Brexit: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann supports the Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community (the draft Withdrawal Agreement), as published on 14th November, 2018, including the draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland which forms an integral part of the Draft Agreement.

Last week EU and UK negotiators completed work on a draft agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, including the draft protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. This was followed by approval by Prime Minister May and her Cabinet of the draft agreement as an acceptable basis on which to proceed. On Sunday the Taoiseach will join other EU 27 leaders at a special meeting of the European Council to endorse the agreement, together with a joint political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Ahead of this crucial meeting, the Government welcomes that a strong signal was sent by the Dáil last night that Ireland wholeheartedly supports this withdrawal agreement as the best way to ensure an orderly UK exit that protects the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process. I am sure this House will send a similar message today.

Last week represented an important breakthrough in the negotiations as we head towards 29 March next year, when the UK will formally leave the European Union. Brexit presents a major challenge for us all, following 45 years of what has been close co-operation and partnership with the UK as fellow EU members. The complexity of this process and the scale of the challenge it presents have become all too clear over the course of these negotiations. The draft withdrawal agreement sets out the terms under which the UK's withdrawal will happen in an orderly manner. It provides the best way of ensuring we avoid a hard Brexit which would see the UK crash out of the Union, with the serious consequences that would bring.

With the agreement, a transition period to the end of December 2020 will help to ensure a manageable transition for citizens and business as the UK ceases to be a member state of the Union and becomes a third country. During this time, the EU and the UK will negotiate an agreement on our future relationship, which we hope will be as deep, strong and comprehensive as possible. The option to extend the transition is there, if more time is needed to conclude such an agreement.

We did not ask for Brexit. Indeed, we deeply regret the UK’s decision to leave and believe that all parties will be diminished as a result. Since that decision was taken, the Government has sought to ensure that we in Ireland can minimise the negative impacts of Brexit on the island. In particular, we have sought to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement, for which we share responsibility with the UK. Importantly, the agreement secures many of our objectives. From the very start, we worked to ensure that our concerns were understood by all our EU partners - the member states and the EU institutions. Their unity and solidarity has played a significant role. They took Ireland’s concerns to heart and made them European concerns and priorities. Throughout the negotiations, they have demonstrated strong understanding of and support for the need to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and to maintain the necessary conditions for North-South co-operation, avoiding a hard border and protecting the peace process. These were also accepted by Prime Minister May in repeated political commitments made in December and March, and as recently as September.

The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which forms an integral part of the draft agreement, addresses all the issues I have just outlined. The protocol contains important commitments and assurances regarding the Good Friday Agreement, North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. It includes commitments to ensure no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, and it also confirms that people in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens. It acknowledges the common travel area, whereby Irish and British citizens can live, work and study and access healthcare, social security and public services in each other’s jurisdictions. It assures continued support for the North-South PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes.

The protocol also includes clear measures to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border on this island, or the backstop, as we call it.

The absence of a hard border has been critical to what has been achieved on the island under the peace process. This has been a priority for Ireland from the very start of the negotiations. The backstop simply acts as an insurance policy, which we hope will never have to be used. It means that should it be required after the period of transition, the UK and the EU will establish a shared customs territory. It will involve no tariffs or quotas and includes well-established rules to ensure a level playing field. Northern Ireland would remain aligned to those rules of the Single Market that are indispensable to avoiding a hard border. To facilitate this and to ensure there can be no unfair competitive advantage, the agreement also provides that if the backstop is invoked, rules to ensure a level playing field in areas such as environment, state aid and labour standards will apply.

The agreement makes clear the backstop will apply unless and until it is replaced by alternative arrangements that make it no longer necessary. A review mechanism will look at this. The agreement also makes clear this decision cannot be taken unilaterally but must be taken jointly by the EU and the UK. This also comes under the review process. This translates the UK’s political commitment, which was given last December, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland into a legal guarantee. As we have said many times before, we hope and believe those alternative arrangements will be negotiated. However, it is important we now have the insurance policy we need if all other efforts fail to produce a better solution. Importantly, at the same time, nothing in the agreement prejudices or seeks to undermine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Ireland maintains a strong and constructive bilateral relationship with the UK. We share unique and profound ties fostered by centuries of shared history, culture and trade. We are fully committed to developing and enhancing that relationship and our close bilateral co-operation over the coming years. The common travel area, CTA, which is acknowledged in the agreement, will contribute to this. Under the CTA, Irish and British people can live, work, study and access healthcare, social security and public services in both jurisdictions. Equally, it remains our priority to achieve a deep and comprehensive future relationship between the EU and the UK in a post-Brexit world. Over the next two years we will be working very closely with the UK and our EU partners for an agreement that can achieve that on the basis of the political declaration on the future relationship that EU leaders are expected to endorse at the European Council on Sunday, and which many of you have seen today have already been agreed. Work is continuing on finalising this declaration and the Prime Minister will return to Brussels for a further meeting with President Juncker on Saturday to settle the text.

Ireland has always said we want the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK and we welcome that this outline of the political declaration points to such a relationship, including in areas of great importance to Ireland such as trade, transport, energy and judicial and police co-operation, as well as protecting key sectors such as agriculture and fisheries. We do all this knowing that our place is at the heart of a strong European Union. We must respect the integrity of the Single Market and the customs union. Membership of these is a core element of our economic strategy, including in attracting business.

The Government is taking nothing for granted. Significant steps will need to be taken. The European Council will meet on Sunday to endorse the draft agreement. The UK must ratify the agreement according to its own constitutional arrangements. The European Parliament must also provide its consent. Ireland will be the EU member state most affected by Brexit and it will bring significant negative consequences for us. Therefore, the Government is continuing its intensive work to prepare for all eventualities, including a no-deal Brexit, to make sure we are all ready. Departments and State agencies continue to develop and roll out action plans and to advance mitigating measures which they have identified in the areas of their responsibility. The Government is putting in place measures needed on an east-west basis, preparing our ports and airports. We have already given approval in this year's budget to start hiring over 500 of the 1,000 staff needed.

