Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland: Representatives from the House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

Ar son an choiste, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur romhat go dtí an gcruinniú. On behalf of the committee, I welcome to the meeting the members of the House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. I welcome Lord Jay of Ewelme, Lord Caine, Baroness Goudie, Lord Hain, Baroness O'Loan and Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick. Without putting too much pressure on the sub-committee, Lord Jay has a formidable team. I know to be careful with the word "experience" because it can be mistaken for referring to one's age, but there is experience and wisdom among the members of that team. I have worked closely with a number of them in different chapters of my own political career. We are looking forward to their contributions and engagement.

This meeting is timely. I do not want to use jargon like "impasse" to describe where we are at but we have a challenge. It is through continued engagement, an opportunity for which we have today, when people are talking and communicating that problems are solved. We are grateful for our guests' attendance today and look forward to their engagement.

Before we begin, all witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of their domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence they give.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of the place in which Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House or the Convention Centre Dublin in order to participate in public meetings. I will not permit a member to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any members who attempt to participate from outside of the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I ask any member partaking via Microsoft Teams that, prior to making their contribution to the meeting, they confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

I thank members for their patience and call on Lord Jay of Ewelme to make his opening statement.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I thank the Chair and committee members for the invitation to be with you today. I am the chair of the House of Lords committee on the protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland. I previously served as a member of the House of Lords European Union committee, which had since the EU referendum in 2016 conducted intensive scrutiny of the implementation of Brexit for Northern Ireland and Ireland. I was pleased, in the context of that work, to visit the Oireachtas on a number of occasions, and to have met many Members. It is a real pleasure to be with them again.

Following the UK withdrawal from the EU and the end of the transition period, the term of appointment of the EU committee came to an end on 31 March this year. The House of Lords appointed in its place a new European affairs committee, to scrutinise all aspects of the UK-EU relationship. In view of the technically complex and politically sensitive provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol, the House of Lords also agreed to appoint a committee to scrutinise all aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol, as a sub-committee to the European affairs committee. Both committees began their work in April.

The protocol committee includes a wide range of views and expertise, as the Chair rightly said, both on Northern Ireland and on the protocol itself. Our membership includes senior representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland, including former party leaders and deputy leaders, from both unionist and nationalist perspectives. It draws on wider expertise in the House of Lords, including a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a former specialist adviser to successive Secretaries of State, and a former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Many of these voices are represented in our delegation today. My colleagues will introduce themselves the first time they speak. I should add that Lord Empey had hoped to participate today but had to withdraw at the last moment.

The committee has identified six core tasks within its remit: document-based scrutiny of new or amended EU legislation within the scope of the protocol that will apply to Northern Ireland; scrutiny of the implications of relevant domestic UK legislation and policy for Northern Ireland in relation to the protocol; scrutiny of the Northern Ireland-related work of the governance bodies established under the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, including the joint committee, the Ireland-Northern Ireland specialised committee and the joint consultative working group; monitoring the protocol’s political and socioeconomic impact on Northern Ireland; reviewing the ongoing impact of the protocol, and of UK withdrawal from the EU more broadly, on the UK-Ireland bilateral relationship; and developing interparliamentary dialogue in relation to the protocol, including with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas.

The committee has identified monitoring the protocol’s political and socioeconomic impact on Northern Ireland as its key initial priority. To that end, we have launched an introductory inquiry into the current state of play on the protocol, taking account of developments since it came into force on 1 January 2021. Over the past few weeks, we have heard oral evidence from business leaders, community and civic society representatives, academic and legal experts and political commentators. We also have received a range of written evidence, including from businesses, political parties, and the ambassador of Ireland in London. Tomorrow, the European affairs committee will hear evidence from the EU ambassador to the UK. On 14 July 2021, in our final session for this inquiry, we will hear from Lord Frost, on behalf of the UK Government. We aim to publish our report at the end of July. We will then take forward more detailed scrutiny of individual issues in the autumn, taking full account of political developments in the meantime.

Today’s meeting is a welcome opportunity to strengthen interparliamentary dialogue between the Oireachtas and Westminster, and between our two committees. I hope that we will be able to build on this engagement in the coming months including, as Covid-19 restrictions ease – we hope - by meeting in person, both in Dublin and in London. We look forward to answering your questions about our work. We hope also to have the opportunity to ask you about the perspective in the Oireachtas and in Ireland more broadly, on the protocol, on political developments in Northern Ireland and on evolving UK-EU and UK-Ireland relations.

I thank Lord Jay. I will start the ball rolling with a quick question, which he can pass on to one of his colleagues. He emphasised the importance of strengthening interparliamentary dialogue between the Oireachtas and Westminster. In appreciating the formal mechanisms that are open to us, we all know what is happening with the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, and that formal mechanism has not been available to us over the last couple of months. Is there an opportunity to do more work on an informal basis, in terms of engagement, whether that is on an east-west or a North-South basis? Lord Jay may wish to pass that question on to one of his members. I am conscious of the role that Lord Hain played when he was Co-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body, as it was then. While that was a formal mechanism, I think the best work was carried out during the informal sessions, if Lord Jay understands what I mean.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I will pass on to Lord Hain in a moment but I agree about the importance of informal, as well as formal, contact. I have been pleased to have a number of formal contacts with Members of the Oireachtas, with Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and with chairs of committees of the Northern Ireland assemblies from a wide range of political parties there. Those informal contacts are an extremely important of our work, as well as the importance of more formal contacts such as this one.

Lord Hain

I thank the committee for this engagement. I strongly support informal contact and building personal relationships. The Chair mentioned the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which is one example. When I was Secretary of State the personal relationships between the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was crucial to the progress made during Tony Blair's ten years of premiership on peace, on the Good Friday Agreement and on the 2007 settlement that brought Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness into shared power. We should not underestimate the importance of informal contacts. They seem to have ebbed away in recent years from Brussels to London, where trust is at the lowest ebb that I can remember in the last few decades. I also believe that trust between Dublin and London has been breached massively and frankly, personally I think that more than 90% of that is due to the behaviour of London. Given the history of relations between the UK and Ireland, I think it is crucial that we try to re-establish that trust.

Whether it is a case of parliamentarian-to-parliamentarian relationships, including those between Members of the European Parliament and those in Stormont, all of these relationships need to be developed.

Our committee heard evidence, which I favour and of which I took great note, that there would be a great benefit if Stormont Assembly members had direct relationships with Members of the European Parliament and Members of the Oireachtas. Similarly, it would be beneficial if the Northern Ireland Executive had a direct relationship with Brussels because the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council are responsible for regulations that apply in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland does not have any direct representation through its elected body and Ministers. There is a lot to be explored there.

The current circumstances might have been mitigated a little if the European Commission had had, and had been permitted to have, an office in Belfast and had there been a building of relationships on the ground and a better understanding north, south, east and west and with Brussels.

Ms Margaret Ritchie

I thank the Chairman and members of the Oireachtas committee for their very warm welcome and invitation to engage. Like Lord Hain, I agree that formal engagement and informal engagement are needed. I am a member of the British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly's committee on economic affairs, chaired by Deputy Howlin. Some weeks ago, we heard evidence on the economic impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland, both North and South, on the impact of the protocol and the need for political and economic stability. Those are the points that arose continuously. Of vital importance is the informal contact we already have with one another as parliamentarians. It is important that we build on it. I am aware, from living in Ireland and the North, that it is important that we engage with our colleagues in the Oireachtas, be they in the Dáil or Seanad. It is vital that we gain an understanding and communicate the issues. I recall the engagement by my party colleagues in the days of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and during the development of the Good Friday Agreement. The relationship between the then Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, and the then UK Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, was vital. Those relationships were excellent. Relationships in the past couple of years between Britain and Ireland have sadly deteriorated. I would lie that largely at the door of the British Government but we now have to move to circumstances in which those relationships are enhanced. I am glad about the formal relationship provided for under the agreement of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which is meeting in Dublin tomorrow under the chairmanship of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. That is vital. Formal and informal engagement is required. The more we can do with the Oireachtas, the better, be it in Belfast, London or Dublin, or even Downpatrick.

