Rockall Island Ownership

Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 49.

Questions (65)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

65. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the contact he has had with Scottish and British officials on the recent dispute relating to fishing rights around Rockall; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25224/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

On 31 May, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, wrote to me to indicate that, subject to operational priorities, the Scottish Government intended to deploy vessels to the area one week after the date of the letter (i.e. from 7 June) and intended to take enforcement actions against any vessel, regardless of nationality, that it considered to be fishing illegally. I replied to this letter on 5 June, stating the position of the Irish Government and requesting that the Scottish Government reconsider its approach. I spoke with Cabinet Secretary Hyslop on 6 June and, during the course of this conversation, she maintained the Scottish position.

This is a complex situation. The difference of view between the Irish and Scottish Governments is based on a fundamental question of sovereignty over Rockall, on which Ireland and the UK disagree.

I should make it clear that, as we do not accept that the UK enjoys sovereignty over Rockall, we do not accept that a territorial sea exists around Rockall, nor therefore that the Scottish Government is entitled to exclude Irish vessels from the seas around the rock. We understand that the UK takes a different view, but the approach taken by the Irish and British Governments to the definition of maritime boundaries in the past has been to accept that our views differ and to take no account of Rockall for practical purposes.

We have built with Scotland a strong and positive relationship, to our mutual benefit, over many years. I hope that we can use that close relationship to find a way to resolve these matters and to remove the threat of enforcement action against Irish vessels. Dialogue is continuing between the Irish and Scottish Governments and there have been close contacts at official level over the past week. A process of intensified engagement has commenced, led by senior officials from both administrations.The Irish Government has consistently said this matter should be dealt with through diplomacy and agreement. We are hopeful that on this basis the latest difficulties can be de-escalated.

Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 49.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (67, 68, 78, 81)

Seán Crowe

Question:

67. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to recent events (details supplied) in Sudan; his views on violent attacks on peaceful protesters and reports of rape and sexual assaults; and if he has raised condemnation of these killings and attacks with the Sudanese Government. [25099/19]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

68. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the conversations he has had with the Sudanese ambassador to Ireland in view of the recent events in Sudan that have seen hundreds killed and injured; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25227/19]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

78. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed the recent unrest in Sudan that has seen at least 100 killed and hundreds more injured with his counterparts across the EU; the actions the EU plans to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25225/19]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

81. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed the recent events in Sudan with his counterparts in Europe. [25212/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 67, 68, 78 and 81 together.

The recent political events and violence against protestors in Sudan follows over six months of demonstrations, triggered initially by spiralling costs of living.

On 11 April, it was announced that President Omar al-Bashir had been removed from power and that a Transitional Military Council (TMC) had assumed control in Sudan. The Transitional Military Council announced its intention to govern for a two-year period after which there would be Presidential elections: in the meantime, Sudan's Constitution was suspended, Parliament dissolved, and a three-month state of emergency was declared.

Demonstrators, while welcoming the removal of President al-Bashir, continued to demand a civilian-led Government. On 15 May, following extensive negotiations, an agreement in principle was announced for a three-year transition period. However, final agreement regarding a civilian majority on a proposed 11-member Supreme Council was opposed by the Transitional Military Council, and negotiations stalled.

Shortly after dawn on 3 June, heavily armed security forces surrounded demonstrators and shot indiscriminately with live bullets and teargas resulting in significant loss of life. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), formed from the remnants of the Janjaweed militia and accused of committing war crimes in Darfur, with elements from police and national intelligence are believed to be responsible for these attacks.

The same day, the TMC announced that it was cancelling all agreements with the opposition and that elections would be held within nine months. Demonstrators demand a longer period to guarantee fair elections.

That evening, EU High Representative Mogherini issued a statement declaring that there can be no justification for the use of force to disperse peaceful protests, and that the Transitional Military Council is accountable for security and rule of law in the country. I also issued a statement strongly condemning the use of violence and excessive force against protestors. It is imperative that all violations against protestors, including widespread reports of sexual and gender-based violence, are independently investigated and the perpetrators held accountable.