We are also actively engaged with the European Commission on areas where the lead policy role lies with the EU. An important example of this is our close work with the Commission and other member states to ensure continued effective use of the UK land bridge. The withdrawal agreement also reaffirms the commitment of the UK to facilitate the efficient and timely transit. The Government is providing an array of supports on top of this and information measures to businesses. We have overseen and co-ordinated a communication and outreach campaign through the Brexit website, social media and public events. Those reach-out events are happening throughout this month. The next event is taking place in Letterkenny next Friday.

While the approval of the draft withdrawal agreement marks a crucial step forward, there are many significant challenges ahead. There is no room for complacency. I will take the opportunity to express again my deep appreciation and gratitude to all our EU partners for their unwavering solidarity in ensuring these challenges have been taken into account in the draft withdrawal agreement. In particular, I acknowledge the commitment and professionalism of Michel Barnier and his exceptional team with whom we have worked extremely closely over the past 20 months.

It was never the case that Brexit would be straightforward or easy. This has become increasingly clear as the negotiations have gone on. It is important for us all, citizens, enterprises and even our international partners, that the UK’s withdrawal happens in an orderly manner. The withdrawal agreement provides the best and only way to achieve this. No one benefits from a hard Brexit and the serious consequences it would bring for the UK, the EU and Ireland. We regret the UK’s decision to leave and believe that both parties will be diminished as a result. However, the fact remains that in the very near future, the UK will leave the European Union and it is the responsibility of the Government to represent and protect the interests of Ireland and its citizens.

We are very grateful for the support and advice we have received from all sides of the House on this issue and will continue to keep the Seanad fully informed of developments in this important issue which has far-reaching implications for all of us. I thank Senators for their support and ask for their continued support for this motion.

I thank the Minister of State for her contribution and for being with us. I know she has been very busy on Ireland's behalf over the past year or so. We know she will continue working until there is a satisfactory conclusion.

This will be my first contribution as Fianna Fáil spokesman on foreign affairs and Brexit. I join with the Acting Chairman in commending the Minister of State for her untiring efforts. I look forward to working with her for the good of the nation in the coming weeks and months.

I welcome the debate. The Fianna Fáil Party will support the motion. The draft withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK, while far from perfect, represents a positive outcome for the entire island of Ireland. We all know there is no such thing as a good Brexit and the decision of the people of Great Britain is to be greatly regretted.

However, the withdrawal agreement provides sufficient protections to ensure there is no hard border on our island while upholding the Good Friday Agreement and the continuance of North-South co-operation. The Good Friday Agreement was approved by the Irish people, North and South. It ended decades of murder and mayhem. I am very proud of the part played by successive leaders of my party in bringing it about, particularly former Taoisigh Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern.

The peace is very fragile. Northern Ireland is an unnatural state. The communities are totally polarised without any signs of the meeting of minds that was envisaged by the architects of the Good Friday Agreement. The political vacuum in the North and the inability of the DUP and Sinn Féin to forge and maintain an effective Administration is deplorable. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, we need to see the emergence of real politics, real engagement and real patriotism in the North. The onus is on the two leading parties and it is high time that they stepped up to the line and took responsibility. The Good Friday Agreement has empowered them alone to get on with the business of politics, if politics is really what they are about.

The proposed EU summit on 25 November is the next important staging post in the long, drawn-out Brexit crisis. Cabinet resignations, opposition from the Labour Party, the DUP and internal Conservative Party elements have created a very difficult task for the Prime Minister, Theresa May. This is a matter for the British people but Mrs. May is a doughty fighter and we wish her well in her efforts to have the deal ratified in Westminster.

I have already commented in the House on the total absence of nationalist participation in the crucial Westminster debate. There are seven empty seats in the House of Commons, spaces that were occupied by the likes of John Hume, Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan in the recent past. For decades, Sinn Féin Members refused to take their seats in Dáil Éireann. Now they are here. For decades, Sinn Féin did not recognise our nation’s Defence Forces, claiming allegiance to an army of its own. Now it accepts there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann.

For decades Sinn Féin repudiated the authority of the Garda Síochána and other legitimate instruments of the State. Now it states it has no problem with that either. Is it too much to expect that at this late stage, it would represent the decision of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland who voted to remain? Would it not support Northern Ireland's farmers and businessmen of both creeds who have been let down by the DUP? An opportunity has presented itself to Sinn Féin to repudiate sectarian politics and to work for the people of the North on all sides.

We in Fianna Fáil have been calling on the Government to prepare for the changes that will inevitably ensue from any Brexit deal for some time now. In the light of the precarious political situation in the UK, it is essential that the Government has detailed contingency plans for every and all outcomes. The withdrawal agreement is only the beginning. The future relationship between the UK and the EU still remains to be negotiated and the Government will need to be extremely vigilant in the weeks, months and even years ahead. Britain remains our single largest trading partner for the agrifood sector. We enjoyed a trade surplus of more than €1 billion in 2017. The Irish Exporters Association has called on the Government to increase contingency planning but to date there has been a relatively low take up of Brexit supports. As of October only €8.5 million out of the €300 million Brexit loan scheme has been sanctioned while only 137 grant applications had been approved by Enterprise Ireland. It is 3% of the possible total. Very few Irish SMEs have a Brexit plan in place. The figures are even worse in the North. The Government's Brexit road show seems to be more about spend than suffrage. There is no room for complacency as we are running out of time, without any firm Brexit deal in place.

Every right-minded person in this country wants to see a good exit deal for ourselves, for the EU, for the North and last but not least for the UK. This is no time for gloating at the old enemy. It is not a scenario where England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity. Those days are over, thank God. Some of the comments by the more Neanderthal elements of the Tory right can be very aggravating. Their knowledge of Ireland, North and South, is bordering on the infantile and the bizarre. That said, it is to be regretted that Irish-British relations have deteriorated in the past number of years. My leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, has raised his concerns about this consistently. While acknowledging the work of the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, and the Government, we have a lot of work to do with our nearest neighbour. It is vital for the peace process and for future trade and commerce that we maintain the highest level of diplomatic contact and engagement with our nearest neighbour.

