. In the context of the First World War Armistice remembrances, it is important to remember that we have now been in the EU longer than the period of the First World War, the interwar years and the period up to the end and after the end of the Second World War combined.
Our membership has helped to transform this country, particularly, speaking as a woman Deputy, the approach of the European Union collectively to equality towards women and in the workplace and human rights, civil rights and workers' rights. This has enabled a huge amount of progress in this country that otherwise could have taken three times longer to achieve. The best hope for our Ireland and particularly for the European Union is that we have a renewed vision of a social EU, which is strongly what it was until about 20 years ago, that the EU represents and joins the fight to end poverty, homelessness and lack of social provision and that in Ireland we continue to develop our model of social provision and care in line with the best performers in the European Union.
We need as a country and as a society to do much more to reach out to all the citizens of Northern Ireland. To give an example of how unsettling this debate has been at times, Boris Johnson, in a comment which I think raised many eyebrows, recently remarked that the Border between the two parts of Ireland is no different to the border between Camden and Islington. If the House can imagine it, Dundalk and Newry and the borderlands in between are basically his Camden and Islington. "How posh," one might say, but also how removed this comment is from any real notion of what life and indeed geography are like in this country. In the context of very difficult debates, disruptions and changes still to come, we need to take the Good Friday Agreement as offering in many ways the best roadmap for possibilities in a post-Brexit settlement. It should be recalled that the agreement recognises that it is for the people of Ireland alone to exercise the right to self-determination, but on the basis of consent North and South to progress it. It is critical that everyone in this Chamber acknowledge and recognise this. We really do not need rhetoric about easy achievements that we all know mean changes of hearts and minds and not simply a determination that it is our way, right or wrong.
As socialists and internationalists, our imperative in the whole Brexit drama is twofold: one, to protect the interests of working people, and two, to oppose any attempt to impose a border, North and South. These two immediate imperatives flow from more general principles we hold which are internationalist in outlook. We think borders divide people, whether they be north-south, east-west or around fortress Europe. We do not like borders because they divide people, set them against one another and encourage them to see themselves in competition with one another. Workers always lose in this. This is our guiding principle and it is the logic behind the position we will take on the motion.
As to the question of the North-South Border, there is no doubt that the Government and the officials have achieved something significant in getting a commitment not to have a hard border, or to avoid a hard border, to be strictly accurate about what is in the document. For this reason we will certainly not oppose the motion.
We do not, however, have the same guarantees on the fate of workers in the Brexit drama. I noticed that ICTU came out today in support of the agreement, although its slogan, that workers should not pay the price for Brexit, was a good one. This is an important thought and one that has not been discussed sufficiently throughout the Brexit drama. As Naomi Klein pointed out in respect of the economic collapse, there is a thing these days called disaster capitalism, whereby certain people - big business, primarily, and states - use the opportunities presented by crises to push forward their own agenda, and the losers are working people. We saw this most dramatically with the crash of 2008, a crash that was caused by bankers but paid for by working people with horrendous consequences not just in this country but globally. Our amendment concerning workers aims precisely to trumpet the demand that, whatever else happens in this drama, working people should not suffer nor be asked to pay the bill and that any agreement, or lack thereof, should not be used as a pretext to attack incomes and wages, demand wage restraint or cut public services. This is a very important demand, particularly given, as previous speakers have mentioned, the fatigue that is setting in, with many people listening to talk of backstops, longstops, long backstops and back longstops and wondering when this stuff will end. What they want to know is how it will impact them. What we are setting out in our amendment and our general attitude to this is our determination to fight on behalf of working people to ensure they do not end up paying the price as various, frankly unsavoury, political forces politically manoeuvre for their own narrow agendas.
Looking at the leadership of Britain, or the people who have led the narrative on the British exit from the European Union, the threat to worker's rights is obvious. The particular form of exit from the European Union that those people want is that which leads to a bargain-basement Fortress Britain. It will lead to a race to the bottom at every single level in a way that will impact detrimentally on working people in the interests of narrow sections of British capital. It sees Brexit as an opportunity to attack workers' rights and advance its own particular interests.
Those people have also very cynically used xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment as a mechanism to deflect attention away from their own failings and the disaster they have inflicted on many sections of the British working class. They want to deflect attention away from their responsibility for that and to attack vulnerable people such as immigrants, minorities etc. The danger from those people is pretty obvious. The other danger is not so obvious because the narrative that has dominated in this debate has been that of Tory Brexiteers, the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, and all of those sorts of people. They are bad, so anybody on the other side of the debate must necessarily be good.
That, of course, is not necessarily true. I do not buy into the lesser of two evils theory of politics. It is a bad theory of politics. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. When we look at how Europe has similarity treated immigrants, and the thousands of dead drowned in the Mediterranean because of Fortress Europe policies, the idea that Europe is the good guy when it comes to immigration and the treatment of minorities and the vulnerable does not really stack up. Europe is also not the good guy in protecting working people's rights.
As we know, when the crash happened in Europe, there was a determination to make working people pay for it to the extent of threatening to let off financial bombs in Dublin if we dared to burn the bondholders. That is what was said. Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet, the then President of the European Central Bank, said that a financial bomb would be let off in Dublin. Are these people our allies? I do not think so, not at all. Do I trust them with the best interests of working people? I certainly do not. Do I trust them with the whole question of the increased militarisation of Europe and the advance of a military project focused on a European army? How could we possibly do that when some of the leading figures in Europe are now blatantly talking about wanting to move towards a European army?
It is good that the Irish Government, with the support of everyone in this House, has secured a commitment to avoid a hard border. Do I trust either of our interlocutors in this to guarantee that? I absolutely do not. I thought it was telling in that regard that at the weekend the Taoiseach said, "I think in a no-deal scenario it would be very difficult to avoid a hard border because of the obvious fact that, Ireland remaining part of the European Union, would no doubt be asked to implement European Union law". That is a very alarming comment. I made this point when this whole debate started and I have made it successively since. There is a real danger this deal will not be agreed, no matter what happens in the Dáil tonight. It will go through the Dáil and we will not oppose it. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, however, or this deal not going through or a situation where it unravels and does not succeed, there may be a hard Brexit. If that is the case, what the Taoiseach is saying is that pressure is going to come on from Europe to secure the Single Market and that its priority is going to be the market over averting a hard border. That is the unmistakable logic of those words.
For the people out there listening, I will read it. "I think in a no-deal scenario it would be very difficult to avoid a hard border because of the obvious fact that, Ireland remaining part of the European Union, would no doubt be asked to implement European Union law". That sounds clear to me. Pressure will come on to protect the integrity of the market and, therefore, the issue of averting a hard border could also come under pressure. It is in that context that our second amendment has been put forward stating that the Irish Government should seek a Border poll, to happen simultaneously North and South, if there is any inkling that a hard border might be established. That is on basic democratic grounds. If there is a possibility of a hard border, with pressure from Britain or Europe, then on basic democratic grounds, people North and South should have the right to have a say on whether they want or are willing to accept that. That is a simple thing we should say. To be honest, it is also a warning shot to Europe that if any pressure comes on us we will have to do that. It is also the case that the logic of all of this crisis and drama is to state that a border does not make sense. This is the time to advance an argument about the benefits of a united Ireland.
The 500 redundancies in Bombardier in Belfast this week gave a sense of how we could begin to advance that argument. I refer to the common interests of working people and uniting in their common interests on the basis that they are workers. I refer to opposing a Border, having unity and breaking from the green-orange tribal politics which has divided and weakened working people. It has resulted in a rotten little statelet up in the North which has done little for working people. This is an argument that can gain an echo not just among people who see themselves as nationalists but also among working-class Protestants.
That is logic behind our two amendments. I will conclude by saying that while we are not going to oppose this motion, neither can we vote for the agreement. I will explain why. It is precisely because I am an internationalist. The agreement makes reference, for example, to the need for Britain and the European Union to continue their commitment on the EU-Turkey deal. That deal is an absolutely rotten Fortress Europe anti-immigrant deal. It is a deal with a rotten and brutal regime that has no respect for human rights in Turkey. We have essentially used Turkey by paying it to be a buffer against desperate Syrians trying to flee from the horrendous situation in Syria. I refer to trying to keep them out of the European Union. The need to maintain that commitment is referred to in the agreement. I could not possibly support that in an active way. I am not going to oppose the deal because it has a commitment on the Border issue but neither am I going to endorse it.
I am also not going to endorse references to EU policies on state aid. They are a real problem. I disagree with Deputy Howlin on this. EU state aid rules are a problem for us in being able to invest in key strategic public enterprises without having to be subject to the rules of competition according to the fiscal treaties. They insist on competition when there are key areas of public investment and infrastructure that do not need competition. The last thing needed is competition. What is needed is public investment in key services and infrastructure. That is our position. We should hold fast to having no Border North and South and insist that working people should not pay the price for whatever resolution finally emerges from the Brexit drama.
I am going to start with a statement of first principles. Reference has been made to the national interest. We care about the interests of working-class people.
When we say working-class people, we mean the interests of working-class people here in the Republic of Ireland, the interests of working-class people in Northern Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant, and the interests of working-class people in England, Scotland and Wales, and right across the European Union. We will judge this agreement on how well it serves the interests of working-class people or otherwise, as the case may be. For us, the key questions are whether this agreement guarantees jobs, living standards and peace. Will it serve to heal sectarian division or will it serve to exacerbate it?
Apart from the previous speaker, not a single Deputy has referred to the fact that the politics of neoliberalism runs through this document like the stitching on a jacket. To focus on just one example, the question of state intervention, article 16 of Annex 4 on page 373 states: "The Union and the [UK] acknowledge that anti-competitive business practices, concentrations of [industries] and State interventions have the potential to distort the proper functioning of markets and undermine the benefits of trade liberalisation." Pages 465 to 469 refer to limiting state aid for postal services, broadband, railways and airports etc.
