Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Questions (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

5. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, since the indicative votes took place on 27 March 2019. [15114/19]

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Michael Moynihan

Question:

6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if discussions on the implications of direct rule were discussed with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in his recent meetings or conversations with her. [15418/19]

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Michael Moynihan

Question:

7. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, since 29 March 2019; and if officials on his behalf have spoken with British officials in relation to plans post 31 October 2019. [16356/19]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when he last spoke with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May. [16452/19]

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Brendan Howlin

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, since the indicative votes took place; and if he has discussed with her the prospect of direct rule in Northern Ireland. [16480/19]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the Northern Ireland Executive with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, recently; and his views on whether there will be direct rule in Northern Ireland due to the lack of progress. [16668/19]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent conversations with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May. [16746/19]

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Eamon Ryan

Question:

12. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent conversations with the UK Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May. [17624/19]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

13. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May. [17789/19]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 13, inclusive, together.

I last saw the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, on the margins of the special European Council meeting on 10 April. At that meeting, the Prime Minister presented her case for a further extension of the Article 50 deadline. The House is aware that the European Council agreed to an extension of the deadline to 31 October, provided that the UK participates in the European Parliament elections next month.

Prior to that meeting, I spoke to the Prime Minister by phone on the evening of 8 April 2019 when we discussed her letter to Donald Tusk seeking an extension and preparations for the summit. During our discussion, I repeated to the Prime Minister my openness to an extension of the Article 50 deadline.

I welcome the agreement reached last week between the EU 27 and the UK on the Brexit extension. I firmly believe that ratification of the withdrawal agreement by the House of Commons is in all our interests and I hope the time extension will be used to enable the deal to be agreed. Approval of the withdrawal agreement is the best way to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border. I was pleased to have the continued support of my fellow European Council members on this objective.

Prior to this, I had a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister in Brussels at the time of the European Council on 21 March, as I previously reported to the House during Taoiseach's Questions on 27 March and in my statement to the House on the European Council meeting on the same date. Officials in my Department are in regular contact with their British counterparts on a range of issues, including Brexit, as are colleagues from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including the ambassador and his team in London.

I call Deputy McDonald.

I have a question.

It is in the name of Deputy Michael Moynihan.

Deputy Martin also has a question in his own right.

The practice normally is to go to Fianna Fáil. I do not mind.

Okay, I call Deputy Martin but he will have only one bite of the cherry. He will not get in again because he has only one question in his name.

I accept that. Originally I thought Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, were grouped together.

The Taoiseach did not reply to the specifics of Question No. 6 on whether the implications of direct rule were discussed with the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in the Taoiseach's recent meetings or conversations with her. He might address it in response to these questions. Did he discuss the threat of direct rule or its implications? I have asked the Taoiseach on a number of occasions whether there have there been discussions between the Taoiseach and the British Government on the possible imposition of direct rule in Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach might outline to us what discussions took place. His predecessors would have been quite open to explaining the discussions that would be ongoing with London on matters of this kind.

Notwithstanding all the threats to the Good Friday Agreement, I repeat what I said earlier. The biggest threat remains the collapse of the institutions. In itself, this has been damaging to Brexit in terms of the North-South relationship and the increased polarisation in the North between the two main political groupings, the lack of dialogue, the lack of formal engagement and, above all, the deprivation of a platform and parliamentary forum for an anti-Brexit majority in the North. Brexit represents a moment of great threat to the North and the island. It seems to be inexplicable that we do not have the Assembly or Executive up and running.

I have picked up for quite some time from the Taoiseach and others that they want to get Brexit sorted and then they will look again at the North. We do not have that luxury. Brexit will be an ongoing saga because whatever is decided in terms of the withdrawal agreement, or what I call the end of the beginning, and the first phase of the exit, there will be a lot of discussions to be held subsequently between the British Government, Ireland and the European Union on the relationship between the UK and European Union. This will carry on. We will have the same tensions as we have had in British politics about the nature of the agreement and its various elements. We will have continuing tensions within British politics with regard to legislation and the type of trading relationship. The institutions of the Good Friday Agreement cannot wait for the resolution of Brexit before the co-guarantors of the agreement, namely, the British and Irish Governments, take action. They need to intervene. Last week, the Taoiseach said it was up to the two parties but it is not. The two Governments also have a responsibility. Historically, it has been the two Governments that have always been the engines and catalysts for getting talks around the table and getting things going. I would appreciate the Taoiseach's comments on this, specifically on the direct rule question.

Deputy Martin has it the wrong way around with regard to his assertion that the institutions have not been functioning. I deeply regret this and it is disgraceful we do not have institutions of government up and running more than two years on. We know the history of this. We had landed on an accommodation the DUP could not carry. I will not get into a blame game but that is what happened. I assure the Deputy that as and when there is a real window for re-establishing sustainable power-sharing and not just devolution we will grab it with both hands.

It is wrong to say that the institutions being down represents a threat to Brexit. I do not even know what that means.

It means it is a threat to the Good Friday Agreement.

The reality is that Brexit represents a real and present danger to the Good Friday Agreement and all of the apparatus, infrastructure, human rights' standards, equality provisions, parity of esteem and the citizenship protections that go with it. That is the actual truth. There is another truth. The DUP has gone into hiding, into the embrace of Theresa May at Westminster, and they are in no frame of mind to re-establish the institutions. The Deputy may not like that but those are the current dynamics as we speak.

I shall now address the issue of direct rule. I have discussed this with Mrs. May and it has been made absolutely clear to her that direct rule is not an option, be it a hard Brexit, soft Brexit or any other form or variety of Brexit. I believe that Mrs. May understands and accepts that. There is a need for a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, BIIGC, which should happen very quickly. In part of the Taoiseach's contingency planning in the event of a hard Brexit, which none of us wishes to see, and in circumstances where there is a de facto repartitioning of Ireland and all of the politics that go with that, we need to understand that, in the interim, we would be looking at not so much direct rule as joint authority. What might that look like? Those provisions need to be made.

I agree with Deputy Micheál Martin that in the absence of a dynamic from the two Governments, who are equal co-guarantors of this agreement, it has proven incredibly difficult - in fact impossible - to get the kind of buy-in that we need from partners in unionism to resolve the outstanding equality issues, to sign up to power-sharing in all of its dimensions, and to get the show back on the road. The Deputy is correct in saying that. This has been a matter of very great frustration.

Has Mrs. May given any indication to the Taoiseach as to the roadmap or the timeframe in her head with regard to landing on an agreed Brexit position?