The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team have to be commended on breaking the impasse and for acceding to the single EU-UK customs territory which was one of Mrs. May's key demands. Under these terms Northern Ireland would retain the benefits of EU membership along with continued access to the UK market. The knee-jerk reaction of the DUP to such a favourable and reasonable outcome for the North is hard to fathom. There is something essentially sad about it. Unionist insecurity is nakedly exposed, with its constant need for reassurance at the root of Mrs. May's difficulties. We have to understand unionist fears but without political dialogue between the communities in the North we will never make real progress. We are a long way from normalisation. This is no time, therefore, for the sectarian counting of heads. Calls for a Border poll now are reckless and counter-productive. Let us deal with the problem in hand and let us hope by March of next year we will have secured the basis for a whole new relationship between Britain and the European Union, Britain and Ireland and political progress in the North.

I commend the motion to the House.

This is my first opportunity to congratulate Senator Ned O'Sullivan on his promotion to spokesperson on Brexit and foreign affairs. Well done. I understand Senator Marshall is allowing Senator Craughwell to speak before him. Senator Craughwell has five minutes.

I thank my colleague, Senator Marshall, for facilitating me. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the former Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy. A wonderful job has been done. In congratulating the political side of Irish life, I must also take time to mark the fantastic work done by our officials throughout Europe. The officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been second to none in the work they have done to support the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State in their work. The secretariat of the various committees involved in debating Brexit are to be congratulated on their work and commitment and their attention to detail to ensure we always had the most up-to-date information available to us as we discussed Brexit.

As has been said many times, Brexit is of no value to any of us. It is something we could have all done without. However, the fear is not on the European side, but on the UK side. I have just come back from a COSAC meeting where I met MPs and Members of the House of Lords and their commitment to a no deal seems stronger than their commitment to a deal. The opposition to Prime Minister May was palpable, certainly from one or two members. I have a fear, despite the best efforts of everybody in Europe and Mrs. May's tour de force in Parliament where she stood her ground even though she was harangued by everybody for three hours. I congratulate her on her tremendous performance. I sincerely hope she gets the support to get Brexit over the line. It is a good deal, no matter which way we look at it. It is a much better deal than the alternative.

We constantly talk of the imposition of a hard border. There has never been a hard border on the island of Ireland since the foundation of the State. There have been what I would regard as extremely difficult crossing, or managed crossings. There was a heavy military presence at every crossing for the past 40 years but we have never had a hard border and I hope we never see one. A hard border is a very different thing. Let us recall the Berlin Wall - that was a hard border. What President Trump is proposing in America is a hard border. I hope we never see a hard border on this island.

I agree with my colleague that it is regrettable that the nationalists who have been elected to Westminster - I accept they were elected on an abstentionist policy - will not take their seats and support this country in its quest to get Brexit over the line. That is a matter for them and for those who elect them, but I would like to put my feelings on record, nonetheless.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, that a rush to a Border poll now is something that must be rejected. I have seen no appetite in this country for a Border poll and I think we must first learn to live with one another before we start rushing in that direction. I have friends in the unionist community in Northern Ireland, many of whom support the DUP, and I feel desperately sorry watching a party effectively prepared to damage its own people over an ideology. I think that is desperately sad.

I hope things will settle down in the next few days. I know that Prime Minister May will sign whatever agreement she feels is worthwhile but I am not so sure the House of Commons will support her, and that will be regrettable.

I thank the Minister of State for her time and her willingness to be available to the committee and to this House anytime she has been called. We have never once had an excuse that she was not available, notwithstanding the fact she is running from one side of Europe to the other and has done for some time now. I hope she will get time to relax when this all ends.

I neglected to wish Senator Craughwell a happy birthday. I call Senator Richmond who has eight minutes.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for providing us with an update. As Senator Craughwell stated, the Minister of State has been very generous with her time, as has been the Tánaiste. I join the Acting Chairman, Senator Wilson, in expressing good wishes to Senator Ned O'Sullivan on his elevation to the position of Fianna Fáil spokesperson on foreign affairs. I value the Senator's contributions, particularly in the past 18 months when he has spoken on a number of key issues. I have no doubt he will make a great contribution to this issue.

The Minister of State summed up the position in a most succinct way. Ireland did not ask for Brexit. We deeply regret the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union and we believe all parties will be diminished as a result. The withdrawal agreement, and the associated political framework published in the last number of hours, are what they are, however, and I would struggle to describe this as a good deal. As a passionate pro-European who strongly believes in the Anglo-Irish relationship, there can be no good deal and there is no such thing as a good Brexit. This is, however, the least worst option. It is a sensible deal that will allow for the orderly exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Most important, it protects the Good Friday Agreement and ensures we have a formula to guarantee the fragile peace on this island, which is just 20 years old.

The publication of the deal and the agreement reached on it by the British Cabinet is no small achievement. We look forward to Sunday when the European Council will give its approval to the agreement. What it has taken to get us to this stage is remarkable. As previous speakers noted, it is a reflection of the remarkable efforts made by the Minister of State, her predecessor, Deputy Dara Murphy, the Taoiseach, an iarThaoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan. This has also been one of the most exemplary performances of our diplomatic corps in the short history of the State. In the past two and a half years, more than 2,500 meetings have been held on Brexit at a political and diplomatic level in every member state capital and beyond. It is a commendation of those efforts that we have achieved an agreement that fully reflects the Irish position. We have taken a sensible position that can make this deal work best for Ireland, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and the EU as a whole.

I also commend the level of contingency planning that has been made by the Government. This is an area that has not been highlighted enough. Contrary to some of the claims made by Senator Ned O'Sullivan, the Government's first contingency meeting on Brexit took place in 2014, a full two and a half years before the referendum. I have been lucky to sit in on the most recent meetings of the Brexit stakeholders forum, of which there have been 15 since the referendum. The detailed analyses provided by Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, as well as the statistic revealed by IBEC this morning that 85% of chief executives have engaged in the process, perhaps paint a truer picture which reflects exactly where we are on Brexit. We should bear in mind that Brexit has not happened yet. When the deal goes through and we enter the transition period, I hope the preparation work will move to another level. We should also bear in mind what the next steps are and accept in good faith the agreement signed by the British Prime Minister and ratified by her Cabinet, which will, I am sure, be endorsed by the European Council on Sunday.