We hear much talk of division in the British Conservative Party, government instability and a UK general election. The Taoiseach, British Prime Minister May and the EU negotiators are all no doubt aware that the likely winner of that election is Mr. Jeremy Corbyn. Neither are they blind to the fact that Mr. Corbyn has pledged to reverse the many of the cases of privatisation put in place by British Governments going back to the time of Mrs. Thatcher. He has pledged to reverse rail and water privatisation and he has pledged to renationalise the mail. State aid has been pledged by him to help build a million new homes. How many of these will be permitted under this deal? None of these will be permitted. If this is a deal for Brexit, it is clearly a deal for a Tory Brexit. It is pro-market, pro-privatisation and pro-rich. It is against nationalisation, public services and the interests of the working class.
That is not a surprise given who was at the talks. The Tory Government and the EU top officialdom represent the interests of big business elites. Nobody in these negotiations represented the interests of working-class people. The interests of working-class people need to be represented now. The Minister for Finance indicates a hard Brexit could cost 40,000 jobs. The ESRI has indicated that wage cuts could be in the 5% to 10% range for workers in agrifood, tourism and manufacturing. The ESRI, the Nevin Economic Research Institute and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government all agree that Brexit will mean more rent rises in the big cities. In Northern Ireland, Bombardier welcomed the deal and then announced the destruction of 500 jobs, or 10% of its Northern Ireland work force.
There has been much talk of "red lines" having been laid down by the various parties engaged in the negotiations to date. It is time for the organised working-class movement to lay down its red lines. No to job losses, no to wage cuts, no to cuts in services or an exacerbation of the housing crisis and, importantly, no to sectarian division. I will return to that point in a moment. The bosses should be put on notice that any and all attempts to attack our jobs, pay and conditions will meet with real resistance and no holds barred. We call for the convening of an emergency conference with the widest possible participation of workers’ representatives from workplaces across Ireland, North and South, alongside trade unionists from Britain. Such a conference should host a full and democratic discussion on how best to defend and fight for the interests of workers and the communities they come from. Our hope is that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will take responsibility for the convening of such a conference. Should the congress decide not to take such a step, our hope would be that a coalition of the trade union bodies prepared to do so would do so.
The trade union movement represents 800,000 members in Ireland, including 200,000 members in the North. The trade union movement has more than 6 million members in Britain and it has the potential to be a powerful force intervening in the matter. Such a conference should dispel the myth that workers’ rights have been handed down by a benevolent European Union. This turns reality on its head. The European Union has been central to waging a war on workers, particularly given its role in troika austerity programmes, as we have experienced in this country. It did it along with right-wing governments like the Irish Government. Who has really fought for workers’ rights and how are they really won? This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Ford strike in Dagenham, which forced a Labour Government to concede the Equal Pay Act. The incredibly strong strike of 8,500 council workers in Glasgow recently, which the BBC described as "one of the biggest ever strikes in the UK on the issue of equal pay" is testament to the fact that these rights are won through struggle. The trade union movement must reject the false choice of this deal versus the UK walking out of the EU. In the words of Mr. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, "Unite utterly opposes the false choice of a bad deal versus no deal." This should become the position of the movement as a whole.
There is another reason the trade union movement must reject false choices on this issue. Both this deal and the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal contain within those processes the potential for sectarian polarisation in Northern Ireland. This deal provides for extra non-customs checks on some types of goods passing between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in certain circumstances in approximately two years. In other words, an east-west border could begin to emerge as early as December 2020. That is not even to mention the North-South Border, which I will return to later. In that sense, this deal will add to the insecurities felt about the future by many ordinary Protestants. If there is a perception over time that their identity is being diminished, it could provoke a serious reaction, as we have seen in the past. The real issue here is not the DUP. The real issue relates to the concerns and fears of ordinary working-class Protestant people. Is there any chance we could see those concerns being dealt with in a more serious and sensitive way in the media here rather than the patronising portrayals that we see so often? That would be a step forward.
Even if the parliamentary arithmetic had been different after the previous general election and there had been no DUP-Tory deal, the opposition of Northern Ireland Protestants to any perception of an east-west border being created would still be a factor to be weighed. Equally, on the basis of this deal being rejected now with a move to a hard border, there is the potential for a strong reaction from the Catholic community. Border posts, customs posts or any physical manifestation of a hard border would become symbols of a denial of the national aspirations of the Catholic population and would not be accepted in any way. They would be opposed in a vocal and very active way. Trade Union, which unite people across the sectarian divide, should take action against any moves which would harden the border or raise the prospect of an east-west border in the Irish Sea.
When our colleagues in People Before Profit state, as they do in their amendment, that the Brexit crisis must not be used as a pretext by employers or the Government to enforce wage restraint etc., we can only agree with them.
On the other hand, when they issue a call for a Border poll in the same amendment, we must fundamentally disagree. A Border poll does not offer any solution to the issues raised by the Brexit negotiations or to the national question in Ireland. The logic of a Border poll is based on the mathematics of sectarianism. It either means a continued coercion of the Catholic population into the status quoor a vote that would attempt to coerce the Protestant population into a state that it would refuse to accept.
The campaign itself would be a sectarian head count and carry the risk of ratcheting up sectarian tensions. The only solution to the problems of sectarianism is to build a powerful workers' movement that can challenge both unionism and nationalism with socialist policies, including through the creation of a new mass political party that represents Catholic and Protestant working-class people. The real guarantors of peace in Northern Ireland are these people, who have been prepared to take to the streets to take action against the forces of sectarianism. The EU is not a guarantor of peace. Any idea that it is completely contradicted by the recent calls by Merkel and Macron for a European army and the plans to ramp up EU military spending as well as the militarisation contained in PESCO, which includes Irish Government participation.
Nor is the EU a guarantor of the right of minorities. This was shown recently by EU support for the Spanish state in repressing the national aspirations and rights of people in Catalonia. Last week, UN rapporteur Professor Philip Alston said of the 14 million people who live in poverty in Tory Britain: "a lot of misery, a lot of people who feel the system is failing them, a lot of people who feel the system is really just there to punish them". It was this anger against the system that carried the Brexit vote. It has the power to rock the establishment once again by bringing down the crisis ridden Tory Government and bringing a Corbyn government to power. Socialists in Ireland would welcome the return of a Corbyn government. If such a government were to adopt a position of socialist opposition to the European Union, it would transform the situation. A Corbyn government should seek to reopen negotiations and demand an entirely different relationship with the EU, including new trade and custom arrangements based on the interests of working-class people, not the 1%. Corbyn could speak over the heads of the Commission, reaching out to class people across Europe in rejecting neoliberal rules, calling for co-ordinated action for green energy on a Europe-wide basis and popularising a socialist vision of Europe. A left government would be able to call on workers throughout the Continent to fight the race to the bottom in their own countries, mobilising against attempts by their own governments or the EU to pursue punitive measures against other workers, be they in Britain, Ireland or elsewhere. The workers' movement in Ireland should mobilise its resources as part of a Europe-wide fight back.
Socialists are in favour of a genuinely united Europe. This will be possible only with the socialist transformation of society, allowing the coming together of nations of Europe in a democratic, Europe-wide confederation. We fight for socialism in Ireland, with full democratic rights for the Protestant community. We are in favour of a free and voluntary socialist federation of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales and a socialist "United States of Europe".
I started by asking whether this agreement served the interests of working-class people. Our answer is that it does not. For this reason, we will vote against the Government's proposal. The real challenge is for the working-class movement to carve out a genuine alternative to this system and what it offers to people, and to put the interests of working people at the heart of building such an alternative.
Like other contributors to the debate, I acknowledge the work and hours that have been put in by the Ministers, officials, Departments and organisations in trying to prepare for Brexit, be it a hard, soft or no-deal one. I cannot help but think about how that work and energy and those hours could have been better spent on other issues in Ireland, Europe and the world.
While we respect the democratic vote of some 51% in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain, as did the majority in Scotland. In Gibraltar, a significant 96% voted to remain. Now, an ambiguity relating to Gibraltar may create Spanish opposition, but that will not prevent the agreement going through the EU.
Protecting the Good Friday Agreement has been paramount. That is obvious to us but not, I believe, to people in Britain. The Good Friday Agreement was hard won and it is positive that a generation of young people in Northern Ireland have not experienced the violence, disruption and devastation that their parents and grandparents experienced during the troubles. As such, it was difficult to listen to a vox pop last week when people who lived on the Border did not seem to mind about a border returning. It was almost as if they were welcoming its return. We know that position has been fuelled by DUP MPs. One cannot help but think that, if they are not living in the past, then they want a return to it.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and we have spent every meeting of the past year and a half hearing from a wide range of groups, organisations and officials about the potential impact of Brexit. We did not hear anyone speak positively about Brexit. However, there is the potential for Ireland to do better, as Brexit will remove our over-reliance on one particular market. According to a statistic, if even 1% of firms relocated to Ireland, it could mean 6,000 jobs.
Brexit is a wake-up call to the EU on the need to reconsider its vision, principles and values and to look honestly at the areas that are in need of reform. There are deficiencies, an increasingly two-tiered EU in the growth of inequality and the dominance of certain EU powers. We acknowledge that the EU recognised and respected how Ireland would be particularly affected by the withdrawal of Britain and the possible political and economic consequences for us. I agree that Michel Barnier seemed to be on Ireland's side.
There are positives to this agreement. The transition period is good, as are the continued co-operation between North-South bodies, the electricity market, the common travel area and the backstop, which I hope will prevent the return of a border. However, there are concerns, one of which has to do with community relations, which have been damaged. We know how important community relations are. Support for Brexit was strongest in unionist areas outside of Belfast whereas Remain was supported in most of the other areas. Given the deterioration in community relations, it is time that we rebuild them and get them back on track. In the Brexit debate, there has been almost a normalisation of anti-immigrant rhetoric as well as an increase in racist attacks in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
There are concerns around workers' rights. With Britain out of the EU and a possible increase in competitiveness, workers will lose out. If Britain is not bound by certain EU directives on the environment, environmental issues will also arise.