On 6 June, the African Union decided with immediate effect to suspend Sudan from participation in all African Union activities until the effective establishment of a civilian-led transitional authority. This followed sustained, but ultimately unsuccessful, engagement with the Transitional Military Council to encourage them to restore constitutional order. The African Union has demonstrated robust and principled leadership in responding to the crisis.

On Tuesday 11 June, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the violence in Sudan and called on the Transitional Military Council and the opposition to work towards a solution to the crisis. The Council called for an immediate end to the violence against civilians and emphasised the importance of upholding human rights.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council met on 17 June and Ministers discussed how the EU can support the establishment of a credible political process in Sudan that will facilitate a peaceful transition to civilian-led transitional Government. An EU-28 statement issued following the meeting, which strongly condemned the recent violence against protestors including sexual and gender-based violence. It also expressed EU support for the African Union which has taken a principled and robust stance to the crisis.

My officials continue to actively monitor developments in Sudan, through the Embassy of Ireland in Nairobi, and through the European Union delegation in Khartoum. Senior officials from my Department also met with the Sudanese Ambassador to Ireland earlier this year to discuss the situation. Ireland continues to respond to on-going humanitarian needs through the provision of humanitarian funding, with over €29 million provided through our UN, NGO and Red Cross partners since 2012.

Human Rights Committees

Questions (69)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

69. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the implementation of the business and human rights policy; the regularity with which the committee has met; and the composition of the committee. [25172/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The establishment of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group was a key commitment of the National Plan on Business and Human Rights 2017-2020. The Plan, which was launched in November 2017, gives effect to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and sets out a range of actions to progress the business and human rights agenda.

The Implementation Group, established in December 2018, is mandated to meet at least twice per year. I was pleased to be able to participate in the inaugural meeting of the Group on 16 January 2019. The Implementation Group went on to hold its first working meeting on 3 April 2019 and is scheduled to meet again in October.

I am very grateful to have secured the agreement of Ms Breege O’Donoghue, formerly Primark’s Group Director of New Markets and Business Development, to chair the Implementation Group. The Group which monitors the delivery of the actions identified in the Plan brings together representatives of the following 23 organisations:

- Amnesty International Ireland

- National Women's Council of Ireland

- Trócaire

- Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

- Irish Congress of Trade Unions

- University College Cork

- University College Dublin

- Trinity College Dublin

- National University of Ireland, Galway

- University of Limerick

- Chambers Ireland

- Enterprise Ireland

- Business in the Community Ireland

- IDA Ireland

- IBEC

- Irish Exporters Association

- Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation

- Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment

- Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection

- Department of Finance

- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

- Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government

- Department of Justice and Equality

A second commitment of the National Plan was a comprehensive baseline assessment of the legislative and regulatory framework for business and human rights in Ireland. My Department commissioned independent consultants to carry out this research in 2018, the final report of which is available on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website.

At its meeting in April the Implementation Group considered the findings of the baseline assessment and the establishment of three sub-groups, each tasked with prioritising and delivering key actions under the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles, namely, the state duty to protect, corporate responsibility to respect and access to remedy. The composition and chair of these sub-groups has been considered by the Implementation Group and it is expected that the sub-groups will be constituted and will meet before the next plenary meeting of the Group in October.

Northern Ireland

Questions (70)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

70. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he continues to maintain contact with the principle players involved in Brexit in the UK and Northern Ireland with a view to ensuring that the peace process continues to be honoured in the spirit and the letter and that access to the single market and the customs union for the island of Ireland remains fundamental; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25174/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Protecting Ireland's interests in the context of the UK decision to leave the EU continues to be a priority for this Government. The Taoiseach, my cabinet colleagues and I have taken every opportunity to engage with EU partners and with the UK to advance Ireland’s priorities, interests and concerns in this regard.

I have repeatedly discussed the Government’s concerns around the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland with my British counterparts and with political leaders in Northern Ireland. From the outset, I have highlighted the risks which Brexit poses for Northern Ireland and for the Good Friday Agreement. I have repeatedly stated that a no deal Brexit is in no one’s interests, least of all for the people of Northern Ireland. Over the course of the last several months, I have discussed our concerns with the UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt; Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley; and David Lidington, the UK Minister of the Cabinet Office. I can assure the Deputy that I will continue to raise these issues in my contacts with all relevant interlocutors in Britain, Northern Ireland, and at EU level.

