Tuesday, 26 February 2019
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
110. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress to date in the Brexit negotiations in ensuring that the rights and entitlements provided for in the Good Friday Agreement for persons living in Northern Ireland are fully protected and not diminished; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9731/19]
The Government remains firmly of the view that the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal from the EU is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the UK Government.
The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland includes a commitment that "The United Kingdom shall ensure that no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as set out in that part of the 1998 Agreement ... results from its withdrawal from the Union." Annex 1 of the Protocol lists the EU Directives that have been adopted by the European Union in this area. The commitment to no diminution applies further to all rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity concepts set out in the Good Friday Agreement. The United Kingdom is to set out its commitments in this respect, as well as on the operation of the dedicated mechanisms which form part of its implementation of this commitment.
The Protocol also confirms that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland "will continue to enjoy, exercise and have access to rights, opportunities and benefits" that come with EU citizenship. Further engagement is needed on which EU rights, opportunities or benefits can be exercised by the people of Northern Ireland who are Irish and therefore EU citizens, when they are resident in Northern Ireland, which will be outside the territory of the European Union after the UK departure. The negotiations on the future relationship of the UK with the European Union will be an important factor in this regard. There is an onus on the UK Government to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts in any scenario and it should ensure relevant issues, including possible future UK participation in EU funds and programmes, are part of its detailed position and pursued in the discussions on the EU-UK future relationship.
However, under any scenario for the UK’s exit from the European Union, the obligations and commitments of the Irish and UK Governments under the Good Friday Agreement remain and the Government will continue to work with the UK Government as co-guarantor to secure the full implementation of the Agreement.
In this context, the Government has noted and welcomes the commitment by Prime Minister May in her speech in Belfast on 5 February, that the British Government "will uphold the rights enshrined in the Belfast Agreement for all the people of Northern Ireland, right across the whole community. This includes upholding commitments around mutual respect, religious liberties, equality of opportunity, tolerance and rights." The Government also noted and welcomes the Prime Minister's acknowledgement that "the birth right to identify and be accepted as British, Irish or both, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship is absolutely central to the Agreement."
These are welcome commitments and acknowledgements by Prime Minister May. I have raised with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the need for the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement to be fully taken account of in all relevant policy areas, and there has been ongoing engagement between our officials, including through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat.
The Government will continue to engage with the UK Government as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement on this important issue in any scenario.