There was a charter of rights for the island of Ireland. It has not been implemented, and it is time to re-examine that matter. The EU PEACE and Structural Funds have been valuable to the voluntary and community sector, which has used them for many projects, including in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Northern Ireland. There are communities there that feel hard done by and that they have not benefitted from the Good Friday Agreement.
We have been so consumed by Brexit that other issues have been sidelined even further than they were. There are outstanding issues from the Fresh Start and Stormont House agreements, for example, criminal justice, community engagement and preventing the return to militarism, not to mention the legacy issues. In that regard, a section of the Stormont House Agreement deals with the past. We know about the outstanding issues. There were proposals on an historical investigations unit, an independent commission on information retrieval, an implementation and reconciliation group and an oral history archive, but all of these have been at a standstill. In the midst of Brexit, there is a danger that the legacy issues will drop further down the list of priorities, assuming they were ever on it. The Commission for Victims and Survivors needs to be considered. Some interesting submissions have been made to it recently.
I was watching this debate from my office. It was all calm and orderly. It appears that most Deputies are on the same page, which is positive.
However, I turned on the BBC news and what was happening in the House of Commons was a very different matter. There were also some disquieting signals coming from Brussels. While we may support the draft withdrawal agreement and it will be passed in this House as well as at EU level, there is no guarantee that it will get through the British Parliament. That could mean going back to the drawing board because there are so many possible permutations and combinations. Will it mean the downfall of Theresa May? Will there be a change of Government? Will there be a general election in the UK or even another referendum? In the meantime, it is time for us to get back to the real business of life and living and the issues affecting people living in Northern Ireland, regardless of the senselessness of a small island with 26 counties in the EU and six outside.
When I downloaded the 585 page draft agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU last Wednesday evening in my office, like many others, I turned very quickly to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland on page 302. On first reading, the protocol seemed to satisfy Ireland’s core and essential demand that there could not be a return to a hard border in Ireland. The preface to the protocol acknowledged, among other basic realities, the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, the importance of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement and the rights of Irish and EU citizens in Northern Ireland. The commitment to unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK and the UK being committed to protecting and supporting continued North-South and east-west co-operation also seemed to indicate that Michel Barnier, the EU 27 and the various UK negotiators had produced a reasonable compromise on avoiding a hard border and arranging the exit of the UK from the EU. On a number of occasions during visits to this House, several Deputies stressed to Mr. Barnier how much we depended on EU solidarity with the Irish Government in this whole endeavour.
The backstop in Article 2 of the protocol, the extension of the transition period in Article 3, the rights of individuals in Article 4 and the common travel area in Article 5 all set out the important basic requirements of preventing the return of a hard border. Most important, Article 6 keeps the UK in the customs union but also refers to the joint committee adopting detailed rules for the two parts of this customs union before 1 July 2020. I note that unfortunately, access to waters and fisheries is not covered by this commitment. The reference to the single electricity market in Article 11 is noteworthy as are the common provisions in Article 15. The specialised committee and the joint consultative working group on implementation of the protocol in Articles 16 and 17 and the review of the backstop protocol in Article 20, although framed very briefly, seem to give a basic guarantee that the protocol cannot be abandoned unilaterally by the UK and that the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland must have an input.
While the protocol gives some satisfaction that the worst impacts of a no deal Brexit on Ireland, North and South, may be avoided, the substantive draft text of the overall agreement still faces a momentous challenge. Of course, the profound east-west economic and social connections between Ireland and Britain would be best served by the UK remaining in the European Union and working with us to achieve much-needed democratic change in the European institutions. I do not disagree with my colleagues who spoke earlier about a future democratic and socially just Europe. This halfway house agreement continues the deep uncertainty for our economy and country which the withdrawal agreement now pushes out to December 2020 and possibly to late 2022.
Articles 9 to 39 of the draft agreement refer to citizens’ rights but again Ireland is in a unique situation with the common travel area. The Taoiseach informed me last week that bilateral agreements will have to be forged between Ireland and the UK in addition to the future trade relationship agreement between the EU and UK after 2020 because of the shaky legal basis of the common travel area. Article 40 and subsequent articles deal with the divorce or separation provisions for the UK and the EU. The UK Brexit department’s commentary on the draft agreement refers to the EU economic and legal order in the UK being brought "to an orderly conclusion" which sounds very ominous for Ireland, North and South. That said, sections like Articles 62 to 65 on ongoing police and judicial co-operation, Articles 70 to 74 on data and information and Articles 79 to 85 give some hope that a clear alignment of the EU and UK in key areas will continue after 2020 or 2022.
Articles 126 to 132 of the withdrawal agreement on the transition period confirm that Brexit uncertainties and disruption may continue for many years into the future. The UK has achieved a time limited implementation period from 29 March next up to 31 December 2020 which, remarkably, includes continued attendance at many EU meetings, especially around common foreign and security policy. It is alarming for our fishing communities that the EU intends to negotiate its own fishing opportunities from 2021. The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland gives the UK the right to request an extension of the implementation period before 1 July 2020 if a future agreement to supersede the protocol cannot be finalised by December 2020. The UK then has the choice to either implement the agreed Northern Ireland backstop or to seek an extension of the implementation period.
The UK’s financial settlement with the EU in Articles 133 to 157 of the withdrawal agreement will have significant implications for Ireland’s budget after 2020. The British Treasury has estimated the total to be in the region of between €45 billion and €60 billion. The possible budgetary impact is worrying, despite reassurances from the Minister for Finance on the UK’s continuing payments to the EU up to at least 2031 and possibly up to 2064 in the context of pensions. We had a debate previously with the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Phil Hogan, on the proportion of an increased budgetary contribution that we will have to make to Europe. Given the fact that we are now a net contributor, that proportion could be very significant, with estimates ranging from 0.102% to 0.112% or even 1.3%, as demanded by some MEPs.
Obviously, the draft agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol would seem to need a small miracle to pass through the House of Commons. Like many others, I have closely followed the debate in the British Labour Party about the whole Brexit policy of UKIP and the chaotic Tory Government. The admirable Keir Starmer, MP, has devised six tests that the British Labour Party believes any Brexit deal should include. These tests are a future close relationship with the EU, the exact same benefits as the UK now has in the Single Market and customs union, the fair management of migration, rights and protections for workers, the protection of national security, including against crime, and being fair to all regions and nations of the UK. It is hard to see how the draft agreement before us can possibly pass the second test. In that context, it is understandable that many UK Labour Party representatives and activists want to reject the agreement and go all out to eject this terrible Tory Government. Commentators such as the distinguished journalist, Paul Mason, have urged the party to offer a second referendum when the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is defeated on this deal and a general election comes about.
UK socialists and social democrats, in common with the broad left across Europe and in this House, need to look again at the core reasons behind the UK vote for Brexit. These include protest at the bureaucratic and remote character of the EU institutions and the ferocious race to the bottom character of much EU economic policy, including the disastrous unregulated financialisation which devastated so many EU countries in the crash from 2008 and which Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael implemented here. The unforgivable treatment of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and many regions of the larger states created the atmosphere which produced Brexit. Those of us who want a confederal Europe - arguably most of us in this House - see that President Macron and Chancellor Merkel still have not learned the lessons of Brexit. The fantasist who is now the President of France, Mr. Macron, is demanding a European army while his own people put on yellow high-vis jackets and march on the streets in pursuit of their rights. It would be best if the UK stayed beside us and worked to reform Europe. Its departure will leave Ireland as the only common law jurisdiction in the EU.
The negotiation process led by Mr. Barnier has been predicated on making it very hard for any state to leave the EU. Indeed leaving the EU has been compared to the Eagle’s old song "Hotel California" where "you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave". In the draft agreement before us the UK, even from the Brexiteer point of view, has at least got out of the hotel lobby and is now in the hotel grounds. For that reason and respecting the vote of the British people, the UK should accept the agreement and we in this country should use the breathing space to 2020 or 2022 to encourage Britain to rejoin us in the EU in a campaign for major changes to EU institutions and laws and especially for the retention of the EU’s confederal character.
I will be supporting the Tánaiste's motion. I am also happy that he should accept the Sinn Féin amendment.
In supporting the motion, I wish first to commend the many politicians, of every party and none, and the public officials, together with those in the many sectoral areas, who worked tirelessly to come to this draft agreement that is before us. In saying that, I preface my remarks by saying that this House respects the UK vote. We regret their decisions. If the UK does wish to leave, we will resolve to minimise any damage to the people and our economy, both North and South, but more importantly to maintain peace on our island.
Unfortunately, Brexit is a regressive and retrograde step. It is ridiculously wrong that such exhaustive resources and time has had to be committed to resolving the issue. The biggest R that I find in all of this rhetoric is for this House and Government to be ready for all eventualities. I say to those who seem to desire that cliff-edge Brexit that the cards have been dealt and one has to know when to hold them and when to fold them. I say to the DUP that the Good Friday Agreement protects all our constitutional rights. The deal on offer is about ensuring that our all-island economy strives, and continues to strive, struggle and succeed. I say to them to forget their ideologies. This draft withdrawal agreement is about the unity of our people and, as I have said many times, not about our land. It is all about our base and that is our families, especially our young, and that unity is in the interests of both our islands' progression, peace and prosperity.
Theresa May has a long way to go to achieve consensus on the agreement for her side, and I wish her well in that uphill struggle. While the Minister and others have said the agreement was not open to negotiation, Mrs. May was in Brussels today in the scramble to finalise a deal in time for Sunday's summit. While I know that Theresa May is trying her best to achieve consensus on the Brexit agreement, officials today in the EU are hinting that Sunday's EU summit could be cancelled, with one official saying he would need to have agreed the political declaration on the future relationship beforehand and we are not there yet.
In my view, Theresa May is a long way off achieving any agreement in her own Parliament. As a Border Deputy, the impact on the North of our island and the Border region, which I represent, cannot be underestimated. The Irish and British Governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and therefore this must be respected in all its parts. The fact that the parties in the North cannot reach agreement to restore power-sharing does not help our situation.
