Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019: Motion for Earlier Signature

I move:

That, pursuant to subsection 2° of section 2 of Article 25 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann concurs with the Government in a request to the President to sign the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to him.

I will not delay the House but I would like to thank everybody for facilitating the passage of this Bill. It is quite complex legislation because of the multitude of different areas it deals with. I believe I can say on behalf of this House that we all hope this legislation will never be needed.

If it is needed, we will have to work together in this Parliament across parties, Government and Opposition to ensure we protect our own people and our country in the context of what will be enormous challenges. In particular, we will have to protect the fragile North-South relationships on this island in that scenario. In the context of this legislation, I am glad that this House and the other House played their part in ensuring that we will be as ready as we can be, from a legislative perspective, in advance of 29 March which is still the possible date of the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union. Let us hope it never comes to that, but if it does, we have done as much as we can, through legislation, to protect people and their rights. There are many other areas where we continue to work. In fact, we have accelerated our level of preparedness in terms of contingency planning in so many other areas from an Irish perspective, in partnership with our EU partners and, in some areas, on a bilateral basis with the UK.

I thank Members for their support and for facilitating me. Let us wait and see what happens tonight and tomorrow in this extraordinary saga that continues to unfold in a very unpredictable way.

I compliment the Minister on the passage of the Bill in the Upper House. I am glad to see the non-partisan spirit throughout the debate. When Ireland was looking for home rule in the 19th century under Parnell, certain high Tory politicians said the Irish were not fit to govern themselves. Events in this Parliament as compared with our colleagues across the water would give the lie to that assertion. No doubt about it, we have conducted ourselves quite well and we have proven that we are able to govern ourselves on this side of the Border. Obviously a lacuna exists in the North and a very disappointing lack of commitment from the major parties in the North to putting a government in place up there.

We are at a crisis in the history of our country, probably the greatest crisis since what was termed the Emergency. I wish the Minister very well in the events that have to be played out. We hope for the very best, that the people in the Westminster Parliament will face the reality they are in and avoid plunging themselves and us and everybody else into the abyss. It is a good day's work.

I commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and all Ministers on the passage of this Bill and one their sterling efforts in this House this week and in the other House in the previous fortnight. I particularly mention the legion of departmental officials and diplomats from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and across Government and the efforts they have put in, especially in the past two and a half to three months since the European Commission issued its notices and the work of drafting this comprehensive legislation began. We can safely say from a legislative point of view that we are as best prepared as we can be. Unfortunately, I do not think anybody can be fully prepared for the prospect of a no-deal scenario, but I hope we can avoid that.

The aspect of the Bill that deals with the renaming of the status of the United Kingdom to be recognised as a member state during the transition period is the one aspect of the Bill I hope we do see. I hope we can still see this withdrawal agreement come to be and I hope we can look forward to a result in Westminster tonight that will take the prospect of a no deal scenario off the table. However, that result alone simply will not do it. We need to call on our friends and colleagues across the water to look to the people they represent and to the people they want to share good relations with, both on this island and across the European Union, and make sure at this very late stage that they start to bring a little bit of sense to their own debate. We have done our bit as Members of the Oireachtas, and the Tánaiste has done his bit as a member of Government. It is now down to civic society and to all areas of our business sector that have not prepared as much as they might have done so far to use the many resources that are open to them that the Government and their representative bodies and trade associations have put in place, and to do everything they can do to offset the very worrying prospects of a crash-out scenario. We continue to hope for the best but, unfortunately, we must continue also to prepare for the worst.

We have got this Bill through the House. From my study of history, the Emergency was during the Second World War and Britain finding itself in a very difficult situation. The emergency now is of their own making, a self-inflicted loss. There is a sadness throughout Europe and certainly in this country. We have a great job of work from here on in, and I congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade who has led very well. We need to plan for ourselves. Parnell said: "No man has the right to say to his country 'Thus far shalt thou go and no further'". This is time for a Border poll, for Irish unity to be top, front and centre on the table, and let no man or woman say that we should not do it, that we need to be cautious. I urge Members to read Brian Feeney of the SDLP in The Irish News this morning, who called for one as well because it will be three years at least before we will even have a poll if we call it today. It is our way forward, our strength. It is about this island and our shared space. It is about having confidence and pride in ourselves and the ability to know that we can negotiate and look after our neighbours. We can feel sympathy, but at the end of the day, we cannot stop somebody who is intent on self harm that the British people have brought to themselves. There is a sadness, but we are on the right track. The next step is a Border poll.

