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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 6

Recent Developments in Northern Ireland: Statements

Last Sunday, 22 May, marked the 24th anniversary of the simultaneous referenda on both sides of the Border on the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement was endorsed by 94% of people here and 71% of people in Northern Ireland. It was endorsed by 85% of those voting across the island as a whole. It was a transformative moment for the island. I remember the day vividly, as I expect most in this House do. Maybe for a younger generation, who do not remember at first hand the importance and emotion of the vote, it was captured in dramatic form in the final episode of Derry Girls last week.

The referenda gave democratic legitimacy to the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement itself gives us the frameworks to end violence, build cross-community representative government and manage the relationship in Northern Ireland between the North and South and between these islands on the basis of partnership, equality and mutual respect. Right now, the Good Friday Agreement is under strain, along with the spirit of partnership that underpins it. It is under strain from unilateral action already taken and threatened. It is under strain from those who refuse to operate its institutions. It is under strain from those who wrap their actions in the language of defending it but whose actions do not match those words. That is why we are here this evening. I thank this House for facilitating this debate.

At present, the British–Irish relationship seems to be lurching from announcement to announcement and stand-off to stand-off. With so much going on, there is a risk that we will normalise crises. It is worth stopping to reflect on the operation of the agreement and its wider context. Since the elections on 5 May, the DUP has refused to allow the formation of an Executive or even the election of a Speaker to get the Assembly up and running. This is at a time when Northern Ireland has so many bread-and-butter political challenges to face. Participation in the North–South Ministerial Council is one of the essential responsibilities attached to ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Executive. The DUP has boycotted the council since the autumn of last year.

Along with others, the DUP has real concerns over the operation and impact of the Northern Ireland protocol – I readily acknowledge that and will return to it later – but those concerns are no reason not to stand up and operate the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement that we all say we are committed to. Elsewhere we have heard how the balance of the agreement must be protected and that east–west must match North–South. One of the key east–west institutions of the agreement is the British–Irish Council. The agreement provides that the British–Irish Council will meet at summit level twice per year. The council does meet but the current British Prime Minister has yet to attend.

Then there are those for whom the protocol is a stalking horse. They can move seamlessly from criticism of the protocol to calling for the agreement itself to go. By and large, these are those with no political mandate who never supported the agreement in the first place and who seek to damage it from the outside. Treating the agreement lightly plays only into those hands. The Good Friday Agreement is not a flag of convenience; it is a solemn responsibility endorsed by our people and it is a shared responsibility.

From the outset, it was always clear that Brexit would profoundly impact Northern Ireland and relationships on this island. At an early stage, both the EU and UK agreed that a unique solution was required for Ireland as a whole. Reaching that solution required a long, detailed and difficult negotiation, with a shared focus on minimising disruption and a great spirit of compromise. The solution agreed jointly by the EU and UK became known as the protocol. However, given the misinformation about the protocol in recent weeks, it is important that we recall clearly and truthfully what it actually achieves and was designed to do. This solution, arrived at jointly, protects the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process. It fully and expressly recognises Northern Ireland’s constitutional status and the principle of consent protected in the Good Friday Agreement. It avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, protects the common travel area and North–South co-operation and provides for no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland. Importantly, for thousands of businesses it gives Northern Ireland unique access to both the UK and EU internal markets. Despite all this and the fact that the British Government negotiated it, it now claims that implementing the protocol that we agreed together is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. This is disingenuous and dangerous.

I find it deeply disappointing that the British Government has said it intends to table legislation in the coming weeks that would unilaterally disapply elements of the protocol, which is now international law. This action is contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, in respect of which genuine trust and partnership between both Governments have time and again proved crucial to shared progress. As the protocol is an integral part of an international agreement, such action would amount to a serious violation of international law also. I have urged the British Government to reconsider, weigh the risks that would flow from unilateral action and step back from this course of action, as it has done previously. Unilateral action is contrary to the wishes of the majority of people and businesses in Ireland; that is a fact. They can see the potential for jobs, growth and foreign direct investment in the period ahead.

This month the UK National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that Northern Ireland's economy was outperforming the rest of the UK and that this is attributable, in part at least, to the protocol. This corresponds with the clear message I hear in my engagement with Northern Ireland businesses, which have no desire to be caught up in the politics of Brexit or the protocol. They want stability and certainty so they can plan for the future. Unilateral action or the threat of it does not deliver this, but the opposite. I spoke to Foreign Secretary Truss last Friday, when I made clear Ireland's opposition to the UK breaching international law and said the UK needs to get back to talks with the EU.

There are genuine concerns about the protocol and I want to speak directly to the unionist community in that regard. The EU has consistently negotiated to reach an agreed outcome to address concerns held in Northern Ireland but we need a partner to do that with. The ball is in the UK's court and the onus is on it to indicate if it will move away from unrealistic demands it knows the EU cannot deliver and focus on the issue of greatest concern to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland, which is the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and removing barriers to that trade. The EU has put a creative package on the table to address these issues. These are bespoke solutions for moving goods and for greater engagement for Northern Ireland around the protocol. The EU remains ready to explore these ideas in depth and move beyond where we have previously been, but we need a partner to do that with. Without the British Government's co-operation and willingness to try to make it work, it will not work and the stand-off will continue.

This Government, through my office and others, is already working with the European Commission to try to ensure we respond to legitimate concerns in Northern Ireland, particularly on the issue of making a significant differentiation between goods we know are staying in Northern Ireland to be purchased and consumed there and those at risk of travelling into the EU Single Market, crossing the Border moving south. We can take a significant step forward in meeting the demands of many in the unionist community who want to see unnecessary checks gone on goods staying within the United Kingdom but, without a partner, it is hard to find a way forward.

On legacy, last week the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland introduced to the House of Commons the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. The Bill had its Second Reading yesterday. The drafting, publication and introduction of the Bill is a unilateral act repudiating the painstakingly negotiated 2014 Stormont House Agreement. That agreement had the support of most parties in Northern Ireland and the two Governments, along with civil society buy-in. Dealing with the legacy of the Troubles was always going to be difficult but we had broad agreement on how to move forward together. We signed a treaty with the UK to aid with information recovery and brought in legislation in this jurisdiction.

The British Government now wishes to go it alone. When it flagged this intention last year in a command paper, we urged it to engage in good faith and find a way forward together, with the parties and the voices of victims and survivors at the centre of that process. It is regrettable that it has abandoned a collective approach. If it wishes to move away from what we agreed at Stormont House, it should do so by agreement with the parties, with representatives of those most directly affected by cases and with the Irish Government, which is a partner on this and many issues. Many families are upset by the publication of this Bill, including those waiting for inquests or pursuing civil litigation. Many will understandably feel that immunity, conditional or otherwise, is about protecting perpetrators instead of pursuing justice. Those concerns need to be heard.

There are serious questions to be asked about the draft legislation. Many in the political parties, civil society and academia have deep concerns. There is a fundamental question as to whether the legislation as drafted is properly compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR, and, by extension, the Good Friday Agreement, which committed to the full incorporation of those rights into Northern Ireland law.

The British Government, in a memo published alongside the draft Bill, states that it is an open question as to whether the court in Strasbourg would find an amnesty to be compatible with Article 2 obligations under the ECHR. To progress legislation while that remains an open question is an extraordinary approach. The proposed system of case review seems to be a significant step away from the Article 2 compliant investigations committed to at Stormont. On initial reading, I have concerns about the independence of the processes outlined in the Bill. This is in direct contrast to what was agreed at Stormont House, where we sought to guarantee the independence of the investigations and information recovery arrangements. In order for truth recovery and investigations to be trusted by both communities, they have to be seen to be independent. If they are not, they will not work, which is the biggest problem of all.

The legislation appears to give wide powers to the UK Government to subsequently change or end this process after only a few years in operation, while also ending legacy investigations and information recovery by any other route, including the PSNI, the Police Ombudsman, inquests and new civil cases. Any new system will be taken to the courts and tested. If it fails there, it will have done nothing to resolve these issues or progress reconciliation and justice. It will have added further years of limbo and heartache for families who have had far too much of both. The process for dealing with legacy cases should be about building, rather than eroding, trust and confidence. This Bill and its unilateral process does not do that. I strongly urge the Secretary of State to reconsider this approach and offer our team a partner in terms of looking at real alternatives.

Electronic travel authorisation has become a contentious issue. Provisions set out in the recently enacted UK Nationalities and Borders Act raise difficulties and cause us to question the British Government's commitment to borderless travel on the island of Ireland. Plans to establish an electronic system for travel authorisation, ESTA, that would apply to non-Irish and non-British citizens who wish to travel from South to North threaten to undermine the fluid nature of movement on the island and numerous areas of North-South co-operation, including tourism and cross-Border health service provision. As I have set out previously in this House, we have been engaging with our British counterparts for some time on this issue. I welcome recent announcements by UK ministers that they are keen to continue to engage with us in order to find a way forward. I assure Deputies that we will continue to prioritise this issue.

In the Queen's speech, the British Government outlined its intention to replace the Human Rights Act with a new bill of rights. By incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law in line with the Good Friday Agreement, the Human Rights Act fulfils an important role in Northern Ireland. It has been essential in creating confidence in Northern Ireland's political, policing and judicial structures over the past 24 years. Any diminution of the scope or efficacy of that incorporation would be a source of deep concern, North and South. I welcome the assurance in the earlier command paper that any reform will keep the ECHR rights incorporated into Northern Ireland law. We will watch that closely. We are concerned that the command paper includes a range of proposals which may result in the rights in the bill of rights being given significantly different meanings from the corresponding rights in the European Convention on Human Rights, such that the bill of rights may not fully incorporate the convention into Northern Ireland law or ensure access to courts and remedies for breach of it.

I am also concerned that the proposed introduction of a permission stage for human rights claims and the proposed restrictions on the availability of remedies for rights violations will undermine the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement to ensure direct access to the courts and remedies for breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. I have written to the Secretary of State and I also raised these issues of concern when we met in March. There is time to work with our UK colleagues to get these issues right.

What I have outlined indicates a distinct shift away from partnership by the British Government in respect of Northern Ireland. This is a new and difficult context for the bilateral relationship, creating risk for our relations on and across these islands. I firmly believe that, in the longer arc of history, we are moving in the right direction, less bound by the conflicts and differences of the past but, right now, we are in a challenging place and it is important to call that out bluntly. The programme for Government underlines the importance of the bilateral relationship. Our relationship with Great Britain is unique. Our two islands are deeply intertwined. Away from politics, the relationship is thriving, through ties of kinship, commerce and culture, but in the political arena, things are far from where they should be. We knew that Brexit would present challenges. The Government has sought to pursue strong partnership as the basis for the new post-Brexit relationship with the UK.

While, of course, Brexit and the form of Brexit the UK has chosen have had a negative impact, the Government has been working to enhance the operation of the core east-west institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. These are, as outlined in the text of the agreement, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, to both of which the Irish Government is absolutely committed. I also commend the work of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly which in its former iteration is also referenced in the text of the Good Friday Agreement.

Through the past two years, my Department has continued to invest in our diplomatic footprint in Great Britain. Our expanding Embassy in London, our newly launched consulates in Cardiff and Manchester and our new joint co-operation frameworks with Scotland and Wales demonstrate real commitment on the ground. We have also managed to protect long-standing common travel area arrangements post Brexit. We do this carefully, working together with the UK to avoid any inconsistencies between our obligations under EU law and the common travel area.

Ministers right across Government have prioritised engagement with the UK in the past two years. It is Government policy to do so. The Tánaiste brought our first trade mission since the start of the pandemic to London and, more recently, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, undertook St. Patrick's Day programmes in Great Britain as a priority. The Government will continue to pursue the kind of partnership we need. We will continue to engage with a wide range of political stakeholders right across Great Britain. The work of Members of the Oireachtas is also important in this. The next meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, due to take place in Cavan in October, is an opportunity to invest in partnership and mutual understanding on many of these issues.

However, recent actions by the UK give us cause to reflect. We are not where we want to be. Our focus should be on developing new collaboration in areas such as green energy and international affairs. We should be renewing our partnership for the post-Brexit era. Those are the goals we set in the programme for Government and they are where I want us to get to, but the current stance of the British Government constrains us. That is the truth. We are fire-fighting rather than looking to the future.

At this challenging time we, along with our nearest neighbours, need to step back and reflect on how far we have come since the 1990s. We need to recall the value the peace process is about and what it has achieved. As John Hume stated in his Nobel lecture in 1998:

We are two neighbouring islands whose destiny is to live in friendship and amity with each other. We are friends and the achievement of peace will further strengthen that friendship.

The Good Friday Agreement and its values remain our bedrock. Partnership and commitment remain the only basis on which we can move forward together. This requires compromise on all sides and hard work between our two Governments. Most of all, it requires trust. Trust takes years to build up and can be undermined overnight. I caution that care needs to be taken in this space.