To address the process, our responsibility this afternoon is to pass this motion, which was passed almost unanimously by the other House last night. I am greatly disappointed that nine Deputies took it upon themselves to oppose the motion. While this was not sufficient to force a vote, it is interesting to note that the Deputies in question cited every issue under the sun to oppose the agreement, while ignoring the fact the deal will get us through a very difficult patch and is an achievement for all parties concerned. As Members of the Upper House, Senators must also decide on this motion. I appeal for unanimous support for it. In light of the contributions of previous speakers and based on my engagement with Senators over the past 18 months in this House and at meetings of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, I have no doubt we will achieve that.

Many people have ignored the EU process in respect of Brexit, with much of the attention focused on Westminster. Not a day passes without a strategic leak that has been published in a British newspaper, be it the Financial Times, The Times of London or The Daily Telegraph, being seized upon by certain elements of the Irish body politic or Fourth Estate, which are always the first to say the deal is dead in the water. Just last week, the same people said Prime Minister May had only 24 hours left in office. The threatened letters have not come, the Prime Minister is still in place and we must accept in good faith that she will bring the withdrawal agreement through Westminster and, in turn, that we will be able to bring it through the European channels. This is all about controlling the controllables. Following the summit on Sunday, the European Council will send the agreement to the European Parliament for assent and Guy Verhofstadt will bring it through the European legislative process. It will then be voted on at European level on 12 and 13 March 2019 when I hope it will be passed.

Members have a responsibility to look to our respective partners in the European Parliament, whether the Party of European Socialists, PES, of which the Labour Party is a member, the European United Left-Nordic Green Left, GUE-NGL, of which Sinn Féin is a member, or the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, of which Fianna Fáil is a member, to ensure the agreement secures the widest possible support in the European Parliament and European Council of Heads of State. We should use our ties to Westminster through sister parties. While Fine Gael does not have a British sister party, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil do. Sinn Féin also has a voice in Westminster but I will not go back over the argument as to whether its seven MPs should take their seats because that point is probably moot. Senator Ó Donnghaile and his party colleagues know I have a strong opinion on the issue. We have had that discussion, however, and we will leave it at this stage. Senators may have friends in Westminster, political, personal or otherwise, especially among Labour Party MPs who have not been vocal or perhaps Liberal Democrats or Scottish Nationalist Party MPs who are not exactly sure what to think. Let us be realistic. We have a deal on the table. While it is not a deal I like, I accept it and fully appreciate that it is not only the best deal on offer but the only deal on offer. The alternative, for Britain to crash out of the European Union without a deal on 30 March 2019, is so biblically disastrous that it does not bear thinking about for those who like to get at least eight hours' sleep at night, although, as politicians, we get more like four hours' sleep.

This deal is what must be put before the people because there is no chance of a better one. The six tests will never be met. I fear a second referendum, if one were to come about, would simply give a mandate for a stronger leave position and stronger no-deal scenario. The deal is what the EU and British sides have put on the table and we can use it to go forward. The future political declaration, produced by the European Commission today, gives us an insight into what can be achieved in the 16 months until December 2020. Notwithstanding some of the Neanderthal criticisms made by some on the fringes of certain parties, as Senator O'Sullivan referenced, Ireland will demonstrate that it is not just the United Kingdom's closest neighbour but also its closest friend. We can deliver a deep and meaningful trade, customs and regulatory agreement between the EU and UK that will ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland or on the Irish Sea. It is aspirational and it will be difficult. The trade deal with Canada took nine years to achieve. We are working from a very good platform and we have a sensible leadership team in London, Brussels and Dublin. I look forward to that process coming to a close. I will travel to Belfast tomorrow morning where I will speak to members of the Ulster Farmers Union, the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, and various other organisations and point out that this deal can work. It can work for Ireland, North and South, and for the UK and EU. I fully believe that if we give this motion unanimous support today, the deal will work.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil agus fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit as a bheith linn inniu don phlé thar a bheith tábhachtach seo. Is bomaite, is tréimhse agus is am iontach suntasach seo don tír ina iomlán agus go háirithe don mhuintir fud fad na hÉireann agus níos faide ar shiúl ná sin.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this important discussion. I and my colleagues reiterate our thanks to her for the work that she, the Tánaiste and departmental officials have put in on this issue. Since entering this House, I have found it an enlightening experience to work collaboratively with other parties on the issue of Brexit, which is an outcome that none of us wants. There has been, by and large, an overwhelming spirit of unity in trying to do what is best for all of our people, even if views have diverged at times on how best to do that and what the approach should be. That has certainly been my experience on the special Seanad committee on Brexit.

That has been my experience in this Chamber throughout hours of debate on this issue. In that regard, it is sad that some people have taken party-political swipes at others, especially because we have avoided that up to now. It is a pity that we heard such a contribution at the beginning of this debate. I want to respond - not in a defensive way, but because it is important to get certain points on the record - to a number of points raised by Senator Ned O'Sullivan in his contribution.

Abstaining from Westminster is not sectarian. It is a core tenet of Irish republicanism. As we know, republicanism is the antithesis of sectarianism. In the latest Westminster vote in the North, which happened following the Brexit referendum, Sinn Féin received the largest mandate it has received in such an election since the partition of Ireland. People are very clear about what they expect and what they want their political leadership to do. The people in the North who vote for Sinn Féin are probably increasing in number now, not least within the business class. They do not see Westminster as the solution, but as very much part of the problem. They want the Government of Ireland, and parties and parliaments at a European level, to stand in defence of their rights and their aspirations for the future.

We all want the institutions in the North back up and running. We all know the reasons they are down. I do not need to get into a prolonged contribution on those reasons. The Minister of State and others present will be aware that when the Executive was functioning, the Executive parties did not have a seat at Theresa May's Brexit negotiating table. It can be assumed that if the Executive were back up and running, the two parties at the head of that Executive would have polar-opposite views on Brexit and the welfare of our people. That is manifesting itself even outside the institutions. The DUP has put itself in direct opposition to a raft of our society within community and civic life, political life and business life. If we see the return of the institutions as some kind of panacea or silver bullet for the resolution of Brexit, or if we believe the seven Sinn Féin MPs will somehow be able to go into Westminster on a white horse to save the day, unfortunately we are living in cloud-cuckoo land because that is simply not the case.