On behalf of the Labour Party Senators, I commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and their officials on steering this complex, technical, but very important Bill through both Houses now that the passage of the Bill through the Seanad has been completed. I thank the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in particular for the specific responses he has given me on the issues I have raised. there has never been a Bill, the potential enactment of which has been more dreaded by everybody in both Houses. Certainly we all hope it will not be necessary, and it was very distressing for all of us to see the majority vote against the withdrawal agreement last night, largely prompted by, in my view, deeply flawed legal advice from the Attorney General , the Rt Hon. Geoffrey Cox. Having written many legal opinions for many years, the first 18 paragraphs of his opinion were leading to a very different conclusion than the sudden whammy in the 19th paragraph, which sank any prospect of the DUP and the ERG signing up to the withdrawal agreement. Clearly, what has happened has happened and we very much hope that the House of Commons will indeed vote against a no deal tonight and may then seek to push for an extension. I know the Minister has said in the Dáil that Ireland will not stand against an application for an extension, but clearly there has to be a ground for an extension, so it is very hard to see a way through. We all recognise that this is a crisis of British making and it has to be resolved primarily in the House of Commons and in Westminster. I wish the Minister every success in representing the interests of Ireland in any way forward we can reach in the next 16 days and in ensuring that matters can be resolved in a way that is in the best interest of all people on this island and throughout the EU.

I have managed to be in the Chair for about two and a half hours of this debate, except for the votes. We got through the Bill very efficiently. All the Members participated and they put their points and got their answers from the various Ministers who were present. There was some delight from some Members that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had turned into the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, but he was able to respond to all the questions on transport. I wish the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the entire Government, who have done sterling work on this legislation, well. It was dealt with efficiently in both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a complex Bill as Members outlined. If the vote in Westminster had gone differently, we would have hardly needed this legislation at all, but in fact as a result of last night, while it is to be hoped we will never need it, it is certainly more important now than it would have been 24 hours ago. I wish the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade well in all his endeavours on behalf of Irish people and the country, as I am sure everybody in the House does. It reflects well on the Dáil and the Seanad that we got through as much business as we did. Well done to the Cathaoirleach and everybody in the House.

Mar fhocal scoir, gabhaim mo chomhghairdeas le gach éinne a chabhraigh leis an Tánaiste agus leis an Teach an Bille seo a shocrú. Ba mhaith liom a rá go háirithe, ar mo shon féin agus ar son an Tí, cé chomh bródúil is atáimid as an Tánaiste, as an Taoiseach agus as an Aire Stáit, an Teachta McEntee, ní hamháin i dtaobh na hoibre atá á dhéanamh acu ar fud an domhain ach freisin i dtaobh na gcomhráite atá déanta againn anseo.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has become an important part of Irish politics. All Members can be very proud of the role that the Tánaiste has played in developing friendships, building synergies across Europe, and ensuring that we will never have to enact this Bill.

I thank the Tánaiste for the work he has done. On a personal level, it has been difficult for him as he has been away from his family. He has travelled across Europe and the world, making friendships and building up alliances. Today, as we conclude our business on this Bill, there are Ministers travelling the world telling the story of the importance of Irishness and the importance of Ireland in the context of a post-Brexit world. I am not going to strike a discordant note in my final contribution, but to the members of Sinn Féin, the words of W. B. Yeats come to mind when I hear talk of a Border poll: "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

Yeats also wrote:

Think where man's glory most begins and ends,

And say my glory was I had such friends.

It is now that we need friends in Europe and that we need to wear the green jersey as we all have done and will do. The important point is to ensure that we will not have a hard Brexit and a hard border on our island.

It is not up to us to ensure that.

I thank the Tánaiste and his officials. As Senator Richmond rightly stated, we should commend the diplomats who have worked across Europe and the world. On days like today we should remember our iar-Thaoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, who began this journey as well. We have a bit to go before the departure of the UK from European Union but it is important we stand together as a Parliament and we have done that. I thank all the Members for their co-operation.

I wish the Tánaiste and the Government very well in dealing with this important issue. It is one of the biggest problems we have faced in many decades. As the Leader stated, we would all like to see the green jersey worn. On this occasion, we all have to wear it. Hopefully, some common sense will prevail across the water over the next 48 hours. In the meantime, I wish the Tánaiste and the Government well in these difficult times. As a seafaring man, the Tánaiste will appreciate that it is like trying to navigate the Zambezi river without a rudder. There are difficult issues ahead not alone for us but particularly for the UK. We are the country that will be most affected because we are on the periphery of Europe. That concludes our deliberations on this matter.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 March 2019.