Implications for Good Friday Agreement of UK EU Referendum Result: Discussion (Resumed)

On behalf of the committee, I am delighted to welcome Dr. Anthony Soares, deputy director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, and Mr. Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland. They are both going to speak to us on the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions. I propose that we hear from Dr. Anthony Soares first, followed by Mr. Peter Sheridan, and then I will take questions.

I need to advise everybody of the privilege rules. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to him, her or it identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice that, where possible, 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.

On behalf of the committee, I thank our guests for joining us today. I invite Dr. Anthony Soares to make his opening comments.

Dr. Anthony Soares

I thank the committee for this opportunity to present the Centre for Cross Border Studies' views on the implications of the recent UK referendum decision for the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions. If the committee is agreeable, I will present a summary of the statement prepared by our director, Ruth Taillon, who unfortunately was not able to be present with us here today.

As I believe the members will be aware, the Centre for Cross Border Studies was established in 1999 to support and promote cross-Border co-operation on the island in the context of the imperative for cross-Border co-operation embedded in the Agreement. Strand two was and is a reflection of the centrality of the Border to the conflict and, in turn, to the peace process. Much of the public debate since the referendum has focused on the physical Border and whether it will be hard or soft. While we agree that there is a strong consensus among most people and their political representatives that there should be no return to the Border of the past, which at one time was the most militarised border in Europe, we would certainly share concerns about any outcome of the negotiations that would result in the land Border becoming a barrier to free movement in any way.

Prior to the referendum there were already indications of the potential for the Border to become a focus for increased political tensions. All academic commentators have also expressed serious concerns about the implications of the referendum decision for the peace process. The Centre for Cross Border Studies shares many of these concerns about the possible implications for the stability of the peace process. We are also alarmed at the prospect of changes to the Agreement and its institutions that could arise as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The Agreement specifically provides, under strand two, Article 17, for the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, to facilitate co-operation and co-ordination in EU matters. The NSMC’s remit in this area would clearly be altered by the UK’s exit from the European Union. However, rather than its EU role becoming redundant, it may become of greater importance, providing a mechanism to address emerging impacts of the withdrawal process. In addition, provision for the views of the NSMC to be represented at relevant EU meetings through Irish Government Ministers and officials could provide a continuing platform for the Northern Ireland Executive to raise issues and have an input to EU policy-making.

The future operation and development of the North-South implementation bodies would clearly be challenged with Northern Ireland outside the European Union. The presumed ineligibility of Northern Ireland for continued access to EU Structural Funds would appear to end the current role of the special European Union programmes board, SEUPB, after the closure of the 2014-2020 programmes, although it could find a continuing role in the delivery of funding schemes for co-operation between EU members states and non-EU members states or other funding mechanisms that the Governments may want to consider. The remit of InterTradeIreland to promote cross-Border business and trade would also face considerable challenges in the event of the UK having restricted access to the Single Market post-Brexit. In the longer term, growing policy divergence between the UK and the Republic would potentially impact on the work of safefood, Waterways Ireland, and the Loughs Agency. Regardless of policy changes, the day-to-day operation of the bodies, which draw staff from both sides of the Border, would be complicated by any departure by the UK from EU employment law.

The east-west institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement, including the British-Irish Council, would face similar challenges in the delivery of their EU remit.

While not directly linked to the withdrawal from membership of the European Union, we are also very concerned about the proposed withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, which could place Britain in breach of its international obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

The repeal of the Human Rights Act could require revisions of the Good Friday Agreement and of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, especially if its proposed replacement – a bill of rights and responsibilities – is not recognised as being fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Centre for Cross Border Studies and a number of other organisations involved in cross-Border co-operation have come together to discuss the challenges for cross-Border co-operation in the context of the referendum decision. We are acutely aware of the centrality of the Border to the conflict and the dangers that could materialise as a result of uncertainties about the nature of the Border. Also, as migration and citizenship issues emerge in the context of any economic stagnation or decline, social cohesion in the Border region and other disadvantaged areas will likewise be threatened.

Our first concern is that the commitments for cross-Border co-operation embedded in the Good Friday Agreement remain a priority for both the UK and Irish Governments. Cross-Border co-operation will be increasingly important to address the challenges resulting from economic, social and political uncertainty and instability. It is essential that the soft infrastructure that has been established to support cross-Border co-operation – the statutory cross-Border bodies, links at departmental and local government level and within civil society networks and projects - be protected and nurtured.

We are concerned, therefore, to ensure that the interests of the Border region remain central to the deliberations of both the UK and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive prior to and following the notification of Article 50 to the EU. In particular, we believe it essential that measures be taken to ensure the sustainability of cross-Border and transnational projects that are currently funded under EU 2014-2020 programmes; that existing EU directives and regulations that have been transposed into UK or Northern Ireland law should remain in place until such time as any proposed change has been subject to comprehensive territorial, equality and environmental impact assessment; that means should be found to ensure the eligibility of continued participation by Northern Ireland, and those parts of Wales and Scotland currently involved in INTERREG programmes with Ireland, in the European territorial co-operation programmes and transnational programmes such as Horizon 2020, Erasmus+, Life and Europe for Citizens; that whether or not the UK is excluded from EU programmes and projects, the Irish and UK Governments must take steps to ensure new and sufficient resources are available for the social and economic development of the Border region, including local authority and civic society-led projects. On the UK side, additional funding allocations should be derived from the UK’s current contribution to the EU budget that will revert to the Treasury post-withdrawal from the EU and not from the block grant. Additional funding should be allocated by the UK and Irish Governments to the PEACE IV programme specifically to address the challenges of inter-community conflict and cross-Border relationships in the context of political and economic uncertainty and instability arising in the post-referendum context. Finally, a PEACE V programme funded by the UK and Irish Governments should be developed in consultation with civil society organisations and local authorities specifically to address the challenges of inter-community conflict and cross-Border relationships in the context of political and economic uncertainty and instability arising in the context of UK withdrawal from the EU.

I thank Dr. Soares. I call Mr. Peter Sheridan from Co-operation Ireland.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

At the outset I should say that many people in the room will know of Co-operation Ireland, particularly colleagues in Northern Ireland, but for the record, we are an organisation that has been involved in peace building in this island since 1979. For a number of years we have seen a core part of our business as building reconciliation, underpinning the Good Friday Agreement, normalising the relationships between Britain and Ireland and between people in the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland. We see that as critically important.

I have a very diverse board and the chairman is London-based. The former Taoiseach, John Bruton, is my Vice-Chairman. I have people such Peter Robinson, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, on the board, and several people from America and from the Republic of Ireland. Some of them will not have taken the same view as others on the board so we took a neutral position. Some people were of the view that we should leave Europe and some were not of that view, so we took a neutral position on it. However, we were able to have general agreement on many of the issues the members would be aware of already, but it is worth putting those on the record.

As an organisation, we are fortunate in that we are a company limited by guarantee, both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, and we have separate charitable status in the United States. However, that means that whatever happens, we will remain an EU partner because we have our base here in Dublin, as well as an office in Cork. The board members see our role as continuing to work to ensure that the relationship between Ireland and the UK remains and that there is no diminution in that.

The protection of the peace process is critical. It is only last year that we had the Fresh Start agreement and, the year before, the Stormont House Agreement, which shows the still-fragile nature of politics in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement is a forerunner of those agreements. Therefore, an important part of our work is to ensure there is no diminution or unravelling of the Good Friday Agreement. I do not want to overstate it but there is a danger that, ultimately, this could lead to some civil unrest, particularly with regard to the Border.

The board members are agreed that we want to avoid the risk of economic isolation and on the need for measures to protect the economy, particularly in Northern Ireland. They want to minimise barriers to trade and people movement across the Border. The maintenance of the common travel area is important, and there is recognition that leaving the EU could raise issues of identity in ways that none of us can yet see. It would be fair to say that many people in the North, particularly northern Nationalists, had become settled after the Good Friday Agreement within the context of Northern Ireland within the context of Europe. I do not believe that was the same as being satisfied to be within Northern Ireland within the context of the UK, so that issue of identity could be raised again. Many northern Nationalists saw devolution as part of that and in terms of any recentralising of devolution, for example, given that agriculture, energy and so on are devolved matters, how are they to be negotiated by a central Government that no longer has the same control? That raises matters of identity again for us.