We have all conceded that the draft agreement is the absolute bare minimum needed to protect people, not least in the North. We have worked constructively with the Government through the stakeholder forum and on any number of committees. Sinn Féin has been clear that a special or unique arrangement is needed for the North to ensure all parts of the Good Friday Agreement are protected, there is no hardening of the Border on the island of Ireland and the rights of Irish and EU citizens are fully protected. We have argued that there is a need for frictionless movement of goods from Ireland through Britain on their way to the rest of the EU. Although we believe there are some outstanding issues, we consider that the draft agreement provides some assurance for the citizens of the North as well as the business community.

I want to turn to the immediate issues raised by the draft protocol. It is of deep concern that it contains no explicit reference to the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR. It is also of concern that the right of Irish and EU citizens in the North to vote in EU elections is not dealt with in it. I call on the Minister of State and on colleagues to continue to work collaboratively to ensure people who reside in the North will have permanent access to the ECHR and the European Court of Justice, ECJ. People in the North should continue to access third-level education and the EU health insurance card as EU citizens. As we have said, there must be no hardening of the Border. People in the North must continue to be able to access cross-Border healthcare, such as the north-west cancer centre in Altnagelvin. I include children's healthcare in this. There need to be safeguards for EEA migrant workers in the North.

We need to work together towards a reformed and more democratic EU. We need to work to ensure the rights of all citizens in the North are protected and vindicated in line with the joint report of December 2017 between Britain and the EU. I believe today's political declaration does not go far enough, particularly on rights. There is little mention of rights in the declaration and where they are mentioned, it is aspirational rather than practical. We need to be careful in that regard. We need to keep an eye on the British Government's aspirations. It has shown previously - we have experience of this in the North - how it can act when it comes to the implementation of agreements. It is a matter of concern that much of the declaration is aspirational by design. It involves provisions being agreed in principle rather than being legally binding.

I do not want to bring about a divergence of opinion in this House. We have worked positively. I have touched on many of the issues I wanted to cover. The declaration opens the door to future participation in EU programmes, such as Erasmus. It mentions a financial contribution to facilitate such participation. Perhaps that is something the Government could contribute to or assist with, in line with its pledge that people will not be left behind. There is also an agreement in the protocol to deliver a future PEACE+ funding programme. The Government has to ensure that is delivered, not least as part of its responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

I continue to wish the Minister of State and her colleagues well. This is a big weekend for Ireland. We are in a big period. As I said when the Tánaiste was here last week, we have now reached the stage where I am speaking less as a Seanadóir and more as a citizen. We are all living Brexit, some of us more acutely and sharply than others. We all remember that when Guy Verhofstadt addressed the joint sitting, he told us there was no way that our rights as Irish citizens, and therefore as EU citizens, would be diminished or reduced in any fashion. That is how we have approached this issue in this House and the other House. That is how we need to continue to approach it in the coming weeks and months.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I want to record my welcome and that of my party for last night's Dáil vote, which was virtually unanimous. It was opposed by the usual suspects who are permanently blinded to the benefits of EU membership for workers, business and investment. All of us must preface our remarks, as Senator Richmond did, by saying every time we speak about Brexit that there is no such thing as a good Brexit of any description.

That is the case for Ireland and I firmly believe it is the case for the UK as well. We never wanted Brexit in the first place. As Senator Richmond mentioned, when it was expected some years ago that a referendum on Brexit would take place, the previous Government, in which I served, had many meetings to establish contingencies for various outcomes. Ironically, this country is probably better prepared for Brexit than the UK. While that is a sad commentary, it is a frank and honest assessment of the tense and febrile nature of politics in the UK at present.

As I have said, we never wanted Brexit in the first place. I recall, as I am sure everyone else does, going to bed on the night the votes were counted in the full expectation that I would wake up to a "Remain" vote. The following morning, our hopes were dashed and our worst fears were realised. Brexit in any form represents an existential threat to Ireland and to our way of life. As the Minister of State knows well, my constituency of Louth is on the front line in every sense. Peace, along with our common membership of the EU, has made all the difference. The differences between North and South are now almost entirely negligible. We could never risk a return to a hard border because the world as we know it would change beyond recognition. Before we knew it, we would be back to the bad old days.

This draft withdrawal agreement deserves our full support in this Chamber. The Minister of State deserves our full support. She deserves great credit for the work she has done in recent times to get us to the place we are at now. As others have remarked, her officials deserve considerable credit and praise as well.

It is fair to say that Mr. Barnier and his team have had our backs from start to finish. They delivered what they said they would deliver. As we know, it is not over yet; far from it, but at this point the agreement represents a success from an Irish perspective, and a relative success as well from a British perspective, if we are to be objective and dispassionate about it.

My colleagues and I in the Labour Party have worked very closely with our Party of European Socialists colleagues right across Europe. It is the second largest political grouping in Europe, as Senator Richmond pointed out. We worked very hard to convince our sister party leaders, some of whom are Prime Ministers - unfortunately too few of them - of the unique threats posed to Ireland by Brexit. From day one that solidarity was evident and is reflected in this arrangement. That said, the situation in Westminster as we know only too well is extremely febrile and there is no guarantee the draft agreement will find favour with a majority in the UK Parliament. We still have the deadly dangerous prospect of a no-deal scenario and the UK crashing out of the EU. We must prepare for that scenario and I acknowledge the Government is preparing comprehensively for all scenarios that may arise.

The view of the Labour Party is that there should be a second vote because enough has changed since 2016 to justify that politically. My party leader, Deputy Howlin, spoke at the British Labour Party conference in September and in our frequent collective contact with colleagues such as Keir Starmer and others, we have sought to convince them of the merits of such an approach. It greatly troubles me that my colleagues in the British Labour Party have, unfortunately, to be charitable, an ambiguous position on the general state of affairs at the moment. We acknowledge that we have work to do as a sister party of the Labour Party in the UK to convince its members of the merits of adopting a different position.