Baroness Goudie

I have a whole history in Ireland. My parents are Irish. I was the patron of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland prior to the Good Friday Agreement and subsequently. I am concerned about everything. I agree that the informal meetings are important. On the Good Friday Agreement, we now need to consider timelines for implementing some of the recommendations on human rights, including women's rights, and for doing some of the work on the ground. In recent years, the relationship between the British Government, not just the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Irish Government has broken down. I very much hope that we, speaking together and working informally, can solve this problem and bring the two together. If we do not do so, we will not get a really good solution for the people of Northern Ireland, especially the next generations.

Lord Caine

I was a special adviser to six Conservative Secretaries of State, going back to Mr. Peter Brooke in 1991 and finishing with Ms Karen Bradley in 2019. I completely agree with the comments made by Lord Hain, Ms Ritchie and others on the personal relationships. They are crucial. Like Ms Ritchie, I am a member of the British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly and look forward to that body being able to meet physically in the not-too-distant future. We have had a couple of remote meetings. I totally agree on the need for the relationship to be strong.

As somebody who was ever-present between 2010 and 2019, I would like to push back slightly on the extent to which some people perceive the relationship between the UK and Irish Governments to have deteriorated. For most of the time I was in post, the relationship was pretty strong. There was a very good relationship between Mr. David Cameron and Mr. Enda Kenny. The various Secretaries of State with whom I worked co-operated very closely with Mr. Eamon Gilmore, Deputy Charles Flanagan and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 2014 and 2015, when working on the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements, we spent something like 25 weeks in talks that necessitated the very closest co-operation. In the end, we got two agreements out of it.

Conscious that I am speaking on the fifth anniversary of the date of the Brexit referendum, I am aware that things have not been easy over the past five years, possibly because of Brexit. Lord Hain talked about formal and informal meetings. A lot of business was done at the margins of European meetings. In 2014, I remember having to get something to Mr. David Cameron very quickly about the Stormont House talks and he just happened to be with Mr. Enda Kenny at a European Council meeting. They were able to get together very quickly and come back with a very quick joint response, which was really helpful. There is probably a need to use the existing British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference more frequently or, possibly, if some people in Northern Ireland have sensitivities about that, think about some new institutional structures through which we could continue to deepen and strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two countries, which, as others have said, is crucial.

I would push back a bit on the extent to which people think the situation has deteriorated in recent years. For much of that period we had a functioning devolved government. I hesitate to use the word "stable", but it was functioning throughout that period. It slightly resets the relationship between London, Dublin and Belfast when devolution is functioning properly. I completely agree with colleagues about the need to strengthen and deepen the bilateral relationship. I hope forums such as this, the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, and other institutional arrangements can be put in place to ensure that happens.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

Baroness O'Loan has disappeared from my screen.

We will come back to Baroness O'Loan in the next round.

I thank the witnesses for their comprehensive answers and insight. I call Deputy Ó Murchú, followed by Deputy Haughey. We will take the members individually and Lord Jay of Ewelme can decide how many people should reply.

I thank all the witnesses. It is great to have this engagement with the committee. People have spoken about the relationship and while there might be a different view as to how bad the east-west relationship is, some elements of trust may be lacking. I will put my cards on the table. My view of what I am hearing from the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Secretary of State, Lord David Frost, is what I would say has happened here for probably centuries in the sense that even when we think we have a deal with the British Government there is always an attempt at a renegotiation even after the fact.

With Boris Johnson, we just do not know if it is a play to his home base. Is he serious about what he says about the Irish protocol? It adds to instability. We know there are difficulties in unionism. I believe those difficulties relate to the fact that unionists have never had to move beyond the lowest common denominator within their own base and they are now losing support to their left and right flanks. Whatever about the Irish language Act, agreements made many years ago and solutions that have been found to that, they have settled on the Irish protocol as being a major issue to wrap the Union Jack around themselves. What they hear from Boris Johnson and Lord David Frost gives them false succour. I would put the Irish protocol in the same framework as the Good Friday Agreement. They are international agreements and they are not going anywhere. I accept that certain things need to be streamlined.

I lost my connection to the meeting for a minute or two and may have missed some interaction. I apologise if I am repeating what someone else may have said. What are the possibilities of an SPS deal on animal and veterinary issues that would address a significant number of the protocol issues? That is accepting that there are enough modalities and committees between the EU and the British Government to deal with this issue.

I welcome that Lord Hain spoke about the democratic deficit in respect of the North. When the trade and co-operation agreement went through the European Parliament there was a resolution that there needs to be some element of Northern representation or engagement. We would have played our part on that. We need to ensure that happens. Do the witnesses believe the British Government would consider another unilateral action? Could we have some sort of deal? An SPS deal may be on the cards.

Boris Johnson is considering an amnesty for members of state forces regarding actions that occurred during the conflict. Many people here, particularly nationalists throughout the island, believe that the British Government is never willing to accept or own up to its role in collusion between state forces and loyalist killer gangs.

I will hand over to Lord Jay of Ewelme. There are three questions, one on animal medicine, one on potential unilateral action and one on legacy issues.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I think the question on legacy issues is rather outside our remit. The issue of SPS is key in the negotiations and I do not know the answer to it. However, if one is looking for a bit of encouragement, Lord Frost has sought approval from the Commission for the extension of the deadline on meat products. That is an indication that unilateral action will not always be the way ahead. I find that encouraging. I will pass this on to other members of the team. Would Baroness O'Loan wish to contribute?

Baroness O'Loan

I suspect people know that I was the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. I also served on the House of Lords subcommittee on justice and institutions for some years. An SPS deal is just one deal that needs to be made in the context of the many deals that are necessary in this journey we are all on. We have vital common social and trade interests across the island of Ireland. While it is not all about veterinary issues, the SPS issues will deal with about 80% of the problems we currently have. With goodwill and trust on both sides - by which I mean the European Union, not Ireland, and the United Kingdom - we will move there because it is in both our interests to do so.

As I did not hear the second question, I had better withdraw now. I appreciate the opportunity to speak and I will come in again

Lord Jay of Ewelme

Lord Caine has his hand up.

Lord Caine

I will try to answer the questions as rapidly as I can. On SPS, based on what I am hearing from the UK Government, that is not being considered in the short term at least. On unilateral action, I agree entirely with Lord Jay of Ewelme that it is not always the right approach. Everything I am hearing is that the UK Government will not rule out unilateral action if it deems it necessary.

Lord Jay of Ewelme is quite right that legacy issues are outside the remit of our committee. As somebody who was involved with legacy policy for nine years and was involved in the Stormont House Agreement, I am happy to take any conversations offline if anyone wants to talk to me about that. We should not underestimate the extent to which issues arising out of the protocol are exercising some of my colleagues in Westminster, particularly within my own party in the House of Commons. I agree with Baroness O'Loan that with the application of a bit of common sense and pragmatism, we ought to be able to work through most of these issues.

