Thursday, 11 July 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
National Risk Assessment
I thank the Minister of State for attending in place of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to answer this particular question, which we have raised with the Minister previously and are now raising again. It is partly on the issue of the risk register, but also on the issue of uniting Ireland.
Before I begin, I welcome to the Chamber Ms Caroline Mulvaney, who has been working in my office on a number of research reports. I hope that she found some benefit and insight into politics in Ireland as opposed to how it works in the United States of America.
In recent days, we have had everyone from the head of the Orange Order to, in an interview with Simon Carswell in today's The Irish Times, members of the UVF discussing the issue of a united Ireland. The concern is that, in the 2019 national risk assessment, which was undertaken by the Department of the Taoiseach and fed into by all Departments and Government agencies, there is no mention of the possibility or probability of there ever being a united Ireland. Bear in mind that the national risk assessment started in 2014 and literally covers every topic under the sun, including global warming, global terrorism, cybersecurity, the healthcare crisis and the housing crisis.Under the issue of instability in Northern Ireland, it includes Stormont not being in session. It also discusses the possibility of another referendum in Scotland on Scottish independence. However, there is no mention anywhere in the national risk assessment of the possibility or probability of there being a referendum on a united Ireland.
When I and Deputy Fleming asked the Taoiseach and Tánaiste why uniting the people of Ireland, the main aim of the State under Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, is not in our national risk assessment the Taoiseach replied that he did not see it as a risk, and that it was too important and sensitive to be in the national risk assessment. The reply of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the issue of a referendum, the preparation required for a referendum, which would come under the remit of both his Department and the Government, and what was being done on that was that it would be dealt with when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland called the referendum.
As we know from Brexit, long-term planning and engagement are required well in advance of holding a referendum. The lesson from Brexit in Ireland's case is that one should not call a referendum and then try to figure out the future. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is saying in its response to Deputy Fleming and me that it will do the preparation when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland calls the referendum. There was a court case in Belfast taken by a unionist against the Secretary of State to force her to come up with a policy on how she would determine that the majority of people are in favour of a united Ireland, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. She refused to come up with a policy. However, under the Northern Ireland Act, the Secretary of State alone decides who gets to vote in that referendum. That has potential for chaos and for all elements of risk.
That is why Deputy Fleming and I made a submission to the national risk assessment. We asked that the Government include the issue of a referendum on a new agreed Ireland in the 2019 national risk assessment. It has not been mentioned in any national risk assessment since 2014, but the Government again refused to include it in the draft risk assessment even though we highlighted the issue to the Taoiseach's office. I am interested to hear the response from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as to why the main aim of this State is not included anywhere in our national planning.