This week, the European Ombudsman called on the European Commission to publish a key document spelling out all the areas of North-South co-operation under the Good Friday Agreement that are at risk from Brexit. This document came about following the mapping exercise which was jointly carried out by the UK and EU in 2017 to identify all of the areas which were at risk and which discovered that there were more than 150 areas contained in the Good Friday Agreement which were underpinned by EU law. When will we have sight of this most important document? I believe it covers a wide range and array of cross-Border topics, such as trade, animal health, tourism and environment, cross-Border fraud prevention and mutual recognition of professional qualifications, to name but a few. These are some of the areas that I wish to mention today as a resident of north County Louth. The practical changes that a no-deal Brexit would present are enormous. Many of my neighbours have to travel across the Border daily, some students, some farmers, some transporting produce and other goods, and some healthcare workers. I could go on and on.
Dominic Raab, after his resignation, admitted he did not realise the full extent of UK trade on the Dover-Calais crossing. I am quite sure he also has no idea what Brexit means to the Border region in Ireland and the Irish-British trade route.
I wish to focus for a few moments on the young people, many of whom feel their voices have not been heard. One young person's blog, called "Brexit will define my generation, yet young people's voices are still ignored", pointed out that they are already set to be worse off than their parents and now they face another assault, through Brexit, on their futures. I also watched a video of young people in Northern Ireland on the threat of Brexit which was contrary to what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has said. They were called the children of the peace process. They said they had never known a border, never mind a hard border. The sectarian divide, they said, is palpable again in the North because of Brexit. These young people are speaking out against Brexit and in favour of peace. They have never known that hard border and they have never witnessed the terrible violence of the past and do not wish to return to it. They say that they are being completely ignored and do not have a government in the North to speak up for them, even though the majority of the North voted to remain. On that, I commend the Irish Government in taking young people in to listen to their voices, and indeed other sectoral interests in the North, when they had nobody to speak to.
Across the UK, the consumer organisation Which? found that, among the 18 to 34 year olds in the UK, 64% say they are concerned about the consequences of any Brexit. The same survey stated that the older generation, the over 65s, are becoming increasingly concerned about Brexit. While the majority of the older generation voted to leave the EU, 61% of them are now just as worried about Brexit as the young voting group. In fact, the Which? survey found that almost two out of three people nationwide in the UK now have very serious concerns.
This is another reason Theresa May has a job on her hands, not only to convince the Parliament but to convince her people. I firmly believe that, despite all of the hard work that has gone in from the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to get us to where we are today, this agreement may still not have the backing of the British Parliament.
Whether the deal gets through or not, there is no Brexit outcome that is economically good for Ireland or indeed for the islands. It is a worry that it seems to me that our Government here has been operating on the basis of an agreement. There is no serious contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit. I know the UK Government has already published 85 guidance notes on a no-deal Brexit scenario covering a range of possible areas affected, from consumer rights to climate change, medicines, blood and blood products and many more. I am asking a simple question today. How prepared are we in Ireland for a no-deal Brexit?
In welcoming the draft withdrawal agreement, and recognising the painstaking work by teams of politicians and officials from the EU and Britain which went into its negotiation, we should all remind ourselves that this withdrawal agreement remains, at very best, the second-best available option. The best option remains Britain remaining in the European Union by reconsidering the absolute political and economic folly that is Brexit.
At this stage, we should not completely discount the possibility that a cross-party political consensus can be built in the House of Commons for a second Brexit referendum, a referendum where the option to remain within the EU is on the ballot paper. While the issue of holding a second referendum is a matter for the Parliament in Westminster alone to decide, we should not deny that we have a vital, national interest in that discussion and, obviously, in its outcome.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has strongly argued, particularly in the past week, that the draft withdrawal agreement represents the worst of all worlds for Britain. He called it an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable as it tries to keep Britain in step with Europe's trade rules while, at the same time, reserving the right to depart from them. Mr. Blair outlined the myriad complexities still to be confronted in everything from fishing to mobile telephony, and that is apart from the Government of the day dealing with its day-to-day challenges, and all of these problems are before we get to the issue of the Border and the backstop. Tony Blair and John Major, both of whom contributed so much to the peace process on this island, explicitly warned politicians during the referendum campaign that Brexit would have serious and damaging consequences for the Irish Border and the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement.
They were both roundly abused for their pains and their opinions. The fact that both of these issues are comprehensively addressed in the withdrawal agreement and were not left to the negotiations on future arrangements should remind British decision makers of their massive importance to both us and the entire EU 27 and of their continuing centrality to the process. It is a credit to the work of the Government and its skilled and committed officials across the European Union, especially in Brussels, in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote that the Irish Border and the Good Friday Agreement were identified as one of the three key issues to be addressed in the first round of talks between the European Union and Britain. In my own work on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence and on the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I have, along with colleagues from all parties and none, engaged actively with parliamentarians from most of the other EU member states, and particularly with colleagues from Britain, on these critical issues. We have outlined the concerns of the Irish people, North and South.
However, the fact that so much of the draft withdrawal agreement is devoted to these issues should not cause us to imagine that all is well and that all possible and potential concerns have been finally addressed. There has been much focus among pro-Brexit Members of Parliament and the media on a phrase that appears on page 302 of the draft agreement. That paragraph reads, "RECALLING the Union's and the United Kingdom's intention to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing". There is increasing chatter and commentary in the media suggesting that the British Government may have some wriggle room around the definition of the phrase "alternative arrangements". Some are saying that the Brexiteers within the British Cabinet see the lack of clarity about what this phrase may mean as allowing them to load expectations onto the words. One such expectation is a return to the nonsense talk of some months back regarding technological solutions and the infamous maximum facilitation, "max fac". We in this House need to make it clear that the definition of "alternative arrangements" is not for the Brexiteer wing of the Tory Party to decide. It is a matter for the EU 27 and Ireland must be 100% satisfied about any alternative arrangements. That means no change from the current day-to-day operations of the Border, which is a border I cross many times a week as I go about my normal constituency activity.
I support this motion, subject to these concerns and knowing that we on this island need to provide sufficient supports to businesses and small and medium enterprises to help them deal with the impact of Brexit. The reality is that there is no such thing as a good Brexit deal. The ongoing political instability in Britain, including the uncertainty of the political viability of this draft agreement, makes it absolutely essential that the Government steps up its work to have detailed contingency plans in place for all eventualities. It is to be hoped those plans would never need to be operated or called into use.
I agree with my colleague, Deputy Breathnach, that it is shameful that there is no voice representing the people of Northern Ireland. It is so regrettable that at a time when Northern Ireland needs a clear voice coming from an assembly and an executive, a government, such a voice has now been absent for most of two years. The political system in this House and in this State has worked very hard, consistently, and constructively in supporting the Government in its efforts to ensure that there is a good deal and that we are not impacted adversely by Brexit.
I am happy to make some brief remarks on this important issue. The publication by the European Commission of the withdrawal agreement was supposed to provide some sort of clarity. We all waited eagerly for it, but I am worried about what clarity it has provided. Ar an gcéad dul síos, gabhaim buíochas leis an Tánaiste. I thank the Tánaiste and his officials because this night last week he gave us a very extensive briefing on the deal which was on the table which went on late into the night. Unfortunately we seem to have the exact opposite of clarity. The Commission spoke about how it hoped that the agreement would ensure that the withdrawal would happen in an orderly manner and offer legal certainty regarding when the treaties and EU law will cease to apply to the UK. Again there has been a near total absence of consensus on how this can happen despite the publication of the text.
A central question is whether the agreement itself is, as one UK Member of Parliament put it, dead on arrival. Did it ever have any hope of generating broad support? We know that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is in serious difficulty and, at the very least, that the process will result in an even more deeply fractured UK with all of the consequences that follow on from that for this island of ours. The political bullets flying around Westminster are getting perilously close to causing untold damage here in our country.
In terms of the parts of the withdrawal agreement that affect us most, we of course have to look at the protocol dealing with the North. This element of the deal offers a legally operable backstop to ensure that there will be no hard border between North and South. Having listened to Deputy Brendan Smith, who lives on the Border, I am very familiar with the area myself and it would be unthinkable to go back to a border regime. The protocol also contains UK commitments not to diminish rights set out in the Good Friday Agreement and to protect North-South co-operation. That is very important. I was pretty pleased when the Tánaiste outlined the agreement to us because the Good Friday Agreement has to be sacrosanct. Too much hard work was done in getting that agreement for it to be otherwise. I salute my former colleague, Dr. Martin Mansergh, who was an adviser in that process at the time.
The agreement provides for the possibility of continuing the common travel area arrangements between Ireland and the UK and preserves the single electricity market, the SEM, on the island of Ireland. It would have been protected in any case. I was puzzled as to why the SEM was even mentioned because, as the Institute of International and European Affairs, IIEA, has pointed out:
The SEM is clearly established in national law in both the UK and Ireland. It is not the result of laws transposed directly from any EU-level directive. Thus the SEM as a standalone product of UK-Irish bilateral co-operation would remain unaltered in its legal constitution by the UK’s departure, as it is primarily the product of concerted co-operation between the energy regulators and government ministers in Dublin and Belfast dating from the early 2000s.
Regardless of all of this, the agreement is very much to be welcomed. The fact remains, however, that the economic impact on almost every other sector is uncertain. It is very uncertain across a wide range of areas. We are still unclear as to whether Mrs. May can get this over the line. We are also unclear as to whether there is going to be a Tory heave against her and even more unclear about what would happen should she fall and be replaced by someone who rushes towards a hard Brexit. A hard or crash-out Brexit should be totally anathema to any right-thinking person in our Twenty-six Counties at this stage. We are just not ready for it. We do not know the implications of it or the limits of those implications going forward. When one reads the hard-negotiated agreement which has been thrashed out and sees the annexes to it, the lack of agreement attached to it, and the issues to be dealt with much further down the road, one really becomes aware of the complexity of it all.
On top of all this we have the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, today saying that Spain will reject the withdrawal deal if it does not include a clarification in the text on future talks on the status of Gibraltar. I welcome the Tánaiste back to the Chamber and I thank him for having been here all evening for the debate. I heard no mention of this issue when we had that late night meeting this night last week.