I wish to touch briefly on a couple of issues before closing. In the heated atmosphere of the past few weeks, leading up to and following the Northern Ireland election, I was accused of threatening violence in the context of Brexit. Nothing could be further from the truth and I challenge anybody to show otherwise. I have warned about unravelling the fabric of the agreement because I remember what went before. To remember those days is not a threat; it should be seen as a motivation. We must not forget the urgency of peace that brought us to the Good Friday Agreement. In fact, I was subject to the direct threat of violence when I was delivering a speech in Belfast in March - a speech about reconciliation and generosity between communities. A van driver was hijacked at gunpoint and forced to drive to where I was speaking with what he believed was a viable explosive device in the back of his van. I feel for that driver and his family. It is hard to imagine the trauma that he must feel. There is no room for violence or the threat of violence from any quarter in Northern Ireland right now. There is no place for the glorification of the violence of the past either.

Today, the delegation of the United States Congress is in Northern Ireland. I met the delegates in Dublin yesterday and they visited Leinster House. I wish to record my appreciation for their interest and their visit and what it represents. The United States has been a steadfast supporter of efforts to secure and, as important, to sustain peace on this island. That support is bipartisan in Congress and has extended to every administration for decades. While the peace process belongs first to the people and parties in Northern Ireland, that consistent support from the US has helped make it possible.

I know the Good Friday Agreement is a priority for every Member of this House and every political party. While we may differ on points of emphasis and detail, the Members of this House will never let domestic politics get in the way of securing sustainable peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, or in the way of implementing the Good Friday Agreement itself. An earlier generation of political leaders gave us the Good Friday Agreement. They gave us the structures and mechanisms to embed the peace and to deliver functioning representative politics in Northern Ireland despite all the complexity and challenges they faced. They have entrusted its implementation to us. All parties, including the two Governments, need to subscribe to the values, the principles and the institutions of the agreement and not just refer to them. Northern Ireland needs functioning institutions and it needs them now. It needs an assembly and an Executive in place to address the issues of regular politics, issues that are challenging enough already, like healthcare, the cost of living, housing and so much more besides. It needs the mechanisms to deal with "practical politics, not visionary vapours", to borrow a phrase from David Trimble. The people of Northern Ireland need more than debate on constitutional questions, whether raised as threat or motivation. They face other immediate challenges.

The protocol is compatible with the Good Friday Agreement if it is implemented appropriately. It was designed to be. We can address any challenges its implementation represents with patience, partnership and real and honest negotiation from both sides. The same is true for legacy and the other challenges to the British-Irish partnership in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is our common ground, where we must work together to find shared solutions. In the past 30 years, the British-Irish partnership has delivered so much for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland as a whole. I hope we can rekindle that partnership.

I believe we can and must do so. We owe it to a future generation to do that.

It is unfortunate, but unavoidable, that as we debate the issues of the Irish protocol and the proposed flawed legacy legislation being floated by the British, that the common thread that binds the two issues in respect of the approach and actions of the British Government is an attitude of disdain, most certainly for the people of this entire island. There is also an attitude of disdain for the EU and, indeed, the US Government, which very much identifies itself as a stakeholder and protector of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. The actions of the British Government are precipitating the most serious political crisis in the post-Good Friday Agreement era. The British Government is threatening to break international law through signalling its intent to abandon the Irish protocol and effectively ride roughshod through the Good Friday Agreement.

The people of the North voted on 5 May to make politics work. Some 70% of voters voted in support of parties in favour of the protocol. Two thirds of the MLAs elected to Stormont want the assembly up and running now. Boris Johnson’s actions are giving succour to the anti-democratic instincts of the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, which is refusing to honour the democratic wishes of the people of the North to form the Stormont Executive.

We now have a situation where the entire basis of power sharing is being threatened by the actions of the DUP and the British Government, in particular, the toxic alliance which has emerged between the British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, the economic research group and the DUP. Their actions are depriving the people of the North of an Executive, which is needed to address a crippling cost-of-living crisis where inflation is at its highest point in the past four decades. Yet, because of the DUP actions facilitated by the British Government, the assembly cannot meet to deliver badly needed support for workers and, indeed, families. There is £400 million in funding available to address the cost-of-living crisis, but it cannot be allocated until the Executive is formed. Further funding of £1 billion is there to help to address the crisis in the health service in the North, to hire more doctors and nurses and to fund cancer and mental health services.

The British Government has falsely claimed to be acting to defend the Good Friday Agreement, when in fact it is acting to support a party that is actively attempting to undermine the agreement. The actions of the British Government and its unilateral approach to proposed changes to the protocol act to undermine the conditions that have fostered peace on this island for almost 25 years. The British Government is legislating intentionally to break international law. It is amplifying the record of bad faith displayed by the Johnson Government on Brexit since his election as Prime Minister.

The economic reality is that the economy in the North has been outperforming the economy of Britain since the protocol agreement has been put in place. The protocol has placed the North in a unique and, in some respects, an envious position, in that it has access to both the British market and an EU market of 500 million people.

I also want to acknowledge the support that the US has offered to Ireland for the protocol and in defence of the Good Friday Agreement. Last week I visited the US and met with US lawmakers from both parties, Democratic and Republican, who assured me and the cross-party delegation there of their continued and unfailing support of the Irish peace process. The reality is that there would not be a Good Friday Agreement without the valued support of the US. I also want to welcome the comments by Congressman Richard Neal, the chair of the House of Representatives' ways and means committee, who said that the Good Friday Agreement also belongs to the United States. He said the US is firm in its commitment to continue to provide bipartisan support for the Irish protocol and the Good Friday Agreement. In addition, US lawmakers have also stated that they will not support a new trade agreement between the United States and Britain if the Tories go ahead and scrap the protocol, effectively tearing up international law.

It is interesting to note that the British Attorney General stated that she will not publish the British Government’s advice in full, which the Financial Times has reported to have come from a former lawyer for Donald Trump, which in itself says a lot. Further to this, the British are offering a grotesque rationale that they intend to act unilaterally to prevent violence from loyalists, including that which was threatened against the Minister, essentially rewarding or even encouraging illegal behaviour from loyalists.

Much of this crisis takes place against the backdrop of English politics, the seemingly eternal internal power struggles within the Tory party, and attempts by the DUP to assert itself as the dominant force within unionism. The British Government and the DUP must not and cannot be allowed to continue to drag us all into this crisis.

The EU and the US must continue in their support for the Good Friday Agreement, which must remain the primary concern. They must continue in their view that the British must not be allowed to tear up international treaties and discount international law at will. There cannot and should not be any consideration given to a renegotiation of the protocol or the Good Friday Agreement. The British Government must listen to the voice of voters in the North, 70% of whom voted in favour of candidates in support of the protocol. It must listen to the voice of civic society in the North. The Irish Government must step up its efforts to advocate on behalf of the people of the North. It must be seen to be unequivocal in its support of the Good Friday Agreement and, indeed, the protocol.

I want to turn to the issue of the British Government’s plans to introduce flawed legacy legislation in the North. Boris Johnson is certainly lending truth to the axiom once offered by Brigadier Frank Kitson, that the law is only another tool in the arsenal of the state. Once used in the North for the disposal of unwanted members of the public, it is now intended to be used to dispose of unwanted and unpalatable truths. The Achilles’ heel of the record of Britain’s dirty war in Ireland, its counterinsurgency campaign against Irish nationalists, has been and will remain the hidden truth of its role in the murder of Irish civilians. The British Government will do anything to prevent this truth from emerging. It is simply an appalling vista too far for the British establishment. In this vein, once again we witness the British attempting to manipulate the law for its own ends with the indecent haste with which is attempting to drive through the flawed Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, against the wishes of victims and their families.

When I use the term “flawed”, I am merely echoing the findings of a damning report by the Human Rights Commission, which has branded the British Government’s legacy legislation plans as "totally flawed". The commission has also found that the British legacy Bill is incompatible with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and will breach the Human Rights Act. I want to welcome the opposition of the Irish Government to these plans, along with that of other political parties on this island.

This flawed legacy legislation is a flagrant attempt by the British Government to protect the agents of the British State who prosecuted the war in the North on its behalf. It is an attempt to introduce an amnesty through the backdoor for members of the British army, the RUC and the intelligence services who murdered and colluded in the murders of Irish citizens during Britain’s dirty war here on this island. There is also an attempt to shut citizens out of the courts, to deny families inquests on the deaths of their loved ones and to deny access to judicial reviews and to civil courts. They ride roughshod over the needs of victims and their families.

Some of those have been waiting for more than five decades for justice. In 2014, agreement was reached by the parties in the North and both the British and Irish Governments at Stormont House to address the issues of truth, justice and reconciliation, and this agreement must be implemented in full.

Today is the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Councillor Eddie Fullerton. The Minister will be aware I have made a number of speeches in his presence about that case and the Minister is familiar with it. I will focus on the case of Councillor Eddie Fullerton again here today to illustrate what I believe is the serious bad faith by the British Government and the British state and how I think they are trying to protect themselves from accountability and responsibility for their central role in the conflict and in the assassination of an elected representative of the people of Donegal.

We know from Operation Greenwich, and the Police Ombudsman report from earlier this year. That report came after 15 years. It was an exhaustive report that followed from a complaint in 2006 from the Fullerton family. It was a remarkable investigation. I commend those who carried it out. They were honourable people. They themselves were shocked at what they discovered. Indeed, we learn in the report, Operation Greenwich, that they had submitted a file to the PSNI in 2016 with details about a person involved in multiple murders who should be of interest to the PSNI. That person is Person K. I will not name him here today. I will reserve that to a future decision based on the actions of the British state. Person K was a mass murderer. He was clearly a British military agent. He was the person overseeing the assassination of Councillor Fullerton.

Other persons involved in Councillor Fullerton's assassination are identified as Person J and Person P in the report. Both Person J and Person P were British soldiers. I believe Person P was a British military agent acting inside the Ulster Defence Association, UDA. What I am saying to the Minister is I believe British military intelligence acting on behalf of the British state directed its agents, including a serving British soldier, to assassinate an elected representative in Donegal 31 years ago today. It could not be more serious than that.

I would like to name Person K here today but I am not going to. I may do in time. I have that right under privilege in this House if I believe that justice has not been served. Person K will not be able to hide forever. Person K is a mass murderer.

Person K went on to oversee the massacres at Castlerock and Greysteel - the murders of 12 innocent people. He is a psychopath and a mass murderer, a British military agent with a licence to kill. Even after Greysteel, even when a person who was believed to be a police agent was convicted of being involved in Greysteel, he was still protected even though the evidence of his involvement in Greysteel was absolutely overwhelming. One of the persons convicted of Greysteel identified Person K as overseeing the entire operation, from securing the vehicle that was used as the getaway car to providing the weaponry to making sure they practised the route and tested the weapons. He could not have been more involved. When the deed was done, he was not present but he oversaw the entire matter. His fingerprints were caught on a plastic bag with the weapons used in Greysteel in the holdall. Even though a witness, a person involved in the murder, said he was completely involved, even though his fingerprints were found on a plastic bag with the weapons used in Greysteel, a mass murder of eight people, he was not convicted. He will be brought to justice. The problem for the British state is, when he is brought to justice, so will those who gave him the orders, and that goes right up to, I believe, Whitehall and 10 Downing Street. I believe they were carrying out a series of targeted assassinations of republicans from Pat Finucane to Sinn Féin councillors, including Councillor Fullerton.

There is even more to it, if that was not enough. It is astonishing. This is all down to the investigation of Operation Greenwich, an astonishing report that I appeal to the officials in the Department to examine in detail. I am happy to meet with them and divulge the information, thanks to the Fullerton family, that we have unveiled.

Person J had recently left the British Army just before his involvement in Councillor Fullerton's murder. Person J was found in possession of hundreds of intelligence files on republicans in early 1991 prior to Councillor Fullerton's assassination. Within those files, there were two names that stand out: Sinn Féin Councillor Bernard O'Hagan and Sinn Féin member Mr. Tommy Casey. Both those men would be murdered later on in 1991. Even though Person J, who had left the British Army just before 1991, was out on bail for being in possession of all of those documents, we believe he was involved in the assassinations of Councillor Fullerton, Councillor O'Hagan and Mr. Casey. He was then convicted and sentenced to six months for possession of those files, even though two of the names in the file were subsequently murdered after they were found in early 1991. It is astonishing what has been revealed in this report, beyond what we ourselves even would have thought possible. What one is looking at here is a British military agent who becomes a mass murderer of innocent people, oversees these operations, is protected all the way, is taken away from the scene after the ceasefire and lives a life.

Person J and Person K are still alive today. They may think that they can hide from justice; they cannot.

I want to send a message to the British state and the British security services that might think they can cover up all of this. We know what they did. We know those who carried out these acts for them. They may try to hide. They might try to close down their Facebook accounts, which these two people and one other person directly involved in the murder have, but they will not hide from justice. The family of the late Councillor Fullerton and the other families will have justice and the British state will tell the full truth about its role in the conflict in the North.