The Government remains firmly convinced that the Withdrawal Agreement remains the only way to ensure an orderly UK withdrawal, in a manner that protects the Single Market and the hard-won gains of the Good Friday Agreement. The backstop is the only viable solution on the table that avoids physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, preserves the all-island economy and fully protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, as well the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.

There should be no illusions in the UK that a change in political circumstances will convince the EU to make changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop. It cannot be opened or renegotiated. The European Council has made this consistently clear.

It is now more important than ever that all sides in the UK assume their responsibilities and ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides much-needed legal certainty.

Let me be clear, however, that the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process does not disappear in a no deal scenario. Together with our partners in the EU, we will continue to insist that the issue of the border and protecting the Good Friday Agreement will need to be resolved as a condition for opening wider negotiations on the EU’s future relationship with the UK.

In the case of a no deal scenario, we will continue to work with the Commission on the shared twin objectives of protecting the integrity of the single market and Ireland’s place in it, and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Ireland is strongly committed to our EU membership, and to the Single Market, which remains central to the success of our open, competitive economy and has been the foundation for much of the economic and social progress we have made in recent decades. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit process, Ireland will remain in the EU with all the stability and certainty that membership brings.

Foreign Policy

Questions (71)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

71. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed the recent events in Christchurch, New Zealand, with his counterparts in Europe. [16747/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The attacks on the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Cultural Centre in Christchurch in March were horrifying, and have made a strong impact around the world.

In the statement I issued condemning the attacks, I sent my sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of those injured and killed and I would like to do so again today. We must hope that the injured recover as quickly as possible. I also called Ambassador Burgess on the day the news broke, to personally express my condolences and to assure him that New Zealand had Ireland’s full support.

Freedom of religious expression is a cornerstone of any functioning democracy and those rights must be guaranteed. Acts of violence and discrimination based on religion or belief must be challenged. The strong and consistent reaction from all political leaders in the EU as well as the reaction of the general public underlines our shared values in this area. This includes the tribute paid to the victims of the attack by High Representative/Vice President Mogherini at the Foreign Affairs Council on 18 March.

Our broader response to the events in Christchurch and the underlying causes of actions that challenge our values will continue to be the subject of discussion and agreement with my counterparts in the EU and with other like-minded countries. In this regard, the Taoiseach participated in a summit meeting in Paris in May that was prompted by the attacks and which has produced the Christchurch Call to Action, which seeks improved responses from social media platforms to events like those that occurred in Christchurch.

We will of course continue to work with New Zealand, and with others in the international community, to promote and protect freedom of religious expression.

UN Committees

Questions (72)

Seán Crowe

Question:

72. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to a recent report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that called for the immediate release of persons (details supplied); if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the UN report is a clear condemnation of a breach of fundamental human rights by Spain; and if he will raise the issue with his Spanish counterpart and urge the Spanish Government to abide by its conclusions and immediately free these political prisoners. [25101/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I am aware of the recently released opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to which the Deputy refers. 

 As judicial proceedings are on-going it would not be appropriate for me to comment further. 

It remains my view that the constitutional and political arrangements of Spain are matters that are best determined by its citizens and their public representatives.

EU Issues

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 51.

Questions (73)

Niall Collins

Question:

73. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of efforts being made by Ireland and the EU to ensure that the rule of law, space for civic society and democracy is not further curtailed in Hungary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25176/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Fundamental values and the rule of law are a shared EU interest and call for a common approach. 

Rule of law issues in Hungary have been discussed at the General Affairs Councils on a number of occasions since last Autumn. These discussions have involved the Commission, Hungary and other Member States. Ireland has actively participated in these discussions to highlight the importance of respect for the rule of law.

The European Commission has ongoing values-related infringements proceedings against Hungary regarding the NGO law and the Higher Education Law and its impact on the operation of the Central European University as well as in relation to asylum procedures.