To be straight, the British people were lied to back in 2016. The Brexiteers' wild claims were never going to stack up and they have not stacked up. Now the British people have a piece of paper in front of them that they can consider. They should be allowed to decide again. Put simply, it is a fantasy for some of my colleagues in the British Labour Party to think that there is such a thing as a good Brexit, one that is good for jobs, business and investment. There is not. That is an absolute fantasy and invention. I agree with Gordon Brown who said not enough has been done and not enough space has been provided in the UK to allow people to express their views, hopes and frustrations about the direction in which Europe has gone and the general concerns that led to Brexit in the first place, that in reality had nothing to do with the operation of the European Union but something else entirely and more to do with domestic politics and the direction of the UK. We have suggested, as has Gordon Brown, a series of civic forums modelled on our own Constitutional Convention that could provide for the kind of frank, honest, open and informed discourse that might help to change societal attitudes in the UK to the EU, as has happened here in terms of difficult social questions we have had to address in recent years such as access to abortion rights and marriage equality, among others. I do not know whether it is too late for such forums to be considered but we should always remain hopeful. That would involve the possibility of delaying the triggering of Article 50, but it could help renew, unite and reconcile a very divided Britain. One way or another, regardless of how this will work out in the coming months and years, the reality is that Britain is a very divided country in many ways.

We do not want Britain to leave the EU, for many reasons. For what it is worth, we would very warmly welcome a second referendum before this horse has bolted and there are significant cohorts in our sister party in the UK who hold that view as well. However, I accept that the chances of that at this point are extremely limited. I still firmly believe Britain's historical destiny should be at the heart of the European project, helping to shape the future of Europe, informed by what I describe as the best characteristics of our friends and cousins across the water that we all associate with the best of Britishness, if I can call it that. I refer to that innate decency, sense of fairness and sense of fair play. Unfortunately though, at this moment we face nothing short of a tragedy. It is a tragedy for the British people who are staring over the cliff edge of damaging their relationship with the European Union, driving down the rights of working people, driving down business and investment, jeopardising some of the very important key wins that we have secured collectively across the European Union and via our membership of the European Union over the past 40 plus years. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and give her the credit and praise to which she is entitled personally and collectively on behalf of her Government colleagues and officials for getting us to this point at a very difficult time in our history.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, for her statement. We are currently living through an unprecedented set of circumstances that has the potential to divide us more than unite us. It is important we take a brief moment to reflect on how we got here. This was something that was borne out of ideology and the debate became politically charged very early on. Last week we had the first sight of the draft withdrawal document, which is to be welcomed, because it is the first time we have something tangible to examine, interrogate, read, understand and work out its implications. As fellow Senators have mentioned, it is not ideal, but what is ideal is no Brexit and unfortunately we are staring at Brexit at the moment. Credit must be given to all involved in the work and the tireless, endless endeavours to get this document to where it is. I refer to the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and to people from all parties who have contributed to this discussion.

We witnessed a unique situation in Northern Ireland last week where businesses were united in coming out to strongly support the document. That was borne out of businesses that are very nervous about a Brexit discussion which has raised genuine concerns for them about borders, trade, free movement, regulations and standards. It is interesting that the position of the Northern Ireland businesses last week was echoed by the vote in the Dáil last night.

As a democrat, I respect everyone's right to his or her own opinion on Brexit. We must respect democracy and the referendum that took place in the UK. The UK electorate is intelligent but it needs to be informed and it needs accurate information. This recent episode in politics has been about party politics, personal ambition, misleading information and deception. That is something that comes from all sides. Not having an Executive in Northern Ireland has disadvantaged us greatly. The lack of balanced opinion in Westminster has weakened Northern Ireland's position. Preparation is not adequate and there are significant concerns among the business fraternity about what the future will bring, especially when we look at what is happening south of the Border and what the Government has put in place to support businesses, inform them and prepare them for a very uncertain time. I bear testament to that.

A couple of weeks ago we had the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Nationalism was part of the reason for that war and nationalism is a threat that rears its ugly head again. Whether one is British, Irish, Northern Irish, French, German or whatever else, Europe has been a fantastic mechanism to unite us all and take us away from the threat of nationalism. Currently, we need leadership more than ever. Politicians need to stand up and be counted. We must give credit to Theresa May for her resilience and dogged determination in some of the discussions. I am sure she has gone through some pretty dark and difficult times in recent weeks. Replacing the British Prime Minister at this time would serve no purpose. It would not solve the problems. Equally, a general election would not solve the problems or serve any purpose. This matter must be a democratic discussion.

I urge everyone involved to consider going back to the British people for validation. This is not about disrespecting a referendum but about validating that referendum and reaffirming the result, if that is what we get. The United Kingdom is a seriously divided nation at the moment, which is not a good place to be and the one way to reunite the country is to ask the people, in a truly democratic fashion, to express their opinion on this deal or the option of remaining in the European Union.

The EU has worked tirelessly to facilitate withdrawal for the UK. We have had two years of discussion and lengthy debate in society, business, politics and among those in the legal profession and in academia. Two years on, we still do not have an economic model or economic argument for the UK leaving the EU. Rejection of the suggestion of a people's vote has often been based on the idea that it is disrespectful of the original vote but I disagree completely. Rejection of a people's vote is based on fear that the decision will be different this time and it is for this reason that we need to go back to the people. I do not subscribe to the idea that, as we sit here today and the sands of time run through the glass, we throw in the towel and accept Brexit. We are a long way off making a rational argument in favour of Brexit. We need leadership from a British, Irish and European perspective. We need to support those in decision making and leadership positions. We need to give them space to work out a plan to get us through this. Slinging mud serves no purpose. The relationship between Britain and Ireland has never been more important. The relationship between Britain and Ireland and that between Britain, Ireland and the EU are much stronger together and we need leadership to recognise that, to challenge the dissenters, reflect on and consider the situation and devise a plan to get us all through it.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to the House. There have been many landmark moments in Irish history, including when we gained our independence and the Treaty, as well as when we joined the European Union. Brexit represents another landmark moment. Our largest trading partner is in the process of changing its relationship with the EU. While the title of the agreement refers to the withdrawal of Britain from the EU, I still hope that does not happen. I still hope that there will be a re-run of the referendum. There is no upside to Brexit for Ireland, the UK or Europe. I still hope that common sense will prevail. Notwithstanding that hope, the draft agreement that has been negotiated by Mr. Michel Barnier on behalf of the EU, with input from the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, is the best deal that could be achieved in the circumstances.