The board members are clear that they want to protect the positive relations built in recent years between North and South and between east and west.

I thank Mr. Sheridan. We will take questions from members now. Senator Feighan had indicated.

The witnesses are welcome to this debate on the serious situation in which we find ourselves. The Irish Government and most people in the Republic were very concerned about the result of the referendum as they wanted Britain to remain in the EU. It has happened now, and Britain will leave. The Prime Minister has said that Brexit means Brexit, but what exactly does Brexit mean? I do not believe the political establishment in the United Kingdom understands what it means.

Committee A of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly had a meeting with Professor Michael Dougan, who is head of European law in the University of Liverpool, and what he said was very worrying. He said that regardless of what happens, there are actions that simply cannot be done. People are talking about trade agreements and freedom of movement but he said there are things that cannot be done and that Europe will not be putting the boot in to the United Kingdom, but I do not believe people fully realise the position in which we find ourselves.

In terms of the island of Ireland, how do the witnesses believe the Border will work?

Will there be a border in the Irish Sea, with the effect that people will need to use their passports to get to the United Kingdom? With modern technology, is there some way of policing a border? We cannot allow a hard border to occur again between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am totally against that.

We have time so we will take one question at a time and then see how we are getting on.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

I will pick up on some of that. Brexit is Brexit. We do not know the terms of the exit yet so we do not know what it means. The Senator is right from that point of view.

Sometimes the phrases "hard border" and "soft border" conjure up things in people's minds. Particularly for those who live in Northern Ireland or along the Border counties, a hard border brings up images of Border checkpoints that were there in the past during the Troubles. I do not for one minute believe it will ever come down to that again. We will not see Border checkpoints. Even in terms of customs, much of it can be done electronically. There might be a need for some spot checks but in some ways that happens now. A few weeks ago I was on a bus and a Garda officer got on and was checking people who were crossing the Border so there are controls there already.

There is some debate about whether this border will be along the 300-odd mile Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or down the middle of the Irish Sea. Interestingly, there are people on my board who do not want one or the other because they come from different sides of the debate on it. In terms of the movement of people, I do not envisage there will be demonstrable change in how we move across the island, particularly if the common travel area is protected.

I gave evidence at a House of Lords committee the other day and I said there are officially no border controls between Germany and Switzerland. Switzerland is not in the EU although it did sign the Schengen Agreement in 2004. One can fly from Berlin to Zurich using an identity card; one does not need a passport to travel between the two countries. They have what is called inland flights, like we have domestic flights here. One can walk from Basel across the border without any documentation. There are models that do not necessitate the things that conjure the idea of a hard border in people's minds. We will be arguing for as minimal an effect as possible, particularly in the movement of people, but also in trade. The difficulty is that if one is outside the customs union and one moves goods into the customs union, there will have to be some sort of checks. Even if there are no trade or tariff differences, there will have to be some sort of checks. We tend to look at this from our perspective but what about the rest of Europe and how it would envisage the Border? Britain and Ireland might decide on a particular type of border but it will be a European border as much as a UK one. It depends how the rest of Europe views that Border.

Mr. Pat Doherty

I thank Mr. Sheridan for his presentation. Given his clear expertise on all of these issues, has he had any dialogue with the Taoiseach's Department on his proposed all-island civic dialogue on Brexit? Has he had an invitation to attend?

Mr. Peter Sheridan

I received an invitation two days ago to attend the meeting. I have accepted that Co-operation Ireland will attend although I have had to point out that some of our board members have objected to that. Nevertheless, as an organisation, the board members are aware that I have staff here in Dublin and that we do a lot of our business across the Border. Some of our members have objected to us attending it and I put that in writing to the Taoiseach's office to make the organisers aware of it but Co-operation Ireland will be present.

Mr. Pat Doherty

In Dr. Soares' submission, he talked about Article 17 of strand two which references EU matters. Will he elaborate on that?

Dr. Anthony Soares

That article refers specifically to the function of the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, and the co-ordination between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government in terms of consulting on EU matters. It has provided an opportunity for the two Governments, North and South, to strategically collaborate in terms of how they approach EU matters. It should not just be about EU funding but about influencing EU policy that will have a direct effect on the two parts of the island of Ireland. The UK's withdrawal from the EU will alter the operation of that part of the NSMC. It does not mean it becomes defunct or that the NSMC will no longer look at EU matters, it is just that the balance will be different. Of the two, the only Government represented at the EU will be the Irish Government. In some ways, as in a lot of other matters, there will be a lot of responsibility placed on the Irish Government because it will become a channel for Northern Ireland through to the European Union and former partners within the European Union. It places some responsibility on the Irish Government and creates some imbalance because only one side will have a presence in the EU when the NSMC is looking at EU matters. Uniquely within the European Union, Northern Ireland has a European Union special task force which is a direct channel between Belfast and Brussels. That will come to an end and the only direct channel will be through the Irish Government.

Mr. Pat Doherty

Is Dr. Soares saying that the Irish Government could, using that mechanism, represent the interests of the North in Europe?

Dr. Anthony Soares

That is if the Northern Ireland Executive and political parties in Northern Ireland are willing to use or exploit that opportunity. The opportunity will be there. The Irish Government will be present at both the North-South Ministerial Council and within the European Union as a member state. It could possibly listen to the concerns of the Northern Ireland Executive and political representatives within Northern Ireland about EU policy matters. The question is whether the Northern side will want to explore that opportunity and whether the Irish Government is prepared to take on that responsibility. I hope it would be in a position to do that.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Both of their organisations are important, particularly in the Border region. I compliment Ms Ruth Taillon, who is not here, and her predecessor, Andy Pollack, on what he has done in looking at issues right along the Border. I will not focus today on the issue of a hard or soft border but on the financial implications and employment issues centring on the funding sources.

My questions on the finances are centred on the various funding that Dr. Soares referred to, whether INTERREG or PEACE funding, and the fact that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is already putting break clauses into letters of offer to communities being funded. They do not know where they will stand after the Chancellor of the Exchequer's budget and in terms of their requirement for funding, they fear the money will not be coming. Will the witnesses comment on that?

On employment, I will not focus on the impact of trade and all the associated issues. Has a study has been done by the Centre for Cross Border Studies or otherwise on the number of jobs that will be lost in the communities if this funding is not kept in place? I could give the example of an organisation in Newry that is almost totally dependent on funding. If one of the funding streams does not continue, those jobs will go. I can see that right across my community in north Louth and into south Armagh but I am sure it is a situation that exists right across the 370-odd mile Border that Mr. Sheridan referred to.

We need to present figures to show what the impact of jobs losses will be for community workers and the various agencies that receive funding through the local authorities and otherwise and also to show how many of these job losses will not be trade related.

Dr. Anthony Soares

I thank the Deputy for that question. In answering his question I will also refer to Senator Feighan's comments that Brexit means Brexit but that we do not know what Brexit really means. In our work, together with our co-operation with other organisations, we are not waiting to find out what Brexit means. We are planning with other organisations for the various scenarios and trying to come up with proposals as to how we might take matters forward, which includes funding that is currently received from the EU which supports many community organisations, North and South of the Border. It is not only a question of the number of jobs involved, and accurate figures for the number of jobs involved is very difficult to ascertain. We have not undertaken that, but with respect to the area North of the Border, I would point the Deputy in the direction of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, NICVA, which undertook a survey that came up with some figures, but I would consider these carefully.