I too want to send my solidarity to the Fullerton family. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue here today, on the protocol, on legacy issues and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is important to name exactly what is happening here. The British Government is attempting unilaterally to smash an international legally binding agreement. The Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements are the architecture that hold the peace on this island and that set the pathway for true reconciliation and transformation. Most people on this island are horrified by the recent actions of the British Prime Minister, but most British people are embarrassed and deeply concerned about the implications for Britain's global reputation.

The mechanism for dealing with any issues arising from the protocol is the joint committee, as we have said time and time again. Already, problems with medicines and with sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, goods have been dealt with. Other issues can be dealt with in the same way. The truth is that the protocol made necessary by Brexit is being used and abused by the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, ably abetted by the British Government in an attempt to hold back the tide of equity and change within the North of Ireland. They just cannot accept the democratic outcome of the recent election. They cannot accept that the days of the sectarian mantra that no nationalist need apply are over.

The inclusive vision of the First Minister-designate, Ms Michelle O'Neill MLA, and her team of Sinn Féin MLAs is a threat to no one's identity. Those who are secure in their own identity, be they Irish, British, both or other, just want to live on a prosperous, thriving and progressive island where everybody can fulfil their true potential.

A quarter of a century later, we are still awaiting the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent agreements. It is unconscionable that the bill of rights is still being resisted.

I welcome that Acht na Gaeilge has been finally introduced at Westminster today, 16 years after it was committed to in the St. Andrews Agreement. I commend those who have relentlessly pursued the right to their own language, including the thousands of people who took to the streets of Belfast last Saturday.

I will turn to the recent legacy and reconciliation Bill. I commend the work done by the Committee on the Administration of Justice and its partners. They consider the Bill unworkable, and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Good Friday Agreement. They indicate it is incapable of delivering for victims and survivors and it is a unilateral solo run by the British Government, which is seeking to sideline the devolved institutions. They rightly query the timing of the introduction of this Bill. It is hard to argue against the analysis that the existing mechanisms are working too well in exposing past human rights abuses, with the citing of the historical clarification and information recovery achieved by the recent legacy inquest and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland reports.

The Stormont House Agreement gave victims and their families access to truth, justice and reconciliation. The visit of Congressman Richard Neal and his delegation from the US Administration here yesterday was welcomed by all parties and none in this House. The chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, supported by President Biden, has made clear the consequences for Britain of unilaterally damaging the Good Friday Agreement. The Irish Government must step firmly up to the mark and adopt an unequivocal position against the destructive behaviour of both the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and the Tories.

The cost-of-living crisis and issues with the health service are severely affecting workers and families across this island. People in the North can no longer afford to wait to have the institutions back up and running. They deserve better and they need better. Stagnation is not an option. Being held to ransom by the DUP, aided by the British Government, is likewise not an option and it is downright cruel, particularly for those most severely affected by the highest inflation we have had for decades and those ground down by poverty and exclusion.

I know the Minister gets this and he knows what is happening. My colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn outlined the case of Mr. Eddie Fullerton, which is just one case in the uncovering of truth. It is often bandied about that we must not rewrite history but it is not about rewriting history but telling the truth. This is about getting to the truth and the attempts being made to cover up the truth are absolutely despicable. They are recognised right around the world, including in the deepest parts of Britain. People are beginning to wake up to what really happened and why. We must stop the cover-ups and the protection of the people involved.

At the beginning of this month, the people of Northern Ireland voted in Assembly elections but as the Minister rightly tells the House, they are no closer to having a functioning government because the largest unionist party is now absenting itself from the very institutions that were so carefully and painstakingly crafted. Just as they are here, people in Northern Ireland are suffering from a cost-of-living crisis. The same issues that needed solutions in February, when the DUP left the Executive, are now even worse and crying out more to be addressed. These are questions of health and housing, education and normal bread-and-butter matters in politics.

The unresolved fallout from Brexit continues to cast a long shadow and the British Government is exploiting the issue of the protocol, abetted by the DUP for its own political purposes. For the first time, a nationalist party has won the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly but the overall votes cast for either designation did not substantially change. The electoral earthquake has been the growth and consolidation of the centre ground around the Alliance Party, which nearly doubled its number of seats from nine to 17. This has come at the expense of two seats from the DUP and mostly gains made from other centre-ground parties, such as the SDLP, the UUP and the Greens, which all lost seats to the Alliance Party.

We must consider what this will mean for the future of Northern Ireland. I hope it can deliver a more progressive form of politics but there is also a challenge for us to consider the basic structure of power-sharing, which was last significantly altered in the discussions that led to the St. Andrews Agreement. What will happen if the largest or second-largest party does not declare itself as representing either community? It is an eventuality that must be addressed.

The result also complicates the often binary discussion on a border poll or unity referendum. The Labour Party aspires to a united and shared island but we also recognise that very detailed work involving difficult choices is needed in advance of presenting any referendum, and groundwork is needed for the approach to be put to the people ultimately. Calls for a border poll will not bring about a fundamental focus and analysis. Calling on the Irish Government to establish a citizens' assembly is also an incomplete idea if it is not matched with some similar process in Northern Ireland. Getting such an initiative approved by Stormont will require engagement with the growing centre ground there, which by its definition steers clear of constitutional issues. Simplistic slogans are no substitute for a detailed analysis of the institutional and constitutional compromises that will be required for the fundamental change that many of us aspire to on this island. However, the growth of the Alliance Party has created a real prospect of normalised politics emerging in the North and we must consider how to accommodate the growing non-aligned groupings of the centre.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party Government in the United Kingdom is intent on imposing its political solutions on the North. The introduction of cultural legislation today in Westminster that will officially recognise the Irish language is long overdue and welcome. It will help towards building trust. However, it does not excuse the political games now being played with the protocol and with legacy matters. What is being given with one hand is being taken back in spades by the other. It is no coincidence the British Government is threatening legislative action on the protocol just as the British Prime Minister comes under renewed political pressure over the so-called "partygate" and the report of Ms Sue Gray on it, which was published today.

Invoking unilateral legislation on both the protocol and the legacy question is a clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement and will cause immense damage to the peace process and the space so painstakingly created for political negotiation and compromise. The British foreign secretary has a self-serving opinion piece in today's The Irish Times on proposals to disapply the protocol. I say as an aside that one of the suggestions she makes is that the mandate given by the European Commission to Vice President Maroš Šefčovič is inadequate. If Mr. Šefčovič or the Minister in the Chamber said the mandate given to Ms Truss is inadequate and she should get a different mandate in Westminster before we dealt with her, what would be the reaction from Tory backbenchers? What would they think if that was the Minister's view or that of the European Commission? This is lost sometimes on some members of the current Tory Government.

If the UK Government put as much effort into working with the EU on implementing what they negotiated and agreed 18 months ago instead of playing political brinkmanship, many of the legitimate issues that I have come across in my discussions with people running businesses in Northern Ireland could be addressed. I sat down in Belfast and visited Belfast Port, as well as ports on the other side, such as in Liverpool and north Wales, to see what the difficulties are.

They can all be overcome with an open mind and a willingness to negotiate. It is ludicrous to claim the internationally binding agreement it willingly entered into is now threatening the Good Friday Agreement. As has been made clear by all parties here, by the EU and by the US, pragmatic and flexible solutions can be found. Moving unilaterally to simply wipe away or alter fundamental agreements is neither sustainable nor consistent with the British Government's role as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

The approach of the DUP must also be called out. It claims the protocol is a breach of the principles of consent and consensus. Throughout Brexit it sought and advocated the hardest possible deal. As Mark Durkan pointed out yesterday, the DUP flatly rejected calls for a devolved consent on the terms of Brexit. It was explicit in its demands that the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly was to be avoided to prevent a case for invoking cross-community support. It opposed the Good Friday Agreement originally and now claims it requires parallel consent for decisions, which is simply not the case. It is holding the assembly hostage over the protocol when the outcome it now opposes is a result of the very approach it had to Brexit when it failed to provide leadership or find solutions.

Three months ago in February we spent significant time in the Chamber debating the many issues of legacy and the New Decade, New Approach deal. We are no closer to delivering solutions on these outstanding issues. The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill had its Second Reading in Westminster. It has been deemed by academics and the Committee on the Administration of Justice as unworkable, in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and international human rights law and incapable of delivering for victims or survivors. All parties in Northern Ireland have condemned the Bill as it would deny victims closure and access to justice. In my long parliamentary career one of the very few meetings I ever attended was a meeting last August in City Hall in Belfast. An agreed approach on the issue was signed by every political party on the island, including Sinn Féin, the DUP and every party represented in this House, to oppose the original legacy Bill and command paper. Something similar is now being presented. It is quite clear the British Government must rethink its approach to these fundamental issues. Those of us who have worked very hard to bring about a decent relationship, as is appropriate and proper between the governments and parliaments of these islands, must redouble our own efforts to change this attitude of mind.

I congratulate the Minister and the Government for the work they are doing and the energy the Minister is putting into protecting the Good Friday Agreement. He and the Government, and all of us in the House, must make every effort to ensure Ireland remains at peace and the agreement signed almost 25 years ago is put into full fruition and comes to its full strength. In this respect, tomorrow the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement will meet Mr. Tim O'Connor, one of the civil servants who was the architect of the work, to learn from him. The committee is composed of members of all parties and none and is ready, willing and able to ensure that the lessons for the future of the island are properly and fully examined and that we will learn from the politicians and everybody who was involved in the Good Friday Agreement.

I welcome the initiative led by Mr. Richard Neal, a member of the US Congress. The visit by Mr. Neal and his colleagues has been extremely helpful to me and my colleagues in the Oireachtas. I hope his visit to Northern Ireland today will go well. He has been to Europe and he has also met the British Foreign Minister. The Good Friday Agreement is not just about what we in the South and the North think; it is about what was agreed. It is guaranteed by the British and Irish Governments. The interest of the United States is critical as is the continuing support and efforts from Europe to find a solution to the issue of the protocol. I do not think anybody cares whether it is a green or red lane when people bring goods into the North. The key issue is that in whatever practical solution is found, goods intended for the North stay in the North and no goods will illegally enter the European Union by breaking the rigid application we must have.

There has been a lot of talk about a border poll. The trouble with a border poll is that it is all very well to call for one but unless we prepare the ground for it and have a practical plan and buy-in from the minority in the North even a successful border poll will not work. It will not cut the mustard. If there is to be a border poll, and I favour one, how it can be brought about must be clarified. The Good Friday Agreement is weak in this respect in that it leaves it to the British Administration, or its man or woman in Belfast for want of a better phrase, to look into his or her heart and decide that time has arrived. We need to look at this issue and identify and clarify the reasons and process by which such a poll would be called. It is part of the Good Friday Agreement. It is as much a part of it as it is to be British and remain British. Being Irish or nationalist is also a core part of it. We need clarity on this but we need to prepare for it. It will not work if it is lost. If there is a border poll and it is lost, it will be lost for more than the seven years it is stated there would have to be before another one. An awful lot of work must be done.

I agree with the comments on the DUP. It is failing in a duty of care to engage with us on the Good Friday Agreement. Of the 18 Members of Parliament elected from Northern Ireland, ten of them attend our committee. The majority of Members of the Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom attend our meetings and speak at them. This is very important. It is time the DUP and the unionists join us in this regard. I am ready willing and able, as are all members of the committee, to meet them wherever it suits to negotiate and speak about the future. Unless we bring the unionists on board, the border poll will not work. The new Northern Ireland we all want will not happen.

If there is one place I have been in the North that has shown me how power-sharing works, it is in the city of Derry. I met members of my own party and I also met Mr. Graham Warke, the DUP mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council. There is power-sharing in Derry. It has a nationalist majority and a DUP mayor. The openness with which Mr. Warke welcomed us to his city and gave us the benefit of his views is a new generation of thinking. It is something I find very attractive. The DUP is coming forward with new faces and new ideas. They are all part of the same city of Derry. With the DUP and nationalists, we can all be part of a new Northern Ireland.

It would be remiss of me not to welcome the repeal of the Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) 1737 passed many centuries ago. I am sure it brings joy to all of those who marched in Belfast. It also brings joy to me. It is not a revolutionary act by any stretch of the imagination but it is very welcome and necessary. Progress has been made but the biggest problem of all is the poor relationship that continues between the British Government and us on this island. It is very unhelpful. The British Government needs to listen and learn. It has been involved in Northern Ireland for a hell of a long time. It is part and parcel of the Good Friday Agreement. For short-term political gain, as my colleague from the Labour Party has said, it is neglecting its long-term duty of care to peace on this island and using short-term strategies to create significant serious and ongoing problems, which we do not accept.

It is fair to say that British-Irish relations are not particularly good at this time. It all started with Brexit in 2016 and things have got steadily worse since then. The Brexit decision, in which the UK decided to disengage from the EU and go its own way, was a shock to the international community. The modus operandi of British Prime Minister and the governing style of the Conservative Party have been difficult to accommodate. The move towards unilateralism as opposed to multilateral diplomacy in regard to Northern Ireland and the protocol, legacy issues, immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill, and even the Good Friday Agreement, have made things very difficult for Ireland and the EU.