The papers this morning in GB and NI are full of David Frost saying the protocol in its current form is unsustainable. He is not saying there is not a need for some kind of protocol; he is talking about its current form. Jeffrey Donaldson is making it clear progress will be needed on the protocol and, without it, the resolution of other sensitive issues in Northern Ireland will be more difficult. That could put pressure on the institutions come the autumn. We need to be realistic. It is exercising people in Westminster and at the heart of government. We have to find a way through.

Lord Hain

Legacy is outside our remit, but since Deputy Ó Murchú raised it, I note that from 1997 it was clear and the Good Friday Agreement was clear that legacy issues have to be treated in an even-handed way. The idea of an amnesty that has-----


Lord Hain

-----from a number of Conservative politicians in government and outside that only applies to British soldiers is completely contradictory to and outwith the Good Friday Agreement. I heard the former director general of MI5, Jonathan Evans, now Lord Evans, saying exactly that. There is wide support across the House of Lords on a cross-party and non-party basis for the idea that it has to be treated in an even-handed way.

On SPS issues, it is obvious that in recently striking a deal with Australia on agriculture and SPS questions among other things, there was no room for aligning with EU standards. In these free trade deals it is clear the Conservative Government is determined to strike free trade deals which do not automatically align with EU SPS standards. That is a major problem, but a bit of goodwill could be applied on both sides, which means Lord Frost and Boris Johnson removing unilateral threats to renege on legal agreements they have made, which is what the protocol is. They signed up to it and either knew the detail, including SPS, or they did not and signed it with their eyes shut. It requires goodwill from Brussels, London and, to the extent that it is a factor, Dublin. There should be common sense applied. The crucial thing is trust. The EU has subcontracted to the UK, and this is unique, responsibility for policing its external frontier across the Irish Sea. That is a big part of the protocol and it can only operate on trust. That trust could be to rebuild and a lighter touch application of the protocol introduced, including on SPS issues, which, as Deputy Ó Murchú implied, would deal with 80% of the problem. That is the way forward. We can find all sorts of mitigations which lighten the load but do not remove the necessity for Northern Ireland and products coming into it to comply with EU standards.

Baroness O'Loan

The resolution of legacy issues does not fall within the remit of our committee. Notwithstanding that, unless the legacy issues are resolved, there will not be the necessary economic stability. We heard evidence, if I remember correctly, of a significant number of people who wanted to invest in Northern Ireland but, in some cases, had been deterred by the trouble which broke out over the Easter weekend.

My experience of working across the Border with the Irish Government was on matters of policing and I gave evidence a couple of years ago to another Oireachtas committee on reform of An Garda Síochána. There is recognition across the Border that these are matters we have in common and need to cherish and hold safe. Although legacy does not lie within our terms of reference, it is nevertheless vital we do all we can to give effect to the New Decade, New Approach agreement. That will provide the necessary stability. There are those who reject that agreement so it is profoundly difficult, but I know from previous work that people only gain trust in policing and in the provision of the stability necessary for economic activity when they understand what is going on. One of the difficulties in some of the evidence we have heard is that people do not understand the implications of the Northern Ireland protocol and think it is about things it is not about. We have a big job to do there.

Go raibh maith agaibh. I appreciate that I asked the question-----

I have to come back in. There are other members. Deputy Ó Murchú is the first to contribute. We will try to get them in at the end. We will have to be fair to everybody. If Lord Jay has somebody left in this round, we can bring them in in the next round. This time I will bring in Deputies Haughey and Howlin and that will offer a broader range for Lord Jay to signpost to his colleagues.

I am Fianna Fáil spokesperson on foreign affairs. I am delighted to engage with the witnesses. As the Chairman has said, we have an experienced House of Lords team engaging this morning and we are delighted they are doing so.

I will concentrate on the Northern Ireland protocol, as I know the witnesses are preparing a report on that. Lord Jay said in his initial remarks that this is a "technically complex and politically sensitive" matter. That is an understatement. We need to go back to basics. The protocol was to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. It has nothing to do with the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. That gets lost in the debate. Paul Johnston, the British ambassador to Ireland, writes today in the Irish Independent about the need for a reasonable, pragmatic, proportionate approach to make the protocol sustainable. He outlines a number of things the UK Government is undertaking, including investment in ports, assisting businesses and so on. That is welcome.

The Taoiseach said earlier this week that he has proposed informally to other Heads of Government in the European Union that there should be an extension to the grace period from EU regulations governing the importation of chilled meat, the so-called sausage war. Whether that is unilateral or agreed is moot but I welcome the intervention of the Taoiseach. A grace period would be welcome. We have dealt with the veterinary agreement and the SPS situation. It is to be hoped something can be worked out there.

My main question, which Baroness O'Loan mentioned briefly, is on foreign investment in Northern Ireland and the advantages of the Northern Ireland protocol. Northern Ireland businesses can export freely to both Britain and the EU Single Market. There are huge advantages for businesses in Northern Ireland arising from the protocol. There is dual access to UK and EU markets for Northern Ireland's businesses. However, as Baroness O'Loan said, there is a need for political stability as well.

That is something that all of us have to work on and ensure. In the report, which will be finalised in July, will the witnesses refer to the opportunities that the Northern Ireland protocol presents for businesses in Northern Ireland as a positive thing, as opposed to how the DUP has presented it as a negative thing?

I am a long-standing Deputy for the constituency of Wexford. I am a former leader of the Irish Labour Party and have been privileged to serve in three Irish Governments, most recently between 2011 and 2016. I co-chaired, with Northern Ireland's Minister of Finance, the special EU programme bodies that distributed both the PEACE funds and the regional development funds.

It is important, because we are in public session, to state that one of the terms of reference of Lord Jay's committee is to have an understanding of the perspective of the Oireachtas in relation to the protocol. There is a consensus view across all shades of opinion and parties in the Oireachtas which is against Brexit because that was always going to be a disruptor, and a consensus that the type of exit should be minimally disruptive to relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the most severe form of Brexit, exiting the Single Market and customs union, was the path chosen. That was always going to cause a problem because if both of our jurisdictions were to be in separate customs unions, there was going to have to be a point of division, either on the Irish Sea or the island of Ireland. It was inevitable. That is why we have a protocol. We spent four years trying to find a solution to that question, which simply could not be avoided.

There is no doubt that real issues have emerged from negotiations. People have talked about sanitary and phytosanitary agreements, the importation of meat products that may enter the European Single Market which may be a cause of concern, and so on. The witnesses have presented much evidence. My fundamental question is about the growing consensus view in the UK Parliament about mechanisms to resolve those issues. It seems to me that there are two positions. I think the consensus position in the Oireachtas is that all these issues can be resolved within the architecture of the protocol and the mechanisms of dialogue that are there. We have had discussions with Maroš Šefčovič, who is flexible in all of these matters. Are there issues which are fundamentally unresolvable? In that case, the protocol itself must be either set aside or fundamentally altered. Those are two definitive positions. We need to know which approach is being taken by the British Government and Parliament. We can resolve matters by dialogue through the mechanisms available, flexibilities, understandings and the talking process. From a political perspective, there are those who want to exploit difficulties for political reasons. If it is determined that these matters must be resolved by setting aside the protocol, we have a fundamental issue that we need to talk about separately.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I thank the Deputies. I will ask my colleagues to comment on the second point. I have a brief word on the comment by Deputy Haughey. The report is in an early stage of being drafted and it would be a little rash of me to comment on what might be in it before it has been drafted or the committee as a whole has had a chance to look at it in detail. That said, the economic issues which the Deputy raised are important. The fact that Northern Ireland will be within the UK single market and the EU Single Market provides an opportunity, if peace and stability can be established, for investment in Northern Ireland, which will really help the economy and people of Northern Ireland. That is an important goal. I regret that more emphasis has not been put on that point in the negotiations which we have had about the protocol and the future of Northern Ireland. That is what I have to say on that point but others may well want to comment and I am glad to see that a number of hands are up. We shall go first to Baroness Ritchie.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick

Deputy Haughey raised a fundamental issue about the protocol. Our chair, Lord Jay, is right. We are in the midst of building our report. We are taking evidence and have taken evidence on various aspects. From a personal point of view, I agree with the protocol. The Deputy is right that it was put in place to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. There is no way that it interferes with the constitutional position of the North with the rest of Britain. The Deputy is correct about it. As Baroness O'Loan has said, some people have deliberately or unwittingly, not understanding the implications of the protocol, used that for the violence we have seen and mixed it into the divided society, thereby causing more upset and upheaval, as we have seen in the last few weeks. There is no doubt that we need political and economic stability. That is an overriding concern. Those are my personal views but I think some of them may emerge in our report, if I may be a little cheeky in that respect.

Deputy Haughey raised the issue of foreign investment. There are benefits. Last week, Mike Johnston of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland gave evidence. It was in the Irish Farmers' Journal. There have been significant benefits to the dairy industry from the protocol, which is really an all-Ireland industry now because much of the milk from the North is being sent to the South for processing at Lakeland Dairies, and comes back north in the form of cheese, milk or whatever other form of dairy product. That has been active for many years and is increasing. Just yesterday, we were told that Dale Farm, a Northern dairy processor, has actually got a contract with Arla Foods, the Danish company, which is one of the benefits of the protocol. The guy who was interviewed on BBC's programme "Evening Extra" last night, Mr. Whelan, emphasised that that was a benefit from the protocol.

I will move on to Deputy Howlin's question. He talked about the need for economic and political stability. When we took evidence from Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI, he was able to underpin the increased level of investment between the North and Europe as a result of the protocol. That means jobs in a post-pandemic global economy, which can only be good for all of us. It has benefits for the whole island. The Deputy talked about the UK Parliament. There are different views in the House of Lords. There are those of us who want to see political and economic stability between Britain and Ireland and to see those good relationships nurtured. Notwithstanding my personal preference for uniting the people of this island, which we are not discussing today, there is a genuine concern about some of the damage that has been caused by Brexit and, above all, the need for a resolution.

That resolution could be found in a sanitary and phytosanitary measures agreement, a food supply agreement that would resolve the sausage war to which Deputy Haughey referred, the medicines agreement and an EU office in Belfast to help those better relations.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I invite Lord Caine to comment.

Lord Caine

I find myself agreeing with a great deal of what has been said. Deputy Haughey is absolutely right to raise the issue of economic investment and economic opportunities. Members may correct me if I am wrong, but at the start of the year, Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was talking about Northern Ireland benefiting from having the best of both worlds in respect of the protocol. Obviously, that was before some of the issues to which Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick referred, such as the so-called sausage wars and so on, became apparent. I hope we can get to a situation where we iron out some of the difficulties with the protocol. It is not just a Northern Ireland issue. I read yesterday about the difficulty that smaller food manufacturers are having in supplying Northern Ireland markets, which is putting pressure on their businesses in Great Britain because of the difficulties involved. I very much hope that if we could iron out the difficulties, applying pragmatism, proportionality, common sense and all of that, we could start trumpeting some of the opportunities Northern Ireland has. Let us be honest, we all know that economic prosperity and stability is one of the surest ways of underpinning peace in Northern Ireland. I note that a week or so ago, the Prime Minister appointed Mr. Trevor Ringland, who is well known to many taking part in this meeting, as a special envoy to the United States, with a specific inward investment remit. I very much endorse the remarks of Deputy Haughey in respect of the opportunities that could be available for Northern Ireland if we can iron out some of these difficulties.

As regards the comments of Deputy Howlin in respect of where the consensus lies in Westminster, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick is correct in stating there are very different views. If I were to hazard a guess, most members of my party would be assuaged if the difficulties about which we are hearing could be dealt with, but there is probably a smaller number who fundamentally object to the protocol for all sorts of political and constitutional reasons. What we should be seized of is very much the extent to which this issue now is contributing to political instability in Northern Ireland and, therefore, it is incumbent on everybody to do whatever they can to sort it out, frankly, before the situation gets any worse.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I thank Lord Caine and ask Baroness Goudie to comment.

Baroness Goudie

I agree with my colleagues but we all know that investment in Northern Ireland, not just from the UK but from the whole of Europe, America, Canada and other countries, is vital because we cannot let young people not be eligible to get work, apprenticeships, proper jobs and proper training. If we get proper investment, the education system and the health service can be improved. In the long term, if we do not help to make this happen, Northern Ireland will not settle to be managing its own economy in the next 20 years of so. It is now that we must ensure we are giving investment to these issues and that is why outside investment is vital.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I thank Baroness Goudie. That is all the speakers who wish to contribute on our side.

Thank you. Senator Chambers requested that I ask a specific question on her behalf, which is whether our guests are concerned about political instability in Northern Ireland.

I am delighted to see so many familiar faces and the many engagements. All going well with the Covid certificate, Lord Jay of Ewelme is due a visit to west Cork at some stage this summer. We might catch up in Glandore if that is all right with him.

I am keen not to repeat what has been said as I agree with much of it but there are one or two points I wish to drill down on a little more and push a little further. Forgive me if I have missed it, but with regard to the timeline for the work of the sub-committee, will the sub-committee stand for the entire life of this session or for longer? In previous iterations, we had great engagements with the House of Lords EU committee, but also the now-disbanded House of Commons Brexit committee under Hilary Benn. It is a real shame that committee was not retained. I know it is a matter for the House of Commons but we were able to do a lot of good work with it.

I wish to reaffirm the point made by Lord Caine. I maintain that relations are surprisingly good, and have been so throughout this period. We have been able to keep relations civil, even with those throughout these islands with whom we disagree most, and, crucially, disagree without being disagreeable. I stress the importance of and opportunity that lies in improving the bilateral work between Ireland and the UK. I know many of those present are lucky enough to be members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I am really enthused that the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is to meet next week and the British-Irish Council met last week. I was extremely disappointed that several meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council did not go ahead due to what was, to be frank, a political boycott. That is something of which we all need to take ownership as parliamentarians and really stress the need for those institutions to be non-negotiable. Those strand 3 institutions are so important to the workings of relations on these islands and the Good Friday Agreement, but they also provide an opportunity, particularly on the Irish side, that no other EU member state has to have a level of bilateral relationship that can be quite special and mutually beneficial. I hope we can get agreement. The point has been made on several occasions at this committee that the institutions should be formalised. The British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference cannot go years without meeting. They have to meet every time they are scheduled to do so and be put in the diary simply as matter-of-fact meetings. As several people have mentioned, the ability for Irish and British Ministers to have meetings on the margins of European Council meetings is gone. The ability for us, as parliamentarians, to have supplementary meetings at the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs, COSAC, is maintained but they are not necessarily as substantive. We ought to put pressure on Ministers in both Governments, particularly the British Government, for those meetings to be scheduled and take place much more regularly. It would be reassuring if it was the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister alone who attends in future on behalf of the British Government. That would be a good statement of intent.

Many of the issues I wished to raise have been covered. My colleague, Senator Joe O'Reilly, who is from Bailieboro, will be delighted to hear Lakelands Dairy get a shout-out. When I was buttering my toast this morning, I noticed the butter was from Lakelands Dairy. I do not know whether the cow was from Cavan or Fermanagh, but it was good butter regardless. This is about considering the real impact on those who are on the ground in Northern Ireland. All present have acknowledged there are difficulties, which are not being helped by rhetoric from certain politicians, including certain British Government Ministers. I was quite disappointed to hear the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, during a meeting parallel to this one, again say that the protocol will be changed. I must be very critical of Lord Frost, a House of Lords colleague of our guests, for his approach to these issues in recent weeks. It has been unhelpful. I do not see the relevance of his comments or how a person who negotiated these agreements and has had a very respectable career as a diplomat can go into the political arena and trash for domestic audiences something he has negotiated, forgetting that those of us in the EU read and speak pretty good English.

I would look for the actual on-the-ground real impact of the work of this committee, not necessarily the headlines. Some 400 people at a protest in Newtownards can sound very menacing and create a lot of reaction, but what are the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, unionist, nationalist or other, actually thinking? As many people have said at length, including Deputy Haughey, are people in Northern Ireland looking at the benefits that the protocol provides? That is real challenge for Trevor Ringland in his new role.

I am certainly struck by the repeated comments from Matthew O'Toole in the Assembly. He seems to be beating a very lone drum about wanting investments to come into Northern Ireland to make the most of the protocol. I do not agree, as some people have said, that the protocol is the best of both worlds but it is not a bad situation. Certainly, if a common-sense approach is taken, which many of us at this meeting have demonstrated today, there is huge potential in it.

It is interesting to hear that a man with a young child in the house has time to butter and eat toast in the morning. I do not know where he finds the time. I will pass the questions over to Lord Jay and his team. After this round of answers, his colleagues might want to return serve in our direction. We will be happy to answer as best we can.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I will make a couple of points in response to Deputy Richmond and then I will pass it around. On the length of time of this committee, we have definitely been appointed until the end of 2022. There will then be a review on whether we should continue beyond that. That is the answer to that question.

I will make another point about contact. This goes back a little to my background, but I attended something like 15 European Council meetings in a row as a senior official in the Foreign Office. From the time of Mrs. Thatcher through to that of Tony Blair, on at least half of those occasions the most important thing was not the discussion of European Union issues but the bilateral discussion between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. One of the things we need to do now, in a sense, is to replace those sorts of informal, completely below the radar discussions which happened automatically every three to six months often without anybody knowing about them. That is an issue for all of us.

I am glad to see that almost every member of the committee has got their hand up. I will start with Baroness O'Loan.

Baroness O'Loan

I thank the committee members for their very interesting questions. Senator Chambers asked about political instability and Deputy Richmond finished up on the same issue. We have already talked about it to some small degree. Part of the problem of political instability lies in a perception among some people in Northern Ireland, possibly quite a few, that the Government in Westminster does not care what happens in Northern Ireland so long as the problem goes away. The Westminster Government is not perceived as always acting as honest brokers. That is a major problem for stability here.

I had the privilege to serve for three years as a special envoy for Ireland to Timor-Leste. It was a unique situation to have a northerner doing this, but it was a privilege and I saw at close quarters the workings of the Irish Government and Civil Service. Wherever those opportunities are seized, they can enhance stability, but it has to be done in a way which embraces all the people of Northern Ireland. It cannot just be nationalist and republican parties in Northern Ireland who are engaging with the Irish Government. It has to be the other way round. Our politicians here from the other parties have to engage with that and accept it as a reality. It is in their financial and economic interests to do so.

The issues of developing stability and economic success in Northern Ireland absolutely go hand in hand. One cannot proceed without the other. Everybody has to accept that; it is in everybody's interests. We do not want to slip back into the kind of thing that some of the loyalists, for example, are threatening us with and that the dissident republicans are continuing to inflict on us. There is a very real need for the two to meet together and for all the institutions, whether they are North-South committees or British-Irish commissions, to seize every opportunity on every occasion to demonstrate to the people of Northern Ireland a coherent respect for the working relationship between the Governments in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Westminster.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick

On Senator Chambers's question about political stability in Northern Ireland, I honestly believe that if we did not have the protocol, there would still have been elements of political instability in the North because there was a lot of disgruntlement on the part of the unionist-loyalist community. The origins of this lie with other issues to do with the marching season and so on. That is what I find as a former Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive with particular responsibility for housing in urban Belfast.

To achieve political stability, the most important thing is that politicians on all sides need to dial down the rhetoric in the North, between Britain and Northern Ireland and between Britain and Ireland. We need to get back down to the basics of what matters to the people, which is delivering for them and being able to achieve to underpin that level of political and economic stability. The European Union and the UK need to have direct discussions with the Irish Government, the parties in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive. It is only when there was persistent and consistent dialogue and an understanding emerged of the various issues and positions that we had that level of political stability.

I happen to agree with Deputy Richmond. Those elements for political and economic stability lie in the features and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, such as the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the North South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. It is vitally important those structures of the agreement meet continually and that they move away from the scripted agendas that mean they are inclined to be dictated to by civil servants. I speak as a former Minister and that was my personal experience. There needs to be constant participation in the North South Ministerial Council and meetings should not be cancelled because certain Ministers cannot attend. If the principal Minister in a given instance is from Sinn Féin or the SDLP, therefore there has to be an accompanying unionist Minister. It should be mandatory that Ministers attend and subscribe to all the institutions because that was the ministerial pledge of office they took, to abide by the rules of their office. The same is true of the other position. If the principal Minister is a unionist, either from the Ulster Unionist Party or the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and the accompanying Minister is from a nationalist perspective, then that should be allowed to happen.

I believe that good outcomes happen when issues are discussed, whether they are about Brexit and the protocol or the climate emergency. There have been very beneficial discussions because problems do not stop at the Border. They can very much be of a cross-Border nature. It is vitally important all those institutions, such as the North South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, meet very regularly. I have no doubt many of the issues we have encountered relating to the protocol and Brexit could have been ironed out by a greater level of understanding and appreciation of the other person's, or party's, point of view.

Lord Caine

I will address the question from Senator Chambers. My earlier answer probably demonstrated that I am concerned about political stability in Northern Ireland. I agree with much of what Baroness Ritchie said. The issues around the protocol have been a major contributory factor in recent weeks and months but there are long-standing grievances within loyalism, some of which go back to the immediate aftermath of the Agreement in 1998. Although I do not agree with it, there is a perception that many loyalists have that the Agreement has worked for nationalists and republicans but has somewhat left them behind.

I remember drafting a speech in 2014 in the immediate aftermath of the flag process, during which the disorder was on a far worse scale than we saw some months ago. The speech was my attempt to do a version of the scene from the Monty Python film where the characters ask what the Romans have ever done for them. I asked what the Belfast Agreement has delivered for loyalism. Actually, if we look at the list, it is a long one. I remember at a select committee Tony Blair was asked what the Good Friday Agreement delivered for unionism. The first answer was the union. There are long-standing grievances within loyalism. They relate not only to the protocol but other issues that we need to try to address.

I believe Deputy Richmond and Baroness Ritchie have demonstrated above all that the Agreement is three-stranded. All parts of that agreement are essential and interlocking. One of the problems I found in engaging with Brussels is that those involved tend to see the Agreement almost exclusively through the prism of strand two and they downplay the east-west dimension. If there is anything that colleagues could do to try to gently address that, it would be most helpful. It is three-stranded and all three strands are vital and interlocking. All have to work.

I wish to address one point on the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The history relates to the immediate aftermath of the St. Andrew's Agreement, for which Lord Hain was responsible, to his credit, and the re-establishment of devolved government. A decision was taken at the time by the then British Government that the BIIGC should not meet regularly because of unionist sensitivities. After 2010 we continued that. To be honest, we did not come under much pressure from Dublin or any other quarter for the conference to meet regularly until after devolution fell in 2017. Then, the BIIGC met more regularly.

I agree with Deputy Richmond. As I said in an earlier answer, we need a strong institutional mechanism for the bilateral relationship between the UK and Ireland, whether that means more regular meetings of the BIIGC or a new institutional arrangement. My view is not set in stone on which of these it should be, but we definitely need institutional arrangements for the bilateral relationship.

Baroness Goudie

I do not have many more comments. I agree with my colleagues. I believe we have to move forward together and cut the rhetoric out if possible, especially with our government. If necessary, we need to get a good mediator to sit around the table, as has happened previously. I have a strong view on that.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

That is all from our side.

Lord Hain

I have had my hand up.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I am sorry Lord Hain, you disappeared from my screen so we could not see you. You are welcome back.

Lord Hain

I have been here all along. I agree completely with what Lord Caine said. I believe it was a mistake in retrospect not to have more regular meetings of the BIIGC and the British-Irish Council. To be frank, often we did not get every top Cabinet Minister, including the UK Prime Minister, present at these bodies. That was as true under Labour Governments as under Conservative ones. I will come back to this because Deputy Richmond specifically addressed the point.

I will begin with the question from Deputy Chambers. I believe the political instability at present is serious. It is not all to do with the protocol. I agree with what Lord Caine said about that. It has been there for several years. Anyway, it is serious. I am using my words carefully. It is important for nationalists and republicans, whatever side of the Border they are on, to be careful at the moment. This is because unionism feels extremely insecure, especially loyalism. As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and ever since, I have tried to play an honest broker role. It seems to me that is the key duty of any British Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, for that matter, their colleagues in government. Their duty is to be genuine honest brokers in this. Given Britain's tangled history in Ireland, Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland, that is essential. We would not have got the Good Friday Agreement, the work of John Major beforehand and that of others without that honest broker role, so we need to return to that. That means in the current situation some care and attention should be given by nationalists and republicans on both sides of the Border to how they resolve, form relationships and behave in this situation. It is quite serious.

I will offer one example. President Mary McAleese's husband played an important role under the radar in building relationships with loyalists. That gave a sense of comfort to loyalist opinion. Such opinion is not always or often not represented at all by unionist politicians that claim to represent loyalist opinion. Many loyalists do not believe that is occurring. Therefore, I would urge direct relationships between the Oireachtas and those in government in Dublin with the loyalist community and the wider unionist community. The more personal relationships there are and the more trust that can be built, the better. I was the first Secretary of State to formally meet loyalist representatives in my office at Stormont. Many of them, as one of my advisers described, were men in uniform. That was a step that had not been taken but it gave recognition and respect to an important strand of opinion in Northern Ireland.

Deputy Richmond made a point about North-South relations. Again, these are not happening. The North-South bodies, of which there are many, are not meeting in the way they should be and in a way that is essential. Whatever the suspicions on the side of the DUP, it is personal relationships and working together on tourism, the economy, energy or climate change that builds greater understanding and trust. We have to try to get those going again.

I hope I am not speaking for too long but I wish to take this opportunity to say that I believe Brussels, especially the European Commission, is being too rigid. I say this as an unapologetic remainer. Our committees have ardent Brexiteers as well as remainers.

I accept the charge of being a remainer as a badge of honour. Brussels, traditionally in a sense, subcontracted questions on Northern Ireland to Dublin and directly to London because, of course, we had a direct relationships through our ambassador in Brussels with that kind of hands-on relationship. Members of the European Commission or, for that matter, members of the European Council or even the European Parliament, are sufficiently understanding of the situation in Northern Ireland. I put most of the blame on the way in which Lord Frost and Boris Johnson have been behaving and, quite frankly, the dishonesty with which the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, behaved on the Irish Sea question where he denied a border that he had signed up to. That created a sense of betrayal and of suspicion in the unionist and loyalist community. There are faults in Brussels, and Dublin could be more energetic in being on the ground and in building relationships and trust, where loyalists might understand that Dublin is on its side in wanting to promote a future of peace, progress and prosperity.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I thank Lord Hain. I think that is all of our speakers from our side now, Chairman.

I thank Lord Jay and his colleagues also. Perhaps we may go back now to Lord Jay if he has any questions. I know that we have Deputies Ó Murchú, Howlin and Haughey on standby to answer any of the questions that they may wish to pose. Perhaps we will take just two questions at a time if that is okay with our guests in the half hour that we have remaining to us.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I thank the Chairman very much. I know that Baroness Ritchie has a question that she wanted to ask so perhaps this is the moment to do so.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick

Thank you Lord Jay. My question is very simple but I suppose it is very loaded. We heard much from the Irish parliamentarian point of view and we also hear much from the British Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. What do committee members think is the overall EU mood? Coming from the North, the protocol where I am is not a particularly big deal. In the shops, I have never seen empty supermarket shelves in Downpatrick or in any part of south Down, nor did I hear people complaining about the protocol. That may be because of what we may call the political description of the particular area but that has been my general impression. What then is the overall mood with the EU in terms of the Irish parliamentarians discussions and the negotiations that are ongoing with Ireland as a member of the European Union, taking on board the Commission and then the 26 member states? I thank the Lord Chairman.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I thank Baroness Ritchie. Does the Chairman want to proceed to have a question answered or will we have another question? I believe Baroness O'Loan has her hand up. I ask the Baroness to proceed with her question and we will then have two questions at that point.

Baroness O'Loan

I thank the Lord Chairman. I have a very simple question. Does Ireland see possibilities in the current situation with the Northern Ireland protocol and if it does what does it think those possibilities are and where do the possibilities lie for Ireland, North and South? I thank the Lord Chairman.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

We have two questions now.

I thank Lord Jay, Baroness Ritchie and Baroness O'Loan. The first question from Baroness Ritchie concerns the overall EU mood and the second one is where Baroness O'Loan has asked about the opportunities for Ireland and Northern Ireland. I will ask Deputy Ó Murchú to answer now as he indicated first but we will take all contributions if people wish to address different aspects of these questions. We will start with Deputy Ó Murchú followed by Deputies Haughey, Howlin and Richmond.

I appreciate all of the interaction and I thank the committee. Never have I needed to give an answer before in respect of the European Commission or even the Irish Government but I will do my best to do justice to all.

Maroš Šefčovič appeared before this committee and from any interactions, interviews or anything that I or our MEP Chris McManus have had from him, it would appear that he is completely au fait as to the relationship with Ireland, towards getting a solution and to streamlining the process.

As to what Baroness Ritchie has mentioned about the Irish protocol not necessarily being an issue where she is from, in the shops, etc., I will not quote any Sinn Féin spokespeople in respect of that. I will say, however, say that Deputy Coveney, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was before the committee and said that his interaction with businessmen and farmers, particularly of a unionist persuasion, was just about finding solutions. They were not overly vexed as to the politics of this. This has been played by unionist politicians because of the situation that they find themselves in. I agree with Lord Hain in the fact that the loyalist communities have been let down and used by unionist politicians for many years and by the British State also at certain points in time.

We are many years away now from Paisley and Molyneux, where "Ulster Says No" and being able to put those sort of numbers on the street. We do not want to see any violence or anything like that into the future and we are far away from that. I agree that we need more interaction and cool heads but I will put it plainly. This for me is just continuity and 100 years of the failure of partition and the only real solution is Irish unity. I do not think it will shock anybody that that is my and my party's view and we need a full conversation on that issue.

There are obviously elements in Europe who believe that Brexit was bad and that the British deserve to feel some element of pain in respect of it but the overarching feeling is to arrive at a solution. Our committee would have heard that it is very difficult to trust somebody where one cannot necessarily base anything on the last conversation that one had with them, whether that is David Frost or Boris Johnson, because what they say then to the media is something different. Sometimes that is gameplaying and sometimes it is just reassuring one's base but that has not been particularly beneficial in Ireland. Succour has been given to the more extreme elements of loyalism and political unionism that there is some gameplay to be had around the Irish protocol whereas what every sensible person wants is a streamlining and to deal with the problems.

As to the benefits, as I said it here before and was hammered by certain voices within the the DUP for doing so, there are certain advantages that the North will have in respect of its situation vis-à-vis the Single Market and the east-west connectivity. That may, however, have to be sold from a European Commission, European Union or an Irish Government point above where political unionism is at this moment in time. I will probably get hammered for having said that again now. Gabhaim buíochas.

There are two very specific questions here. One is on the overall EU mood and the second is on the opportunities for Northern Ireland. Before I bring in Deputy Haughey, my own view on what Baroness Ritchie has said is that I assume and hope at this stage that the EU, the European Commission and that the people who triggered Article 16 understand at this stage that that was a monumental mistake. I call Deputy Haughey now to deal with those two questions, please. We will try then to get some more questions from some of Lord Jay's other colleagues.

On the overall EU mood, the EU has been very supportive of the Northern Ireland peace process from the word go. The solidarity shown by our fellow EU member states towards Ireland has been extraordinary and has held. It never broke down on any of these issues throughout the process. One of the sessions of our Joint Committee on European Union Affairs was to deal with the whole question of the invoking of Article 16. We gave the vice president, Maroš Šefčovič, quite a tough time. That action on Article 16 was a fundamental mistake, as the Chairman has just said. From that point of view there was a lack of understanding on the part of the European Commission about Ireland. Michel Barnier fully understood the full situation in Northern Ireland because of his previous experience, and so forth.

The EU, as Baroness Ritchie will know, has been so supportive of the peace process going back many years. I think that is why Ireland got such solidarity: because of the need to maintain the peace process in Northern Ireland. However, trust has broken down, as other speakers have said. The failure to adhere to international agreements has poisoned the waters as far as the EU is concerned, but from the point of view of the protocol, Maroš Šefčovič is determined to make this work.

I have dealt with the advantages of the Northern Ireland protocol. It is to bring in foreign direct investment and to allow Northern Ireland businesses to export to both the UK and the EU. As other speakers have said, that would be very beneficial not just to the economy of Northern Ireland but to the society generally.

I draw the subcommittee's attention to the shared island initiative. When we spoke to Hilary Benn's committee, he was not too familiar with it. It is an initiative launched by the new Government last year. I ask the witnesses to examine and study that and the need for cross-Border infrastructural projects. The Irish Government approved financing of €500 million in the budget this year for cross-Border structures and institutions across a wide range of Departments. It is a major initiative by the Government and something to which I wanted to draw the witnesses' attention.

I will speak directly to the two questions. On the first, I will speak to a different strand of European opinion because I had the delight of spending my weekend virtually in Strasbourg at the first Conference on the Future of Europe plenary session as a delegate of the Oireachtas along with other Deputies, including Deputy Brady, who is on this committee. I am very involved within Fine Gael and our Europe-wide political family, the European People's Party. The mood on the general Brexit discussion as well as the specific protocol discussion, where there remains a mood - the vast majority of colleagues have moved on very distinctly and many colleagues never really had the level of interest that certainly we in Ireland did - is one of serious frustration and misunderstanding among those who remain with a watching brief. It is not a misunderstanding of the mood in Northern Ireland. I think everyone with half a wit can appreciate that unionists are very concerned and indeed have a right to be so, and the mood is very worrying for many of them in their communities. There is, however, a lack of understanding of what is going on in the British Government. It is not helped by repeated articles, as was mentioned, or repeated comments by certain ministers doing down a treaty they themselves negotiated and ratified merely months ago. There just seems to be quite an ignorance of how European systems work at a political level, which is really disappointing.

I repeat that, every time there is a daft article in certain British newspapers, we do read it, we do see it and it does have an impact. We are all very good at stressing, rightly, the importance and the desire to maintain good, cordial relations, which we are all endeavouring to do, but those things do not always help and have certainly made things very difficult. From an Irish point of view, trying to play a very proactive role within the European Union, possibly looking for flexibility within the protocol or just reaffirming that this can last, it is very hard to be the UK's best friend within the European Union if at the same time British Government Ministers are going out to trash the agreement or trash the European Union itself.

To go to the point about Article 16, that was all very clear at the time and, as the Chair and others rightly said, those officials in the European Commission who deliberated on this for a couple of hours certainly would never do it again. The number of times that has been rolled out as the reason to justify unilateral actions and to seek to break international law is pretty tiring at this stage. Hearing certain voices, political and otherwise, constantly harping back to that without ever acknowledging some of the really lousy things that have been said and done in the other direction gets tough to take, and the currency of that has been well and truly spent.

Moving on to the second question and in response to Baroness O'Loan, the opportunities are vast and they are fundamentally economic opportunities for Northern Ireland to look to diversify. Many people understandably made good play of the importance of the GB export market to NI, but there is now huge opportunity in diversifying the export market with the Continent, just like we are doing in Ireland, and looking to see where that level of joined-up thinking and co-operation can be done on an all-island basis. One of the key aims going into the Brexit process was the maintenance of the all-island economy. It really does not matter what your political persuasion is or whether you are in business or whether you are a consumer as long as you can see your economy grow and your society improve as a result of that. Baroness Ritchie mentioned some of the opportunities Dale Farm has had, but we also saw a whole range of other sectors talking about the opportunities: the tech sector, financial services and many in the agrifood sector.

To supplement the points Deputy Haughey made about the shared island unit, that is a huge untapped resource. We are talking in this jurisdiction about a higher education strategy for the north west, but that does not include our third level institutions in the city of Derry. How do we have joined-up thinking about the entire island and the entire region? We are a relatively small island, and the more we work together and the more we use the protocol, the more opportunities there will be for many people to come. It can be an exciting time if a lot of the political sensitivities can be worked out about the potential, particularly in Northern Ireland. For someone sitting in an office in Dublin, when Northern Ireland succeeds socially and economically, the whole island thrives.

I wish to respond briefly to both Peter Hain's comment about a lack of understanding within the European institutions and Baroness Ritchie's direct question. All my interaction across the political family in Europe and with the Commission has told me they have a very deep knowledge of the intricacies of Ireland, not only at an institutional level. People like Michel Barnier, obviously, but also people like Maroš Šefčovič have taken enormous trouble to understand the nuances and difficulties. I have had discussions and dinner with Mr. Šefčovič. He has a degree of understanding that is surprising. It is the same with people such as Johannes Hahn and other Commission members who have had a long-time understanding of Ireland.

I will make two points in this regard. I strongly agree with Deputy Richmond's analysis. I spoke to many British parliamentarians in the early stages of Brexit who had a view that the economic issues would come to a point where the German Chancellor or the French President would pick up a phone and instruct Michel Barnier, "Fix this because it is in the interests of the German car industry or French industry." They had a fundamental misunderstanding that the European project is the project that underscores the heart of French and especially German politics. The solidarity Ireland has got from the 27 is a manifestation of that because there was a view that maybe the European Union itself was somehow fragile. I think the solidarity shown to Ireland across the 27 was to make it manifest that the European project is to be sustained and supported. However, there is now a view, in my judgment, that the European Union wants to look beyond Brexit.

That is a chapter it is closing and it wants to look at the future of Europe debate, where its energy and focus has gone. That has also become an issue for us, that as we march on, it is looking in the rear-view mirror and asking why are these things still causing aggravation.

The other fundamental issue is that the EU is a community of law. When you do deals, write down treaties and sign up to them, there is a real expectation that they are delivered upon and not walked away from. It is very difficult if you formally agree to an agreement and then come back to say, "Actually, let us have a different agreement and we will ignore the one we just concluded." These are fundamental issues that I am not sure if everyone in the British system had a clear understanding of. Obviously the people in this discussion have.

I thought Baroness Ritchie's question was on opportunities for the Republic of Ireland as opposed to Northern Ireland. Maybe I misunderstood.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick

It was both.

It was both. There are real opportunities. I hope, as chair of the economics committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, to present a positive view of opportunities. They are real and can be presented. We are gathering the evidence to present that. The impact it has had on the Republic, if we take my constituency and companies such as Danone, has been such that it does pose a difficulty. For someone exporting food products into GB, there is a fundamental difficulty in terms of certification. There are a range of difficulties we would rather were not there but we need to make the best of it and we can present something positive. I hope the Lords subcommittee, this committee and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly will take it upon themselves to present this in a positive way.

I will hand it back to the visitors. There is still time for another round of questions.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

I think Baroness O'Loan wanted to ask a question.

Baroness O'Loan

I think my question has been misunderstood. What I was concerned about and interested in was the extent to which Ireland would benefit from the arrangements which exist on the island of Ireland, and possibly the extent to which some of the actions of the European Union earlier on, particularly in the context of Article 16, were perhaps less helpful, and whether there was sufficient flexibility in the Union to enable Ireland to benefit or whether it was "all for one and one for all" but not to allow Ireland to have a special relationship or a particularly coherent one. The evidence we have heard is that cross-Border trade has increased since the protocol was agreed and that is very positive. My question was about Ireland, not just Northern Ireland. I expressed it wrongly so I apologise.

Apologies for that. I said Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Lord Hain

One of the problems has been, to use Boris Johnson's phrase, getting Brexit done in a hell of a rush right at the end. That is why it was a shock to a lot of unionists and loyalists when suddenly they found themselves facing complex arrangements for Irish Sea trade. I wonder whether colleagues in Dublin feel that greater flexibility on the dates might be a good thing. We have had statements to that effect - encouraging ones. It is not to allow London to escape it obligations under the protocol, which are clear and to which they have signed up, but to allow a bit of room to sort some of these problems out. To be frank, if we got the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement, sorting out the protocol is relatively minor by comparison. I do not mean that in any kind of triumphalist sense having been involved in the latter one, but those were "it will never happen" moments. Any good negotiation, I am sure, should be able to sort these problems out within the protocol.

Lord Caine

Apologies, but I must leave at 11.30 for another meeting. I have less a question than an observation. I agree with much of what Lord Hain has said about some of the issues and hurdles that were overcome in 1998, 2007, 2014 and 2015 being such that, by comparison, the protocol should be easier - I will not say relatively easy - than some of those issues. It is five years ago today that we had the referendum. Shortly after that, the Northern Ireland Executive, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, sent a joint letter to the then UK Government setting out the specific concerns for Northern Ireland. A few months later the Executive fell. Throughout that crucial period of Britain negotiating, or starting to negotiate, its exit from the EU, there was no direct Northern Ireland voice. Northern Ireland tended to be represented on Cabinet subcommittees by civil servants, not by politicians. I think that was an absolute tragedy for Northern Ireland, that it was not directly involved during that period. Fast forward to today and we see elements of political stability. The DUP is going through a fairly tumultuous time. There has been talk on both sides of crashing the institutions and so on.

My plea, which slightly follows one of Lord Hain's earlier comments, is that bearing in mind the experience we had without an Executive between 2017 and 2020, we all must do whatever we can to bring whatever influence we have to bear through our direct relationships with people involved in Northern Ireland to ensure the institutions survive and we do not go through that period of instability and collapse again.

Baroness Goudie

I must also leave at 11.30 a.m. I thank everyone for this morning. I very much hope we can continue to keep talking and we all work with all the groups we know, both in Ireland and in Northern Ireland and on the ground. I would very much like if we could meet again. It is very important we are all together because we may not get other opportunities. We may get taken over by something outside.

Lord Jay of Ewelme

We are coming to the end of time, or at least our side will have to disappear. I want to say thank you very much indeed. It has been a very helpful two hours' discussion. We said at the beginning that what really mattered in this very difficult situation is not just formal relationships but also personal relationships. I feel we have developed both a formal relationship and personal relationships in the past two hours. That is very important and I hope we can build on that. I hope, as others have said, that we can have another discussion of this kind, either in Dublin or in London and perhaps later in the year when we have produced our report and things will have changed and evolved, where we can build still further on these relationships. From our side, thank you very much indeed for an extremely useful and very worthwhile discussion.

I am most grateful to members for being there and to our side for being here.

We can take Lord Jay up on his proposal to meet again in the autumn. Baroness Goudie said the same. It would be timely in the aftermath of the subcommittee publishing its report. We could do that. I agree with Lord Jay that today's meeting was one of intent. It was constructive but it was also heartening. Lord Hain emphasised trust, Baroness O'Loan emphasised respect, and Baroness Ritchie spoke about dialling down the rhetoric, which is a sophisticated way of saying "calm down". From our own personal journeys in life, we all know what the limitations of telling people to calm down are. Baroness Goudie emphasised the potential of a mediator while Lord Hain spoke about honest brokers. I will not open up the debate about where that goes but memories of George Mitchell come to mind in respect of that. With respect to formal and informal, Baroness Ritchie gave us a semi-formal invite to Downpatrick. We always talk in terms of London and Dublin. Perhaps it would be nice to have something formal in Downpatrick and we could do something informal the next day in Donegal across the Border to reach out. It would be an opportunity for both committees to meet up in Northern Ireland. I will leave the witnesses with an old Irish saying, "Má theastaíonn uait aithne a chur orainn, mair inár dteannta", which means if you want to get to know us, live with us.

What I am taking from this meeting is that the reason people were not meeting was not all down to Covid. Over the past ten years, what we could call a vacuum has been created. We must get back to basics. I remember joining 12 of my colleagues in Stormont. We met Peter Robinson and the late Martin McGuinness. Peter Robinson started his speech by saying it was about building relationships. He then stopped and said, "No, delete that. The relationships are already there. It's what we do with these relationships that is important." Perhaps we need to look at the language we use. As a Donegal man who lives in Ulster, one thing I know about Ulster is that when you tell somebody what to do, it does not really work out. It has not worked out and never will work out so perhaps we need to ask the questions differently and ask what we can do to help out. I know the subcommittee's experience and wisdom as a committee, and it is great to have all of its members online. They have such great experience, knowledge and insight and we could do good work collectively.

Once again, I thank our witnesses and members of our committee. We will take the subcommittee up on its invitation and try to keep the engagement going. It is to be hoped we can meet up in the autumn. I wish Lord Jay well along with Charles Kinnell and the work he is doing. We are very grateful for this engagement today.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.34 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 29 June 2021.