Could the Tánaiste clarify in his reply whether this is a new issue? Will others among the 27 member states come up with different issues they want to sort out as part of this deal? That is to say nothing of the bind that our unionist friends in the DUP have placed on Prime Minister May. In reality, how could they be expected to do anything else? We knew all the time that they had her in a bind and their support is based on support for the union, and them being in the union. They are unionists who value the union of the United Kingdom and they will not be coerced or bullied into abandoning those principles regardless of the impact. If nothing else, we should know that by now. While there is something admirable in that, it is also veering very close to political recklessness.
One might say that this is not the end but it is the beginning of the end. That is where we seem to be. The withdrawal agreement is seen by some as a moderate compromise, with give and take on both sides. I believe that is what it is. By others, it is seen as an act of political betrayal and folly that has not been seen for generations. Abraham Lincoln once said, "I walk slowly but I never walk backward." To be fair to Mrs. May, that seems to be her approach too. She is attempting to bring the process over the line without dragging us back to a point where no agreement is possible or even desired. That would be a disaster for all of us. In fairness, I would say the same for our own negotiating team of the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Taoiseach. This is far too serious an issue to be used for cheap political point scoring. I support the motion and wish it well.
There is only one Teachta from Sinn Féin. It is a pity that party does not take its seats in Westminster. It is also a pity that the Stormont assembly is not sitting given the importance of the process that is affecting the nation at this point in time.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. My Rural Independent Alliance colleague, Deputy Harty, made a valid point earlier this year when he pointed out that the Government is dedicating a lot of time to preventing the impact of Brexit from causing damage. Deputy Harty was right when he said closing the post offices in rural areas is like encouraging an "internal Brexit". I could not agree more with him on that point. In my local constituency area in the past two years alone I have seen the closure of post offices, schools, pubs, shops, butchers, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, petrol stations and an insurance office in Bantry. Even today the blood pressure clinic in Bantry closed.
In addition we have seen the continued closure of Garda stations such as the Garda station in Ballinspittle. Those are all vital services for rural communities, and without them we are seeing a very serious situation develop in rural areas where towns and villages are literally dying before our eyes. As Deputy Harty says, he would equate that to an internal Brexit where there is a detrimental effect in rural areas similar to the damage a hard Brexit would wreak nationally. The Government must put measures in place to protect Ireland from Brexit, but it must also take urgent action to protect and restore rural Ireland to its former glory.
I am very concerned about the cross-border directive if Brexit comes about. This directive is very important to people in this country as it allows those who are on long waiting lists for health procedures to travel to Belfast and have the procedure carried out without having to endure the long waiting times. To date, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I have sent 17 buses to Belfast with people who have availed of cataract procedures through the cross-border directive. Those people could have been waiting for anything up to five years if they were not able to avail of the directive. During the Brexit negotiations we must ensure that the cross-border directive is protected with Northern Ireland and Britain.
There are two Ministers in the House. Could one of them assure me that they have been discussing such issues in the negotiations? If so, it is time to be clear on what will happen with the cross-border directive and other issues that are very serious concerns. Many people are seriously alarmed that such reciprocal arrangements could end, perhaps in March. Will they end or are there negotiations to continue the arrangements during a cooling-off period? It is time for the Government to clarify the position. Negotiations are taking place and we need to be aware of what is going on.
Brexit will have many implications for Ireland, some of which we can predict and others which we cannot, but one thing is for sure, there will be a lot of challenges ahead for Ireland. It is vital during the Brexit negotiations that we steer through these waters with a clear vision of what Brexit will mean to Ireland. We need to pay particular attention to the agriculture sector. In June the Taoiseach announced the Government's proposal to hire 1,000 new customs officers and veterinary inspectors as part of Ireland's Brexit preparation. The concern is that this could be negative in the event of a reduced availability of farmed animal veterinary services, as it would draw vets away for State work. The chief executive of Veterinary Ireland suggested that some of this work could be opened up to private veterinary practitioners in a similar way to how work is carried out in meat factories, where part-time, temporary veterinary inspectors successfully assist official veterinarians. The Government needs to look at the suggestions. Ministers cannot afford to put their heads in the sand on this matter.
The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, needs to be protected post-Brexit. We must examine that now and put provisions in place. Ireland is very much dependent on agricultural exports. The food industry is the most exposed sector of the economy to Brexit, especially subsectors such as processed foods, beef and dairy. Ireland exports almost 70% of its agricultural produce to Britain. The report carried out by Copenhagen Economics for the Government estimates that the UK's departure from the European Union will cause the value of output from these key parts of the agrifood sector to fall between 10% and 20% by 2030. The sector currently employs 175,000 people and that could mean 17,000 fewer jobs or more than 30,000 fewer jobs in the event of a hard Brexit. It is vital during the Brexit negotiations that our agricultural produce being exported to Britain is protected.
In addition to the agricultural exports, we need to protect all our export markets. We must maintain strong and competitive transport links with the rest of the EU in order to secure Ireland's economic future. Two thirds of Irish exporters use the UK landbridge to access Europe and Brexit is going to have a significant effect on Ireland's ability to use that route for exports. We must consider negotiating transport routes now.
Coming from west Cork I know only too well how much fishermen have suffered during very difficult times. In recent years, Irish fishermen hoped for a brighter future after battling through the recession, but Brexit puts them in uncharted waters. On average, it is estimated that approximately 36% of Irish landings are taken from UK waters. Irish fishermen face losing access to lucrative UK fishing grounds currently in EU waters and may have problems transporting their catch. From speaking to local fishermen I know they feel the industry has had a raw deal and they do not trust the Government to deliver. It is vital that we protect the livelihood of fishermen as there is a serious danger of increased numbers of European boats fishing in Irish waters post-Brexit. I ask the Minister to give a clear answer as to what will happen if European trawlers are dismissed from UK waters. Has the Government considered the issue or is the fishing industry going to play second fiddle yet again? Only yesterday Spain got the all-clear from Europe for 5,559 tonnes of bluefin tuna quota. No matter how good Patrick Murphy, the CEO of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, is at fighting for fishermen, if the Government does not have its eye on the ball the future of fishermen after Brexit looks very bleak. I spoke to an inshore fisherman in Schull this evening. He outlined to me the difficulties they face even prior to Brexit never mind what could happen after it. That is quite scary.
Neither can we forget about the effect Brexit will have on ports and the export market. In my constituency we have ports such as Bantry Bay, Castletown Berehaven and Kinsale. Their futures need to be secured. I plead with the Government to support those ports through the uncertain times that lie ahead with Brexit on the horizon.
We must also ensure the future of Irish citizens living in the UK as a matter of urgency. No Irish citizen living in the UK should have to live in fear. We must further ensure that during Brexit negotiations there will be freedom of movement between us and our neighbours. In addition, during the Brexit negotiations we must consider what will happen to Irish students studying in the UK. This a great worry for many of them. Overall, it is clear that Brexit will have a significant effect on Ireland and we need to step up to the challenges that lie ahead for the country and put the provisions in place to deal with the challenges.
I thank the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, for being here this evening. Brexit is bad for everybody, no matter what format it takes. The UK has sought it but the consequent adjustments that all will have to make to accommodate Brexit are mostly negative. Brexit will have profoundly negative economic implications for Ireland regardless of it being a hard or soft option.
In the case of a hard Brexit it may be catastrophic by adding a measure of political uncertainty to the hard-won Northern Ireland peace process. In the case of a soft Brexit Ireland will be losing a vast market for goods, especially agricultural goods. Those of us in County Clare are very worried. The county is substantially dependent on agriculture and tourism. Farmers are concerned that access to the UK markets will be damaged. Farming is the backbone of rural Ireland and so any form of Brexit would be bad, but a hard Brexit would be devastating for the farming community, especially since 40% of agricultural exports go to the United Kingdom. Those in the tourism industry are also concerned as those in business and industry hate uncertainty.
Once the UK exits the European Union Shannon Airport will be without connectivity to a European hub. Currently, the airport is not linked to a hub on mainland Europe and at the moment European connectivity is serviced through Heathrow Airport, London. Shannon Airport and foreign direct investment and tourism in the west of Ireland will be challenged in overcoming the problems faced by an organised Brexit. A hard Brexit is unthinkable. Right now, the Shannon Group is calling on the Government for support in protecting EU connectivity. The company is asking for a connectivity funding programme to secure strategic routes. Shannon needs access to a European Union hub.
The UK has sought its freedom, for want of a better term, from Europe by removing itself from the largest free trade zone in the world. This is quite unbelievable. Brexit was voted on without informed consent and thus its validity must be questioned. Misinformation was used to influence the vote. This was not apparently from outside the UK but from within. Hard Brexiteers have put narrow national self-interest above a wider world view. They have neither put stability and co-operation above chaos and dissension nor the fragile peace ahead of old sectarian rhetoric and old-fashioned century-old politics. Brexit is the triumph of misguided ideology over pragmatism.
Economic models tell us that countries trade with their neighbours. Yet, the UK is rejecting its neighbours for people tens of thousands of miles across the globe. It prefers the World Trade Organization to the EU and fictional trade deals to real trade deals. Brexit was fermented in a vat of misinformation and opportunism. It was rendered by a Tory government that put party before country.
In Northern Ireland, the DUP has rejected what is possibly the best deal available. Those in the party claim to be the true upholders of the union with the United Kingdom while supporting Brexiteers who will undermine the UK no matter what the cost politically or economically. The DUP prefers a no-deal to a good deal in defiance of the wishes of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland, including those in businesses and the farming community. The party has ignored the fact that Northern Ireland has always been different from the UK.
If the DUP is a prisoner of history and outdated ideology, so too is Sinn Fein. The focus on the DUP in this debate is understandable but there seems be some reluctance, to date anyway, to take a hard look at what Sinn Féin is doing. The lack of an Assembly in Northern Ireland denies Sinn Féin a voice that could articulate views other than those of the DUP. This has allowed strands 2 and 3 of the Good Friday Agreement to wither. It is clear that the health of the North-South institutions is in decline. The maintenance of human rights in the North was to be ensured by the European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as by the European Convention on Human Rights. Brexit will sever these guarantees.