Our concerns about the space for civil society are shared by many of our European partners and we have expressed these concerns at Council meetings.

These issues have also been discussed on a bilateral basis with Hungary, most recently between the Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee T.D and the Hungarian Minister of State for EU Policies and Coordination, Szabolcs Takács, in Dublin on 4 April last.

At the General Affairs Council meeting on 21 May, the Commission presented its Communication on further strengthening of the rule of law within the Union. With this Communication, the Commission launched a reflection process and set out possible avenues for future action. I look forward to the outcome of this reflection process and any recommendations that emerge from this process.

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 51.

Diplomatic Representation

Questions (75)

Niall Collins

Question:

75. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of doubling Ireland’s global footprint by 2025; his plans for the opening of new embassies, consulates and State agencies overseas particularly in the context of Brexit and the need for new markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25180/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Since its launch a year ago my Department has been working closely with the Department of the Taoiseach and a range of other Government partners to ensure the effective delivery of the ambitions set out in Global Ireland.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will open at least 26 new diplomatic Missions over the life time of Global Ireland and will further strengthen the existing Mission network.

In the past year new Embassies have opened in Wellington, Bogotá, Amman, Monrovia and Santiago de Chile, and new Consulates General in Vancouver, Mumbai and Cardiff. This brings to 88 the number of diplomatic Missions in the network. The expansion will continue this year to include new Consulates General in Los Angeles and Frankfurt. Embassies in Kyiv, Manila and Rabat will follow shortly thereafter.

Our new Missions are working to enhance Ireland’s international visibility; promote our prosperity, build new community and political contacts; protect and advance Ireland’s interests and values; and deliver on our commitments under Ireland’s new policy for International Development ‘A Better World’.

We have sought to deepen our engagement with the multilateral system with the launch last July of Ireland’s campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Officials from my Department both at home and abroad have been actively presenting Ireland’s case and seeking support among the other 192 UN Member States. This has provided Ireland with an invaluable opportunity to build relationships and contacts across the world, which will stand to us long after the campaign has ended.

In October we obtained observer status at the Organisation of the Francophonie – an important step in increasing our engagement with the French speaking world.

More recently I launched a new strategy for the US and Canada and a White Paper on International Development Policy. Work is underway on strategies for Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the Asia Pacific Region. And a series of consultations are also underway for a new Diaspora policy. 

A critical component of the Global Ireland programme is identifying new opportunities to diversify our markets in a post-Brexit world. €8 million was allocated in budget 2019 to support the expansion of Ireland’s enterprise development network internationally. This investment will allow for a more targeted expansion of our State Agencies in both emerging and established international markets.  

In my Department planning is underway for Ireland’s participation at Expo 2020 in Dubai. Expo will showcase Ireland to a global audience, in a region with huge trade and investment potential and will support a 'Team Ireland' approach to promoting Ireland as a global partner for the development of new ideas and technologies, as well as an attractive location for business and investment.

Religious Persecution

Questions (76)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

76. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the continuing steps he is undertaking to highlight and address the persecution of Christians worldwide with particular reference to the recent Easter bombings in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25216/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The heinous attacks which took place at various locations across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were an affront to humanity. At the time, I condemned them in the strongest possible terms as a violation of the freedom of religion and belief.

Shortly after the attacks took place, the Taoiseach, wrote to his counterpart, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, condemning those attacks and expressing condolences on behalf of the Government of Ireland to the victims.

Beyond the abhorrent events in Sri Lanka, I again condemn all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who the victims are. Ireland is committed to promoting freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities. This commitment to promoting freedom of religion and belief is reaffirmed in the Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World.

Ireland consistently raises the issues of intolerance and advocates for inclusive societies at the UN’s Human Rights Council, (HRC), during the Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights records of UN Member States and through the European Union.

We are also members of the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief, a cross-regional and informal network which aims to encourage information sharing and cooperation between governments to discuss joint advocacy strategies in the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief internationally.

Ireland consistently supports EU-led resolutions on freedom of religion or belief, most recently at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019 and the 73rd Session of UN General Assembly in November 2018.