It is not only a question of the jobs of the people working in these organisations that are currently in receipt of EU funding, it is that many of these organisations provide vital services to the communities in which they work. It is an issue not only for the people who work in these organisations but for the services they provide, which are vital in areas such as youth unemployment, drug addiction, women in vulnerable situations and working with women to bring into the jobs sector. They do all sorts of work that is vital to their communities. If a loss of funding is not replaced in a sustainable manner as we move forward, the issue will be not only the loss of the number of jobs of people directly working in these organisations but the loss of services to the communities they serve. Even if they are temporarily lost and at a later point money is found to provide these services, the people who worked in these organisations, who had skills and a knowledge of the communities in which they worked, will have gone and we would be starting again from scratch, which would be a very difficult task. It would be sad if that were to happen.

We in the Centre for Cross Border Studies are focusing on cross-Border co-operation or wider North-South co-operation. We have come up with suggestions on how we can take matters forward, depending on the different scenarios in terms of whether the UK continues paying into the budgets for the Structural Funds. We have proposals and I hope that those responsible will examine them seriously.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

I would add one further comment. The Deputy is correct in that a significant proportion of the €1.5 billion, which was part of the EU's Northern Ireland PEACE programme, went to Border counties and it is difficult to see how that gap will be filled in the future. I do not want to misquote what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in Westminster today but it was to the effect that structural and investment funds would be protected up to the point of Britain's exit from Europe. The Brexit Minister, David Davis, also made some comment about open borders and maintaining open borders. I am sure the committee will see these in due course.

I would make a final comment. It is imperative that an early commitment be requested, through this committee, of both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and our Government that this would be resolved. Dr. Soares referred to the continuity of the services these organisations deliver in their communities, but that will all be for naught unless there is a clear path as to how these groupings can progress. That is the first issue that needs to addressed. We will spend a long period talking about hard and soft borders, trade and all the rest of it, but as I have said previously, let people put their money where their mouths are, so to speak, in this regard if they are serious about the importance of North-South co-operation and how we operate on this island, both North-South and east-west, in terms of commitment to the peace process.

I remind everyone to turn their phones off completely because, as they will have heard, it interferes with the microphones. I call Senator Craughwell.

I apologise for being a little late. Brexit is the great unknown. The only plan is there is no plan. At least that is what I was told at a meeting in Brussels last week. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs and we seem to be focusing on the relationship between the UK and Ireland. We seem to be forgetting there are 26 other jurisdictions that have some very clear views and, I have to say, not a whole lot of sympathy from what I saw at a recent conference in Brussels. I brought up the issue of the unique position of Ireland and the Border at that round-table meeting where there were a few hundred people in attendance, but the only people who spoke in favour of the Border problem were the Scottish and Gibraltarians, which left me a little scared. The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs told us at the Joint Committee on European Affairs that Britain is about to learn a hard lesson. If Britain learns a hard lesson, it is my view that we will be trounced in that hard lesson, and the Northern Ireland economy, in particular, will suffer desperately because I cannot see the funding that comes from Europe coming from Westminster. It may come up to 2020 but after that, we are in serious trouble. I would be interested to hear the witnesses' views on that.

The only commonality I see across the European area is between Gibraltar, Scotland, ourselves and Northern Ireland. I noticed at the meeting to which I referred that Mr. Carswell, MP, from UKIP adopted a terrible softening of his party's position. He was no longer talking about Britain being the great and good. He was talking about free trade and free movement of workers, which was an interesting change of opinion. If there is an indication that UKIP is softening its approach, and I can only base it on one man so there is no empirical evidence to support that, is there any indication in the North of Ireland that there is a softening towards Brexit as well? Would the witnesses agree that there is no clearer set of principles than that, either in the UK or in the European Union, that we know of which will be key to the negotiations under Article 50? Despite all the tough talk on either side, I am not sure that either side has the confidence to bring this forward. One of the points made at that conference was that while Article 50 exists, nobody ever expected it would be used. We are now entering into the great unknown, there is no pathway and no clear vision. There was some talk of a derogation for Northern Ireland and Scotland to respect the democratic vote that took place there. I would be interested to hear the witnesses' opinions on that.

I have three further brief points. We have called a forum in Dublin and clearly the DUP has decided it will not participate in it, unless I am slightly behind the curve on that. How do we get all interested parties around the table? There is some suggestion that the business community has moved ahead of the political world and I would be interested to hear the witnesses' views on that. As a centre with cross-Border interests, is the centre modelling different scenarios such as a hard Border versus a soft Border, the free movement of labour across the two and the possibility, as I have raised previously, that either Dundalk or Belfast would become a major refugee camp, as Ireland is the nearest land border to Cherbourg, for the want of a better place?

I apologise for throwing a lot of stuff at the witnesses. I would be interested in hearing their views on the matters I have raised.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

I will make a start on some of them. I have to say I have not detected a softening in the "Leave" position. I think it is a conversation that happens daily with people, particularly those who said they were voting "Leave". All of us are interested in whether there will be another referendum. I have not detected a move in that direction. I spoke recently to a businessman who voted "Leave". I asked him why he did so. He said he built his case on the fact that there are 65 or 69 words in the "Our Father" - I cannot remember what the exact number was - but there are 29,000 words on the storage of cabbage in the EU. That was his only reason. When I asked him whether he was still of the view that the UK should leave the EU, he said he was. I have not detected any softening in this regard. I heard Mike Nesbitt say recently that he took a group from his party to Brussels for a fact-finding mission, but they came back without finding any facts. I think that is probably a fair comment about this issue.

If Senator Craughwell's suggestion about a refugee camp were accurate, one would have to ask why there is no refugee camp at the Border now. At the moment, there is nothing to prevent the people who are currently in Calais from camping in Dundalk. Why has that not happened? What would change after Brexit to make it happen? I am not sure that would be the case.

The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, spoke on the issue of Brexit at the Northern Ireland Economic Conference in Derry yesterday. I asked him a question not dissimilar to the question asked by Senator Craughwell. The logic is that the negotiation will happen between the UK and the EU Council. The Republic of Ireland represents one twenty-seventh of that. As much of the negotiation activity will centre on trade and economics, I am not sure to what extent we will be able to get issues like the Good Friday Agreement and the Border on the agenda. Given that there are 1.7 million people in Northern Ireland and 60 million people in the rest of the UK, one can guess where attention will be focused. There are 4.7 million people down here. I imagine the Irish Government will put its own people first and centre in this process. I have a personal concern about how we can get Northern Ireland on the agenda. I have heard politicians, including the Prime Minister, saying it is a significant priority for them. I am not saying I disagree with them, but I wonder how relevant Northern Ireland will be when the negotiators get into the heat of the discussions. Northern Ireland was not particularly relevant in the referendum, so it is difficult to see how it will be relevant in the negotiations.

The Senator also asked whether the business community has moved ahead of the political world. I think businesses are struggling because they do not know what the terms will be. Some movement of businesses is probably evident already. I read an article the other day which suggested that many lawyers are starting to set up in Dublin. While that might be great for Dublin and the Republic of Ireland, it starts to build tensions that might not be particularly helpful in the future. None of knows what the impact of this will be, or where it will go.

Dr. Anthony Soares

I thank Senator Craughwell for his questions. He made a very good point about the focus on the UK and Ireland, given that another 26 member states are involved here. I return to the point that the Irish Government will have a huge burden on its shoulders as we go forward to achieve the best possible resolution for the UK and Ireland and obviously for Northern Ireland. The Centre for Cross Border Studies is concerned that if the UK approaches the negotiations in an aggressive manner, that will affect whatever Ireland tries to do to protect its own interests. I emphasise that we believe the best approach would be some sort of flexible arrangement, or whatever term one wants to use, that would allow Northern Ireland to have some sort of continuing relationship with the EU. That connection could take any form. It does not need to be formal. Ireland should be making the argument to the Commission and the other member states that its own interests need to be protected because of its geographical position and because it is a co-guarantor with the UK of the 1998 Agreement. Ireland should be arguing that case. The UK and Northern Ireland should not be trying to argue that case themselves. In our view, it should be Ireland doing that. If that is the approach Ireland wants to take, it is clear that whatever the UK says will have an effect.

I agree with Mr. Sheridan that there is no indication in Northern Ireland of a softening in the "Leave" position. The "Leave" voters in the agrifood sector to whom I have spoken, including a number of farmers who told me before the referendum that they intended to vote "Leave", have said since the referendum that they do not regret the decision to vote in that way. I do not notice any softening there. In that context, although the First Minister and deputy First Minister have shared with the Prime Minister their common concerns for Northern Ireland in terms of what might happen in the future and what they would like from the negotiations, we would have liked to have seen some firm proposals on how to take things forward, rather than mere expressions of concern.

This brings me on to the Senator's question about how to get all interested parties around the table at the all-island forum. Before one can think about how to get everyone around the table, one must identify who has not accepted the invitation. Then one must speak to those parties to ascertain why they do not want to participate. I hope they will participate in the future. I think people could be more welcoming of such an invitation if they saw the forum as something that will come up with concrete proposals on how to move things forward, rather than just voicing the concerns that were listed in the run-up to and since the referendum. The concerns are known, they are out there and it seems to some people they have been repeated ad nauseam. Now it is time to consider how to move things forward. We have to prepare for the different possible scenarios.

The Senator also asked if we are preparing for different models. We are taking a twin-track approach. I think we have to be realistic here. Political revolutions have been going on throughout 2016 on this island, both North and South, as well as in Great Britain and America. The centre is keeping a close eye on what is happening in Westminster. We just do not know whether Article 50 will be triggered. We have to be prepared for that vague possibility. We have to prepare for various scenarios, depending on whether the UK maintains access to the Single Market or stays within the customs union. The decisions and choices that are made will have an effect on the Border, on trade and on the movement of people.

In the run-up to the referendum and after the referendum, some Ministers in the UK Government portrayed the common travel area as something that will carry on because it has existed since the 1920s. It is not up to the UK and Irish Governments to decide whether the common travel area will continue. The EU will have a say on whether the common travel area carries on and the way it carries on. That is going to be difficult. The UK, outside the EU, can make any decision it likes on the rights it wants to give to Irish citizens, who currently have privileged rights under UK law. It will be able to decide what it wants from a position outside the EU. The Irish Government will not have the same flexibility in terms of the rights it can cede to UK citizens to move to the Republic of Ireland to work, study and draw their pensions. All of those things currently happen with no real complications at all. It will be up to the EU whether to allow the Irish Government to provide rights to UK citizens who will no longer be within the EU.

I thank Mr. Sheridan and Dr. Soares for their comprehensive replies. As I mentioned earlier, I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. The committee has been focusing on the long historical relationship between Britain and Ireland. I put forward the view that instead of deputations going from both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas to Britain, or from Northern Ireland down here and from Britain over here, we really need to go on a love-bombing campaign around the other 26 member states. I am looking for the witnesses' opinion on this.

We need parliamentarians from Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain, if it wants to join, to go and explain the situation to member states. Having attended a conference in Brussels last week, I definitely came away with the impression that there was a concerted effort to give Britain a bloody nose in order to show the other 27 member states what would happen to them if they were to try this. I would be terribly afraid that a sort of nationalistic European "let's get Britain" would start. If that were to happen Northern Ireland would be crucified and the economy of the Republic of Ireland would be set back years. I would be interested in the view of the witnesses.

Dr. Anthony Soares

The Centre for Cross Border Studies has noted a change in mood even within the European Commission itself in the past couple of months. We have a working relationship with parts of the European Commission and initially the voices from the Commission were emphasising the level of sympathy they had for the situation North and South in terms of the Border and the Good Friday Agreement and referring to the fact there are non-EU member states involved in INTERREG programmes and all sorts of European territorial co-operation programmes. Now they are no longer saying that and the indications are that Northern Ireland will be out of the EU, will not be eligible and therefore Ireland will not eligible because the only border we have is with the UK. The mood has changed. We were also involved in a network with European partners - Germans, Italians and French - where there is enormous sympathy for us. For example I was in Germany a few months ago - shortly after the referendum result - speaking to business leaders and when talking to them about the argument that German manufacturers, German industry needed the UK market more than the UK manufacturers needed the German market, they just started laughing. Their attitude is yes the UK market is important but we have the ability, the flexibility to change direction. One can see that in terms of exports performance. One can compare the UK and the German export performance in terms of sales to China. One of the priorities of the UK market is exploiting the Chinese market and saying that leaving the EU would make that easier. However, Germany, which is inside the European Union, outperforms by far the UK in terms of exports to China. From the German perspective that argument by the UK was not seen as feasible.

I welcome the presence of Mr. Sheridan and Dr. Soares. I compliment them and their colleagues in both organisations who have done exceptionally good work over the years, much of it under the radar. During the previous Dáil, they had the opportunity to make a presentation to this committee as well, which was worthwhile. I am very glad that both these witnesses are with us today to speak on a subject we did not think would confront us. Dr. Soares spoke at a conference that I organised in Cavan on this subject matter back in July 2015. He outlined the scenarios of the issues we are now discussing. At that time we thought that we would not have to discuss those issues post June of this year. With regard to Mr. Sheridan's comments on the free movement of people between Switzerland and Germany, I presume that is facilitated by the Schengen Agreement. I do not envisage that Ireland will be a member of the Schengen area and Britain will not be a member either. There is a real difficulty in regard to the movement of people. I think that as a country, Government and Parliament we want to send out a clear message to the British early on that we will not be the control zone in regard to potential immigration or possible emigration to their island, Britain. That will not be the job of the Irish people, the Government or our authorities. We want to make that very clear from early on.

Mr. Sheridan made the point that the EU Council comprising the other 27 member states will be negotiating with Britain and that we will have one twenty-seventh of an influence. I sincerely hope that it will not be reduced to that. Let us take the examples of Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria. I am sure they are not losing sleep at the moment about Britain leaving the European Union. They are not worried about the obstacles or difficulties for us on the island of Ireland. I sincerely hope that other countries with whom we have had good relationships for many years will be taking a keen interest in the potential and the difficulties, the obstacles for our island. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence, I meet ambassadors from the European Union states and in fairness to those whom I have met in the past few months, most were anxious to know our views on what we see as the major obstacles and difficulties. They were interested in what we need to put in place to try to deal with the adverse impact of Brexit and to try to ensure that the progress that has been made on this island, particularly since the 1990s, is not lost. Dr. Soares would have heard me make the following point in July 2015 during our conference in County Cavan that as a country, both North and South, we have underestimated the progress that has been made. I would have been arguing at this committee and in the Dáil during the previous Government that we were not maximising the potential of the Good Friday Agreement. Let us leave that point to one side. We need to do a great deal of that yet and in terms of the successor agreements to the Good Friday Agreement. At the same time on the positive side, there has been significant progress. I think the authorities, both North and South have not measured adequately the progress that has been made in economic terms in the great improvement in North-South trade and in east-west trade as well. People from my county and from Deputy Declan Breathnach's county right across the southern Ulster region were sourcing jobs in Northern Ireland and similarly people from the northern side of our province of Ulster were coming South as well to seek jobs in Cavan-Monaghan, Donegal or elsewhere.

We have not estimated sufficiently the progress that has been made. Much of that progress was made with a significant contribution by the European Union. In fairness to the other member states in the European Union, they were not mean in the allocation of funding and were not begrudging. To a member state, I think they were supportive of the efforts of the Irish and British Governments and the political parties on the island to reach that agreement and ensure we built on it. That goes back to Dr. Soares's concluding remarks on the need to continue that work. We are not there in the peace process yet. We have to be mindful that we need to keep nurturing and cultivating it because it is a relatively young process. We need to make further progress particularly for the less advantaged in our communities. There are many areas in Northern Ireland, in the Border counties, that are severely disadvantaged and thankfully programmes funded by both Governments, and very much supported by the European Union, have made a significant difference in many of the less advantaged communities in rural and urban areas. I fully endorse the point made by Dr. Soares on the need for commitments by the Irish and British Governments to a PEACE V programme. Had Dr. Soares been present at our last meeting he would have seen the Minster for Finance from the Northern Ireland Executive, Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, make presentations and engage very strongly with the committee. The message coming from the then Chancellor at Downing Street was of the significant doubt about even honouring the commitments made in regard to the present INTERREG and PEACE IV programmes. My colleague, Deputy Breathnach and I had secured special debates in the Dáil on that issue. We never got enough clarity as to whether the programmes that have been put in place and commitments made by both Governments in terms of the European Union would be honoured regardless of when Britain exits the EU.

Solemn commitments have been made and programmes have been drawn up on that basis. I entirely agree with the proposition that post-Brexit we should talk about a PEACE V programme to be funded by the British and Irish Governments. I am pessimistic about what we heard at our last meeting but that is not to take away from the great value that could come from further programmes.

On the issue of whether there will be a hard or soft Border, I hope we get to the position where there will not be a visible Border or visible controls and checks. Even if there is none, there will be costs on businesses and it will make some of our businesses less competitive. When Britain leaves the European Union, the position will be that if I have a product leaving counties Cavan or Monaghan and going to northern Europe or another continent, it will go first to Britain, which will be a non-EU member state, and then enter the European Union again. We do not have a ferry service to the north of Europe. As an island, we send a lot of product to northern Europe and we depend on sending it through Europe to other destinations. Much of that product transits Britain. Do we envisage a situation where there will have to be trade agreements between the EU and Britain and other countries? Do we envisage a situation where a product leaving Cavan will go to Britain, which will be a non-EU member state, then to another EU member state and may exit that state to arrive at its final destination? Do we not think there will be a check on that product at some stage? Every check that takes place creates additional costs and makes our products less competitive. That is my big worry. I sincerely hope we do not have a hard Border. I grew up in a Border parish so I know what it is like as a youngster, for example, going to a football match and being stopped and not having free movement of people, goods or services.

I compliment Mr. Sheridan, Dr. Soares and their colleagues in their organisations for the excellent work they have done over the years, a lot of which is not known to the public. They have informed all our thinking on the potential in this situation. Mr. Andy Pollack spoke often and spoke well, as did Mr. Sheridan and Dr. Soares in the Centre for Cross-Border Studies, on the need for us to maximise the potential of the Good Friday Agreement. We would love to be here today talking about that and not talking about possibly going backwards.

I thank the Deputy. There is a lot for the witnesses to comment on.

Dr. Anthony Soares

I thank the Deputy for his kind words about the work of our two organisations. He is absolutely right that enormous progress has been made economically and socially through what has been achieved under the Good Friday Agreement and the peace and reconciliation process. The name of this committee tells us something. The implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is an ongoing process that is continually implemented. We continually have to look after the peace and reconciliation process in terms of its formal institutions but also, which is important, the soft structure that enables the operation of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The UK's departure from the EU has the potential to undermine and suck away at the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. We have to work hard to make sure that does not happen.

On the question of the hard or soft Border, the Deputy is right. Any introduction of controls on trade will be a burden on business, which will reduce the competitiveness of businesses North and South of the Border. It also means that those costs will have to be passed on to someone else, which is the consumer. It will have implications for businesses North and South. We hope that in its negotiations with the Commission and the other member states the UK Government adopts an approach that will ensure there is some way the UK will retain access to the Internal Market and at least be within the customs union. That will still mean costs to business.

The Deputy mentioned his interactions with ambassadors from the other European Union member states and said they are keen to find out the Irish Government's position and its view on the future. I cannot characterise the situation in general but I get the sense there is increasing antipathy towards the UK Government from some member states and from particular sections of some member states. Other member states are keen to see that what happens with the Border is positive. The Deputy is absolutely right that the Irish Government, as an EU member state, should make sure that when it addresses the Commission and the other member states it secures its own interests and its particular circumstances. The Deputy is absolutely right that as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, the EU has invested financially and politically, which is a positive in terms of how we move forward. The EU and other member states who were so closely involved in ensuring the peace process progressed positively are not ready to give it up so easily. That is a positive thing we have to work on together.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

To be clear, I was not suggesting that the Swiss and German border is a model to follow. There are about 54,000 people who commute across that border every day without having to show any identification. If one travels across it, one can only bring back two bottles of wine. Any goods that one buys in one country have to be declared on the way out again. I am not for a minute suggesting we take that route and that we start declaring goods again when we move between North and South. I completely agree with the Deputy and I said in my opening remarks that the need to continue to build relationships will be critical.

By coincidence, on the day of the referendum result, the annual general meeting of Co-operation Ireland was held in the premises of ConnectIreland. All board members who were there, even those who had voted to leave the EU, were adamant the organisation needed to continue to build informal relationships as formal ones are withdrawn. We need to upscale what we are doing, for example, among teachers and councils. Whatever it is, we need to continue to build those relationships. The Deputy is right about complacency. Neither the EU, the UK Government nor any of us here want a conflict on the Border again. It is easy to dismiss it and say it will never happen, but as I pointed out earlier, it is still a fragile peace process. There are already protests along the Border. The history of the place is that protests can become much more dangerous as this goes on which is why I raised the issue of identity and people feeling their identity is being threatened or compromised. We need to be careful of those things and not be complacent about them. I do not want to overstate that there will be some sort of conflict arising but we have to be aware it is not that long ago we were in conflict over many of these issues. The first shots that were fired were fired at Border checkpoints. We have to be careful we do not put anything in place that creates the issue of identity for people again.

We will start taking two questions together now. I do not want us to run out of time because there are still quite a number of people who want to ask questions. We will have Deputy Carey first and then Senator Ó Donnghaile.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their interaction with the committee. I will not go over ground that has been covered already. It is a huge issue. I travelled with Senator Feighan to Liverpool as part of the British-Irish delegation and we had a very good engagement with Professor Dougan. His views on Brexit are concerning and we learnt a lot there. It is a massive question and the witnesses have covered much of it in their responses.

I would like to understand, in terms of the peace process itself, the challenges that Brexit presents. What are the views of the witnesses in this regard? The witnesses have said they work with different organisations. How have they progressed the issue of Brexit? Given Mr. Sheridan's last few comments on the peace process, it is fragile. I would like to know what type of work has been done, including behind the scenes, to consider the impact of Brexit.

I thank Mr. Sheridan and Dr. Soares for their comments. This committee has committed to having a series of engagements and meetings on the Brexit issue as it evolves. As Brexit develops it would be useful if we met the Centre of Cross Border Studies on a regular basis, given the research the organisation has undertaken. It would help our engagements to be a bit more informed or as best informed as we can.

In terms of my questions, a growing consensus has emerged in the North on the democratic aspiration and vote that the majority wish to remain. There is a growing consensus about a special status for the North to remain within the EU along with the rest of Ireland. Can Dr. Soares tell me whether there are similar examples for us to consider in terms of best practice or adopting the position?

A legal challenge is under way. I shall not ask anybody to pre-empt the legal challenge because none of us can do so. I would like to hear the views of the witnesses on the potential outcome. Is there a mechanism available? There is potential to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Can a legal challenge prohibit or allow for the retention of the Six Counties to remain in the EU?

Many colleagues have talked about the trade issues and the movement of people, which is very fundamental in terms of concerns. The other issue for us, as Mr. Sheridan will be acutely aware, is the importance of PEACE funding and the impact it has on communities and the stability of the peace process. We must look at the evidence available. The Government in London has already cut £4 billion from the block grant. I do not see it stepping in to replenish funds that we will lose from the EU, whether that is in the form of capital or in other ways. I ask Mr. Sheridan to speak more about the impact the loss of PEACE funding will have on issues of political stability, peace building and moving forward.

Dr. Anthony Soares

In terms of Deputy Carey's questions on the peace process, the challenges that Brexit presents and what work have we done in terms of speaking with other organisations, I will preface my comments by saying we have focused particularly on the area of cross-Border co-operation. That means at the Border and also North-South co-operation more widely. We have spoken to other organisations in terms of how do we see things moving forward, what kind of proposals can we come up with in terms of how do we support that type of co-operation at the Border but also more widely in terms of North-South co-operation.

We cannot forget that the Good Friday Agreement was about North-South and cross-Border co-operation but also east-west co-operation. We are also looking at how to maintain relationships or build on them North and South on this island but also between this island and Great Britain at civic society level and various other levels.

We have engaged with organisations like Co-operation Ireland and others, including some local councils at the Border, to come up with various visions on how we can take things forward. It also comes back to the last question although I shall not pre-empt it because I shall leave it to Mr. Sheridan to answer the question on the UK Government replacing funding that is lost.

We are coming up with proposals because if Brexit is to be deemed a success then it has to be a success, not an aggregate success as in for one part of the United Kingdom or one sector of society. It has to be a success for every single part of the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland. If Brexit is to be a success it has to be a success for Northern Ireland as well. It has to be a positive. I cannot see even the status quo as being a success. It has to be a plus for every single part of the UK, for every sector of society in the UK and a plus for our relationships North and South, and east and west. In order for that to happen we must come up with proposals and pass them to the UK Government that says Brexit means Brexit. It also means we are going to get back the funds that the UK sends to Brussels and, therefore, that is going to be re-invested. We say, "Here are the proposals, if it is a success then you have to fund these various options. If you are not going to fund those options then you have to explain why not and that means Brexit is not a success." We believe Brexit has to be a success for every part, including cross-Border co-operation and wider North-South co-operation.

Senator Ó Donnghaile asked about a special status for Northern Ireland. I must admit the Centre for Cross Border Studies does not find the term enormously helpful, especially at this stage. We prefer to look at exploring flexible arrangements and relationships. The term "special status", at this stage, may not be acceptable to people or various parties within Northern Ireland but definitely not to parties in the UK. I do not think the UK Government is in favour of granting special status to any part of the UK. There are member states in the European Union that would not welcome the term "special status" being granted to a member state. We would rather use different language.

I am happy to change my language around that. With respect, this is not an issue of semantics. It is an issue of practical legislative mechanisms that could allow for that.

I have raised the issue of citizenship with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality at two different committees recently. I am resident in the North. I retain my Irish citizenship under the Good Friday Agreement and, therefore, retain my EU citizenship. Am I then, as I live in the North post-Brexit and Article 50, entitled to the same rights and entitlements in terms of work and human rights? I appreciate this is an unknown to some degree. Am I entitled to access European protections and laws that would apply to me as an Irish citizen who lives in the North? That is an obvious potential subversion of the Good Friday Agreement and the rights it affords to me and many other people who are Irish citizens, and an increasing number of Irish citizens, who live in the North. The terms "special status" was mentioned in the press. I am a remainer and I think the North should remain.

Dr. Anthony Soares

In terms of remaining, it is up to politicians in Westminster and elsewhere to decide what happens. We must face the situation as it is and make plans for it.

The Senator is correct about the situation that pertains and how citizenship rights developed following the constitutional set-up of the Good Friday Agreement. Someone who resides in Northern Ireland but has an Irish passport and is an Irish citizen is, therefore, according to the treaty a citizen of the European Union. He or she has those rights as a citizen of the European Union. The question is how does one have entitlement to those rights when one lives in a territory that is not in the European Union. Some discussion must take place on how to accommodation the situation. The Senator has said that it is not a question of semantics. We must be careful with the language we use. In order to achieve what we want, we need to use certain terms. How do we accommodate the arrangement? It is an arrangement that pertains to Northern Ireland but it also pertains to the Republic of Ireland as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. Ireland will continue to be a member state of the European Union.

I am sorry I keep emphasising the onus of responsibility that is on the Irish Government. The position and circumstances of Ireland as a member state will need to be looked at positively by the other member states and the Commission.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

Deputy Carey asked about the challenges for the peace process. We have been through some of them. One of the challenges relates to funding. I will come back to Senator Ó Donnghaile's question in this regard. When we speak about the fragility of the peace process, we are not suggesting there is a threat that all of this will break out again. It is not going to break out again. Nevertheless, for each of the last two Christmases, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have had to hunker down to try to get relations going again because the Executive was on the verge of collapse. There is still a great deal of work to be done in this respect.

Deputy Carey also asked about the work that is being done behind the scenes. Some of this can lead to frustration. I doubt that very many people in this room are aware that we brought 5,000 young people from 400 schools across Northern Ireland to the Maze-Long Kesh on 21 September last to mark the UN International Day of Peace. I will not ask those present to indicate whether they were aware of this. A further 2,000 young people participated at five satellite venues, one of which was as far south as Cork. The events at the Maze-Long Kesh were beamed live on the Internet. Young people from 22 other countries throughout the world were beamed in so that they could take part in these events, which focused on the role of young people in building peace. We started our work on this project approximately a year ago. The Executive Office, which was known at the time as OFMDFM, took a risk with this and funded it. None of us knew where it would go, but it worked incredibly well.

At the end of last year, the UN passed Security Council Resolution 2250. This historic resolution relates to the role of young people in building peace. That is what we have been doing. The UN youth ambassador contributed to our event. The need for this work, which is continuing, brings me on to Senator Ó Donnghaile's question about PEACE funding. Of course there has to be continued PEACE funding, not because there is a threat of violence breaking out again - that is not why we are saying this - but because sectarianism, which is the breeder of violence, is alive and well in Northern Ireland. People in the Republic of Ireland sometimes think there is no sectarianism here. That is true until one scratches the surface. Then one has a different viewpoint and realises there is plenty of sectarianism around.

Sectarianism is still alive and well with us. I will give some examples. Some 95% of social housing in Northern Ireland is segregated. There is little chance that is going to change any time soon. Our education system is segregated. Just 5% of kids go to integrated schools. That is not going to change any time soon because parents have a right to choose. A few years ago, the Institute for Conflict Research published a paper on the number of peace walls in Northern Ireland. We prefer to call them "walls of division". There were 18 of these walls before the Good Friday Agreement, but there were 88 of them at the time when the paper was published. That means 70 walls had been built since the Good Friday Agreement. Some of them are termed "security obstacles" or "barriers". They are not called "peace walls". The point is that we have put barriers between communities, our housing is segregated and we send our kids to separate schools.

There is a lot of work yet to be done in the peace process. When Bertie Ahern was on the board of Co-operation Ireland, he used to look down the table at me when I said this, so I have to be careful. The Good Friday Agreement was largely about agreeing on a system of government and the institutions of government. What it delivered in respect of Stormont was an agreement for the first time ever about how we were going to be governed on this island and these islands. We got there. We are now in a period of trying to work out how to underpin the political deal by normalising relationships between Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and internally within Northern Ireland. I think it will take another 25 or 30 years to do this considerable amount of work. I do not share the notion that this will somehow go away because Europe has stopped or we have moved out of Europe.

To some extent, the Good Friday Agreement took the view that peace was about an absence of violence. It was predicated on the idea that if a way could be found to get the IRA to stop, then the loyalists would stop. We do not see peace as being about an absence of violence. We see peace as a place where people can learn to live together like citizens. That takes a considerable amount of time in the post-conflict environment. Various issues, including the legacy of the past, are still outstanding. While the institution at Stormont is functioning, it is still being built. We have only recently had the development of the Opposition there. It is still a pretty immature place. There is still a lot of work to be done there. We do not want to settle for communal division or some sort of separatism. That is why the work has to go on.

I have set out the arguments we need to make to the British and Irish Governments. It is not the case that people are going to take out guns again because of this. There may be some people who would walk in that direction if we gave them an opportunity to do so. We should not make it too obvious for them with what we do around the Border. The rest of it - all the outstanding issues - is much more important. That is our argument for continuing PEACE funding, regardless of whether it is called PEACE V or something else.

I call Mr. Molloy, to be followed by Mr. Brady.

Mr. Francie Molloy

I thank Mr. Sheridan and Dr. Soares for their presentations. They have created a separate discussion which is partly beneficial. I would like to pick up on Mr. Sheridan's point about the Irish Government looking after its "own people" first. We are the Irish Government's "own people" in the North. The business people in the North and the South are also the Irish Government's "own people". There is a danger that complacency will set in with regard to the Good Friday Agreement in the context of Brexit. There is a concern that the South will look after its own. That is one of the reasons we do not have that much faith that the South will look after the North in a post-Brexit situation. A forum has been set up, but people are being taken to it kicking and screaming. They were refusing to take part and trying to block it. They did not agree to it at first, but a date has now been set. There is no great enthusiasm for the work of the forum on the effects of Brexit in the North. Perhaps there is some enthusiasm for its work on the effects in the South. We need to look at this on an all-Ireland basis.

It is very important to examine how we can get Unionists to this forum or to the new forum that has been set up. I suggest that one way to do this is to intensify the existing structures of the Good Friday Agreement. One of the complaints of Unionists is there are enough structures in place already. We need the new forum because the existing structures do not relate to Brexit in particular, but we also need to intensify the structures that are in place under the Good Friday Agreement. As Dr. Soares has said, the business of this committee is the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement is not being implemented. A number of outstanding issues have not been dealt with. There is no urgency to deal with them or put them in place. We need to look at the role of the Good Friday Agreement at the present time. Are we cradling it along until it collapses at some stage?

I think Mr. Sheridan and Dr. Soares were right when they said there has been no softening of positions in relation to Brexit. Those who voted "Leave" are confident that they made the right choice. Some people seem to think farmers are the most responsive in this regard, but it seems to me that members of the farming community are confident that Brexit will be beneficial for them. I do not see any softening of positions.

I would like to respond to the point Dr. Soares made the special programmes body. I cannot see any role for the Special EU Programmes Body if Brexit happens. In such circumstances, it would no longer be a cross-Border body and would not be funded by both Governments. I do not think its role should be reinvented in such a situation. We need to look at the role it should have now in trying to move forward the implementation of the present funding as speedily as possible. I have to say from my own particular position that the Special EU Programmes Body has not been very helpful as we have been trying to deliver funds to communities on the ground. Other EU structures have been more helpful in that regard. I do not think the Special EU Programmes Body has been helpful to local communities at all.

On the issue of controls, the Irish Sea and the structures like the ports cannot just become a new border to police Britain's problems. I think it would be a major mistake to go down that road. There is an indication that people are in danger of heading down that road because they think this can be dealt with by keeping people out. That would not deal with the problems.

There is a danger of not dealing with or recognising the issue of the Remain votes. It is about how to police it instead, and in that case the South would just become a policeman for the British Government.

In all the research, where are the positives within Brexit? There must be positives within this as well. Everybody is looking at the negatives. How can Brexit move the peace process forward? How can we look at all-Ireland institutions to deal with this? Ultimately, partition was the original problem and it is still a problem. Brexit reinforces that partition is still a problem. I was an Irish citizen before the Good Friday Agreement. Although that may have been reinforced by the Good Friday Agreement, it did not make me an Irish person. It is the fact that I live on the island of Ireland is what makes me an Irish person. Partition has always been the problem I have seen, not whether we are in or out of the European Union. We must examine the positive ways of moving this forward. We are a number of years past the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process has been long and drawn out in it but we have not dealt with the fundamental problem of partition in this country.

We started with lots of time but we are starting to get tight on time, so will people keep their comments brief?

Mr. Mickey Brady

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I represent a Border constituency in Newry and Armagh. Large numbers of people travel into the Twenty-six Counties every day from Newry and Armagh, particularly south Armagh. There is one difficulty that people will have. Currently we have a low-wage economy so a large number of people who work in the South claim tax credits that are a British benefit. There are major issues with that for various reasons. People working in the South who claim tax credits become what are called complex cases, and they become more complex daily. I cannot envisage they will become less complex if and when Brexit happens.

The other difficulty is that under European Union regulations, contributions are transferable employment contributions. If somebody does not have enough, he or she claims the likes of child benefit or sickness benefit, especially where he or she works. That will again raise major problems. If there are not enough contributions, such people may have to claim the likes of income support or the universal credit, if that ever happens, which is highly unlikely the way things are going now. It will create major problems for large numbers of people daily. We can speak about travel and tariffs but people will be affected in their lives every day.

Senator Ó Donnghaile has raised the issue that as we have Irish passports, we will be European citizens, but what happens to the medical protection? That was not addressed during the course of referendum campaign and afterwards. It seems the British Government did not have a plan A and it certainly does not have a plan B, which is part of the difficulty. I have worked in the advice sector for many years and European protection is all that has come in. The Tories, as history will prove, are intent on undermining employment rights, particularly union rights and the right to strike. What happens in that respect? That will come down the line to us as days go on.

Dr. Anthony Soares

I will pick up a couple of Mr. Molloy's questions as some were directed at Mr. Sheridan. He indicated he cannot see any role for the special EU programmes body, SEUPB, going forward. We think there might be a role, although the name might have to change. Again, this is about looking for different scenarios and trying to take things forward. It goes back to the comments from earlier. Some of the issues we are dealing with now existed before membership of the European Union and the Good Friday Agreement. They exist now and will continue to exist, whatever happens. For our organisation, the need for cross-Border co-operation was there before, it is there now and it will carry on, as there will still be a need for cross-Border co-operation with the UK outside the EU. Whatever the complexities of the UK not being in the EU, we still need cross-Border co-operation to address some of the issues. For example, Mr. Brady spoke about cross-Border workers.

We see the possibility of a role for the SEUPB as one of the cross-Border implementation bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement, but that will need creative thinking. For example, it could deal with programmes funded by the EU under the European neighbourhood policy. They are for EU member states bordering a non-EU member state. Again, if we think creatively, the Irish and UK Governments should support cross-Border co-operation with other activities related to the Good Friday Agreement. If they come up with the funding for that, the SEUPB would have a role. I would not necessarily see it as not having a role.

I am not saying this is because we must keep the SEUPB no matter what. Anything we keep in terms of North-South or cross-Border co-operation must have a practical element. It is what that co-operation is about. It is around practical issues, coming out with outcomes and not just existing for the sake of it. In terms of its current role and delivery of current funds, that is a question for the SEUPB to answer. I can see that any organisation that has to deal with, accommodate and address the concerns of two member states or two governments and administrations, along with various Departments, would be complicated. It is a question for the SEUPB.

On the issue of border controls at Irish ports, this goes back to an earlier question around the Border being placed in the middle of the Irish Sea. The Centre for Cross Border Studies has another suggestion. No matter what happens, the Irish Government, as an EU member state, cannot deny entry to EU citizens of other member states. Whatever it wants, the UK Government cannot stop EU citizens entering Ireland. As far as we can see, there is no way the European Commission or other member states would agree to a position where Ireland could deny entry to other EU member state citizens. In terms of maintaining a soft border and the movement of people, the argument is that we would allow any EU citizen entering the Republic of Ireland to travel to Northern Ireland in the knowledge of whatever regulations and restrictions are placed by the UK on EU citizens. For example, the people moving into Northern Ireland would not have access to employment and welfare rights. They would only be there as visitors. That is where the argument comes in that we can control it if the people try to get into Great Britain.

Why would this happen? If it is okay to allow those people to enter into Northern Ireland under those circumstances, surely it should be all right for them to carry on and travel into Scotland, Wales and England in exactly the same circumstances. Therefore, one does not need to introduce border controls. If it is acceptable for Northern Ireland, it must be acceptable for the rest of the United Kingdom as well. That is one argument we would put forward in terms of not having a border at the Irish Sea.

Mr. Molloy asked about positives. The issues that the Good Friday Agreement deals with were there before, they exist now and they will exist in future. The positives are about being creative and engaging the governments in Dublin, Belfast, London, Scotland and Wales to strengthen the relationships that exist at all levels.

This goes back to the comment that the Good Friday Agreement has not been entirely delivered in terms of some of the institutions, for example the Civic Forum for Northern Ireland and the North-South Consultative Forum are still outstanding issues.

How we deal with the United Kingdom leaving the EU is a concern not just for governments, political parties or business leaders, but for civic society as a whole. Civic society has a role in terms of moving things forward. Another positive is to strengthen the voice of civic society and how it interacts has a direct influence.

In terms of cross-Border workers, we have a border people project within the Centre for Cross-Border Studies that deals exactly with all those issues. Mr. Brady is quite right, some of the issues currently are complex with the UK and Ireland both members of the EU. We can always fall back on the common regulations under the EU as the EU set up structures and introduced specific rights for cross-border workers, posted workers, employment rights, social security co-ordination and so on. It is correct that things could become even more complex, especially if there is policy divergence between the UK and Ireland as an EU member state. I am not trying to sell our border people project that we run but that project and other centres that give advice on these things will be more necessary in the future and need to be supported.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

On the first point made by Francie Molloy, MP, I was not making a political point that the Government supports his position, it was more the practical reality that 16% of trade from the Republic of Ireland is with the United Kingdom, which in fact rises to 50% for agriculture. The practical reality when one gets into the detail of the negotiations is how we keep the unique issues of Northern Ireland on the agenda when we are not there. I have no reason to believe that the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State are not genuine when they say they will look after our interests but one wonders as one gets into the complexity of details how many of the issues in Northern Ireland will get continued publicity or efforts around them.

On positivity post-Brexit, Dr. Soares and I were at a conference of 25 persons with Welsh, Scottish and Irish academics in the Europa hotel a few weeks ago. I would say they were all glass half full type people, but we struggled to come up with concrete examples of an opportunity. We were genuinely trying to come up with opportunities. That being said, I think the positives are the opportunity. I have not detected anywhere among political parties in Northern Ireland people who do not want to ensure that the British-Irish relationship continues to grow. I have not detected anybody who does not want to protect the peace process. I have not detected anybody who does not want to ensure we do not become an economic basket case in Northern Ireland and that the economy is protected. I have not detected anybody who wants to maximise border controls, rather they want to minimise any controls on the Border and likewise in terms of the common travel area. There are a host of positives that all of us can galvanise around because it seems to me, and I think it is the same here, that those are issues people can have a common view on and we should use those as the positives rather than always going into the negatives. We can coalesce around those positives.

I wish I had the answer to some of the issues that Mickey Brady raised. I would probably be worth more than I am now because I do not know what will happen to the Ell medical services card. It strikes me that if one is outside the European Union, that medical card is not valid anymore. I do not know that. Likewise, I do not think anybody knows about the situation around welfare at this stage. I live in Derry beside Seagate. Half the workforce live in Donegal and travel that Border every day. We need to ensure that post-Brexit they can come and go to Seagate with no difference. That is the win we need to concentrate on.

We have five minutes so I am afraid we will have to give each of the three speakers one minute. I call Senator Daly, to be followed by Senator Black and then Senator Coghlan.

When one considers the agricultural community voting against its best interests, considering the financial benefit of EU payments and then the Northern Ireland Assembly voting yesterday that they should not be taken as a special case - terminology and language being very important - it beggars belief that people are continuing to vote against their own best interests. I think the witnesses are right in what they say about the need to be creative in terms of our approach to this with Britain benefiting with a €10 billion trade surplus. They have a lot in terms of what we do for them and we must consider what needs to be done. It is hugely complex. I take the point about the meeting in the Europa hotel. What does victory look like when one leaves the EU? How does it get better? The point about Germany trading with China was well made. It is not the EU that is holding the UK back, that is one of the fallacies that was put out. The clear message from both Dr. Soares and Mr. Sheridan is that we need to be very creative on the solutions for what will be a very protracted problem.

My colleague, Mr. Francie Molloy, MP talked about the Good Friday Agreement, which is the reason we are all here. It is one of the most important issues and it is very important that we implement the Good Friday Agreement. The reality is that if Brexit damages that in any way, we are in serious trouble. I am concerned that we are in a crisis. Given that we have to implement the Good Friday Agreement and keep it strong, and cannot let anything get in the way of it, what do Dr. Soares and Mr. Sheridan suggest we can do? Do we need to designate a Minister with responsibility for this issue?

They referred to the Prime Minister saying there will be no hard border between Ireland and the United Kingdom. I suppose it is the EU that makes that decision. What is the reality of what will happen between the North and the South? What are we talking about?

Dr. Soares referred to a change of mood when he had these conversations post Brexit with the European colleagues. What does that mean? He said that initially there was empathy and sympathy, is he now saying that these people do not care?

The Good Friday Agreement and everything that flows from it is obviously sacrosanct. Given the tie-up with European law, which Commissioner Hogan touched on earlier at another committee, what would be their view on that? Mr. Mickey Brady, MP mentioned that the Brits do not have a plan A or a plan B. That is understandable in one sense because there is a very important court case going on which will go to the Supreme Court and many politicians from the other side that we and the Chairman met recently at the Lords Brexit committee seem to believe that the Prime Minister and the Government will not get their way on that case; that the supremacy of parliament in Britain will be upheld by their lordships in the courts. That might not be until nearer Christmas. Do the witnesses have a view on that?

I will revert to Dr. Soares and Mr. Sheridan but may I request them to be brief?

Dr. Anthony Soares

In terms of farmers voting to leave or people voting against what is in their best interests, the majority of voters in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the Union, but a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland voted to leave, and we and the European Union must listen to the reasons they had for doing so. There are significant issues in that decision in that the population has benefitted from the European Union yet a substantial number of the people voted to leave the Union. The European Union has to find out why that happened. I agree we need to be creative.

On the importance of implementing the Good Friday Agreement and how Brexit might damage it and what can we do to implement the Agreement, it was suggested that a UK Minister could be invited to appear before this committee.

And an Irish Minister.

Dr. Anthony Soares

Perhaps, but I would suggest a UK Minister. There are suggestions and I have heard comments, including from people within Westminster, that people in Westminster, in London, are not aware of the circumstances of Northern Ireland. They might have heard of the Good Friday Agreement but how many people in Westminster, who have their own constituents and concerns, know much about it? They need to respond to the voice of their constituents. How much knowledge do they have of the Good Friday Agreement or of the our Border issues? Even some political representatives, South or North, who do not live close to the Border might not be that familiar with them either. There are some issues with which only people who come from the Border region are familiar.

There are legal implications in terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Although Brexit might bring some demands to redress the Agreement in some ways, of more concern is the possibility of a withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, which is not an EU matter. That would have more serious legal implications for the Good Friday Agreement and for the Northern Ireland Act.

Mr. Peter Sheridan

In response to Senator Black's comments on the Good Friday Agreement, most of my commentary has been about its protection. We need to keep it on the agenda and to keep raising it at every level. Whether the committee invites in one Minister or 15 Ministers, we need to keep alive the importance of the Agreement. As to why people have not softened around the issue of Brexit, I met a stranger as I was travelling on the train to this meeting and he told me he had voted to leave the Union. He asked why, if it was so good in Europe, do we still have so much employment and problems. We had a debate around it but he was not moving from his position. Even though he could not tell me what the opportunities would be, his concerns were still the same around it. He was a decent guy and had made a legitimate decision on it, even though it might have been different from that of most of us. On the issue of European law, the Good Friday Agreement was lodged not only in Europe but in the United Nations. As I am not a lawyer, I do not know what the impact of all of that will be in terms of the negotiations, but the Agreement was lodged in the United Nations as part of an international Agreement.

On behalf of the committee, I thank Dr. Soares and Mr. Sheridan. Their contributions were very interesting, as was the debate. Many questions were asked and I thank them for facilitating everyone. The more we talk about Brexit, the more complex we find it and we nearly come away with more questions than answers, but that is the nature of it. The witnesses' contributions have been very helpful to us. The suggestion that we stay in contact with them was a good one. I thank them again.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.05 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 2 November 2016.