There is an apparent unwillingness by the British Government to recognise that it is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and that the Conservative government seems to be more focused on domestic political objectives. There is an unpredictability about the actions of Boris Johnson's government. It appears the UK has no qualms about breaking international law, such as the withdrawal agreement. Trust between the EU and the UK and, more recently, Ireland and Britain, is in short supply. The Minister spoke about the absence of partnership. So here we are.

I appreciate that listening to these concerns is probably not very helpful. It must also be recognised that relations between Ireland and Britain have come a long way since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Ireland and Britain are friendly neighbouring countries and the need to interact constructively in order to resolve the various problems that confront us is apparent.

As to the sensitive issue of addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland, as we know the British Government published and is in the process of enacting the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. The Bill is complex and requires careful analysis. It amends a previous proposal on this issue and allows for immunity to be granted for those coming forward with information, among other things. On the face of it, the measures proposed constitute a de facto amnesty and are not in accordance with the Stormont House Agreement. Any proposals on this sensitive matter should be considered in consultation with the Irish Government as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, taking into account subsequent agreements, and the political parties in the North, all of whom have opposed this Bill. Most important of all, consultation should take place with the victims and their families.

The Northern Ireland Assembly elections took place earlier this month. It is very important that the assembly convenes and an executive is formed without delay. As we know, the DUP is not facilitating this due to its concerns about the protocol. It is very hard to get one's head around the fact that, in a democratic society, a parliament has not been established after the people voted. Normally after a democratic election, the assembly meets and an executive is formed. Members then get down to dealing with the issues and problems raised in the election. However, in this case, it seems the DUP wants the issues and problems resolved first before the assembly and government is up and running. This is turning democracy on its head. The assembly elections resulted in Sinn Féin becoming the largest party in the assembly, and the middle ground made its voice heard as seen by the success of the Alliance Party.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for mandatory power sharing, an obligation to designate, as well as the petition of concern. Questions have been raised about these provisions and calls for political reform have been made in order to promote normal politics. The DUP has a veto which it used. Obviously, any moves towards reform would have to get buy-in from the DUP and Sinn Féin. This will have to be addressed in the coming years. I accept that the immediate priority must be to get the institutions up and running again under the current arrangements as soon as possible. In addition, any future consideration of the Good Friday Agreement must take account of the circumstances surrounding the calling of a border poll. This should be addressed and clarity should be brought to the matter.

The British Government has signalled its intention to bring forward legislation to set aside parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. Here again, it is acting unilaterally. As we know, the people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit and the protocol was agreed in the withdrawal agreement to deal with the problems arising from Brexit, in particular to avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland. These are legitimate concerns as to the implementation of the protocol and they have to be addressed. The European Commission Vice President, EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, is a very patient man. Last October, following extensive consultation with all stakeholders in Northern Ireland, he brought forward a flexible package of measures to help resolve these problems. What is needed now is for flexibility and pragmatism to be shown by both sides in the negotiations. These problems can be resolved. The last thing anyone wants is a trade war between the EU and the UK. It must also be remembered that the protocol presents Northern Ireland with genuine opportunities, in that Northern Ireland can be part of the EU Single Market as well as the UK internal market.

This has gone on for too long. The EU and the UK, as well as the USA, have much bigger problems to deal with at present, the war in Ukraine being one example. It is hard to understand why the UK is not shutting down this issue given overall global problems and the challenge facing us at this time.

I welcome moves by the British Government to introduce an Irish language Act. It is perhaps the only positive thing we can talk about today.

I welcome this debate and hope it will contribute to resolving the many issues that confront us in the British-Irish relationship and the situation in the North.

I recently listened to a representative of the DUP speaking on the radio. The point he made very strongly was that the North of Ireland should be treated no differently to any other part of the United Kingdom. He kept reiterating that point. It brought me back to the days at the very beginning of the negotiations on the Good Friday Agreement. Everyone recognised at the time, and it was the reason an agreement was needed, that this part of the United Kingdom - as they call it - is on a different island; has a border with another country; a border with the European Union; had a conflict that went on for almost 40 years, in which thousands of people were killed, that needed a negotiated settlement; and has a legacy of colonialism that goes back a couple of hundred years. The recognition of all of that brought us to a place where we had to come to an agreement and find a way out of and settle those differences.

The recent issue of the protocol and the demand by a small section of unionism within the higher echelons of the DUP, that is pushing this agenda very hard, is basically to try to wind back the clock to a time before the Good Friday Agreement existed. That is what is very dangerous about this. When we weigh it all up, what we want is a situation in which we can find agreement with everyone. The co-operation that we have had up to now across both governments and all parties, to try to find a way forward, has been the way to do things.

The recognition of the Good Friday Agreement throughout the globe has been an example of how a peace process can be built. The recent visit by representatives from the United States is an example of that. They came here because they recognise that what we have done in Ireland is unique. It is a unique example to the world of how to build a peace process. Yet, Boris Johnson and elements of the DUP and a certain group of Tories want to unwind that and kick it out the door. That is what flies in the face of logic, good common sense and trying to move things forward.

A few days ago, I spoke to a senior person in the dairy industry, who lives in the Border region, about the amount of milk produced in the North that comes South to be processed. If this protocol is taken away and we are back to a situation in which there would be checks on the Border, it would destroy that industry. So many other industries would be destroyed because of it. Yet, the tiny minority in the higher echelons of unionism insist that they want their way, and it is their way or the highway. That brings us to a situation in which we have to work with everyone involved.

I welcome the Minister's speech earlier.

I see he is with us in the House. I commend the work that has been done to try to build alliances and move forward on this. It not just about the protocol, but the legislation the British Government is proposing in relation to legacy. All of these things seek to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which has been underwritten by the US and the EU. The Irish Government has work to do with the US authorities, including the US President, to get them on board. While it is welcome that a delegation from the US Congress is visiting Ireland, we need to go to a higher level in the US to put pressure on the British Government to take a different track on all of this. It is similar with the EU. We must build international alliances to protect the peace process, which has been an example to the world, and the Government has a huge part to play in doing so.

The British Government's Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is passing through the House of Commons. I believe it has had its Second Reading and may reach Committee Stage in a number of weeks. It will be passed very quickly. This Bill has angered thousands of people across the North in all communities. They see what it is about. It is about getting away from that which we have always been told is vital, namely, the rule of law. The British Government wants to set aside the rule of law and introduce immunity for certain people under certain circumstances. The view of many academics who have looked at the legislation is that this immunity will basically be available to everyone. That is what the British Government wants to do. It completely flies in the face of all the agreements that have been concluded until now, including the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement and the Stormont House Agreement. When we settle down and look at all of this, we must recognise that the work that needs to be done has to be done for all of us to have a better future. We must ensure the Irish Government puts maximum pressure on US and European authorities to put pressure on the British Government.

I will make a small final point. Many Deputies spoke about a border poll and the move towards Irish unity. It is true that as republicans, we want to see Irish unity. I believe the vast majority of Deputies in this Chamber want to see Irish unity. The only aspect that we differ on is how we go about achieving it. However, I think we agree on one point, namely, that there cannot be a border poll in Ireland similar to the Brexit vote held in Britain. It has to be worked out. We have to know what we are voting for and what the outcome would be. To do that, we need to put in place structures. We need to establish citizens' assemblies, Oireachtas committees and other committees to bring together, in every way possible, the people on both islands, particularly this island, to work out what kind of new Ireland we want to build. I believe we can all do that together without fighting about it.

We are here to discuss Northern Ireland and the rapidly evolving situation in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, legacy issues and the shared responsibility that we hold with the UK regarding the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. They are all very live and important issues that are deserving of our time in this House. It is important that as we talk about the issues facing Northern Ireland, we ensure that we place the people living there front and centre. The North of Ireland has experienced so much pain. It is still reeling from a bloody conflict arising out of the partition of this island and the inequality and division that followed and are maintained today.

While the Troubles continue to dominate the narrative and paint a very dark picture of Northern Irish life, they are not all that defines the North of Ireland. While we reflect today on the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions as well as the ongoing problems with the protocol, the fallout from Brexit and the challenges now faced regarding power-sharing arrangements, we must move away from considering the North of Ireland as a political state alone, as a problem to be solved. It is vital to understand and remember that the North is much more than a multitude of complex legal arrangements. It is a beautiful place, rich in history and culture, with one of the most stunning coastlines you will ever see anywhere in the world. It is a place dotted with picturesque towns and villages, rolling countryside, beautiful mountains, rivers and lakes and some incredible, buzzing cities, all offering great food, great experiences and extraordinary people. It has heart and passion; it is more than complex political arrangements.

We acknowledge that Northern Ireland is a post-conflict society. We recognise that all traditions and communities have suffered. Intergenerational and unresolved trauma have been allowed to become embedded and to harden. The North of Ireland remains a place that is divided by religious and national identity. In today’s Northern Ireland, we have many more communities than we had in the past, including young people who have never experienced the Troubles in their lifetimes, as well as a thriving civil society. They, too, deserve a place at the table that is deciding their shared future.

Peace, as we all know, was hard-won and finally came to pass in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. Despite this, the North of Ireland’s economy and the Border counties that surround it have not been able to adapt and develop at the same rate and in the same way as other states in the EU, including here in the Republic. They have, by any measure, had extraordinary barriers put in their way. Many of these remain, while new issues continue to create even more difficulty. The North of Ireland remains one of the poorest economic regions of the UK or Ireland. It has always experienced persistently higher levels of unemployment, low levels of economic investment, lower wages and precarious jobs. Just before the global pandemic struck, one in five people living in Northern Ireland was living in poverty. That figure is one in four for those living in the Border counties. Such numbers will almost certainly surge as a result of rapidly increasing inflation, fuelling one of the worse cost-of-living crises in living memory. When people went to vote in the Assembly election, those bread-and-butter issues were to the fore of their considerations.

The decision by the UK to withdraw from the European Union in 2016 came as a shock to us all. Some 56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain part of Europe. As is often the case, the voice and concerns of the people of Northern Ireland were neither heard nor listened to during the referendum debate. Brexit, they warned, could threaten the very integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, stability, peace and any chance of economic growth within the North of Ireland. A return to a hard border brought with it the fear of a return to the past, to the dark days we all thought were long behind us all. At a time of great political upheaval arising from Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol, an arrangement arrived at in large part due to the flexibility of the EU and only put in place in an effort to help maintain stability and peace, offers significant competitive advantages to enterprises in the North. It is there to avoid a hard border or any kind of border infrastructure across this island. It does so by providing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea, retaining Northern Ireland's access to the EU Single Market that other parts of the UK do not have. The unionist parties have insisted that the Northern Ireland protocol damages the North of Ireland, with Jeffrey Donaldson proclaiming that it is costing Northern Ireland £2.5 million a day, or £850 million a year. It remains entirely unclear where these figures have come from. A fact-finding article published in The Journal concluded that they may have come from an op-ed written by economist Dr. Esmond Birdie in the Belfast Newsletter last year.

I want to touch on some of that research, because it is important to scrutinise these claims as they are being made. It would appear that this op-ed was based on the data of just four businesses, which Dr. Birdie concluded had incurred an increased cost of 6% in bringing in goods from the UK to the North of Ireland. This was then extrapolated to the entire Northern Ireland economy, which anyone who has ever conducted research will know is wrong for many reasons. Most important, Dr. Birdie only looked at the cost of doing business between Northern Ireland and mainland UK, and estimated this generalised 6% increase to be a cost of £650 million. The DUP has also included potential opportunity costs of another £250 million, which Birdie suggested have been incurred. The DUP has not clarified where these figures have come from or why it would include alleged opportunity costs which do not arise from the Northern Ireland budget, as it is being paid directly from Westminster, to help support businesses in the North of Ireland with increased costs. There is no evidence to suggest that this money has been taken away from other Departments in the North of Ireland, such as the Departments of Health and Education. Even being kind, and it is hard to do so in this case, it is clear that the data and conclusions are unreliable and potentially misleading.

The DUP has a responsibility to be honest with the people of Northern Ireland. If quoting figures and data, these should be tested, true and factual. To do otherwise is misleading and wrong. It is to the detriment of the people the party claims to represent. Even if it these figures were true, or even partially true, what Dr. Birdie and the DUP have failed to consider and include are the advantages the protocol has brought to the people of the North of Ireland and businesses trading with countries within the EU. Data sets on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are not great. It is something we should be asking to be improved when dealing with such matters with the UK Government. The Irish figures are clearer. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, tells us that during the first 11 months of 2021, for example, imports from Northern Ireland to the Republic increased by 64%, while exports to the North of Ireland rose by 48%. Those figures do not include figures from any of the other 26 member states. Despite this, the protocol continues to remain under threat, with the British Government discussing the possibility of unilateral action being taken on the issue in order to placate unionist parties. It is being triumphalist with the peace that we fought so hard for.

