Thursday, 7 February 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
As we all know, language is emotive and powerful and no more so than the comments made by Donald Tusk yesterday. Let us not forget that this inflammatory language has been used before and also reference was made to the comments by Ms Priti Patel, MP, to the effect that there will be food shortages in Ireland. Ms Patel's comments were completely derogatory and derisory. To put the matter in context, this is all borne out of frustration on the part of both the EU 27 and the UK. I do not believe it is anything more sinister than that. We need to be careful that the quotation is seen in context. We saw evidence yesterday where the quotation in question was taken out of context and not in its entirety. That actually changes the quotation significantly. The blame game, finger pointing and colourful language does not add to this debate. We are in a situation where every man, woman and child in the land is an expert on Brexit. That is dangerous.
Today marks a significant milestone. It is 50 days until 29 March. There will be 32 sitting days in that period. Time is rapidly running out. Prime Minister May was in Belfast on two days this week and some cynics would be forgiven for wondering what she achieved or what was the purpose of her visit. However, there were a number of significant points. Mrs. May stated, "The need for change is to the backstop is the key issue and not the need to get rid of the backstop.". She also explicitly stated, "The UK stands by her commitment in the joint report that there will be no hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks or controls." She further stated, "neither will I compromise on my promise to protect Northern Ireland's integral place in the UK."
Technology can deliver at some point, but that point is not now. Yesterday, we learned from the British tabloids of a solution put forward by Fujitsu to deal with the Border conundrum whereby a web portal linked to a mobile app, supplemented by GPS and artificial intelligence and using geo-fencing technology - potentially using number plate recognition - could identify vehicles, traders, tourist traffic and redirect anything of concern to a customs depot. Could surveillance on the Border and on approved roads and redirection to customs depots could work or would it be a totally regressive step after 20 years of seamless frictionless trade across this island. The Prime Minister's comments are certainly reassuring but it is possible to square this circle? Is it the case that any agreement reached can be all things to all people? This is the time for cool heads and strong leadership. Tensions between the UK and Ireland are emerging because we all know that the retention of trade links and a strong healthy relationship are critically important. After two years of negotiations during which everyone involved contributed to delivering solutions to problems, the deal on the table is arguably as good as it gets. All must work together to reflect, review and assess where matters stand. Decisions in the next few weeks will have an impact for years to come. Strong leadership is often about listening to others and an ability to recognise that one may have got it wrong. Democracy dictates that one has the freedom to change one's mind. I am of the view that some people may have done so. I urge Mrs. May to respect the vote, respect the people and let them support Government by validating the referendum result. Is Brexit really what they want and is it really the right thing to do? I am not sure that it is. When he meets Prime Minister May tomorrow, I ask that the Taoiseach respectfully remind her that if any doubt exists about leaving the EU, then it is her duty to demonstrate strong leadership, to reconsider and to establish - two years on - whether this is still the right things for the UK to do.