Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Statements
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Tánaiste. I welcome the Tánaiste and thank him again for his ongoing and continued engagement with this House, which has been consistent throughout the course of the Brexit era. One of the great positives, as the Tánaiste knows, has been the coming together of Members in this Oireachtas around Brexit. While we have had differences of opinion and different views on issues, tactics and approaches, our greatest strength has been our unity of purpose in defending the peace process and the hard-won Good Friday Agreement and in ensuring no return to a hard border on the island.
This is also a political forum, so I am not naive enough to think that people will not make political points, but there has been a marked change in the Fianna Fáil tone and approach in this House over recent Brexit statements. What we have heard is a single, transferable speech about the North. It is a very confined speech. I do not want to use the word "ignorant", but it is at least a very narrow view of the political and social realities there. We have heard how wonderful Fianna Fáil has been in the context of the Brexit negotiations despite it being the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, their officials, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, MEPs in Europe, of which Fianna Fáil had none until recently, and political parties and figures in the North, from which Fianna Fáil abstains, who have done the work.
I do not think in the current climate that Members in this House should be referring to a core component of the Good Friday Agreement as a sectarian headcount. A Border poll would be an exercise in democratic expression that people are entitled to advocate for and engage on. It is what we all voted for and endorsed on this island, North and South, when we voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement. When we talk about defending and upholding the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts in the context of Brexit and if we are truly serious about that, then we must also uphold and defend that aspect of the agreement. I am amazed that the republican party would refer to an exercise in democratic expression, a right of people here to self-determination, as a sectarian headcount. Senator Marshall comes from a completely different political and ideological background and tradition than me and most of the people in this institution. That gives us a great strength and brings a great wealth to the Oireachtas, but Senator Marshall, coming from the perspective that he comes from, does not say that we should not have this conversation and nor do an increasing number of people like him. They are up for having this conversation. They do not want the same outcome but they are not running away or trying to shut down an engagement in democratic expression. I wanted to make that important point for the record.
We welcome and support the Brexit deal as it has been secured and do so in the clear knowledge that there is no good Brexit deal. Brexit is being forced upon the people of Ireland, just as partition was forced upon the people, and in both instances it was against our expressed welfare and wishes. I also commend the EU and the Government, parties in the Oireachtas and my own colleagues in Europe, our MEP team and not least, my own MEP, whom I am in danger of losing, Ms Martin Anderson, on their combined efforts over the past three years, which have produced the latest deal. The agreement makes it clear that there will not be a hard border in Ireland or a unionist veto over the planned protections against Brexit. Attempts by the DUP, in particular, to exercise a veto over matters not related to the Good Friday Agreement will not happen. The Good Friday Agreement does need protecting from this deal because it is under no threat from it. Brexit is not a devolved matter. The protections in the deal will be codified in international law, which is very important. It is particularly important when the failure of the British Government to codify in law the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement is considered. We can see the consequences of that failure in the Emma DeSouza case. I am looking forward to meeting the Tánaiste, along with other parties in the North, to discuss that case soon.
Sinn Féin has supported the Irish Government and the EU throughout the past three years of negotiations. We were the first to argue for a designated special status for the North within the EU, and we gained support for that approach with our motion in the Lower House last year. The past three years have shown clearly that when it comes to the people of Ireland, North and South, the parties at Westminster do not care. It is Britain's interests first or, more precisely, England's interests first. The interests of the people of Ireland will never and can never be taken seriously at Westminster.As Senator O'Sullivan rightly said, Westminster is a parliament in chaos, which is the problem. Ireland and all the parties working together to minimise the damage of Brexit are the solution. The Government and the parties opposed to Brexit will need to be ever alert beyond the period we are dealing with and especially during the period when negotiations take place on a trade deal between the EU and the British Government. We wish the Government well in that regard. Further to what I have said about the issue of the North, another point on which I respectfully disagree with colleagues is where Senator O'Sullivan argued for the North to become normal. Normalisation was tried in the North but it failed because partition is not normal. It is an anomaly. It is because of partition and the union with Britain that we face this devastation, economic threat and the threat to our peace and progress.
In welcoming the deal, I again wish the Tánaiste and his colleagues well in their endeavours and work over what will be an intensely important period. There is nothing like negotiations over Christmas, but I know they will knuckle down. They will have an engaged and willing, albeit critical when necessary, partner in Sinn Féin.