Despite yesterday's setback and the inability to conclude the negotiations that would facilitate a movement to the next and most crucial phase of Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom, I welcome the significant progress made in the form of the eventual wording that emerged yesterday which would commit all Governments and parties to not having a hard border between North and South in the aftermath of Brexit. I thank the Taoiseach for his briefings as well as his officials and the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. While there was a lot of negativity articulated about civil servants last week, let us acknowledge this week the diligent and very able work of our civil servants and diplomats in Brussels, Dublin and London who, since the Brexit vote, have focused their energies loyally and intelligently on behalf of the State.
When the vote for Brexit occurred, all parties - the United Kingdom Government, our EU partners, unionists and nationalists in the North and the parties in this Oireachtas - were clear that there should be no hard border. Economic common sense and the desire to preserve and mind the Good Friday Agreement were central to this belief. However, the fears and concerns of unionism need to be addressed. From the outset of the Brexit vote, I have been at pains to separate the Brexit issue from the unity question. Others have sought to conflate the two. For me, Brexit is about the economic well-being of all our communities on this island - the bread and butter of daily lives - and not, as others advocated, an opportunity to pursue a united Ireland through Border polls or otherwise.
On reflection, it must now be very clear to all that the contrived collapse of the Executive and the Assembly has not served the people of Northern Ireland well. It would have facilitated the articulation of different perspectives on Brexit in a democratically elected forum. In short, it would have given a voice to the people of Northern Ireland on a most profound issue. Our agenda and that of the majority in the Oireachtas, I believe, is to limit the economic damage a hard Brexit would do to this island - nothing more and nothing less. The Good Friday Agreement upholds the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the formula of words of yesterday copperfastens that status and does not undermine it. British–Irish relations are vital to our long-term economic well-being and we would do well to reflect this in our tone and demeanour from now until the Council meeting. Does the Taoiseach agree that the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly has been very damaging and that these institutions need to be restored as a matter of urgency, particularly in the light of the ongoing negotiations? Does he accept that there needs to be an outreach to unionism that is deep and meaningful, notwithstanding our differences on the issue? Does he agree that nothing in the formula of words or negotiations undermines the integrity of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, in accordance with the outcome of the referendum in 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement ?