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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Nov 2018

Vol. 261 No. 1

Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Statements

As the House will be fully aware, not least through the important work of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Brexit poses a unique and unprecedented challenge for Ireland. Ireland will be more affected than any other member state by the UK's departure from the EU. While we respect the UK's decision to leave, we certainly regret it.

Brexit will bring changes for all of us. Having joined the EU together with the UK, our shared membership of the EU has been an important and positive factor in the complex history of our relations. Within the Union, Ireland and Britain have grown closer. Our priority now is to ensure that this progress is not set back.

The negotiations have at times been difficult, which is not surprising. Brexit is, after all, a complex process of disentangling laws, trade agreements and co-operation that go back decades and touch on almost all state activities. Although we had all hoped to reach an agreement in time for the European Council in October, regrettably, this was not possible. A number of issues remain, most notably the backstop on avoiding a hard border on the island. The negotiations are continuing but it is clear that they need to make decisive progress quickly if a withdrawal agreement is to be concluded and ratified before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March. Mr. Barnier has sought to "de-dramatise" the backstop and focus on its technical aspects while also seeking to address the UK's stated need for a UK-wide customs arrangement as a means to find a solution and compromise. This de-dramatisation would not alter the overall goal of the backstop, which is to ensure there is no return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland under any circumstances. The EU has listened to UK concerns and has worked to address them. Mr. Barnier has displayed imagination within the bounds of his mandate to seek agreement but he has been given clear guidelines within which to operate and he must do so. I have complete confidence that he will do his utmost to achieve an agreement which is in line with the commitments provided by the UK in the joint progress report of last December and again in Prime Minister May's letter to President Tusk last March. Equally, our fellow member states have displayed unwavering solidarity and support for Ireland. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to them for that and for their understanding of the importance of the border issue to protecting the peace process.

The invisible border was made possible in part due to the UK and Ireland's membership of the Single Market and customs union. This is of critical importance to the more than 7,000 businesses that trade across the Border from north to south supporting more than 160,000 jobs. Any introduction of customs checks or divergence in regulatory regimes would create an impediment to the operation of these businesses. However, the question of the Border in the Brexit negotiations is not solely about economics. It is also about people's lives and protecting the gains and benefits of the peace process. Our shared membership of the EU and the elimination of all checks at the Border have been a vital support to the hard-won peace. Crossing the Border has become a routine part of life and every month, there are almost two million car crossings. Behind these statistics are people going to work, to study, to see a doctor, to see a friend or to do business. All these simple everyday contacts and connections are integral to communities in the Border region and to harnessing the opportunities of peace over the past 20 years. This is why that intensive work is also continuing on ensuring the common travel area will function post-Brexit and that the rights of people in Northern Ireland will be protected.

There has been a lot of speculation in recent days about deals involving a time-limited backstop or the ability of the UK to unilaterally withdraw from the backstop. When I met Secretary of State Raab and Minister Lidington last week, I made it clear, as did the Taoiseach in his phone call yesterday with Prime Minister May, that while there is an openness to consider proposals for a review mechanism, it must be clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop. We also recalled the prior commitments made by the UK that the backstop must apply "unless and until" alternative arrangements are agreed. We expect the UK Government to honour the commitments it has made in full.

While the withdrawal agreement and the backstop are understandably the focus and priority right now as we seek a deal, agreement on the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK is also important for Ireland. The Government has consistently said that we want the closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK. At the same time, such a relationship must respect the integrity of the EU's Single Market, a single market that has brought significant benefits for this country. It is in our vital interests that it is fully protected. Difficulties remain in finalising the withdrawal agreement but it remains the Government's view that a no-deal scenario is still unlikely. No one wants a no-deal end game here. Everybody loses in that scenario. However, it is our responsibility to prepare for all scenarios and our activities in this respect are well advanced. In July, the Government’s preparedness and contingency process transitioned from the planning stage to the implementation stage. As a result, work intensified across all Departments to prepare for both deal and no deal scenarios. Each Department is preparing detailed actions plans for both these outcomes.

We are particularly focused on the areas where the Government, rather than the EU, has direct responsibility, and on measures that need to be taken on an east-west basis, such as customs and veterinary controls at our ports and airports. These preparations have been supported by recent budgets, which aim to assist businesses and farmers to ensure they receive the necessary support required to adjust to the changes that Brexit will bring. For example, budget 2019 included a new future growth loan scheme of up to €300 million for SMEs and the agrifood sector.

No matter what the deal is, Brexit will bring change. We cannot be certain about the exact form of this change as negotiations continue but it is important that we prepare for what we do know and plan for all eventualities. It is important that others do the same, in particular, our businesses, big and small. To this end, my Department has co-ordinated a nationwide Getting Ireland Brexit Ready public information campaign to assist the public in understanding how Brexit will affect them and their businesses.

As part of this, we launched a revamped website and dedicated social media channels. Last month, my Department co-ordinated four "Getting Ireland Brexit Ready" roadshows in Cork, Galway, Monaghan and Dublin. These events, supported by Government agencies, provided local businesses with information on the supports available to them and provided practical advice on how to best manage the changes Brexit will bring. More than 2,000 citizens or business people attended these events. We will continue to engage with the people of Ireland in an open and honest manner, and we will continue to provide the appropriate assistance to businesses and individuals who need it. In parallel, we will continue to engage closely with the European Commission and our EU partners both on the negotiations and on Brexit preparedness, given Ireland’s unique position.

I wish to refer to our bilateral relationship with the UK. Many Senators may have heard at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference last week that both Governments have agreed to develop new ambitious structures which demonstrate the strength and depth of the unique relationship between Ireland and Britain. I am very pleased that both Governments have committed to annual summits, led by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister, which will allow for broad and deep co-operation across a wide range of policy areas. We look forward to developing detailed proposals in this respect over the coming months, ahead of the first summit, which will most likely be held in the second half of next year.

I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the House, and thank him for coming to brief the Seanad on the present situation, in particular the ever-moving position of the British Government. I remind the Minister that last December he said that the backstop was cast-iron and bullet proof. Things do not seem to be quite as bullet-proof as they were last December. I appreciate that the British Government is moving its position so regularly that it is very hard to keep in touch with what is happening. In his speech he spoke about the invisible border which was made possible in part due to the UK and Ireland's membership of the Single Market customs union. This is of critical importance to more than 7,000 businesses that trade across the Border, from North to South, supporting 160,000 jobs. That is a remarkable figure; we should keep it in mind.

We must have a frictionless border between the North and South, but also between Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is absolutely vital that we have direct access to mainland Europe through Britain, and that the access to the channel tunnel would be maintained in the post-Brexit era, beginning at the end of March 2019. It is very important that planning is being done in that area and that negotiations are continuing in that regard. It is also important that the technology required is developed. I recently spoke at the National College of Ireland in Dublin, and the excellent students there brought a project to Leinster House recently which looked at how a solution could be devised using the most modern technology possible, allowing for the free movement of particular goods from Ireland, through Northern Ireland and Britain to the European mainland. Our ports will be used to that end as well. There is much work to be done in that regard.

This is a particularly worrying time. The statements today by the British Government have caused confusion. The Tánaiste has been in touch with his counterparts in Britain about those comments and I know he has been in touch with Michel Barnier as well. It is vital that the negotiations continue. We have the good will of the other 26 countries, but no other country within the EU will be more affected than Ireland. As a member of the Conference for Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs, COSAC - and I know that the Acting Chairman, Senator Craughwell, attends meetings of that body - I am aware that there is not as much interest in Brexit in some European countries as one might think. Those countries have their own worries.

We must bear in mind that in the negotiations it has been agreed that the free movement of people within the UK and Ireland will be maintained. It is a sacred agreement that was negotiated, and was there before we got our freedom and formed a Government. There is a particularly strong relationship between the two countries. It is also the case that under the Good Friday Agreement, every citizen of Northern Ireland is entitled to a dual passport. It is a very important issue. Everyone in the North has the right to apply for and get an Irish passport, which is also a European passport. It is a very significant agreement that has already been reached between the United Kingdom and Ireland, through the European Union and bilaterally. It acknowledges the conditions that existed prior to the establishment of the Republic in the 1940s.

It should also be borne in mind that in 1965 iar-Thaoiseach, Seán Lemass, and Mr. Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister of Britain, negotiated the trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Ireland in advance of EU membership in 1973. Our positions have been extremely close over that period of time. No border can be enforced and it will not be enforced. It cannot be enforced by the Irish Government or the EU, and will not be enforced by the British Government, because no customs post will survive there. We should be blunt and say that they will not last for ten hours if re-erected along the Border. The British Government must be aware of this.

The consequences of a hard border are serious given what has been achieved under the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to this country and has benefitted every part of Ireland. Over the last 20 years every part of Ireland, North and South, is benefitting from the relationships we have developed in areas such as tourism, trade, education and health. We are integrated together and rightly so. Anything that would put that in jeopardy would be absolutely diabolical and cannot possibly be contemplated. I am confident that the British Government knows there must be an agreement. There will be an agreement because it is not in the interests of the Government of the United Kingdom or any part of the EU not to reach a good, comprehensive agreement.

As far as the Single European Act 1992 is concerned, I was the delegated Minister of State in the 1990s and happened to be there. Mr. John Redwood, who is now a Brexiteer, was a conscientious member of the negotiating team on behalf of the British Government and co-operated fully with the decisions made at that time. I can categorically say that the British Government was never voted down in any of those negotiations and neither was Ireland. We received tremendous co-operation from the British Government during those negotiations. I lament the loss of the United Kingdom from the European Union. It is a major loss from our point of view. We were Britain's friend and Britain was our friend. Some people here know that. Senator McDowell and the Tánaiste, and anyone else who has served in government, knows the type of constant contact we had which led to the Single European Act, which in turn lead to advanced trading between our two countries.

The Tánaiste has the full support of this House and of the Opposition. The leader of Fianna Fáil, who has been talking to his counterparts in Europe, is also fully supportive of the negotiations. The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach are there to lead the negotiations in conjunction with Michel Barnier and the other 26 countries in the EU to bring about a just and long-term solution to this particular issue. I am hopeful and confident. The Tánaiste should hold his nerve and not yield to any pressure from the British Government.

We have to hold firm but we have the backing of the other 26 member states to get the best possible deal.

Uncertainty persists as time rapidly runs out on this discussion, but credit must be given to the Tánaiste and to those who tirelessly pursue an agreement between the UK and the EU. Two years on, it has become much clearer that a UK exit makes absolutely no sense, with no evidence of any economic or social argument to support a withdrawal. We are informed, however, that this is democracy and that we must respect the referendum result, which we do. The citizens of the UK spoke on 23 June 2016 on the basis of information much of which we now know to be questionable, not credible, possibly misleading, subjective and often completely untruthful. Their decision was Brexit, but is it still Brexit? If Brexit was the sale of a car, it would have been returned under mis-selling of goods legislation or trade descriptions legislation because what the electorate were sold and what they have received are completely different. To continue the analogy of the car, the model is different, the colour is different, the engine size is different and the running costs are different. As regards safety, we are not even sure if it has an airbag or a backstop.

What is the responsible thing to do? Perhaps it is to ask the people if the deal they are getting is what they thought or what they wanted. If it is not, then let the British Government put the deal on the table and ask the people, in a truly democratic way, if this is the Brexit they want. This is more important now than ever. Last night, during a live debate on Channel 4 entitled "Brexit: What the Nation Really Thinks", the results of the biggest ever independent Brexit opinion poll were revealed. This poll was conducted by Channel 4 and Survation and involved 20,000 people being interviewed between 20 October and 2 November. The results are that 54% of people would vote to remain if the referendum was rerun tomorrow and that 105 council areas which voted leave in 2016 would now vote to remain. However, there is still much confusion. In the event of no deal, 35% state that the UK should stay in the EU and 36% think it should leave. Only 19% want more time for negotiations, with 33% declaring that they would reject a deal based on what they currently know about the negotiations, 34% indicated that they do not know and only 26% would accept the deal. Furthermore, and interestingly, most people do not seem to be concerned about the risk that Northern Ireland would leave the UK or that Scotland would seek independence. Some 44% indicated that they have concerns for Northern Ireland but 42% state that they have none. For those businesses that operate on one or both sides of the Border, however, this is no consolation. The Tánaiste referred to the 7,000 businesses involved and the 160,000 people they employ. Their fears are real. For those who depend on supplying, servicing or sourcing across the Border, the survey offers no comfort. Uncertainty is the order of the day.

This indicates the highly divided nature of the UK electorate and the rationale that exists to justify a people's vote. It would not be to question the 2016 referendum, but to validate the result. If, based on what people now understand to be Brexit, they still vote to leave, then so be it. As a democrat, this is something I, and we in this House, must respect and support.