There are a number of notable features in the deal, the main one being the retention of a customs union between Ireland, the North and the UK. That is extremely important. The deal also ensures there will be no hard border. Many people have misinterpreted the backstop, which simply aims to ensure, on a point of principle, that we never have a return to a hard border. It is unclear how that will manifest itself in the future relationship but the underlying principle is that we will never have a hard border again. The withdrawal agreement guarantees no hard border, a single market between ourselves and Northern Ireland and a customs union between ourselves, the United Kingdom and the North.

I wish Mrs. Theresa May well and in the circumstances, hope she will be able to get the agreement through the House of Commons. We will then be able to sit down and negotiate a future relationship, in all of its manifestations, between ourselves and the UK, as well as the UK with the EU. The Single Market is key. Given that the issue of the North is coming into focus, I have a few constructive comments to make. The Northern Ireland Assembly should have been up and running over the last period. One can only be held responsible for things that are within one's control. It was within the control of Sinn Féin and the DUP to get the Assembly up and running to represent the best interests of the people who democratically elected them to that Assembly. Given the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters in the North wished to remain in the EU, it was incumbent upon Sinn Féin to take that on board and to go into the House of Commons and vote for remain.

The Senator should have stood for election-----

I have stood for election.

-----to Westminster.

Please allow Senator O'Donnell to speak without interruption. The Senator has one minute remaining.

I am trying to make these comments in a constructive fashion. This is a democratic debating Chamber. This is something about which I feel very strongly and I am entitled to express my views. It is our duty to hold members of Sinn Féin to account. Sinn Féin holds the Government to account on a myriad of issues every day. On this particular issue-----

People voted for us because we abstain from Westminster.

People did not vote for Sinn Féin-----

The Senator cannot tell me why people did or did not vote for-----

Senator Kieran O'Donnell without interruption.

I have two points to make. First-----

Senator Kieran O'Donnell's party abstains from the North. He has some cheek.

The Senator has made his point.

There is no cheek here. Sinn Féin could have had the Assembly up and running for the last period-----

What bits would the Senator give up? What would he tell his kids to give up? Would it be the Irish language Act or marriage equality rights-----

This is typical of Sinn Féin-----

-----or access to an inquest? What rights would he tell his family or his constituency to give up?

Senator Ó Donnghaile, please allow Senator O'Donnell to speak without interruption.

I am going to stick to my point. Senator Ó Donnghaile may wish to divert the debate in other directions. Sinn Féin-----

The biggest diversion here today is Senator Kieran O'Donnell coming in here and talking like this. He has diverted the whole debate.

Sinn Féin could have had the Assembly up and running for the last number of months. Its members were democratically elected to get the Assembly up and running.

The party abdicated its responsibility.

I think the Senator will find it was quite the opposite.

No. The party abdicated its responsibility. The majority in the North voted to remain and Sinn Féin was within its democratic right to take its seats in Westminster and to vote for remain.

We do not want to and that is the point.

These are two aspects-----

The Senator is one minute over time.

With all due respect, my time was eaten into by others.

The Senator is still one minute over time.

The DUP is equally culpable in not having the Assembly up and running.

I hope there will be a re-run of the referendum in the UK. Failing that, I hope that Mrs. Theresa May will get this withdrawal agreement through her party and through the House of Commons and that we can negotiate a future relationship which, in substance, is unchanged. There are SMEs and farmers all over this country whose main trade is with the UK and not with mainland Europe. It is hugely important that we have an unchanged working relationship.

I compliment the Minister of State, as well as the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. I wanted to make a contribution to this debate today because I believe passionately in a united Ireland. That is not the sole preserve of Sinn Féin. I want to ensure that nothing in any way harms that aspiration but equally, it is critically important that this draft agreement gets through the UK Parliament.

I will begin by congratulating the Government for the game it has played to date in representing Ireland's interests to the best of its ability.

The Government and, particularly, the civil servants involved, the Minister of State and the Tánaiste deserve recognition because they wore the green jersey. Some people throw political jibes and criticise but that is the wrong thing to do on this issue. It is like the Irish soccer team going out to play, or not play as has recently been the case. One wears the green jersey and everyone plays together to try to get the best result for the country. It is about putting the country first and that is what has been done. The fruit of that work is evident in the draft agreement which contains many economic and political positives for Ireland.
I understand why Sinn Féin MPs abstain from the House of Commons. One need only walk into places such as the Ardoyne or the Bogside in Derry to get an insight into why Sinn Féin MPs do not vote or take their seats in the House of Commons. It is a complicated historical and cultural issue. I do not blame those MPs for not taking their seats in the House of Commons and not voting.
The institutions in the North should be up and running. If it were not for Brexit, it is possible that they would be operating because both Governments would be able to devote more time to provide the pivotal support required to get them up and running. Although I understand from where it is coming, the DUP playing politics on this issue in London underlines the difficulty of re-establishing the institutions in the North. In recent times, people such as Bertie Ahern in conjunction with the Government have quietly done much good work on the ground to try to cultivate agreement at a political level. The attendance of Arlene Foster at the Ulster Gaelic football final this year was evidence of that. I am familiar with some of the work that went on behind the scenes in which the Government was involved. The issue is more complicated than saying Sinn Féin should do certain things which might solve certain problems.
On the draft agreement, the backstop is the insurance policy and we all welcome that. Much could be said about it. Given what will take place this coming weekend, it is an interesting time. Ultimately, the focus rests on London and a small group of Conservative MPs who are trying to hold the House of Commons to ransom, which is regrettable. The British people have a significant amount to lose from a hard Brexit that does not accept an exit strategy such as that identified in the agreement. Economically, the financial services sector in London, and the UK in general, have much to lose from a hard Brexit, as does Ireland. The Danish economists' report commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade illustrates the potential losses. For every 1% hit on GDP in Ireland, between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs will be lost. That would be an economic catastrophe for this small country. However, the report indicates that GDP could fall by between 2.5% and 7%. That would have serious ramifications for the economy.
We must reflect on the wider European issue. Some bureaucrats in Brussels may be happy for the United Kingdom to leave because it was always rightly questioning matters within the EU. We must ensure that after Britain exits, we continue to ask questions on issues such as taxation, neutrality and big business infiltration in Brussels, where large multinational companies are able to dictate European policy by canvassing a person or team of persons through the Commission. Serious issues need to be discussed, although we will not do so today. We must support the draft withdrawal agreement, but serious outstanding issues must be dealt with in the EU.
I did not touch on agriculture or some other issues in our economy. I wish the Minister of State well and applaud the work she is doing. We must wear the green jersey. This is about the Irish political team. Thus far, all involved have done a convincing job and I salute that.