The DUP has ten seats at Westminster and Sinn Féin has seven. In the past, there have been many Irish nationalist voices at Westminster. John Hume, Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan were among the most distinguished of them. Now, there is no voice of nationalism from Northern Ireland to be heard in the House of Commons because Sinn Féin members will not take their seats and vote. I understand the historical reasons for abstentionism. They date from a time when Ireland was clamouring for its independence and the right to take its place among the nations of the world. What was apparent, appropriate and pragmatic 100 years ago may not be the answer to the needs of today. We all must change and evolve. I urge Sinn Féin members to take their seats and defend the Good Friday Agreement in this perilous hour.
The European Commission and the other 27 capitals of the European Union have supported the necessity of defending the Good Friday Agreement by preventing a hard border. Mrs. May is trying to deliver a Brexit deal that will achieve this aim. Sinn Féin should support this aim. The status of Northern Ireland within the withdrawal agreement is similar to Schroedinger's cat, simultaneously inside and outside the European Union and occupying the best of both worlds. This is the most apt analogy because it confers on Northern Ireland a special status with special benefits. Yet, the DUP interprets the draft withdrawal agreement as diminishing the status of Northern Ireland rather than enhancing its status.
The complexities of the Border between the North and South of this island did not feature in the run-up to the Brexit referendum at all yet the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland has been the most contentious and difficult issue to resolve. We should remember that the backstop will only be triggered should a final overall agreement not be finalised at the end of the transition period in July 2020. Within the withdrawal agreement the Northern Ireland backstop has become a UK-wide backstop. Thus there will be no barriers to trade either North-South across the border or east-west across the Irish Sea. The backstop is not time-limited, it is legally binding and it requires mutual agreement to end it. The backstop, if triggered, would make Northern Ireland a special case. It would be part of a single UK-EU customs territory. It would allow a level playing field between the EU and the UK. It would benefit from the EU customs code, allowing Northern Ireland businesses to place products on the Single Market and the UK market. Northern Ireland would remain aligned to a limited set of rules relating to the Single Market to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. This gives Northern Ireland the best of both worlds economically. This has been recognised by the farming and business communities in Northern Ireland. It is certainly better than no deal. However, reality does not influence the hard Brexiteers. A no-deal hard Brexit and the consequent hard border will damage both countries. At the end of the day we must prepare for the fact that, while Mrs. May cannot be underestimated, the mathematics of the House of Commons is against the draft withdrawal agreement.
I support the motion and commend the Irish Government on reaching the best possible Brexit.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important motion. Of all the debates held in the House, being present for the debate this evening, with everyone being involved and everyone having their say from the various groups, is most important. The result of any vote on the agreement represents what I believe to be all of us putting our shoulders to the wheel at this critical time. That is most important.
The Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, of which I am the Chairman, has been closely monitoring the progress of the Brexit negotiations since the referendum vote in 2016. We have been following the entire process. We have considered the various statements and conclusions of the Council of the European Union and the European Council during the past two and a half years. These have paved the way for the draft withdrawal agreement. While the details seldom emerged in public, apart from at the staging posts, it is clear from looking at the draft agreement that Michel Barnier's taskforce has been hard at work all this time. Throughout the Brexit process I have spoken in this Chamber and at meetings of the joint committee about the need for decisive progress on Brexit. I said that the clock was ticking and that time was running out. Now, here it is. After long negotiations we now have a draft of the withdrawal agreement. I think it is great that we are finally seeing all of the technical detail of the withdrawal agreement and that the negotiating teams are suggesting that we consider it now, even if it is a little close to the wire.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, our Ministers and all the officials who have been working hard to ensure that Ireland's interest are heard in Europe. The Government has succeeded in making our case in Europe and ensured that Ireland has been kept at the top of the Brexit agenda. That is terribly important. In parallel, many Members have been conscientious in doing their part by engaging with parliamentary delegations from EU member states and explaining the unique Irish situation. On account of all of that work there is strong understanding of the challenges posed by the Border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Only this week at the meeting of COSAC, the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union, the delegations from the French and German parliaments tabled a proposal for an amendment. It stressed that the Good Friday Agreement must be protected unconditionally for a sustainable solution for all Irish citizens and emphasised the need for solidarity towards Ireland.
The amendment was accepted. This is just a small example of the important solidarity we have been afforded by our European partners. It is important to recognise that. As I have said on previous occasions, there is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland, the UK or the EU. However, I respect the result of the referendum vote. We all need to move forward, and this draft agreement allows us to do that. It is not perfect, but it provides a workable solution to the biggest public policy challenge we have faced as a nation in decades.
In view of the circumstances, we should welcome and support the draft withdrawal agreement. It is important that a strong backstop is put in place. We need that guarantee and the draft agreement provides it. It is important that the backstop will be in place for as long as it is needed and will only be replaced when we have found something better. The draft agreement provides for that. It is also very important that there is a sufficient transition period. People in the UK, Ireland and the EU need time to prepare for the effect of Brexit on their businesses and communities. The draft agreement provides for that. It is important that Irish citizens living in the UK are able to continue with their lives, and the draft agreement provides for that. It is important that the common travel area will continue, and the draft agreement will provide for that. It is important that all parts of the Good Friday agreement are protected and that the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland to the draft agreements commits not to diminish the rights set out in that agreement, and that North-South co-operation is protected. It is important that the unique single electricity market on the island of Ireland is protected so that there is no disruption in our homes, and the draft agreement provides for that.
We have a draft withdrawal agreement. It seems to mitigate most of the worst affects of Brexit, but not all of them. There are many hurdles yet to be traversed, including agreeing the withdrawal with all sides. The draft withdrawal agreement has been cleared by Theresa May’s cabinet, but that, as we know, was far from straightforward. Getting the withdrawal treaty through the House of Commons will be an enormous challenge, and we do not know how that will go. The full text of the draft withdrawal agreement also has to be agreed by the European Council and the European Parliament. These are all important hurdles that must be cleared.
There are just over four months until Brexit. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then. We will have a lot of work to do afterwards as the EU and the UK start to negotiate the second phase and the details of their future relationship. We must remember that all of this is just the first stage, but it now looks like it is the beginning of the end of the first stage. Realistically, it will be a very long time before the Brexit process is finished. There might be many years of discussions and negotiations before the terms of the UK’s relationship with the EU are finally agreed and implemented. I still hope that we manage to get to the end of it with a good and strong relationship. It is vital to remember that our farmers, our business people, those in the tourism sector and our fishermen, who we have already spoken about tonight, did not dream up the idea of Brexit. They are the bystanders whose lives and incomes will be affected detrimentally by it. That is why all politicians - including our Government, Irish officials and everyone in this House - must play their part. That joint effort is a good defence of the people we were elected to represent and who we are duty bound to stand by. We must be there to support them and watch out for their interests. They did not vote for Brexit. They are not the politicians who dreamt it up. Others did that, and they can be judged on their actions. History will judge them - they are already being judge - on the basis of their actions. To date, the Government, its negotiators and the Members of this House have not let the people down. Everyone has worked diligently, and we will all continue to work to do the right thing by the people at all times. I welcome the draft withdrawal agreement and believe this house should support it. We should all, in our own little way, put our shoulders to the wheel and do the right thing by Ireland.
In previous debates on Brexit, many Deputies have repeatedly urged that, in the context of the negotiations, the British Government should outline its exact plans for avoiding a hard border in Ireland and indicate what the final arrangement for the Border will look like. Unfortunately, we still have not seen those plans. It seems that in reaching this agreement, Prime Minister May has managed to shock many in her Cabinet into resigning. The political infighting in the Conservative Party has been allowed to hamper and delay these negotiations to such an extent that the deal agreed last week already seems to be in grave danger.
While the contents of the agreement are to be broadly welcomed - and I pay tribute to the hard work of Ministers, civil servants and others involved in the negotiations - there was a sense of unreality from Government last week that was not helpful. In the context of the very tricky political arithmetic that Prime Minister May faces in the House of Commons, the hubris in which the Government and others chose to engage was, in my view, damaging. I welcome the fact that we have a calm motion before us tonight. There was a danger that this motion might be a different kind of motion, but it is calm, short and to the point, and it is the correct approach to take. It is right that the Irish parliament endorses that motion. The Social Democrats are very happy to do that. I do not believe that the two amendments tabled are particularly helpful. Many of us might have sought changes to the motion and to add on various important things relevant to this whole issue, but it is important that a very straightforward, unanimous decision is made by Irish parliamentarians.
Last week, the Government welcomed the content of the draft withdrawal agreement enthusiastically. That was not helpful in terms of quelling the fears of even moderate Brexiteers that this deal was anything other than a capitulation to the demands of the EU 27. A difficult balance must be struck in that regard, particularly as what is very good for Ireland is seen as being very bad for the UK. This is an extremely sensitive matter and people must tread a very careful line. Similarly, the DUP, whose crucial votes in the House of Commons seem to be slipping through the Prime Minister’s fingers, will undoubtedly have been put in a position where it could not be seen to be supporting anything that Dublin was welcoming so heartily. This view is shared by many hard-line Brexiteers in the Conservative Party and the British Labour Party. Kate Hoey, for example, described elements of the backstop arrangement yesterday in the Belfast Telegraph as “look[ing] like they were written by the Irish Government".
I attended the briefing with the Tánaiste and his staff late last Wednesday night. I and others were very appreciative of that briefing; it was worthwhile. However, it would have been helpful if other party representatives had a greater insight into the actual politics of the issue. We had confidence that the Government had negotiated a good deal on our behalf but the politics of the situation in the UK and the relationship between the UK, Ireland and the EU will ultimately decide the outcome of Brexit.
It would have been helpful if we had more discussion in that regard.