This is an affront to democracy and to all people in the North of Ireland. The failure of the unionist parties to accept this arrangement at face value, as an economic edge, and instead to see the protocol as a threat and one that undermines the union, shows us the challenges still faced by the people there today. The failure of unionist parties to allow Northern Ireland to move on, prosper, become stronger and grow is frustrating to many. They manufacture concerns and create illusions. They create monsters and tell people the monsters are to blame. Perhaps if they held up a mirror to themselves, they would see more clearly where the problem lies.

The recent Assembly elections demonstrate very clearly that change is afoot. For the first time in the Assembly’s history, the First Minister will not be a member of the unionist community. Sinn Féin has taken the majority and I congratulate the Sinn Féin MLAs who are present and the party in general. We have also seen a surge of support for the Alliance Party, which I also congratulate on its performance. It represents those who do not identify under the two traditional banners and it has more than doubled its seats. This is an historic moment for the North of Ireland. Yet again, however, it seems the democratic will of the people of Northern Ireland is being ignored.

It is clearer than ever that proper discussions on the future of the island of Ireland, a shared future in which a true republic, one that looks out for the public good, its people and public services and that will prioritise peace and stability, is the only way forward out of what seems to be an almost unsolvable political problem. We must do everything we can to protect and implement the Good Friday Agreement despite Brexit and all it has brought with it. We can only hope the UK Government remembers that this is a shared responsibility and one that must be taken seriously.

In the meantime, the people of the North of Ireland are watching, waiting and hoping for brighter futures. The North is not the problem. In many ways, it is the politicians who are the problem. Let us do all we can to remedy that by helping to put in place the necessary truth and reconciliation mechanism, to restore trust, preserve peace and move towards a thriving economy and a state that puts its people first.

In the brief speaking time remaining to me, I want to add my voice to those of other Deputies from across the Chamber and the political divide in objecting to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill that seeks to provide an amnesty to people who have murdered. There is no truth without justice. I listened to Boris Johnson in Westminster call for vexatious prosecutions to be stopped. These people, who took the lives of innocent people, including children and people who were shot in the back, must be brought to justice. We must oppose this proposal at every step of the way.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in this important debate. It should be remembered that from the outset, it was recognised that it was necessary to work at the Good Friday Agreement. This required all of the constituent bodies to work at it to ensure that it prevailed, regardless of what obstacles came their way. Unfortunately, at different times and for different reasons, parties decided to withdraw their support. That was not a good idea and while precedents may be set and various reasons may be put forward as to why this was necessary, it is not good for the agreement or the establishment of trust. Trust is one of the things that is necessary in the pursuance of the Good Friday Agreement and of the protocol, which I will come to later.

If we do not have trust, we cannot go forward and work at the agreement but can only work to undermine it. If we cannot have or get trust, there will be a weakening of the agreement, which is not in the interests of any side on the island of Ireland or in Northern Ireland. The work of US Senator George Mitchell who was involved in the agreement, as well as the various constituent parties in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government and the British Government at the time, will all be to no avail unless a check is done as to what we need to do from here on in.

The time is not yet right for a border poll and, by its inference, it would appear to be a threat, although it may not be, to one side in Northern Ireland. That should not be the case. That is why the establishment of trust is necessary. We have to re-establish that trust and try to remember that as we work towards the fruition of what the Good Friday Agreement was supposed to mean, it will mean that responsibilities fall on all sides. I know some parties in Northern Ireland are doing their best in that regard. Some are not, but far be it from me to advise them. I am sure they would say they know best. We must not forget that Senator George Mitchell was not local and his influence was major and crucial in respect of the Good Friday Agreement because he did not have baggage.

We now turn to the question of the protocol. The protocol has been shown as undermining the good relations between the European Union and the UK. It is not the protocol but Brexit. For heaven’s sake, why can everybody not recognise that? The protocol is not the problem. It was put in place to ease the problems created by Brexit, not to create a problem in itself. It does not create a problem but over time people saw fit to see it as the difficulty. Let us not forget that the previous UK Prime Minister had introduced a different system that was no threat to anyone but it was rejected.

Returning to the question of trust, there is no sense in having an international agreement in any way, shape or form unless there is respect and trust. Where now stand international agreements and what can be said about such agreements if one or other side wants to walk away from them? If one or either side walks away now, it is a matter for the other side to walk away also. There is no establishment of trust. The establishment of trust has to be addressed as a matter of great urgency.

I am very disappointed that the UK and its Prime Minister have seen fit to embark on a unilateral response to what is an international agreement to which the UK signed up. This was not accidental. The UK signed up to the agreement in good faith, as did all of the other constituent bodies, and the expectation is on the UK as well as everybody else. It goes without saying that if international agreements are to mean anything in the future, trust and respect for international agreements must re-emerge. If there is no respect for international agreements and no trust, then everything fails. It would be an appalling tragedy on the island of Ireland if, on the one hand, that trust does not re-emerge and, on the other hand, international agreements are not recognised as such, as indicated in the language used.

In whatever way we can, we should try to ensure that all of the different constituent bodies are brought together in such a way as to ensure that nobody is a threat to the other and that whatever differences have arisen can be worked out, without rubbing anybody’s nose or face in the grit. This is to recognise that it is in everybody’s interest to bring this issue forward and stand by the Good Friday Agreement and the protocol, which was also worked on very hard by the European Union and all involved.

Future generations will look very harshly at those who cause a problem and walk away from it. It is not possible to walk away from a solemn international agreement and expect nothing to happen. It is irresponsible.

When the British Government announced the possibility of rolling back on previous commitments surrounding the protocol it directly undermined not only political stability in the North but also Northern Ireland's economy at a time when we should be focused on getting the institutions back up and running and growing the island's economy.

I have heard the word trust mentioned here repeatedly. Trust is a precarious thing. It is earned and is not a given. Unilateralism directly undermines trust. Diminished trust and faith in our UK counterparts only serves to impinge potential progress on a breakthrough or potential solution. We have to acknowledge that there are genuine concerns around the protocol and we all need to challenge ourselves to come up, within the overarching protocol agreement, to find innovative, workable, common-sense solutions. Pragmatism must win out and common sense solutions must be sought out. Unilateral action does not contribute to solutions.

We in Ireland are lucky that our EU counterparts have stood by us in our dealings with the protocol and its implementation. Vice-President Šefčovič has indicated that he and his team are ready to deal with the UK at any time. He has indicated that he is open to discussing solutions and has stated that he sees further potential in exploring additional flexibilities around trade, customs and SPS arrangements, for example.

A joint EU-UK solution is the only resolution to this impasse, particularly in the areas around trade and to protect the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions. The protocol clearly recognises the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent under the agreement. In the immediate aftermath of the northern elections, it is clear a majority of MLAs support the protocol. We must now see an early resumption of the Executive in order to ensure an efficient application of the protocol's principles. Ultimately, any calls for reopening of negotiations around the protocol are unrealistic. Ireland continues to engage with EU partners and institutions and with all stakeholders on the island to work through the withdrawal agreement and the protocol itself.

Regarding the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, it is disappointing to see the UK Government introduce and press ahead with it despite the clear misgivings across all stakeholder groups. Government parties have been speaking to victim groups to hear their views. The message from those groups, which represent people affected by State-sponsored violence, is clear. They have fundamental concerns regarding the powers of the commission for information recovery, for example, and the status of the reviews proposed in the Bill. Last week, we marked the 48th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which was a reminder of the justice that was not served for all the families affected.

Cuirim fáilte freisin roimh an mBille teanga a bhí curtha síos i Westminister inniu. Bhí sé díomách le feiceáil go dtí seo go raibh cosc ar chur chun cinn an Bhille seo i Stormont ach anois, mar a bhí leagtha síos in óráid na banríona na seachtaine seo caite, tá Rialtas na Breataine féin chun an dlí seo a bhogadh ar aghaidh. Cabhróidh sé seo le fás na Gaolainne agus leis an meas atá uirthi sa Tuaisceart. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeidh an ceart sin ag daoine sa Tuaisceart ó thaobh a bhféiniúlachta féin a léiriú ina sochaí féin. Tá súil agam go gcabhróidh Rialtas na Breataine leis an mBille seo a chur ar aghaidh chomh luath agus is féidir.

Fianna Fáil's priority in regard to Northern Ireland is, and always has been, the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions. As a party of government, we need to support all parties in the North and work collaboratively with our British counterparts to ensure we have a functioning Executive. That is how it is supposed to work. Instead, alas, we see the UK Government acting unilaterally to introduce legislation that moves us away from this collaborative approach and away from the processes agreed under the Stormont House Agreement. It is my view and that of the Fianna Fáil Party that this is not in keeping with the spirit or motivations of the Good Friday Agreement. It is imperative that the Northern Ireland Assembly is resumed without delay. It is a sad reflection on any society when certain parties are intent on ignoring the democratic will of their citizens and are instead bent on institutionalising the political limbo and paralysis we are experiencing at present.

The rationale behind the Good Friday Agreement and the entire peace process was built on both Governments working together collaboratively with all parties in the North. The Government of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss is diverging from this approach, as evidenced in the legacy proposals and its attempt now to roll back on the protocol and disregard international, legally binding agreements. The role of the United States in all of this must be acknowledged. We met with a number of public representatives from that country in Leinster House yesterday, who remain steadfast in their support for Ireland, respecting the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring the implementation of the protocol proceeds.

The British Government's so-called Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill has been nicknamed the Bill of shame by victims and survivors of the conflict. That is absolutely no surprise. In 2014, the British Government was a co-signatory, with the five main parties in the North, to the Stormont House Agreement. That agreement was the first sign that there would be a human rights-based, legally compliant approach to the outstanding matter of victims' rights following our conflict. The Good Friday Agreement made only cursory mention of victims and survivors, but it did mention that it was important to address the suffering of victims and survivors and it acknowledged that justice was essential for peace. After that, we witnessed piecemeal, if important, approaches to addressing the experiences of some victims. It was not enough.

The proposals of the Consultative Group on the Past, a body appointed by the British Government, included, among a wide range of recommendations, human rights-compliant investigations. The British Government rejected the proposals of the body it had appointed. Victims then saw the proposals from the Haass-O'Sullivan process disregarded by unionism. In 2014, with all the vested interests at the table, there was progress at last. The stalling and bad faith by the British Government since that date have been a source of incredible disappointment and frustration for families, with many family members, sadly, passing away in the meantime. It is worth noting that in parallel with this bad faith, the British Government, when reporting to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, has relied on its commitment to the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement as its vehicle for remedy of outstanding and serious human rights violations. Last year's command paper on dealing with the legacy of the past indicated that this bad faith was now out in the open. The British Government was willing unilaterally to abandon its intergovernmental approach on the Stormont House Agreement and, by extension, the Good Friday Agreement. In doing so, it was willing to abandon its legal and moral obligations to victims and survivors.

Yesterday, the Conservative Party passed Second Stage of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, notwithstanding that every single political party on this island, North and South, clearly opposed its contents, and with disregard to every single victims and survivors group. It has done so despite all legal and independent advice that the Bill is anti-law and anti-human rights. We in the Dáil must acknowledge that while the British Government might try to enter rogue state territory with its approach, victims and survivors - Irish citizens - retain their human rights. We must strive to ensure those rights are upheld. If the mothers of children killed with impunity can stand in dignity and with resolve, like Marian Walsh, the mother of 17-year-old Damien, who was killed at his work in 1993, did yesterday, with complete determination, outside the Northern Ireland Office's shiny new building in Belfast, then we must stand with them. If Alana McShane, the sister of 17-year-old Gavin, who was killed while going to school in 1994, only weeks before the ceasefire, could leave her mother Maria's month's mind yesterday to travel to Downing Street to hand in a letter to Boris Johnson, then we can amplify her voice.

The British Government thinks it can do whatever it wants to citizens in this country. It thinks it can be responsible for killings, collusion in killings, cover-up of its nefarious practices and perpetuating impunity, and then pretend to be neutral. It thinks it can introduce an amnesty for all actors to the conflict with a veil of truth exchange that is of no value and that debases the very concept of truth. It thinks hurt, pain and trauma can be swept aside. The British Government does not care for these victims at all and it does not know them. It does not know their courage, determination or, indeed, their resolve. These families are saying they will never give in. We all, to a person, must join them.

I am sharing time with Deputy Barry. Liz Truss said recently: "We will not rest until those responsible for atrocities, including military commanders and individuals... have faced justice." I deliberately left out four words, namely, "in the Putin regime". What type of hypocrisy is this coming from the mouth of the British Government? The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill does the opposite of Ms Truss's declaration in respect of her Government's legacy in Northern Ireland.