I thank Senators for their contributions. We often discuss the solidarity of the 26 member states and how important that has been throughout the negotiations, but the solidarity in this House, the Lower House and throughout Ireland has been particularly important in addressing the Brexit challenge and that has been clearly demonstrated in today’s contributions. The Government has faced the tough task of responding to Brexit with the welcome support of this House for the priority issues we have placed at the centre of our negotiating strategy. Although Members may have different views and approach issues in a different way or with a different emphasis, the priorities that the Government has pursued have been supported across both Houses. This informed and thoughtful debate is consistent with that approach. It again demonstrates the unity that has helped us to get through the negotiations and reach where we are today. We will continue to regularly inform the House about developments in the negotiations and related events.

Brexit presents us with unique and unprecedented challenges. As the Taoiseach has stressed many times, it is not a policy we sought and we regret that it is happening. However, we accept the decision of the British people and are committed to working towards an outcome that protects our interests. The negotiations on the draft withdrawal agreement have been difficult for us all, but it represents the best way forward. It is by no means perfect, but it represents an important compromise on both sides and ensures that the key interests of the EU and the UK are addressed. Brexit was never going to be straightforward or easy. That became increasingly clear as the negotiations went on. It comes at a considerable cost to us all.

It is important for us all - citizens, enterprises and our international partners - that the UK withdrawal happens in an orderly manner. The withdrawal agreement provides the best and only way to achieve that. No one would benefit from a hard Brexit and the serious consequences it would have for the UK, the EU and Ireland. Under the withdrawal agreement we can rely on a transition period which will provide certainty for citizens and business as we prepare for a new relationship with the UK outside the EU. Importantly, it gives us the time we need to negotiate a deep and comprehensive agreement which will provide the foundations on which we will build our future relationship.

The draft withdrawal agreement plays an essential role in protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland. We have worked closely with our EU partners in that regard and they have stood firm and united behind us. They understand the importance of an open and invisible border such as that which currently exists between Ireland and Northern Ireland. In fairness to the Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, she understands that absolutely and has delivered on her word. We need to support her in the coming weeks in the hope that the deal will be delivered.

I have accompanied several European Ministers and other colleagues to the Border region and witnessed the impact on our EU partners of the stories of ordinary people who just want to get on with their lives and want us to find practical solutions to the challenges of Brexit. That attitude is reflected in statements by groups across both communities in the North, including business communities and the farming groups, who see the agreement as the best deal for Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU.

The backstop provisions provide an important insurance policy to avoid a return to any kind of a border on this island. If invoked, they will apply unless and until another agreement is in place which addresses the issue. We are committed to working closely with the UK and our EU partners to agree a deep, comprehensive and strong future relationship between the UK and the EU, which would mean that the backstop provision will never be needed. We hope that will always be the case.

The rights, safeguards and guarantees of equality of opportunity set out in the Good Friday Agreement are protected under the agreement, as are the EU citizenship rights of the people of Northern Ireland. The agreement acknowledges the common travel area whereby Irish and British people can live, work, study and access different services in both jurisdictions. Nothing in the agreement would prejudice the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the agreement, which is vital.

The withdrawal agreement is a significant step, but it is only just a step in what has been a very long and difficult process. We still have a long way to go, but it sets us on the path we want to be on.

The United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union has very serious implications for Ireland. As I said, the Government will continue to do intensive work to try to prepare for all eventualities which include a no-deal scenario to try to make sure we will be ready and that business will be ready and prepared. Departments and State agencies are continuing to develop and roll out action plans. We are actively engaging with the European Commission which has published various papers focusing on some of the key areas such as financial services, aviation, data protection, fisheries and many others. The Government will continue to support the agencies, businesses, farmers and all sectors affected by the change.

We need to maintain a strong and constructive bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom. We are fully committed to developing and enhancing the relationship we have built up over many years. It will include making full use of the channels already available for ongoing dialogue and co-operation between the Irish and British Governments. We will explore other avenues to try to maintain the habit of co-operation through the regular meetings of Irish and UK Government Ministers in Brussels but also elsewhere in Europe on a range of EU matters. Ireland will also work for the closest possible future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Mindful of our own obligations, we will remain a members of the European Union, the Single Market and the customs union and must ensure any future relationship will protect both of them as they form a core part of our economic strategy.

The European Union has shown extraordinary solidarity in this crisis, something many people did not think would be the case. We have shown solidarity and unity of purpose which will be needed as we work together into the future to develop the new relationship with our neighbours in the United Kingdom. The European Union is not perfect. I take into account some of the comments made. In moving forward we have to try to address many of the concerns raised throughout the entire discussion. Shortly after the Brexit negotiations EU leaders met to talk about what had happened and why people had voted to leave a union that had done so much good for so many. In moving forward in the discussion on the future of Europe which we have started we need to be able to address these questions and make sure the European Union will continue to be relevant in people's everyday lives. As the Taoiseach indicated yesterday in his statement to the Dáil, there can be no better example of the advantages of European membership for a small country. Alone Ireland is small. However, with our EU partners, we are very strong. Ireland's place will remain at the heart of a European home we have helped to build.

I thank everyone for his or her support and solidarity and commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday, 27 November, at 2.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 27 November 2018.