It was a short-lived thing, but there were times last Wednesday when the reaction to the deal on the part of representatives of both the Government and other parties showed a lack of appreciation of how the mechanics and operation of this draft agreement are so intimately bound to the political reality in Westminster. While many may lambaste those in the Conservative Party and the DUP who seem to be intent on making their constituents poorer in order to further their particular political agenda, we must accept that the composition of the House of Commons will remain as it is until such time as there is a general election. While many are predicting that will happen soon, this may not necessarily be the case. That is why the reality with which the Government is dealing must be recognised and everybody should be mindful of the very difficult situation in which Prime Minister May finds herself.
I note with interest the comments by Amber Rudd this morning, who effectively contradicted the Prime Minister by saying the British Cabinet would act to prevent a no-deal situation in the event that the draft agreement fails to make its way through the House of Commons. That was a welcome comment. With these mixed signals in mind, I wish to ask the Minister a question I have previously raised in this Chamber. What will be the practical response of the Irish Government if the unthinkable happens and the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a deal in place next March? Is a clear contingency plan in place to ensure that the land Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland remains open? Given the very volatile and unpredictable situation in Westminster, it is imperative that we are well prepared for this eventuality. While it has been said by others, we continue to be in a situation in which we hope for the best but must prepare properly for the worst.
While the focus of our attention is on the UK, it should not be forgotten that other EU states will be directly affected by Brexit. One such state is Cyprus, as thousands of Cypriots are employed on two British army bases in the south of the island which are considered sovereign British territory. Another such state is Spain. I note that reports emerged yesterday that the Spanish Government is unhappy with certain elements of the withdrawal agreement as they relate to the relationship between Gibraltar and the EU. I urge the Minister to engage carefully with his counterparts to ensure that the hard work on the deal is not scuppered by last-minute local political concerns in the EU 27, if it does manage to pass through the House of Commons.
If this issue is drawn out or if there is an extension, we simply do not know what other issues might come into play in a year or two that will affect the EU's attitude. We do not know if it will be possible to hold the EU together in that regard, which is why it is so important to get to a point at an early stage where there is an agreement on the final deal. Things will not always remain the way they are within the other member states. There is a genuine fear that the political situation in other countries could change. Attitudes to the EU could change in the next couple of years, which could make reaching a final agreement all the more difficult.
While there is an acceptance that this deal, if endorsed by the UK and EU, is the best that can be negotiated, it bears repeating that there is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland. Regardless of the UK's relationship with the European Union, it is inevitable that the relationship between our two states will be diminished. It is a great shame for Ireland that a state with which we shared a common position on many aspects of the European project is leaving the bloc, particularly a state which enjoyed as much influence in shaping the EU of today as did the UK. I acknowledge the efforts of the Government in building new alliances with small EU states similar to ourselves. These relationships will undoubtedly prove crucial in the future, when the dust of Brexit settles and the day-to-day functioning of the EU readjusts to the reality of the UK's absence.
I wish to draw attention to one particular area of the draft withdrawal agreement that I believe warrants further scrutiny and will need clarification. I refer to Article 5 of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which concerns the common travel area. I have previously raised in the Chamber the seemingly impossible situation whereby other citizens of the European Union will continue to enjoy the right to free movement into and out of the Republic of Ireland, while the common travel area is retained as it is. As we know, the common travel area allows for citizens of Ireland and the United Kingdom to travel and work freely in each jurisdiction. It is not difficult to understand the issue with this proposal. In effect, the Border between the UK and Ireland will be an open land frontier into the United Kingdom for EU citizens. I do not see how this circle can be squared given how vociferous Prime Minister May has been regarding the fact that this deal will end free movement of non-Irish EU nationals into the UK.
If the DUP will not accept travel restrictions between Northern Ireland and mainland Great Britain, this presents a major stumbling block for the deal. I would very much welcome clarity from the Tánaiste on this issue, as the Border could in effect become a magnet for those wishing to enter the UK illegally. I note that reports emerged earlier in the week indicating that Ireland could refuse entry for EU personae non grataewho are not allowed to enter the United Kingdom. However, this does not address the issue of regular EU nationals intent on entering the UK via Northern Ireland.
While I commend the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister in particular, as well as all of the others who have ensured that this deal is the best that could be brokered from an Irish perspective, I still harbour some grave fears about how this scenario will play out. Undoubtedly the Minister does too. We can only hope that the summit this weekend will be enough to ensure that the issues with the deal can be addressed without having to make major alterations and that the Prime Minister will be able to command enough support to guide it through Westminster.
The challenge for the Government is to strike a balance, holding the line on no hard border while also acknowledging the reality of the political arithmetic for the British Prime Minister. The fact that the promise of Mrs. May’s predecessor to hold a Brexit referendum was an enormous mistake does not make the task any easier.
The current draft Brexit proposal is a document of more than 500 pages. If it is approved at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels next Sunday, it will be put before the UK Parliament for ratification. That is to occur after the meeting, not in advance of it. That is the opposite to what we are doing here. In my view, the Dáil should not approve any measure until the final text emerges from Brussels, as its provisions will deeply affect Irish citizens both North and South. This is all the more urgent because the request of the European Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, for the publication by the EU and the United Kingdom of a key document on North-South relations has not yet been met. Ms O'Reilly called on the European Commission to publish a key document spelling out all the areas of North-South co-operation under the Good Friday Agreement that are at risk because of Brexit.
Ms O'Reilly was reported as stating that the mapping table her office inspected shows in comprehensive form the very many elements of cross-Border co-operation underpinned by EU law which are factual in nature and that while the commission, as requested by the UK, declined to release the table in order not to disturb the negotiations, there is now no obvious reason for the table not to be published. Importantly, it was reported Ms O'Reilly further stated that as major decisions in relation to the future of the United Kingdom and its relationship with the EU are now about to be made, there is a strong public interest case for its release.
When British, Irish and EU officials explored all the avenues of North-South co-operation, they discovered there were approximately 120 areas underpinned by EU law and these are set out in this secret document. That secret document deals with the so-called mapping exercise, which became a key plank in the Government's strategy to highlight the risks to the Good Friday Agreement. The mapping exercise highlights the extent to which North-South co-operation relies upon, or is enhanced by, mutual EU membership by both Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In view of the fact that the United Kingdom and the EU have not yet released this document, it is an abdication of responsibility by the Government to ask the Dáil to approve or disapprove of any proposed Brexit agreement. We must also remember the various issues raised by the 1,000 Northern nationalists when they wrote to the Taoiseach recently. Also, what is clear and concerning, not only of itself but of how various other issues might be dealt with in this agreement, is the replacement of a paragraph in the 2017 document regarding the rights of citizens in the North with a non-binding rights clause. That is very significant.
I call on the Taoiseach to release the document referred to by Ms O'Reilly today and in any event, before a vote of any kind on the proposed deal takes place in the Dáil. It is worth repeating that Ms O'Reilly was reported as stating that, as major decisions in relation to the future of the United Kingdom and its relationship with the EU are now about to be made, there is a strong public interest case for its release. Of course, it is clear that the public interest case for its release is much stronger in Ireland than in any other European country.
The consideration of the Government proposal tonight must be postponed until after that secret document referred to by Ms O'Reilly has been published. Many of the matters dealt with in the draft deal can only be fully understood in the context of the unpublished document.
Of course, there is no need for a vote here prior to Sunday's meeting. The British Prime Minister is not having a vote in Westminster - Mrs. May does not need one. Neither does the Taoiseach need a vote here. The Taoiseach has told us that it has no legal effect anyway.
Will the final document be brought back to the Dáil for debate and decision? I believe it must because that agreement affects this country, North and South, and its citizens very seriously indeed. It is my view that this motion is a political manoeuvre to rush this draft deal with unknown consequences through the Dáil.
Regarding the various amendments that have been tabled, I believe it would be wrong of me to give any section of the Irish people, North or South, to understand that these amendments would in any way protect them because they are mere declarations.
I propose that this debate be adjourned until the O'Reilly document, as I called it, is published to give us an opportunity to assess to what extent this 500 page draft document protects human rights and labour rights of the Irish people, North and South. If that proposal to adjourn the debate is not accepted, the only responsible thing I can do as an individual Deputy is to abstain on the proposal and the amendments until I have sight of and an opportunity to study the secret document referred to by the EU Ombudsman, Ms O'Reilly.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion.
There is no quick-fix solution to this as we have seen, even over the past week, what has happened.
While it would be easier to criticise him, I have seen the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, over the past few months, especially with some journalists in England who would put one to the pin of one's collar in getting vexed, handle it well. I urge the Taoiseach to refrain from saying too much for the simple reason this ball is largely out of our hands. It is in the hands of the British Parliament. We have watched the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May. There are different views and we, no more than every parliament right across the world, must understand and respect that. It is a time for people not to overstate and provide excessive commentary on matters because space needs to be given. It was not overly helpful that some in the UK decided to say that they would not vote for the deal even though they had not seen it.
I have a few questions for the Tánaiste. We do not know whether this will be the final text. There is word coming out - we are like hurlers on the ditch. What we read or see is coming from either media or certain updates, but we do not know what is happening, to put it simply, at the engine room. We need to know whether there will be another bit of tweaking by Mrs. May and Mr. Michel Barnier or whether the document that we are voting on this evening will be the final document.
Can we help Mrs. May in the line of getting something in a trade deal that may help some of the people who are worried about the situation going forward? Can that be done or can there be a bit of wriggle room found in the meantime?
The bottom line on it, as I hear in commentary every day, is that there may be some parts of Brexit that would be good for some cities which would get extra financial business and additional employment but for rural areas, and especially the agricultural sector, 40% of Ireland's exports go to the United Kingdom. At a time that the Turkish market is in trouble, agriculture is reliant on the British market, although one would wonder when there is €200 in the difference between the price of an animal killed in Ireland and an animal of the same weight in England by which the British farmer is better off. In the scale of things, the importance of that can never be forgotten because to do so would be detrimental to not only Border counties but rural areas north, south, east and west which are reliant on agriculture and the export of goods to England.
There is much trepidation out there, even in the markets and marts. There is a sort of vacuum where people do not know whether they are coming or going.