The Relatives for Justice group has reacted very strongly to what has happened, and correctly so. Those with the memory and pain of decades of fighting for justice and truth, on both sides, are hugely insulted and will continue to campaign. Relatives for Justice stated:

We need to remember this is the very same Tory Government that fought families in courts to prevent disclosure and discovery of information, including locking down files for a hundred years in some cases. And now they are locking down the courts and have the audacity to tell victims the process they propose will deliver and is in society's best interests. The only interests served are those of the British establishment.

The Tories are speaking to their base with this Bill, at the expense of all the people impacted by the legacy of the so-called Troubles. Much of that legacy lies at the door of British imperialist policies that covered up and facilitated extreme sectarian murders and collusion, whether directly through regiments of the British army, such as the Parachute Regiment, or through its own creation, the Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR, which was most recently exposed by research, entirely compiled from official British Government records, carried out by the Pat Finucane Centre. I am proud to say that my nephew, Micheál Smith, is the author of UDR: Declassified. He clearly illustrates that the legacy he reveals in the book is not his opinion but is reflective of facts from the horse's mouth, based on the files the British Government has released. We should not tolerate hypocrisy of this nature from that government. Instead, we must support the families in continuing to seek truth and justice for all who have been impacted so cruelly by the legacy issues.

It was correctly named last week, on an RTÉ programme I was on, by a representative of the Northern Ireland haulier's association who said the protocol was a logistics issue, not a political issue. However, it has been cynically used - these are my words, not his - by the DUP and the Tories to whip up a constitutional crisis that they hope will mask the crisis in unionism. Democratic unionists who opposed the protocol because it makes trade in goods easier with the Republic of Ireland than with the rest of the UK claim it has raised retail prices by 27%. This is not backed by any publicly available data. Findings from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research pour cold water on the Tory and DUP claims that the protocol requirement for EU checks on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland has undermined business opportunities. The opposite is in fact the case. From the same source, the post-Brexit trade protocol is helping, not hurting, growth and profitability in Northern Ireland because of its advantages for access to the EU markets.

It is fascinating to see how the DUP proposes no border in the Irish Sea for trading in goods, but that is exactly what it wants in reaction to women's rights and abortion in its recent statements. It wants a border in the Irish Sea for women accessing reproductive rights but not for goods trading. We should not pander to this bigotry. Once again, the DUP and the Tories are using the protocol to introduce a Thatcherite nightmare of unbridled free trade. The reality is the DUP is in severe crisis and is using the protocol to block the formation of a Stormont government and ignore the democratic outcomes of the recent Northern Ireland elections. It has failed to achieve an outcome that would suit it, rather than the outcome that the people of Northern Ireland completely democratically voted for. There is a great irony in the DUP's title. It is the so-called democratic unionist party that is doing everything to block democracy.

Trade and business statistics may be a bit healthier north of the Border, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, but - this is a big but - the lives of ordinary workers and families have deteriorated, as they have south of the Border and, indeed, across the water. There have been crushing price hikes in energy, food and transport and a considerable deterioration in wages, incomes and public services. The cost-of-living crisis affects both north and south of the Border and throughout these islands.

On 18 June, an action is being supported and promoted by the Trades Union Congress, TUC, throughout Britain. We are building for a similar action here in the Republic to get the response of ordinary people to demand that what is needed is done and that the governments on these islands, crucially, do much more to alleviate the hardship on workers and families. It is not just to make the political establishment account for itself in terms of that economic hardship. It will also help to undermine the dinosaurs of the DUP and the Tory Party who dominate the political establishment. I urge everybody to put their shoulder to the wheel and get involved in that action.

I will just have time to comment on a few issues here. I will comment on the Tories' legacy Bill and two of the industrial disputes currently taking place in Northern Ireland, and then I will see as to whether I might squeeze in another point. The legacy Bill was well summed up by Suzanne Breen, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, when she wrote:

The Tories bill includes not only an effective amnesty for perpetrators, it also shuts down all new civil cases by victims' families and Police Ombudsman investigations as well as inquests which haven't yet opened. This goes far beyond preventing the odd Army veteran standing in a dock. It is the State shutting down all avenues for the public airing of its squalid little secrets.

Ms Breen also notes that this involves cases that involve British state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries and increasing allegations of the British state protecting its own high-level informers involved in killings by the IRA. This illustrates an important point that the Socialist Party has made, that not only can we not rely on the British state for justice, we cannot rely on any of the sectarian forces in the North to subject their own role during the Troubles to real scrutiny.

I will use this Chamber to condemn the threat by Ulster University management effectively to lock out teaching staff if they engage in a marking boycott as part of legitimate industrial action to protect pay and pensions and to challenge the increasing casualisation of employment. I recently visited Belfast and spent some time on the Unite picket lines organised by striking Caterpillar workers. These workers are seeking a decent pay increase from a company that describes itself as a dividend aristocrat. It has paid increased dividends every year for 28 years. These workers have now been left out on the picket lines without any give from this dividend aristocrat for six weeks. While the company continues to enjoy business relations with data centres in the Republic, including some of the biggest tech names in the world, these workers are left outside for six weeks.

These big tech companies like to project themselves as being mindful of their social responsibilities. Maintaining business connections with a company that is playing hardball against strikers does not seem very socially responsible to me or to others. Those companies might do well to urge Caterpillar to treat its workforce more fairly and with more respect. I intend to return to this issue in the near future if this dispute is not solved on the basis of justice.

I would have liked to make some points about the protocol but I cannot deal with that issue in a serious fashion in 40 seconds. That is another issue to which I hope to return quite soon.

Deputy Brendan Smith and Deputy Ó Cuív are sharing time.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Once again, we are debating Northern Ireland issues, legacy issues and the need to implement the protocol and to deal with outstanding issues relevant to it. It is most disappointing that the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement are not in place or working on behalf of the people at present. In recent days, we celebrated the 24th anniversary of the referendums North and South, where 94% of the electorate in this State and 71.1% of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted to accept and adopt the Good Friday Agreement. That is the mandate that all of us have, as politicians in the North and South of this country. We should be implementing that mandate and working the institutions that were established by the Good Friday Agreement.

We should take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Government leaders such as Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern, as leaders of their respective Governments, and the political parties in Northern Ireland who contributed to and brought about the agreement that won the support of the international community. As we know, the Irish and British Governments are co-guarantors of the agreement which is an international agreement lodged in the United Nations.

It is just not sustainable or acceptable that the people of Northern Ireland elected their representatives to an assembly that is not meeting and cannot function. What the Democratic Unionist Party has done is anti-democratic in every respect. The assembly and the people selected by the electorate should be there working on behalf of their constituents and in the best interests of all. It is most disappointing we have the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions not operating at present. The British Government has to bear responsibility in that respect as well.

We can talk about what is not working in Northern Ireland or for the benefit of all of this island, which are the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement such as the assembly, the Executive and the North-South Ministerial Council. Thankfully, however, in the meantime we all continue to enjoy the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement in this country. We often ignore the powerful development of the all-Ireland economy that has evolved since the signing and endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement 24 years ago.

As a representative of two of the southern Ulster counties, I see the great growth in cross-Border trade. I see businesses that may only have been located in our jurisdiction now having good, profitable enterprises north of the Border. Similarly, businesses that only had a presence in Northern Ireland have a presence in our State now. That happens daily. That would not have happened if not for the Good Friday Agreement. There are deficits, with the institutions not working at the moment, but we should remind ourselves we have the benefits of what has come from the Good Friday Agreement and the new political dispensation of which all of us in this country are beneficiaries.

With regard to the protocol, when any of us who represent Border counties interact with businesses north of the Border, due to the likelihood of them having a presence in our State, they say they want any obstacles to trade removed and for the protocol to be dealt with. They also see the benefits from the protocol, with equal access for businesses to the British market and the European Single Market of 450 million people. A message has to go constantly to the British Government that the European Union wants a practical solution to the implementation of the protocol. Those issues can be worked through by negotiation, not by any government taking unilateral action. The Taoiseach has been clear when answering questions in this House that the EU will be flexible when dealing with issues that are of concern to businesses, individuals or communities in Northern Ireland. It is important the protocol is dealt with as soon as possible.

I refer again to the legacy issues. A week ago on Talbot Street in Dublin, we marked the awful tragedies of 17 May 1974, 48 years ago, when 33 innocent people were killed and hundreds were injured and maimed for life, in some cases, in Monaghan and Dublin. It is deplorable that the British Government has not responded to the unanimous requests of the Houses of the Oireachtas from 2008, 2011 and 2016, asking for an independent, eminent legal person to be given access to all papers and files pertaining to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. It is reprehensible there has not been a response by the British Government.

The same goes for other terrible atrocities. I have often spoken in this House about the murder of two innocent young teenagers in Belturbet on 27 December 1972, when Geraldine O'Reilly and Patrick Stanley lost their lives to a bomb that was brought across the Border from County Fermanagh. Almost two years ago, I put on the record of this House information that had come to me through research at the University of Nottingham which disclosed, through British state papers and archives, that there was collusion in that bomb being brought across the Border from County Fermanagh to County Cavan on that night. It was a fatal night, with the deaths of two young innocent teenagers and injuries being caused to many other people. Families have grieved for decades and that grief goes on to the next generation. The least they deserve is the truth about who carried out those atrocities and murders. Sadly, the chances of having a prosecution are limited, which I fully recognise. People have campaigned with dignity and grace about murders and tragedies that beset their families. All they would say to us is we need to get the truth. They are not seeking revenge or vengeance. These issues need to be dealt with.

Ba mhaith liom focal a rá mar gheall ar rud maith atá á dhéanamh inniu, is é sin go mbeidh reachtaíocht teanga ó Thuaidh. Is trua liom go deimhin go gcaithimid braith ar Pharlaimint na Ríochta Aontaithe leis seo a dhéanamh ach sin mar atá. Tá súil agam go mbeidh téagar sa Bhille nua le cearta lucht labhartha na Gaeilge a chosaint agus ní le Gaeilge a bhrú ar dhaoine nach spéis leo í.

I am glad that language legislation has been published today. I hope it will be enacted by the summer recess at the latest. The Dearg le Fearg march last weekend showed there is a large community of people who desire proper supports for the Irish language and for rights to be conferred on Irish speakers. I welcome that there are separate provisions for Ulster Scots and indigenous cultures in this Bill. We in Ireland have to learn that inclusivity is not to be feared. Generosity and inclusivity in our dealings enrich us all and do not threaten anybody's identity. I say that as an habitual Irish speaker. It does not threaten me one bit if somebody is from a different country.

I am a republican and I believe that real republicanism in Ireland is inclusive and wants to see a new Ireland where decisions on this island are made in an inclusive way by all of the people of this island, whether their natural background is unionist or nationalist. I feel at times that our approach to resolving the new issues caused by Brexit was dealt with in a slightly confrontational way rather than in an inclusive way. I fully agree there should not be any border on the island of Ireland. From my talks, I believe many in the DUP privately accept and know this. It was always going to be difficult for them to have checks in the Irish Sea. We have to differentiate between British interests and the totally different interests of the unionists in the North. We have to take into account their sensibilities and try to find a way forward. A problem was that neither the Irish nationalist community nor the unionist community, whether in the North or South, were actually engaged in the front-line talks. The engagement of talks always leads to the acceptance of the final compromise. We have never fully addressed that.

It will be vital for the UK and the EU to protect the dual position of Northern Ireland in the EU and the UK customs union and in the EU Single Market in as unobtrusive a manner as possible within the terms of the protocol and to try to make the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and vice versa, as seamless as possible. If one asked who did the most for the peace and security of the people of Northern Ireland out of the British Army, the PSNI and Gordon Wilson, I would say Gordon Wilson. He did it without any guns or security apparatus by reaching across in the most difficult point of his life. We have had relative peace for the past number of years. The last killing associated with the Troubles was that of Lyra McKee.

I would not let complacency lull us into a false sense of security. I have worked for years to persuade people from the physical force tradition that a much better way to realise their aims is through the political process and by persuasion. I have also fought for their human rights in prison and outside it. Peace will only be possible if they believe they are treated with fairness and respect. Those who believe a more draconian security approach is the answer to defusing the perceived threat are wrong.

I have major concerns about a number of issues in the North of Ireland. One relates to prison conditions for segregated prisoners, including strip-searching, controlled movement, isolation and lack of education facilities. Incessant stop and search is carried out on the families of perceived dissenting republicans. There are long remands, of up to three years, and strict bail for up to eight years before cases are brought to trial.

There also seems to be a policy of arrest and release in certain areas. Family bank accounts have been closed by the authorities, leaving whole families without access to welfare payments. I and two comrades who work with me will be preparing a submission on this for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, which he asked me to do. Mar a deirtear, tá go leor déanta ach go deimhin fhéin, tá go leor fós le déanamh.

I would like to use this opportunity to remember Maria McShane, who passed away last month. Last year I had the honour of meeting Maria in her home in County Armagh. Although she was in her sick bed at the time, she was in good spirits and it was easy to see why Maria had earned the love of all those who knew her. The best way to describe Maria McShane is that she was a typical rural Irish mammy. She was witty, endearing and committed to her family. Hers was not to be life of a typical Irish mammy, however, because by an accident of birth she happened to live in County Armagh rather than County Monaghan or County Louth, for example.

