Monday, 29 March 2021
Matters Arising from the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU: Statements
I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this important issue. At the outset, I wish to put one matter on the record, which is the language we use about some of the issues that have arisen since Brexit took place. I very much take issue with a border in the Irish Sea. We should knock that idea at every turn because there is no border in the Irish Sea. Issues arise as to how we export goods to the UK and import goods from the UK, but language is important, in particular when it comes to dealing with Ireland's future, North and South, and the difficulties faced on a North-South basis. We should call it as it is: there is no border there, it is an imaginary border and Brexit has resulted in there being a lot more checks and balances for trade. We should knock that idea every chance we get.
I thank the Minister for the work he has done to protect our interests throughout the Brexit negotiations. It was no easy task and there were a lot of rough days, but he handled the process very well and protected Ireland's interests very well.
There are consequences to how the EU handled the Northern Ireland protocol. Overall, issues arise in terms of the relations that existed between the Government and its officials and the British Government and its officials following the Brexit process. We need to do a lot of work to try to repair them. It is not something that can be done overnight, but we must be very conscious of it and we must put a lot of work into it because it is in our interests to do that. In the same vein, I believe we must put a lot more effort into North-South relations given the strained nature of relations as a result of the protocol. Unionist communities and representatives are in an awkward position and we must recognise that and not do anything to ramp up the situation, rather the opposite. I am concerned at the approach being taken by a supposed independent academic producing a report on Irish unity that has no academic basis, but is rather a party political statement on behalf of certain parties, which completely ignores the Protestant and unionist populations in Northern Ireland. A North-South poll is very much to the forefront of debate in recent weeks. We must all be respectful of how we got to where we are thus far, how the Good Friday Agreement was won and the approach taken by all those involved to bring about the agreement. There must also be a recognition of the sentiment with which they came to the table because a similar sentiment is needed now if we are to move this country forward on a shared basis.This country coming together as one is not necessarily about territory; it is more to do with people. The Good Friday Agreement was established on that basis. We all have work to do collectively around the table. If there is going to be a Border poll some years down the road, we all have work to do and we all have responsibility.
Even for a party like Sinn Féin, although we sometimes we rub each other up the wrong way, it is fair to recognise that we all have responsibility. Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, perhaps, has an awful lot of responsibility in the relations it will try to set about and establish over the next few years. It needs to put more emphasis into developing those relations, particularly on a North basis and on a Stormont basis. I look forward to helping in any way I can in that regard. I thank the Minister again for coming to the House.