Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Good Friday Agreement
41. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has met his UK counterpart since the ruling in the case of a person (details supplied); his views on whether the ruling shows that the UK Government is failing to honour the Good Friday Agreement; and the steps he will take to ensure the UK Government abides by and implements each of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements. [46440/19]
We have all been following the Emma DeSouza case very closely. It goes to the heart of the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. On Monday, 14 October judges in the Upper Tribunal in London ruled that people born in the North of Ireland were UK citizens according to UK law. Has the Minister met his British counterpart to discuss this latest ruling?
I thank the Deputy for raising this case, in which I am aware he has shown consistent interest for a while.
Citizenship and identity provisions are central to the Good Friday Agreement and it is vital that they be upheld. The Irish Government has consistently engaged with the British Government in support of this and will continue to do so. It is important to state Ms Emma DeSouza is an Irish citizen and that this is provided for and protected under the Good Friday Agreement. My Department is keeping in regular contact with Emma and Jake DeSouza.
In December 2018 I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to raise the case of Ms DeSouza and the concerns about the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and ask for a review of the issues involved. In February the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, acknowledged the serious concerns in this area and pledged to review the issues surounding citizenship to deliver a long-term solution consistent with the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
To her credit, she agreed to do that. In this context, the decision of the tribunal in the DeSouza case on 14 October does not define the extent of the British Government's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. I hope people are familiar with the Good Friday Agreement in which the Governments "recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both" and "confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments". It is imperative that people in Northern Ireland have confidence in these provisions of the Agreement, in letter and in spirit. To provide for that, a positive outcome to the review mandated by the British Government is now needed. The Government is actively engaged to seek that outcome.
I again raised the case with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at our meeting on 15 October and I have since written to the Secretary of State to underline the pressing need for a positive outcome to the review by the British Government. The Government will continue to pursue strongly these issues with the British Government, as a co-guarantor of the Agreement itself.
This ruling represents a clear and deeply worrying development. The identity and citizenship provisions are critical to the integrity of the Agreement and must be protected and defended to the hilt. The Good Friday Agreement is crystal clear on the terms of citizenship. Emma DeSouza is an Irish citizen and it is disgraceful that she should have to go to court to prove it. Emma herself has said that the core of this issue is the fact that she is not a British citizen. She has not held a British passport, she has not accepted British citizenship and she understands that the Good Friday Agreement gave an explicit right to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both. She said she is Irish, that it was not a choice or a decision; it is simply who she is.
I welcome that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade raised this case with his British counterpart and the Taoiseach raised it with the British Prime Minister. The Good Friday Agreement is an internationally binding treaty, overwhelmingly endorsed by the Irish people. Did the British Government clarify to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, say it will end this undermining of the citizenship and identity provisions and will it introduce new legislation to ensure it fully complies with the Good Friday Agreement and stop the discrimination of citizens like Emma DeSouza?
This is an issue that has concerned a lot of people who are watching to see how the British Government responds to it. Having spoken to the Secretary of State about this case on more than one occasion, my understanding is that there will be a comprehensive review of citizenship provisions and how they are provided for to ensure consistency with the Good Friday Agreement. We will have to wait for that review to conclude. I assure Deputy Crowe that we have raised and will continue to raise this case. The citizenship provisions are essentially at the core of the Good Friday Agreement, which is all about identity and people being Irish or British or both if they choose to be in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. We will continue to pursue this case. I believe the British Government wants to address this issue in a fair and proper manner and in a way that is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, but until that is done we need to continue to call for that review to be completed and hopefully published.
I am conscious that an election is taking place, but does the Tánaiste not agree that this seems to be part of a pattern? The British Government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement yet it constantly undermines elements of it. Just this week the British Prime Minister announced new plans to give British soldiers immunity from prosecution. The proposals would create a de facto amnesty from prosecution for British soldiers who committed offences in Ireland, including the murder of Irish citizens. That is completely unacceptable. Any attempt to create a scenario where current or former British soldiers are given immunity from prosecution, in addition to the immunity they have enjoyed for decades, is totally unacceptable.
Mechanisms have been agreed by the two Governments and political parties as part of the Stormont House Agreement to deal with legacy issues of the conflict and they must be implemented. Has the Tánaiste raised the concerning proposals with his British counterpart? I accept that an election is taking place, but has the Tánaiste told the British Government that the proposals are unacceptable to the Irish people, the Irish Government and to all people that are fair minded on this island?
We need to be careful about the language we use during an election campaign. Politics is already very polarised in Northern Ireland and we need to work towards political reconciliation between parties as well as reconciliation between communities. That is why yesterday I tried to respond in an appropriate way to suggestions that there may be commitments to non-prosecution of certain state actors in the context of the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. I do not think that would be helpful; in fact I think it would be very unhelpful in terms of efforts to move a legacy process and a reconciliation process forward in Northern Ireland.
We have an agreed approach. It is called the Stormont House Agreement. It is quite detailed and it took a lot of time to put together. There is a commitment to a historical investigations unit, which would investigate without fear or favour atrocities and crimes in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of them will concern non-state actors in acts of terrorism. We cannot have a situation where there is essentially an amnesty for any one element of Northern Ireland's past. That it not going to be the basis for lasting reconciliation. The Irish Government's position on that is very clear.