Despite growing up and living in the Northern State which denied her her basic rights as a citizen, Maria stayed away from politics. She just got on with her life. She worked hard and found love when she met Matt McShane. They got married and planned for a normal, quiet, happy life. On 16 August 1976, Maria was in the Step Inn pub in Keady, County Armagh when a bomb exploded. Ostensibly the bomb was planted by the UVF but we now know it was part of the campaign of terror waged by the Glenanne gang, a group infiltrated and controlled by members of British State forces. Two people were killed in that explosion. Up to 20 others were injured and Maria McShane was one of them. She lost an eye in the bombing. Her greatest concern at that time was for her unborn child. Miraculously, that child survived and Gavin McShane became his mother's pride and joy.

Gavin grew into his teenage years and by all accounts he was just a lovely young fellow. He was good craic, he was mad into his hurling and simply enjoyed life. In the cruellest imaginable twist of fate, Gavin was killed by the same forces that had attempted to kill his mother while he was still in her womb. On 18 May 1994, Gavin McShane was with his friend Shane McArdle in a taxi depot in Armagh playing a computer game, when an unmasked gunman, a suspected British State agent, entered the depot, opened fire and killed both boys. The lives of their loved ones changed forever. For Maria, alongside dealing with the unbearable lifelong grief that comes to every parent who has lost a child in such circumstances, it also marked the beginning of a decades long campaign that continued up until the moment she exhaled her last breath.

Like so many other families that were victims of British collusion in Ireland, the McShanes encountered blockages and barriers every step of the road. Those blockages and barriers are still in place. Just as Maria's ability to simply grieve her son was hindered by her need to campaign for truth and justice, so too have her children been unable to simply grieve for their mother in the weeks after her death. Last week, Maria's son Caoinn was in Hillsborough to protest at the arrival of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Yesterday her daughter Alana was in London on a Relatives for Justice delegation to Downing Street to protest at the British Government's despicable attempts to make official what has been always their unofficial policy, that their forces and agents should be permitted to murder Irish citizens with impunity. Maria sadly is no longer with us but her persistent determination in the pursuit of truth and justice clearly has been passed on to another generation.

The Taoiseach last July agreed that he would meet with the family of Gavin McShane to discuss how the Irish Government can assist their campaign. That meeting unfortunately has yet to occur. I appeal to the Minister of State that he encourage the Taoiseach's office to facilitate that meeting as a matter of urgency. I want to use this opportunity to convey my sincere sympathies to Maria's husband, Matt, to Caoinn and Alana and their families on the loss of a great Irish mammy. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

There is a significant crisis within Unionism at the moment. Unionism is now a minority political view in the North of Ireland. This has been the case for the past number of elections but Unionist leaders have still not realised it. If those of a minority political view want to shape the future, they have a responsibility to work with others. Unfortunately, Unionism has not seemed to realise this. Unionists are still relying on a veto which is a remnant of the past. It is the cause of major difficulties on the island of Ireland. It is the cause of the collapse of the Executive in the North and of the political impasse we are experiencing at the moment.

If Unionists want the Union between the North of Ireland and Britain to continue, they have to show Nationalists and republicans that the North works for them. The collapsing of the Executive and the North South Ministerial Council, and the British Government murder amnesty have all shown without a shadow of a doubt that the Northern State does not work for Irish Nationalists. Indeed, an increasing section of Unionism have realised that the state is not working for them either. Unionist leadership is currently pushing Nationalism and some Unionists towards Irish unity.

The level of political self-harm within Unionism is absolutely astounding. The DUP has shown some of the worst political leadership in the whole of Europe over the last years. Remember how we got here. They campaigned for Brexit. They ignored the result in the North of Ireland. They refused Theresa May's deal and backed Boris Johnson in his pursuit of the protocol in the first place. Another example of political self-harm within Unionism is this instinct always to look in the rear-view mirror when they are in a leadership position. They have been completely distracted over the past months by Jim Allister and Jamie Bryson. They have allowed a small section of Unionism to grasp the initiative and set the agenda of the whole Unionist political view.

The major fear Unionism has is that it does not want to get Trimbled. By that I mean that David Trimble went through the same experience; he looked in the rear-view mirror, saw Ian Paisley and saw the negativity that leadership was bringing to their politics at the time and as a result reversed into that isolation as well. One of the major problems we have to get over is the Unionist ability to veto political progress. It has to be finished with. If it is left in place, we are guaranteed to see the fall of the Executive over and over again.

We also have to get rid of British unilateralism. It is causing so much difficulty at the moment. The only way to get rid of it is to get tough with the British Government. I will speak more on this issue later as well. I want to refer to a kerfuffle that is happening in the North of Ireland at the moment regarding language that Congressman Richard Neal used. He used the term "planter" and many Unionists have stated that they are offended by this use of language. Aontú is a republican party. Our republicanism is based on that of Wolfe Tone, of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter being able to be who they are to their full extent without fear or favour of the State. We believe all language should be respectful in all cases. However, it seems to us that there is a competition to see who can be most offended at the moment, especially within Unionism.

As a democrat, I think people have a right to be offended that there is no Executive. I believe people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement have a right to be offended by the fact that there is no North South Ministerial Council at the moment. I would even say that people have a right to be offended by the fact that there are 670,000 in the North of Ireland living in poverty right now, that there are 44,000 people on a housing waiting list and 270,000 people on a hospital waiting list for more than a year. I would be offended that we have a political class still claiming a salary while not participating in an Executive to fix those issues. It is an incredible situation. The refusal by the Unionist leadership before the election to accept a Nationalist First Minister was offensive to many people.

Hundreds of thousands of people will be absolutely offended today by the British decision to introduce the murder amnesty into the North of Ireland. Hundreds of families have had loved ones murdered by British soldiers or proxies in this country, North and South. The Southern Government has done precious little in terms of vindicating their right to justice or truth.

We in Aontú have created a new Bill that would constitute a commission of investigation to investigate British collusion. It would take evidence in this State and allow evidence to be taken from other states and state reports written on collusion to fill in the gaps. People who have suffered because of British collusion are all reaching a certain age and many of them are approaching the end of their lives, so achieving truth and justice for them is urgent. I would welcome it if MLAs in the North of Ireland constituted a similar Bill. If Bills were enacted on both sides of the Border, it would be possible to compel witnesses north and south.

There is an ongoing row between Mr. Jon Boutcher, An Garda and the Minister for Justice over the handover of State files in respect of ongoing investigations into the Glenanne gang and the murder of Mr. Seamus Ludlow. I met the Taoiseach and members of the families of people murdered by the Glenanne gang as far back as Christmas. They were discussing a resolution in respect of some of these files but the files are still not being handed over by An Garda to the people carrying out the investigation. That is a matter we can resolve in this jurisdiction.

The language used by Richard Neal was archaic. I would not have used the word he used, but I believe unionists have used it themselves, including Mr. Peter Robinson on one occasion. I have no doubt that Mr. Neal did not mean to offend in using the word. The US has been a massive friend to this country economically and in underwriting the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement would not have been delivered without the work of people such as Mr. George Mitchell at the time in question. It is worth saying that some American investors are getting cold feet over the fact that the Executive is still suspended in the North. Funds that were necessary to get the companies up and running are not now forthcoming, and some of them are rethinking whether to proceed with their investments.

I want to raise the attack on the human right to life by Mr. Brandon Lewis. The right to life is obviously the most important right that anybody has. It is a devolved issue in the North. Most people in the North have said over and over that it should be decided by the elected representatives there. However, Mr. Lewis is now rolling out some of the most extreme abortion legislation in Europe in the North of Ireland. Abortion is to be allowed for up to 24 weeks for a child without disabilities and right up until birth for a child with disabilities. It is therefore up to 40 weeks for a child with Down's syndrome or a cleft palate. It is incredibly heartbreaking. We should have compassion for and offer supports and protections to both the mother and child. This is a devolved issue, yet the British Government is forcing its measure through against the rules of the Good Friday Agreement. The measure has the support of Sinn Féin and some elements of the SDLP, unfortunately, but nobody in the Irish Government has raised a voice about it. This is startling, not to mention the substantive issue. That what the British Government is doing is against the Good Friday Agreement is a major problem that the Irish Government should be pushing back against.

The protocol is an outcome of Brexit. The checks are a practical protection of the integrity of the two markets. The protocol is the logistical outcome that has to be achieved to make sure Brexit functions. Aontú believes there should be a reduction in the number of checks and they should be made only where necessary. An important point that people forget is that if we were to reduce practically every single check tied to the protocol, a section of unionists would still oppose the protocol. This is because it is not an economic issue for them. They would chop their noses off to spite their faces. For them, it is about the fact that the North is in a different place economically than the rest of their United Kingdom. To the Irish Government, I say we need to be far stronger in defending the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring all the protections are put in place for it. However, we also need to speak to civic society unionists. Business and trade organisations, many of which represent unionist businesses in the North, admit that some of the checks are causing a trade difficulty, but many of them are happy that the North is now in an economic sweet spot in terms of its being able to trade with Britain and the European Union. We need to reach out and sometimes speak over the leadership of unionism to the citizens themselves.

Fáiltím go bhfuil Acht um teangacha ag dul tríd an bParlaimint thall i Londain ag an bomaite. Tá sé dochreidte agus uafásach nach raibh Stormont sásta é a chur i bhfeidhm sa Tuaisceart. Le cúnamh Dé, beidh sé ag dul ar aghaidh go tapa agus ní bheidh níos mó bac sa phróiseas sin.

I believe the Tories and DUP have totalled the Good Friday Agreement and the democratic rights of the people of the North of Ireland. The Irish Government is a co-guarantor of an international agreement. I do not believe it is co-guaranteeing anything at the moment. It is beyond time that it fulfilled its responsibilities. It should be exhausting every single international legal route to make sure this international agreement is fully upheld. It should be seeking the suspension of MLA salaries to ensure no MLAs who are not doing their job will be paid. The Government must harness the full power of the White House and the EU to put pressure on the British Government. We need to see a reconstitution of the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference and push for joint authority while Stormont is collapsed.

Very importantly – the Tánaiste mentioned this in his speech in the North, which I welcomed – we need to look for a legally defined role for the Assembly in achieving or activating an Irish unity poll. Currently, that role is in the hands of the Northern Secretary in Westminster. That is not good enough. We need a legally defined role for the Assembly, the representatives of the people of the North of Ireland, to trigger the Irish unity poll.

I welcome the fact that the language of the Minister for Foreign Affairs has become stronger in recent weeks. There is no doubt that the British Government certainly does not understand subtlety, but the major crisis in the North is happening over and over. The reason, I believe, is that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil still see this as an issue to be managed when it is a crisis, and they still deal at arm's length with, and are still not being strong enough in defence of, the Good Friday Agreement.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this extremely timely and relevant debate. It is such a vast debate that I will not be able to address all the points I would like to make. I will simply focus on the latest row over the implementation of the post-Brexit agreement, known as the Northern Ireland protocol. I welcome the fact that the British foreign secretary, Ms Liz Truss, is visiting Belfast. I am sure she is very grateful to be away from the chaos in Westminster, given what we have been seeing on our television screens and the various reports.

I was very taken by an article by the foreign secretary this morning in The Irish Times. In the article, she lays out a position similar to the one she laid out last week. The tone of the article is welcome, which should be acknowledged, and many of the points are not too unfamiliar, but let us be frank that the article is absolutely laced with contradictions and the sort of revisionism that has sadly become all too familiar among members of a very politically driven British Government at this stage. I would like to refer to a few of the points made. In paragraph 3 of the article, the foreign secretary refers to the need for all three interlocking strands of the Good Friday Agreement "to function successfully". Of course, as has been mentioned umpteen times, we do not have a power-sharing government at Stormont on the basis of cross-community consent. Indeed, this whole sorry Brexit process quite clearly does not have cross-community consent, considering that the majority of people in the North voted against it.

Strong North–South co-operation is now redundant due to the continuing unionist boycott of the North–South institutions, which the British Government did very little to stop. In the same paragraph, the foreign secretary refers to enhanced east–west arrangements between London and Dublin. This is farcical. While it is a reference to something that would be welcome, how many times has the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference met? How many times has the British–Irish Council been attended by the current and previous Prime Ministers? There is no point in paying lip service.

The foreign secretary states, "Respecting these complexities, the Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed with the best of intentions." When I drew down my mortgage, I did not say to my bank manager that I would sign the papers and commit to the payments with the best of intentions; I did so under a legal obligation. It is pretty obvious what would happen if my wife and I were to miss payments. Ms Truss uses the phrase "after 18 months of trying to make it work". Well, I tell you, 18 months of trying very little is what I have seen.