I am extremely disappointed to see how Ireland’s role is being unfairly portrayed in these discussions, namely, as some sort of disruptor or with an agenda to disadvantage or act against the UK. Nothing could be further from the truth. The importance of strong British-Irish connections cannot be underestimated, both in the past and in the future. The efforts of those seeking to strike deals, on all sides, in the knowledge of how important this is for generations to come, needs to be applauded. I am encouraged by the commitment to the annual summits between the UK and Ireland. Ireland and Europe do not wish to see the UK leave, and the sensitivities of any backstop, from a unionist perspective, from a nationalist perspective, or from a British, Irish or Northern Irish perspective must be respected and understood. If this was straightforward we would have negotiated this within the two-year timeframe.

Last night’s Channel 4 poll results have restored my faith in the UK electorate. It is an intelligent electorate, keen to understand and to separate fact from fiction. Respect for them entails giving them the opportunity to validate the decision to leave or kick this to touch until such time as all the arguments are made, supported and substantiated. In a tweet earlier today, William Crawley of BBC Northern Ireland quoted Thomas Jefferson who stated, "The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate." The British electorate is an educated electorate.

The Tánaiste referred to a no-deal scenario. A no-deal Brexit would not serve Ireland well and nor would it serve Northern Ireland well. Interestingly, it would not serve the UK well either. I urge the Tánaiste and the Government to support the UK and Northern Ireland in the context of an exit strategy. However, I do not mean an exit strategy from the EU. I am referring to supporting the UK and Northern Ireland in finding an exit strategy to prevent them jumping off the cliff.

I welcome the Tánaiste. I want to express my appreciation of his constant engagement with the Houses of the Oireachtas on this matter. I salute him, his officials and the diplomatic service on achieving solidarity with our EU partners and securing their constant support, which is no small achievement for a geographically peripheral country such as ours.

The Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement. It was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South. The Human Rights Act is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement and the European Court of Human Rights was incorporated into the domestic law of Northern Ireland to become the supreme authority. Under the Equality Commission that was established in Northern Ireland, all forms of discrimination in employment, including on grounds of gender disability or ethnicity, were outlawed, although this may not have been perfectly achieved in the period since the emergence of the Good Friday Agreement. After 2010, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights further enhanced the protection of children, workers, the environment and data. Thankfully, in the British-EU negotiation joint report of 8 December 2017, the UK Government committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, which means it supports the outlawing of discrimination, maintaining the common travel area and ensuring no hard border, as well as supporting human rights. This is an important commitment and it is vital that we do not become responsible for imposing or enforcing any restrictive immigration policies that could arise later by way of an agreement.

Speaking as a someone who lives in a Border area, it is not alarmist to say that hard frontier, or any regression from the current open arrangement, would put peace at risk on a number of fronts. It would give an impetus to those forces that want to restart violence by providing them with a target. We must have a backstop, but it is a last resort. Our ambition, as a country, is to have a deal in which the UK enters into the closest possible agreement with the EU. We want that for our own sake and for that of the UK. The two islands need to be as integrated as possible within the EU.

A market of 500 million people is not something the UK should eschew. While it might seem worthy to seek new markets within the Commonwealth, the London School of Economics has stated that, when logistics are taken into account, a fivefold increase in trade with those countries would be required in order to achieve the same net return as from trade with the EU.

That is taking into account the logistics of travel and transport and all the issues with that.

It is worthy of mention that with almost full employment in the UK and here the question of immigration comes into a new focus. There is a need, particularly in the hospitality and intensive agriculture sectors on both islands, for immigrants, people from outside the EU. Restrictive immigration practices may no longer be an economic option.

I have to race through these points but it is important I make them while the Tánaiste is here. I am very conscious of and happy that we have Brexit preparedness. As someone who comes from a Border county, I make the point the change here with fluctuations in currency - no matter how ideal the new agreement is and we pray that it will be - there will still be difficulties for the local economies in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Fluctuations in currencies and various other issues which will create new pressures. I was happy that there was €44 million in direct aid to farmers in the last budget, that there is an improvement in the area of natural constraint with a new payment of €23 million and that there are 27 capital programmes for the food industry, etc. There is a whole range of budgetary measures in agriculture and the food sector. I will not chronicle them all but it is an impressive and an important list. I would like to hear the Tánaiste say when summing up that he sees this as a budgetary process that will continue over the coming years and that we will insulate Border industries and agriculture in the Border areas and support agriculture and food production in a way that any changes in currency or difficulties that may arise in trading or additional costs would not cause the loss of jobs or the displacement of people as a result. That is important. As I said, this is a last resort situation.

We are anxious to maintain good UK-Ireland relationships, which are important. We have a community on these islands that should be maintained and a community of interests and cultural and kinsmanship links. I am very proud to be vice president of the one international assembly where the UK and Ireland will jointly work together, which is the Council of Europe. This attaches great importance to our work on the Council of Europe. We have had a number of bilateral meetings there with UK delegates to the Council of Europe. My good friend Senator Leyden was a distinguished former member of that assembly and was present when we had joint functions, some of which I initiated, with the Irish and British delegations to ensure a continuation of good relations and that they understood our position and did not see us as people who were trying to be antagonistic but rather people who wanted to protect the relationship. We cannot overemphasise the point - this was alluded to by Senator Marshall - that the best interest of the people of the UK is served by the closest possible trading arrangement and cultural and human links with the EU. One would not need a PhD in economics to understand that that is the case and naturally our best interest is served by that as well.

A good day's work has been done so far but I would like to hear the Tánaiste say that we will be holding the line on the backstop and that the whole process of alleviating the difficulty that may be faced by the food sector, by agriculture and by industry in this country will be costed in budgets to come.

Fearaim fáilte roimh an Tánaiste and thank him for tonight's contribution. I also want to thank the Leader for ensuring that we had this time with the Tánaiste at what is a crucial juncture, as colleagues and the Tánaiste himself have acknowledged. We are approaching the 11th hour and that is why we wanted to avail of the opportunity to engage with the Tánaiste. It is also why we are seeing a mobilised and an energised approach to the Tánaiste from the business community, civic society, the community and voluntary sector, the political class and many more sectors in between. I always appreciate and listen very intently when my colleague, Senator Marshall, rises to his feet, not least in debates such as this one. I also followed the surveys done by and the debate on Channel 4 last night. Despite the statistics and the polls, some of which were very striking for obvious reasons, what struck me was that much like the referendum lead-in itself there was no voice from the North in that debate. There was no consideration given to the North. One must wonder if that is manifest of British society. Are lessons being learned?

As colleagues have done, I wish the Tánaiste and his officials every success because the Tánaiste will appreciate that much of our welfare and, as he rightly acknowledged, our rights and entitlements and the peace that we avail of depend on this. I assure the Tánaiste, and he might be cynical about it but I hope he is not, that I want to part with politics and talk to him as a citizen who, like the 1,000 plus who wrote to the Taoiseach during the week, is on a knife edge as to the future and what we can come to expect. While we could get into the argument around the text of the agreement last December and the cast-iron guarantees, the lesson has been learned on negotiation with the British Government and where the cast-iron guarantees rest. That is where we are at. I do not want to over-egg the pudding in making that point but we need cast-iron guarantees from the Irish Government and I believe we have got them. We will be watching intently to ensure the Irish Government lives up to them.

The Tánaiste was right when he said the question of the Border and the Brexit negotiations are not just about economics and businesses or anything else. It goes much deeper than that. It is much more fundamental than that. Colleagues, not least colleagues from along the Border like Senator O'Reilly, appreciate those nuances more than most. That is why the letter to the Taoiseach by such a significant and broad representation of Northern society expressed and articulated people's fears and concerns but also their expectations. I appreciate and acknowledge the Tánaiste's and his officials' engagement with Northern society, not least with that representative group of Northern civic nationalism.

That is why, to touch on another element of the Tánaiste's speech, and appreciating the dynamics of this, I am not so green as to expect that we would have tanks rolling up to the Border. That is not what anyone wants to see. I believe the Tánaiste missed a trick, however, when the State-wide Getting Ireland Brexit Ready public information campaign did not go North. There was an opportunity there. His Department, officials and the secretariat in the North can host discussions around the Decade of Centenaries, can host lectures and can host receptions. It was not too much to ask, not least when one considers that the British Government told businesses in the North to engage with the Irish Government if they had any fears. Hopefully, that will be a lesson learned and we can build on the existing infrastructure and utilise the Irish Government infrastructure in the North to facilitate engagement with civic society, the business community, the trade union movement, people who have a fear and citizens who have an expectation, an entitlement and a right to engage with the Government and with the guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

I have raised with the Tánaiste before the possibility of seeing that intention of the Irish Government not to leave any of us behind and the utilisation of the existing infrastructure and the development of a facility, service or amenity that people can avail of - people who as we all know and as has been outlined are being trapped in a Brexit scenario they opposed. Perhaps that is something that the Tánaiste could reflect on. Going back several months, the Tánaiste said at the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement that he would look at the idea, have a think about and engage on it. Perhaps he might, as a result of his engagements, have a broader view on that.

I have two more points to make quickly. I am conscious that other colleagues want to get in and I do not necessarily need to use all of my time. The Tánaiste said the Government was preparing for all scenarios. On the one hand, that troubles me as it indicates an element that presents us with greater difficulty and situations we do not want to see. In preparing for all scenarios, we need to look to the Good Friday Agreement. If we are upholders and guarantors of the Agreement and want to avail of a democratic life jacket to ensure, as the former Taoiseach did, a re-entry of the North into the EU, we should look at preparing for Irish reunification. We should not be afraid of that. It is heightened. I am an advocate and champion of it every day of the week but in a non-exploitative way. There is a fundamental democratic onus on us in that regard if we are preparing for all scenarios. No only is there historical and ideological obligation to look at all of that, there is now a case for the practical rolling out of that preparedness which makes clear and obvious sense. We should not be afraid of that. There is a growing expectation in Northern Ireland society that the Irish Government will facilitate opening that democratic discussion, discourse and space for people to engage in an informed, collaborative and respective way. There are a couple of points to address there, not least what I have referred to previously as the citizenship hub.

I refer to the Tánaiste's remarks on the backstop. I want to have them before me so that I am fair to him and quote him accurately. It is the issue of the review and the concession by the Government of an openness to considering proposals for a review mechanism. I understand the Government is in the middle of a negotiation.

For accuracy, there is no concession here. It should not be sold as that.

I ask that people speak through the Chair. We are out of time at any rate.

To keep things in the spirit in which I have offered my remarks, many of us view it in that regard. I alert the Tánaiste to that.

The Senator is out of time. I call Senator Paul Coghlan.

What is the purpose of the review and what is the rationale for accepting a review of what we have all acknowledged must be a permanent, fixed and secure backstop?

There are other speakers. I call Senator Paul Coghlan who has five minutes.

Like others, I commend the Tánaiste on his tireless efforts on our behalf with London, Brussels and all of our EU partners. There is no doubt that we are at a critical juncture now. It is hard to figure we are there when a week or two ago, the British Prime Minister told us we were 95% there. The Tánaiste and many others have been working on the remaining 5% since it revolves around the backstop. Britain was never more divided in its regions and across Scotland, the North of Ireland, Wales and within England itself. Those of us who attended the recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary in London discovered that both the Conservative and Labour parties were equally disunited. I was surprised, having thought the Labour people were coming around, but that was not at all the case. All people from constituencies along the east coast were concerned about was fishing rights and they were leavers. They are totally divided. Despite all that, British-Irish relations were never better. The Tánaiste has acknowledged that and we also found it to be the case. I am delighted that at governmental level there will be annual summits to maintain the relationship. The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly wants to improve things also and to maintain the strong relationships its members have.

As Howard Hastings, a well-known and hard-nosed Northern businessman whom Senator Marshall will know well, said recently, Brexit is a monumental folly. That is what it is but we have to deal with it because we have to respect the right of people to make that choice. It is hard to see, however, how the withdrawal agreement will be ratified by the end of March, which is the timetable. On the other hand, perhaps it is not so hard to see given that all that is left is 5% and the Tánaiste, his officials and Michel Barnier's people are, presumably, working hard on this by the day. As the Tánaiste reminded us, Britain made commitments in writing on the backstop for the Border in December last and again in March. It made a commitment that it would form part of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement. We are delighted that the Government is holding fast to that. A good deal is essential for both Ireland and Britain. It is hard to countenance that Britain would opt for no deal. In fact, it is unthinkable. Why would it give up all of its existing European markets which include more than 500 million people? How long would it take it under WTO rules to secure the bilateral deals about which they have been talking? It does not bear thinking about. It will be catastrophic for them, perhaps even more than for us.

Regarding the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, if there is no deal and criminal gangs find weaknesses and gaps, they will play hell with us on the Border. People are becoming slightly more conscious of this in Britain now and about what will happen between Dover and Calais and with the enforcement regimes involving the block on the French side. We have to think about how 80% of our exports to continental Europe go through British ports. I have no doubt the Tánaiste is working on this and I hope the wordsmiths in Dublin, Brussels and London will come up with an 11th hour deal which is acceptable. I do not mind if it includes a review mechanism as long as it does not interfere with the maintenance of the backstop.

I welcome the Tánaiste to the House and I welcome the substance of what he has said. It is important that he gets to say, other than in the context of a hostile interview or in an editable form, exactly what the situation is. He has done so admirably. I welcome in particular and agree completely with Senator Marshall's comments on the position of the Government. It has not been unreasonable. I was at the Garret FitzGerald memorial lecture last week at which Lord John Alderdice made a contribution. He said two things, one of which I agreed with. I agreed with his proposition that in the past a minority and elite in Brussels kept ploughing away on federalist rhetoric without working out what the effect would be in Britain. However, he then came up with a second idea, which was that Ireland was perceived by many in Britain now, albeit he did not say he agreed with this, as following the proposition that Britain's adversity was Ireland's opportunity. I was pleased that this is not a question of Ireland being opportunistic or taking advantage of a British embarrassment or an impasse in British politics.

The Government's policy has been to mitigate the effects of the British decision to withdraw and to staunch what would otherwise be an open wound if these mitigating steps were not taken. There is no sense in which we are exploiting the embarrassment or difficulty of others. Most people in England should be conscious of the fact that the Irish people are well disposed towards them and regret their decision to go. However, we are equally determined, if we can at all, to maintain the best relations with the UK and to have the UK's relationship with Europe remain as close as possible economically and politically in future.

Today's newspapers will probably have impressed on the Tánaiste that one of the problems we have faced here is that the media in Britain tend to exaggerate and operate on the basis of unwarranted leaked materials and briefings which are entirely insubstantial and which misrepresent other people's positions.

I fully accept the Tánaiste's comments that it is not a case of Ireland making last minute concessions. Ireland's position has been very clear all along. Nor is it the case that Ireland is being intransigent. Ireland is simply saying that the backstop agreement, which was agreed to formally some time ago, is an absolute essential from our point of view.

I will add to this by recommending that Senators read The Guardian newspaper article by Jonathan Lis from Tuesday 6 November, which calls to book those politicians in England who have been misrepresenting Ireland's position and characterising it as exploitative and hostile. The article shows very clearly that this is not the case.

In the final analysis - and this has been stated by Senator Leyden - the Border must remain open for every possible reason, invisible for every possible reason and, ultimately, the Good Friday Agreement must be maintained for every possible reason. People say that Northern Ireland has to be treated identically to every other portion of the United Kingdom, but let us remember that the Good Friday Agreement provides that every person born in Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland is entitled to British or Irish citizenship, or both. In that context, the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to European citizenship. Northern Ireland is, by definition, a wholly exceptional part of the United Kingdom in that its citizens, whatever hue they come from, are entitled to avail of joint nationality and, by extension, European citizenship.

I commend the Tánaiste on his steady, clear and unswerving commitment not to be intransigent but to insist on the bare minimum that would prevent Ireland from being very seriously and unnecessarily damaged by the Brexit decision made by the people of the United Kingdom.

I will begin by congratulating the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Taoiseach on what I regard as probably one of the greatest achievements in cohesion of any Government. The Ministers and the Taoiseach are all sending out the same message, as are their officials throughout Europe. We have attended a number of meetings of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union and, as my colleague Senator Leyden stated, the message is always clear from Ireland. I have not met anybody - from Bulgaria, to Georgia, to Brussels - who does not know the Irish position. I congratulate the Tánaiste and the Government on that. It is a tremendous achievement. Sadly, the British Government's position is far less clear and nobody is quite sure what way anybody is thinking. I reject any criticism of the UK's decision to withdraw from the European Union. That was their choice and they have made it. They are leaving a market and they made the decision knowing exactly what they were going to do. They must live with that.

That brings me to the issue of the Border. I have spoken to a number of people in industry and I have also spoken to politicians across Europe. Nobody I have met is convinced that a solution can be found in respect of the Border. I have not met anybody who believes that. This is notwithstanding the fact that all politicians in the UK, in Northern Ireland and in Ireland are saying that the Border will remain open. Perhaps the Tánaiste will not be able to answer now but I would like to know if we have war-gamed the possibility of having to close the Border. Have we examined what would be required to close the Border if we have to do so, particularly in view of the fact that we are part of the European Union and that, from March next year, Britain will become a third country?

The Good Friday Agreement brings with it certain responsibilities for Ireland, the UK and Northern Ireland. While the British courts and the courts in Northern Ireland have been unwilling or unable to look at Brexit and the possibilities for a court-based solution in respect of it, we have a situation in the North of Ireland where every citizen has a right to an Irish passport. Have we explored the possibility of using the courts to examine the referendum that took place in Northern Ireland? I refer to the referendum as it happened in Northern Ireland not to the referendum in Britain, Scotland or Wales. It might be worth considering doing this in a doomsday situation in order to look at how we protect the citizens of Ireland who are in Northern Ireland and who are also EU citizens.

The issue of the landbridge is a matter of serious concern to many exporters in Ireland. A number of exporters are looking at the possibility of a sea route into the heart of Europe, especially to the Hook of Holland or to one of the German ports. Is the Government prepared to examine this matter? When we met Michel Barnier, he certainly said that there would be EU money available to develop deep-sea ports in Ireland in order that we could have a direct route into Europe. I would be interested in knowing if the Government at least would support the exploration of those ideas.

I attended one of the Tánaiste's Brexit roadshows. I will not say which one because I do not want to expose any specific geographical area. It was a wonderful event. Every agency in the State that is required to support companies in a Brexit situation was represented. The heartbreak for me was when the facilitator at one of the sessions asked for a show of hands in respect of which companies had appointed someone with responsibility for Brexit-related issues. Out of the entire room, only two companies had done so. With all the work the Tánaiste, the Department and the various agencies have put in, that was a very damning indictment of the business world. Is the Tánaiste finding the position to be the same everywhere he goes within the State?

Once again, I thank the Tánaiste and his officials for coming to the House and for the job they are doing.

I welcome the Tánaiste and I thank him and his officials for all the work they have done in the past few years. It has been a very difficult time. I compliment the Government, the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the Tánaiste and our spokesman in the Seanad, Senator Richmond. Over time, it has been a very difficult few years but the Government's message has been clear, concise and fair. All the Opposition parties have rallied together; not in wearing the green jersey but in understanding that this is a seminal moment in Irish politics. It is a seminal moment for the island of Ireland. The Taoiseach has said that there cannot be an expiry date or a unilateral exit clause in the backstop or it would not be worth the paper it was written on. Ireland and the EU's position on the backstop remains clear and we cannot allow uncertainty about the Border and its impact on the peace process to persist beyond the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Such uncertainty is causing grave concern in communities in the North and the South. While our preference is for solutions to be found as part of the overall EU-UK relationship, it remains essential that a backdrop is agreed that provides certainty that a hard border will be avoided in any circumstances. We have been clear on this matter. How many times have people put the question and been told that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland? Sometimes people do not listen.

When Brexit happened, we were asked by British politicians, who are our good friends, what we thought of it. We told them that we saw it as the United Kingdom accidentally shooting itself in our foot.

That is what has happened. We have to protect ourselves while appreciating that a good deal for the UK is a good deal for Ireland and Europe.

We should remember that next Sunday, we will commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War. We had our own Irish exit - or Brexit, for want of a better word - at the 1918 general election when the Sinn Féin party of the time won 46% of the vote. Just as Brexit came about because of immigration, conscription was probably the main issue that got most of the Sinn Féin seats over the line in 1918. The effect of this was the creation of a 26-county Republic. It is felt that the conscription crisis was a crucial turning point in Irish history. We often talk about the 1916 Rising and the shooting of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, but the effect of the issue of conscription can never be underestimated. Although a conscription law was passed by the British Parliament, it was not enacted. At the seminal moment of the 1918 election, however, the effect of the conscription issue was to ensure the Sinn Féin party of the time got its seats over the line.

We must ensure east-west relations remain close. Senator Marshall has rightly referred to recent polls in the UK. I hope they mark a realisation that leaving the EU could be bad. It is unfair that the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach are seen as changing the pattern. Nothing has changed. It is exactly the same as it was when Deputy Enda Kenny was Taoiseach and Deputy Flanagan was Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. We are united across all parties in this House to ensure there cannot and will not be a border on the island of Ireland. In the words of Eamonn McCann, if there is a border on the island of Ireland, the people will tear it down with their bare hands. We cannot say that forcefully enough. We are not being anti-British when we state the facts as reported by a politician who is listening on the ground.

Cuirim fíor-fháilte roimh an Tánaiste. I thank the Tánaiste for being here this evening, for making himself available to the Seanad so regularly and for his address to the House this evening. Senator Feighan referred to the suggestion we have heard from Senators McDowell and Marshall that the world we live in today is volatile and deeply divided. We are at a crossing point. The mid-term elections that are happening in the US today can be said to equate to a referendum. Tomorrow morning, there will be some certainty about the composition of the House of Representatives and the Senate. We do not have such certainty in the case of Brexit. That is not the fault of the Irish Government. Brexit does not bring clarity or certainty. I heard what the Tánaiste said about the imagination displayed by Michel Barnier. I do not know about Mr. Barnier's imagination, but I certainly admire his steel, his toughness and his willingness to come up with different formulae.

It is important to recognise that in his work as a Minister and as a constitutional republican, as well as in his visits to the North, his comments and his willingness to work with all sides of the divide, the Tánaiste has provided a practical demonstration that Ireland's future relationship with the UK is important, as are the future relationships between all traditions on this island in the North and the South. This is exemplified in this Chamber by Senator Marshall, by the Tánaiste's remarks and by the Tánaiste's actual work. We must continue to build bridges. There must be seamless interaction. To be fair to the Tánaiste, he has always said that Brexit will be a net negative because there is no good outcome from Brexit. It will change our landscape for a generation or more.

Notwithstanding the difficulties we have to encounter, we must recognise what has been achieved to date. This House should join others in commending the officials in the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and of the Taoiseach on their work on Brexit and their efforts to build alliances across the EU. We should unreservedly acknowledge and commend the stewardship of the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the iar-Thaoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. The work of our colleague and friend, Senator Richmond, in chairing the Brexit committee, in building relationships and in challenging untruths across many forums should also be mentioned. To be honest, the Government's work has always been about protecting the interests of the island of Ireland, North and South, and the interests of all of our people. It has been a reasonable and pragmatic position.

As a constituency colleague and political competitor - not rival - of the Tánaiste, I am very proud of the role he has played in wearing the green jersey and flying the flag of Europe. Ireland is a central part of the EU. The Tánaiste can take great pride in the debate he has led, in the manner of his communication and in the way he has built alliances. It is very important. I am very proud. I want to pay tribute to him for the work he has done. He has been calm, diligent and honest. He has shown leadership. Senator Marshall used the word "disruptor" in his remarks. The Tánaiste is not a disruptor. He is a leader. He is about bringing people together. That can be seen in the cavalry of support we have received. I do not mean to be partisan when I refer to what I have heard from people in this Chamber and the other Chamber and say that this is far too important a matter to bring partisanship into it.

This House will be addressed by the Lord Mayor of Belfast on Thursday. It is a gargantuan move for this House and for the Oireachtas. It would not have happened 20 years ago, but it is happening on Thursday. That is what this Government has been about. It has been about building bridges and bringing people with us. We are at a very critical point in the EU and in the world as a whole. I think we need to support our Government. The Tánaiste was right when he said in his opening remarks that this "is not solely about economics" but "is also about people's lives and protecting the gains and benefits of the peace process".

I am delighted to welcome the Tánaiste and his officials to the House once again. I join everyone who has spoken in this evening's debate in rightly commending the Tánaiste and the team in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on their sterling efforts over a difficult number of years. I believe the first Brexit preparedness meeting in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade took place in December 2014, which was long before the referendum took place. It is quite reasonable to say that the Irish Government was prepared for the fallout from Brexit long before the British Government was. I think that is starting to come true.

It is right to acknowledge that we are at a very delicate stage in the negotiations. Given that all of this was due to be solved at the European Council meeting in October, it can be said, without leaning too heavily on a sporting analogy, that we are in the championship minutes or in injury time.

I would like to pick up on a point that was eloquently made by Senator McDowell. The atmosphere at the moment is very difficult. We need to be careful about what we read, tweet and retweet. Most importantly, we must remember that words matter, as our President has said in the context of other issues. The briefing and the spin in the British media in recent weeks has been quite spectacular. A report in the London edition of The Times cited a French diplomat who had apparently said that France was prepared to alter the backstop. That afternoon, the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the French ambassador absolutely reaffirmed France's solidarity with the Irish position. Approximately a week later, the Financial Times reported that a German diplomat had said the German position was that the backstop needed to be surrendered. Chancellor Angela Merkel came out within hours to clarify that European and German solidarity with Ireland's position is absolutely whole. In the past week, such reporting has spread further into The Daily Telegraph and - I would argue - some of our own publications. It is quite spectacular that the same story can be reported completely differently in the two leading newspapers of this State on the same morning.

It is very worrying because that spills out into political rhetoric. We saw certain comments in the Dáil by very experienced Deputies who should know that working off rumour and hearsay is not good enough.

Of course, words matter and using terms like "concessions" based on rumours and tweets is not responsible. That is what we must look at. A deal is possible and I very much hope one is imminent. However, we cannot risk the spectre of a no deal scenario despite what some politicians in other jurisdictions want to say, which is likely to be what might further their domestic aims. I commend the Tánaiste and his officials on their work. I look forward to travelling to Helsinki in the morning to attend the EPP congress, which is the largest collection of European politicians across the continent, where they will once again reaffirm all remaining EU member states' commitment to and solidarity with the Irish position as well as the solidarity of the many parties from non-EU countries in the EPP political family. That is a great credit to the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the rest of their team.

I will now bring the Tánaiste back in. We must conclude at 9 p.m. The Tánaiste does not have to use all of that time.

It is always dangerous giving me 20 minutes, particularly on this topic where I could stay for the night. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak without reading to try to address some of the issues that have been raised.

It is worth saying that the Irish position on the choice of our closest neighbour is one of regret and also a recognition of what I have often described as a "lose, lose, lose" situation. In time, this decision will be seen to have damaged the UK's standing in the world and may well have damaged the British economy, although the UK is big enough and strong enough to survive it.

It is also a "lose, lose" situation for the EU. The Single Market and the European economy will undoubtedly be weaker as a result of Brexit. The political influence of the EU globally will be weaker as a result of Brexit. The loss of our ally on many core issues we defended where we won the argument in EU debates will change the political dynamic in a way that is not good for Ireland. We are working hard to recognise the new political realities and the need for new alliances on key issues such as taxation, competition, fighting against protectionism and ensuring the EU continues to have a globalised view of the world and our place in it. From an Irish, British and EU perspective, Brexit is not good news.

This process is about protecting Ireland, North and South, trying to ensure we limit damage where it is a threat and trying to ensure we sustain and maintain relationships that have been built up between the UK and Ireland, particularly over the past 20 years, in a way that allows us to try to find a way through this really challenging negotiations with those relationships intact. This is why when I hear knee-jerk commentary that because there is a new issue under discussion, it is automatically viewed as a concession, weakness or weakening of our position, I find it frustrating because it is nothing of the sort. This is not meant to sound in any way patronising. It is just a fact. One of the reasons we regularly hold stakeholder group meetings on Brexit, one of the reasons I regularly brief all of the Opposition parties and tell them things that arguably I should not tell them in the context of delicate and, in some cases, confidential negotiations and one of the reasons I have trusted Opposition spokespeople to respect the confidentiality of those briefings, which, by and large, have been respected, is because this is not a party political issue. It is far more fundamental than that. Whoever is in government in six months' time or six years' time will be dealing with the consequences of how these negotiations turn out.

I will go through the sequencing of how we got to where we are without speaking for too long about it. It is important to understand that and the context in which we can get a deal. This time last year, Members might remember that these negotiations were broken up into two different pillars. The first was to try to get a withdrawal agreement agreed while the second was to negotiate a future relationship. A lot of pressure was being built up this time last year to allow the negotiations to move on to stage 2 before stage 1 was fully concluded. Everybody recognised that we were not going to get a full text of a withdrawal agreement agreed before we could start talking about a future relationship so there was a need for progress on the first to be able to start the conversation on the second.

EU countries, along with the UK, were very anxious to move on to opening negotiations on the future relationship, including the future trade and security relationships. We said that Ireland was okay with that but on the condition that we got some guarantees on core issues of vulnerability and sensitivity for Ireland. Those core issues are the three Irish issues in the withdrawal treaty. The first is the common travel area on which we have made very significant progress on a bilateral basis. It is almost a mutual recognition of citizenship - not quite but not far off it - as well as facilitating the freedom to travel, work, study and be treated effectively as a local citizen in the context of accessing services and education. That is largely done.

The second issue is the Good Friday Agreement. We expected, wanted and demanded that we would get very clear agreed language about protecting the Good Friday Agreement in full. The third issue about which we wanted clear commitments and language from the UK side was the Border. Unionists often tell me that it would be helpful to recognise there is a political border on the island of Ireland but that nobody wants it to be a physical barrier anymore, which is true. We said that before we could support the process moving on to stage 2, we needed a very comprehensive political statement or declaration that would be a commitment between the EU and the UK on these core issues.

That is where the December agreement came from. It was hard won. It was a difficult negotiation in the build up to that because we were very demanding and I do not mind saying that because that point in the negotiations was a crucial period for us to calm nerves, particularly in Northern Ireland. There were communities there that felt vulnerable because of Brexit and still do. That is where this backstop concept emerged.

In the context of the solutions about which we are talking, it is important to understand what that is. The backstop emerged from both sides agreeing that we want to solve the Irish Border question to make sure there is no physical border infrastructure or any related checks or controls in the future. We want to solve that through a comprehensive future relationship agreement. That is preference 1. We then said that if it is not possible to do that, preference 2 is for the UK to effectively offer bespoke solutions recognising the unique situation on the island of Ireland in order to solve that border question. At the time, people assumed that would be proposals around technology. We were very sceptical about that but it was not unreasonable to say that we would look at proposals if they were put forward. However, if we could not get agreement on those bespoke solutions, the default position, or backstop, was very clear. It was that the UK committed to maintaining full alignment with the rules of the customs union and Single Market in the areas necessary to protect North-South co-operation, an all-island economy and the peace process.

The language was clear. The backstop was not some concept that was not described. It was a fallback position, an insurance mechanism, or a floor below which we could not allow this issue to fall and how it would work was itemised.

In March, which was arguably an even more important agreement that did not get much recognition at the time, that order was reversed. What was agreed in December was that we would try to get a future relationship that would solve the Border question, as well as a whole load of other things, but if it was not possible, option two was a bespoke solution and, if there was not agreement on that, the backstop would kick in. The reverse then happened in March. We said what was needed was to settle people's nerves about the Border question. The British Prime Minister, to her credit, understanding the political sensitivities in Northern Ireland and people's concerns and fears, agreed that there would be a legally operable text on the backstop, consistent with paragraph 49 of the December agreement, which I quoted a minute ago, and it would be in the withdrawal treaty unless and until some other solution was found. In other words, we are putting the insurance mechanism in first, upfront, and then we negotiate a better solution if we can. People say the backstop has to be temporary and short-lived and is a stop-gap to fill a short period of time between the end of a transition period and the agreement on a future relationship. That may be a use for a backstop but it certainly cannot be the limit of its use, that is for sure. The backstop may be temporary but it cannot be designed in a way that requires it to be temporary because then it would not be a backstop at all. That is the truth.

The context in which we are now talking about a review is that we have never had a problem with reviewing a backstop. It is back to option two that was agreed in December whereby, if a backstop is required, in other words, if the future relationship cannot solve the Border question when it is agreed and a backstop kicks in, it is perfectly reasonable that, in time, we would review how it is working and if there are alternative proposals that could do the job more effectively that people would then consider those.

That is not a concession. That is simply working with friends and a neighbour who is also trying to find a solution and trying to find a language that everybody can live with that is consistent with the commitments of December and March. The one thing we cannot allow in that context is that, at the end of any review period, the United Kingdom would unilaterally be able to pull out of the backstop because then it would not be a backstop at all.

We are saying that the unless and until issue is what determines the timeline for the backstop. I hope the backstop will never be used because I hope, during the transition period, we will be able to negotiate a future relationship that is comprehensive enough to ensure that border infrastructure between the United Kingdom and the EU is not required. That will deal with the issue on the island of Ireland and it will also deal with the issue east-west which is a €70 billion trade relationship where 38,000 Irish companies trade with the UK every month and 7,500 companies trade across the Border all the time. That is what we would like to see. Britain has decided at Government level, and I do not believe the people made this decision, not only to leave the European Union but also to leave the customs union and Single Market. That decision creates the real challenge in the context of the Border.

In the context of the decisions and commitments made in December and the commitments made in March, we need to find a legal wording that is watertight and that will stand up to legal scrutiny and challenge because undoubtedly this withdrawal treaty will be challenged in a court somewhere. We need to find a wording that is consistent with the political commitments that have been made. I have to say, and it is not said very often in this Chamber or the other one, that Prime Minister May deserves credit for her commitments to Ireland and her repeated insistence that the commitments she made in December and March need to be part of the withdrawal treaty. She has had to face down a number of prominent politicians in the United Kingdom who have looked to essentially do away with the commitments they made as part of the British Government at the time. I think the Prime Minister and her Cabinet recognise that the commitments they have made need to be followed through on as part of the legal text of the withdrawal treaty and I believe it can be done soon.

We will work with Britain and in particular with Michel Barnier, who has done an astonishingly good job in understanding the complexity of the Irish issues, concerns and vulnerabilities and trying to factor those into the negotiations. If ever there was proof of the benefit of EU membership to Ireland in protecting our core interests, the last 12 months is the proof of that. We have unanimous solidarity and support across the other 26 countries which have their own vested interests and concerns around Brexit but continue to support Ireland. This is the core issue, the last remaining outstanding issue preventing agreement on a final draft of the withdrawal treaty which we are running out of time to agree. There is a good chance this can be agreed this month but we need to continue to work to support the negotiating teams who are negotiating as we speak in Brussels to try to find a way to ensure the backstop that has been committed to is followed through on but that there are review mechanisms built into that to ensure an onus on all of us who have been involved in this process, and will be involved in the future, to ensure the backstop and its use is permanent, if necessary, but also is constantly tested to ensure there are not other mechanisms that we could agree that could equally do the job. That needs to be factored into the future discussion.

I have spent much time in Northern Ireland over the past year. There are genuine fears in Northern Ireland. Nationalists and republicans are understandably sceptical. Memories of the Border are painful and difficult for many people and families and when one speaks to people in the Border areas, they get emotional quickly about this issue. This goes way beyond trade and economics. It is something that is at the core of this Irish question and Ireland's relationship with the United Kingdom and Britain, its history and complexity and, at times, its tragedy. Some people in England, in particular, do not understand or grasp the complexity and depth of that feeling. That is not their fault per se, it is just the reality.

Unionists feel equally fearful, from those I have spoken to, that the solutions we are exploring and the commitments we have got threaten their union. That is why the outcome needs to be one that everybody can live with, that follows through on the commitments in preventing border infrastructure or related checks or controls, but does not and is not seen as undermining the integrity of the United Kingdom as a whole either. The Good Friday Agreement deals with the constitutional issues on this island and Brexit should not interfere with that in any way.

I thank the Senators for their support, in particular Senator Richmond who has been a pillar of strength for our team in media messaging and ensuring the Irish position remains strong, consistent and firm, but also respectful.

I hope the political parties in this House can continue to work together until we get this job done. Do not forget that the withdrawal treaty and agreement, if one wants to call it that, is just part 1 of this negotiation. We are at the business end of trying to finalise part 1. If we can get it agreed then we create some certainly that a transition period is going to take place, that citizens' rights issues are settled, that the financial settlement that Britain has to make between now and the end of 2020 with the EU is settled and that the core Irish issues that we insisted last December were addressed as comprehensively as they could be are followed through on to the maximum extent possible. If we can get agreement on that, which is the withdrawal treaty dealing with those four key areas, we will have done a good job in mitigating the potential damage and challenges that Brexit brings. Then we move on to stage 2 which is to get on with the negotiations on the detail of the future relationship which will take at least two years to deliver, and perhaps longer.

I thank the Minister. I am sure all Members wish the Minister well in his endeavours on behalf of us all. I am glad I was allowed give the Minister more than six minutes which was the minimum he was allowed. He used every bit of it and I am sure he could have done another hour.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Maidin amárach ar 10.30.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.01 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 November 2018.