Some people may not understand that everything will not just stop at the 59th minute of the 11th hour. We need to put the message out there in order to try to instill some confidence. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State went to different places trying to explain what is involved. That is fair enough but we need to get the message out there because there is a lot of misunderstanding about dates, when this and that will happen and the lead-in period. It is very important to get this across.
We have had an agreement in the form of the common travel area since the 1940s. That should stand regardless of what happens. People do not want to go back to the old days. I remember the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is great that people can now cross the Border without being held up for half an hour and being asked all sorts of questions. What has happened in Northern Ireland in recent years in the context of the amount of work that has been done by those all sides has been very good. This is not about any one individual blowing his or her trumpet; it involves the Catholic and Protestant communities. Those involved must be recognised for the effort that has been made. We need to ensure that this happens.
If a hard Brexit came about, is there a danger that many EU nationals could use this country to gain access to the UK? Is there a possibility that Ireland might almost be smothered because it is the nearest access point? Even though I would not be a big admirer of British politics, I think Mrs. May deserves credit for what she has done. She is almost like a cat with nine lives. She has come through every type of grenade thrown at her. People probably need to step back and see sense over there but in fairness to Mrs. May, she has moved on and has stood out over the past number of weeks. We do not know what will happen. It is entirely up to the politicians in the British Parliament. It appears that Mrs. May will not get her deal through. Perhaps we are wrong. A week ago, they were saying the magic number of 48 would be reached but that does not seem to have happened. Perhaps common sense might prevail. In the event that there is an election and Mrs. May is no longer leader, what is our plan B to ensure that agricultural and manufacturing exports from rural areas of Ireland will be safeguarded and that there will be no "big bang"?
I wish the Tánaiste and Minister of State well in the negotiations in the coming week.
The path to this important juncture in the negotiation process has not been easy. As the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and many people in this House have stated, there is still a lot of work ahead. The solidarity and support of our EU partners have been hallmarks of this process and have been unwavering and consistent throughout all the twists and turns that have occurred so far. I have witnessed at first hand the attention and consideration colleagues across Europe have given to the unique issues facing this island and this Government is profoundly grateful for the unity our European friends and colleagues have demonstrated. There is, of course, solidarity and support at home as well. This has been amply demonstrated in this debate.
Brexit has presented us with unique challenges of an unprecedented nature. As the Taoiseach has stressed, Brexit is not something we sought. It is something we regret but we must also accept the decision of the British people and we are committed to working towards an outcome that protects all of our interests. In responding to Brexit, the Government has faced the task with welcome support from this House for the priority issues we have placed at the centre of our negotiation strategy. Although we may differ from time to time in approach or emphasis, the core objectives we have pursued have been supported across this House, which, again, is welcome. The informed and thoughtful debate that has taken place this evening is consistent with this approach and has greatly assisted us in demonstrating unity throughout the negotiating process - a unity that in no small part has helped us to get to where we are today. For our part, we have sought to inform the House on a regular basis about the various different developments in the negotiations and related events. At all times, we have been conscious that there is significant interest and concern about the issues on the part of the people we represent in the Dáil and in our respective constituencies.
In setting and developing our priorities, the concerns of citizens, businesses and every aspect of Irish society have been to the forefront of all our minds. This has included protecting the hard-won peace on this island and explaining to our EU partners how people in Northern Ireland north and the south have felt the benefits of this peace, in particular in a very tangible way across the open and invisible border that exists between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I have accompanied European Ministers and many others on visits to the Border region and have witnessed the impact on our EU partners of the stories of ordinary people who just want to get on with their lives and who want us to find practical solutions to the many challenges of Brexit. I will continue to raise these concerns and questions in this House and in my ongoing contacts with my European partners. Ireland's commitment to EU membership is stronger than ever. There are challenges beyond Brexit that will require attention in the months and years ahead. We will continue to engage on those issues.
The negotiations on the draft withdrawal agreement have been tough and difficult for all involved. However, the draft agreement we are discussing this evening represents the best way ahead for all of us. As has been said by many tonight, it is by no means perfect. It represents important compromises on both sides. However, it ensures that key interests of the UK and all of the EU are addressed. It was never the case that Brexit would be straightforward or easy. This has become increasingly clear as the negotiations have gone on so it is important for us all - citizens, enterprises and even our international partners - that the UK's withdrawal happens in an orderly manner. The withdrawal agreement provides the best way - the only way - to achieve this. Nobody benefits from a hard Brexit and the serious consequences it would have for the UK, EU and us here in Ireland. The draft agreement provides for the orderly winding down of the current arrangements across what is a broad spectrum of EU co-operation as well as the governance structures for the implementation of the agreement. This, of course, includes the protection of UK and EU citizens as well the current EU budget, which is really important for us, particularly in areas such as CAP, which many have mentioned this evening.
With the withdrawal agreement, we can rely on a transition period providing certainty for citizens and businesses as we prepare for a new relationship with the UK outside the EU. Transition also provides us with the time we need to negotiate what we want, which is a deep, meaningful and comprehensive arrangement regarding our future relationship.
The draft withdrawal agreement plays an essential role in protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland, to which many Deputies referred. The importance of this has been recognised and supported by all our EU partners. It has also been recognised in the repeated political commitments made by Prime Minister May in December and March. This document very much upholds those commitments. The backstop provisions provide an important insurance policy that we will not see a return to a hard border on this island under any circumstances. This translates the UK's political commitments to avoid a hard border into a legal guarantee - something we have sought to do for the past year. Of course, we hope the backstop will never be used. We are committed to working closely with the UK and our EU partners to agree a deep and comprehensive future relationship - one that will mean that the backstop provision will never be needed. Rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as set out in the Good Friday Agreement as well as EU citizenship rights for people in Northern Ireland are also protected under the agreement. I reiterate what the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste stated earlier, namely, that nothing in the agreement will prejudice the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
As we look to the future, the agreement also acknowledges the common travel area whereby Irish and British people can live, work, study and access healthcare, social security and public services in either jurisdiction. While the UK's decision to leave has serious implications for Ireland, we will maintain a strong and constructive bilateral relationship with the UK. We are fully committed to developing and enhancing this relationship in the coming years.
This will include making full use of the channels that already exist for ongoing dialogue and co-operation between the Irish and British Governments, including those provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, with important institutional co-operation taking place on an east-west basis through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British Irish Council. In addition, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly brings together elected representatives from the Oireachtas, Westminster, Northern Ireland and the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies. These structures have shown their value and will continue to evolve in response to the changing circumstances. In addition, we will explore other avenues, which many have raised this evening, to maintain the habit of co-operation that currently exists through the regular meetings of the Irish and UK Government Ministers in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe on a range of EU matters that are significant to Ireland and the UK.
This evening's debate has focused on the draft withdrawal agreement. For all of the reasons we have discussed, it is likely to continue to be the focus of much attention for coming weeks. There are two documents being discussed, namely, this draft withdrawal agreement and the future political declaration which sets out the direction in which we want the future relationship to go, on which we hope to have a final agreement before the EU Council meeting on Sunday next. A negotiated withdrawal agreement remains the best possible outcome in regard to Brexit. A no-deal scenario is bad for the UK and the EU and I do not believe it is in any of our interests at this stage to contemplate such a negative conclusion to the UK's membership of the European Union. Ireland has always been clear that it wants the closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK. While it is, perhaps, not the kind of future we had envisaged when we both joined the European Union together many years ago, Ireland is clear that our place remains as a part of that Union, a home that we helped to build. Together with our EU partners we must now find a way to imagine a new relationship with our neighbours in the United Kingdom.
I ask all Deputies to support the motion in its current form, without amendment. Concerns have been raised, and amendments put forward in that regard, and the Tánaiste has already acknowledged they are important. However, a clear message of support for the draft withdrawal agreement text would send a message of solidarity, which as I said earlier, has been paramount to this entire process.
I commend the motion to the House.
Gerry Adams, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Clare Daly, Pearse Doherty, Martin Ferris, Kathleen Funchion, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Mary Lou McDonald, Imelda Munster, Jonathan O'Brien, Louise O'Reilly, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Mick Wallace.
Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Michael Collins, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Michael D'Arcy, Jim Daly, John Deasy, Paschal Donohoe, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Michael Harty, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Alan Kelly, Seán Kyne, Michael Lowry, Josepha Madigan, Helen McEntee, Mattie McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Kevin Moran, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Seán Sherlock, David Stanton, Leo Varadkar, Katherine Zappone.
Mick Barry, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, James Browne, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins, Ruth Coppinger, Timmy Dooley, Pat Gallagher, Seán Haughey, Séamus Healy, Billy Kelleher, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Micheál Martin, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eugene Murphy, Paul Murphy, Kevin O'Keeffe, Frank O'Rourke, Éamon Ó Cuív, Eamon Scanlon, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith.
I move amendment No. 1:
To insert the following after “an integral part of the Draft Agreement”:“— declares that the Brexit crisis must not be used as a pretext by employers or the Government to enforce wage restraint, reduce income of workers or cut public services; and
— commits to seeking an agreement with the British Government to hold a simultaneous border poll on partition, North and South, to protect against any possibility of a hard border.”
Gerry Adams, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Clare Daly, Pearse Doherty, Martin Ferris, Kathleen Funchion, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Mary Lou McDonald, Imelda Munster, Jonathan O'Brien, Louise O'Reilly, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Mick Wallace.
Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Mick Barry, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Joan Burton, Mary Butler, Catherine Byrne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Michael Collins, Niall Collins, Ruth Coppinger, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Michael D'Arcy, Jim Daly, John Deasy, Paschal Donohoe, Timmy Dooley, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Pat Gallagher, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Michael Harty, Seán Haughey, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Billy Kelleher, Alan Kelly, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, James Lawless, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Micheál Martin, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Kevin Moran, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Eoghan Murphy, Eugene Murphy, Paul Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Michael Noonan, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Kevin O'Keeffe, Frank O'Rourke, Jan O'Sullivan, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Scanlon, Seán Sherlock, Brendan Smith, David Stanton, Leo Varadkar, Katherine Zappone.
As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 72 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.