I can assure you that officials from my Department, including at the Embassy of Ireland in India, which is also accredited to Sri Lanka, will continue to monitor the situation.

Passport Applications Data

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 67.

Questions (77)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

77. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the waiting times for passport express and online passport applications; and his views on the level of staffing and resources in the passport office. [25217/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Passport Service is currently in its peak season for passport demand with the vast majority of applications being received between February and August each year.

At present, renewal applications received through the Online Passport Renewal Service are being processed within the target turnaround time of 10 working days plus postage time. A large proportion of applications submitted through this online channel are currently being processed in timeframes shorter than the target turnaround time.

The current processing times for postal applications submitted through Passport Express depend on the category of application. Renewal applications are currently being processed within the target turnaround time of 15 working days plus postage time. First-time applications and applications from citizens who are applying to replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport are being processed within 24 working days plus postage time, 4 days outside of the target turnaround time of 20 working days.

The management of the overall demand for passports is continuously under review to ensure that adequate resources are in place to meet demand. A number of measures have been taken by the Passport Service to manage increases in demand including the recruitment of additional staff, the continuous implementation of technological and service improvements and the re-organisation of production processes and administrative arrangements.

At the end of 2018, the Passport Service employed 363.2 Full Time Equivalent staff. This is an increase of over 40 staff since the same point in 2017. Already this year, over 90 additional Full Time Equivalent staff have taken up roles in the Passport Service. Targeted overtime has been sanctioned for both permanent and temporary staff when required. The Passport Service has received approval to recruit over 230 Temporary Clerical Officers (TCOs) in 2019 to assist in processing passport applications and to deal with the queries from the general public. A dedicated Customer Service Hub has been established to deal with queries from the public and additional staff have been allocated.

The Passport Reform Programme continues to deliver major upgrades to the Passport Service technology platforms and business processes as well as significant customer service improvements. The award winning Online Passport Renewal Service has been the most significant project launched under the Programme to date. The second phase of the Online Passport Renewal Service was rolled out in November 2018. The online facility now allows for the renewal of children's passports and has expanded the cohort of adults eligible to renew online. The online service brings significant benefits to citizens with faster turnaround times and greater customer satisfaction. The online service has been instrumental in the management of overall passport operations and in allowing the Passport Service to allocate staff resources more efficiently to cope with unprecedented demand. Other projects that will advance in 2019 include the development of business process automation, document management systems and the roll out of mailing machines.

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 67.

European Council Meetings

Questions (79)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

79. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the Russian missile system being located in Turkey was discussed at the most recent Foreign Affairs Council meeting; and his views on same. [25189/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Foreign Affairs Council met in Luxembourg yesterday (17 June) and the decision by Turkey to purchase a Russian anti-aircraft missile system was not on the agenda.

It is not our normal practice to comment on the defence procurement policies of third countries.

Brexit Negotiations

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 67.

Questions (80)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

80. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions he has had with his EU counterparts with regard to extending the Brexit deadline beyond 31 October 2019. [25209/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Throughout the Article 50 process, I, as well as officials from my Department, have had frequent and ongoing contact with representatives from other EU27 Member States and the Commission. In recent weeks, I met with my Dutch, Maltese and Swedish counterparts, and will hold further meetings with other EU colleagues throughout the summer. 

The European Council on 10 April agreed to extend the Article 50 process to 31 October, providing the UK with more time to ensure an orderly withdrawal. It also provided flexibility for the UK to leave before that date if Westminster ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement.

We remain firmly of the view that the best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal and fully protect the Good Friday Agreement is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.  It is vital that the UK, regardless of whoever the next Prime Minister is, uses the time up to 31 October to find an effective way forward. Responsibility for avoiding a no deal Brexit lies firmly with the UK.

 Any decision to request a further extension of the date for the UK's departure from the  EU would be for the UK alone. For it to be granted would require the unanimous agreement of the European Council (Article 50).  Ireland would be open to such a request but the reasons for a possible extension and its  duration would be important. The EU would  also need to consider how its own institutions and processes would be affected by any extension.  Some Member States have expressed considerable doubts.

There has been no collective discussion of any possible extension.

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 67.