There have been 18 months of continuous threats of unilateral action and invoking Article 16 from this British Government, involving countless ministers and former ministers. The foreign secretary's predecessor as chief negotiator, Lord Frost, has made it his business to wreck this entire process and the agreement he agreed to, signed and said was one of the best offers. Putting those words in a newspaper is an insult to the intelligence of all the good readers of The Irish Times, including me.

The foreign secretary goes on to talk about how some businesses have given up the trade altogether and how the protocol is presenting so many difficulties. The difficulties presented are due to Brexit and to the fact that the British Government in its realms of political intelligence has decided to pursue the hardest possible Brexit. It has continuously gone for the hardest and most politically based objectives through this process. It is not necessarily the protocol that is not working; it is the fact that a party to the protocol continues to look beyond it.

An area where I do agree is that "The fundamental basis for power-sharing remains strong". We welcome the huge election results in Northern Ireland that pave the way for a nationalist First Minister and for the huge soaring middle. That should be reflected on, rather than the voices of a minority of a minority.

Then we go into the area of degrees of concern. Is it the biggest degree of concern for all parties? All parties in Northern Ireland recognise it could be working better, but the majority of parties and of those elected to the Assembly fundamentally believe the protocol is a good thing. No party in Northern Ireland, with the exception of the most extreme people, advocates for the breaking of international law in order to solve the problems.

Then there is a reference to:

... a comprehensive and reasonable solution to deliver on our shared objectives... Our 'green channel' proposal would be backed by a trusted trader scheme to provide the EU with real time commercial data and robust enforcement...

The whole problem is that since the agreement came into force, the EU has not had effective access to data-sharing agreements. With a "trusted trader scheme", we are coming back to alternative arrangements and technological solutions when we see that written down in black and white.

The following is a stark one: the sole preference should be for an agreed solution, but the British Government says it is only a "firm preference". The possibility of breaking international law and acting unilaterally through domestic legislation needs to be taken off the table. Every time we get a speech of warm words or an article meant to be conciliatory it always throws in that sucker punch to the effect that "Well, we'll do what we have to do to get our own way." It is unacceptable in modern diplomacy and grown-up negotiations. The EU has been negotiating trade deals for decades. It knows what it is doing and that responsibilities fall on both parties to all agreements.

In the same paragraph we hear how everything has to come back to the changing of the EU's existing mandate. I keep forgetting because the referendum campaign is so long ago and we have gone through the ideas over and over but I am pretty sure the EU did not come up with Brexit or create this mess that has occupied the hearts and minds of far too many people and caused chaos on this island for over six years. Yet it is always the EU that has to change position and the EU's mandate that is brought into question. It is never the fact that the British Government has gone from winning a referendum by 52% to 48% and talking about never leaving the Single Market, in the words of the current Prime Minister, to going for the hardest possible Brexit. No, it all comes back to the EU and without changes to this mandate we cannot fix the problems. Of course we can fix the problems but the British Government runs away from the most obvious solution of an EU-UK sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, veterinary agreement because it always comes back to the EU and is nothing to do with Brexit and the responsibility therefor.

Reference is made to "drift or delay". How is it that months on from Commissioner Šefčovič's visit to Northern Ireland and the proposition of a detailed paper containing genuine solutions, we finally have a dismissal from the British Government which demands the EU respond within 72 hours? It is farcical to see "drift or delay" referred to.

I could go through this article 17 times but I want to give way to my colleague. The key point I want to make is that the threats of unilateral action are damaging the relationship this foreign secretary pretends to want to protect.

As my colleague said, no one in this House needs reminding but perhaps some in the United Kingdom need to recall that it was the British Government that decided to have a referendum to leave the EU. It was the British Government that decided to have a hard Brexit and to leave the Single Market in this way, that found out the impact that would have on the island of Ireland, that agreed the withdrawal treaty and the protocol, and that brought the relevant instruments through its parliament. It is the British Government that now, in essence, tries to plead ignorance, whether ignorance of the terms it agreed, ignorance that they were likely to be applied, ignorance of the effect that would have on the crucial east-west dimension of the Good Friday Agreement or ignorance that there would be a challenge caused by those actions to the operation of that agreement.

It is not the protocol that causes the challenge to the agreement, as has been maintained; it is and always has been the decision of the British Government to choose the hardest possible Brexit. It is caused by the decision not to explain the impact on Northern Ireland in the course of the referendum, or even, in reality, to acknowledge its existence as an issue. It is caused by the decision to continue to push the extreme positions, as my colleague, Deputy Richmond has said. The hardest possible position, involving the hardest Brexit possible and threats to invoke Article 16, is pushed as a first course. The threats and theatre have brought the British Government to the desperately sad position it is in in the eyes of the international partners it has had. It has decided to play local inter-party transient politics over the commitment of the United Kingdom to its position of co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, or to international law more broadly. The steps taken on legacy, which have been discussed in detail in this House and on which we in the House are united, were a further reflection of this abrogation of responsibility, although we have seen positive steps today in relation to the identity and language Bill in Northern Ireland, which I welcome.

Always in politics we are reaching for dialogue, for compromise and for facilitating each other. That was the essence of the Good Friday Agreement for all parties, and we have had an opportunity for sustained peaceful development on this island as a consequence of those steps towards each other and compromises. Credit is due to all for that, including to the EU which has acted as a guarantor of the agreement and funded many projects of reconciliation and development for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland protocol is a mutually agreed solution to the challenges posed to Northern Ireland by the choice made by the British Government as to the type of Brexit it wanted. It was agreed after long negotiations between the EU and the UK. It protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions and is broadly supported by people and business in Northern Ireland. We have said that in this House and heard in the Good Friday Agreement committee from representatives of business groups and chambers of commerce from Northern Ireland who remind us that huge opportunities come from the protocol and that the practical issues can be and have been worked through.

The then DUP leader, Arlene Foster, in welcoming the trade deal reached between the EU and UK in December 2020, stated that she welcomed the successful conclusion of negotiations. She said it was "the start of a new era in the relationship between the UK and the EU and in Northern Ireland we will want to maximise the opportunities the new arrangements provide for our local economy.” In a further statement, she referenced this as a sensible deal that was almost the most favourable outcome for Northern Ireland. She stated: “Moving forward, we will continue to work to seize the opportunities and address the challenges which arise from the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union”. This statement is no longer available on the DUP website, in my searches in any event. Perhaps it has been deleted. These things do happen. If the position has changed, we have to ask why.

The realities of leaving the Single Market remain. The realities of trade on this island remain. Nothing has changed, neither the rules nor the desire to make it work. The desire to make the post-Brexit relationship work is unchanged. The desire to work out practical problems is unchanged. Consider how the medicines issue has been quietly resolved by the EU with little fanfare in recent weeks. Nothing has changed except that new barriers seem to be found. There is still space for the United Kingdom Government to change.

However, in an article published today in the Daily Express, Arlene Foster says the “protocol has to be fundamentally changed.” As Deputy Richmond mentioned, in The Irish Times today foreign secretary Liz Truss says the protocol is the biggest challenge to the Northern Ireland Executive getting back to work. She says "the problems of the Protocol are baked into its... text”. This is the text agreed by the Government of which she has been a member. It is hard to take seriously. We are moving from obfuscation now to bad faith. The threat that follows in her article today is contained in the statement that “we cannot allow any more drift and delay." Keep in mind that negotiations have been stalled in real terms since February. She states: “Without an Executive and no prospect of one until these concerns can be addressed, we need to provide reassurance to Northern Ireland that the problems with the protocol will be fixed one way or another.She goes on to state:

The UK has a duty to take the necessary decisions to preserve peace and stability. That is why I have announced our intention to introduce legislation in the coming weeks.

It is hard to overstate how irresponsible that position is. It is hard to overstate the bad faith that is the application of internal party politics to free trade on this island. There is still space to change. There is still space to, for example, come closer to the Single Market fold.

There is always more than one way to change. The EU has worked to accommodate the political desires of the United Kingdom. It has found, together, the solution to the decision to have a hard Brexit and to give Northern Ireland the opportunity to trade in the broadest and most constructive way.

It is time now for the United Kingdom to step up to what it used to be - a respectable partner in peace and stability that worked towards the Good Friday Agreement and guaranteed its stability, and committed to the rule of law and international law. There is the space to come back yet. Although the British Government may not be listening, I hope there are those in Whitehall and in other parties, and perhaps Tories yet to come, who can remember and will bring the United Kingdom back into the fold of being an international partner of peace and stability. I look forward to that day of renewed partnership, but we have to get over this day of obfuscation and bad faith first.

The British Government recently stated that it will introduce legislation in Westminster in the coming weeks that will alter what it agreed in the protocol. The protocol is part of an international agreement that it signed with the EU in an effort, they both stated, to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Unilaterally altering the protocol will have the opposite effect. It will undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Businesses are benefiting from the significant opportunities afforded by the protocol to create jobs and attract investment through unique access to the British and EU markets. The majority of MLAs returned to Stormont after the recent assembly election support retaining the protocol.

The British Government should stop creating further instability, end the threats to take unilateral action and work constructively with the EU to find solutions to fix any problems. It is handing the DUP a veto on progress. The DUP is using the protocol as an excuse not to enter power-sharing and has blocked the appointment of a new speaker to the assembly, preventing it from releasing funds already in place to help people with the cost-of-living crisis. Abrogating an international treaty, as US Congressman Richard Neal stated yesterday, is not only bad faith, it sends a considerably wrong message.

As regards legacy protocols, it seems that international agreements do not garner much, if any, respect from this British Government. Its most recent legacy proposals are yet another attempt to bin an international agreement to which it signed up, in this case at Stormont House in 2014. These proposals are another cruel blow to victims and their families, some of whom have been awaiting truth and justice for more than five decades. It is an attempt by the British state to pull down the shutters on truth and justice. The British Government is effectively attempting to introduce an amnesty through the back door for British state forces, intelligence services and agents who murdered Irish citizens during the conflict in Ireland. These proposals are opposed by victims, their families and political parties. The Irish Government must stand with the families in their campaigns for truth and justice.

Looking back at the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement or, more to the point, the many aspects of the agreement that have never been implemented, should we be so surprised at the pandering of the British Government to hardline unionism and its laissez-faire attitude to international agreements?: The Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10 April 1998. It has just passed its 24th year. That period could have been used to fulfil the significant expectations generated by the agreement and its endorsement in referendums North and South. However, 24 years on, it is very frustrating that a bill of rights - a central provision of the agreement - has never been implemented. A bill of rights was a central provision of the agreement. A recent survey carried out by the Human Rights Consortium at Queens University Belfast indicated significant cross-community support for a bill of rights, with 78% of participants backing such a proposal. Attempts to create a bill of rights, however, have been dogged by delays, as well as efforts to minimise the scope and enforcement. In early 2020, an assembly committee was established under the New Decade, New Approach agreement to look at finally delivering on a bill of rights. As part of this process, an expert panel of external consultants was to be appointed to advise the committee. However, the DUP has continually prevented the appointment of the panel, effectively grinding the process to a halt once again.

Another integral part of the Good Friday Agreement committed the British Government to taking resolute action to promote the Irish language and to seek to remove, where possible, restrictions that would discourage or work against the maintenance and development of the language. Further to these provisions, a specific commitment to an Irish language Act was to be introduced by the British Government as part of the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006. This, too, has never been implemented. It was again committed to in New Decade, New Approach. With the DUP again failing to live up to what it had agreed to, the British Government promised to deliver on the commitment to an Irish language Act with accelerated passage by October 2021. That date passed without delivery or any credible defence from the British Government. With the DUP refusing to nominate a deputy First Minister and form an Executive, we hear once again that the British Government plans to legislate for an Irish language Act imminently. Time will tell but if Acht na Gaeilge remains undelivered, that will represent another serious breach of yet another agreement by the DUP and the British Government.

The North of Ireland is being held hostage to turbulence in the British political structure. The recent Stormont assembly election has, unfortunately, returned Brexit to the political agenda through a row in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol. This comes against a backdrop of the protocol being critical to post-Brexit continuity, stability and security of business on the island of Ireland. It is the mechanism agreed between the EU and the UK to protect the all-Ireland economy, the Good Friday Agreement and the integrity of the EU Single Market. Its unique arrangements are designed to avoid a physical border on the island of Ireland. It forms part of the withdrawal agreement and, as it has been ratified by the EU and the UK, it is a legally binding international treaty.

The protocol applies exclusively to the island of Ireland and came into force in January 2021. As per the withdrawal agreement, the EU and the UK established a joint committee with responsibility for its overall implementation and application. It is jointly chaired by Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission, and the minister of state at the Cabinet Office.

All in all, this has thrown the delicate quadrangular relationship between Brussels, London, Dublin and Belfast into disarray. Uncertainty and apprehension about the unravelling of the arrangement and what it will mean for the future of Northern Ireland is everywhere. The most pressing question in Belfast is rightly in respect of the restoration of the power-sharing institutions. The function or otherwise of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive has been firmly linked to the protocol part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement by the DUP, which blocked the appointment of a speaker in the absence of decisive action on the issue by the UK Government. The clock is now ticking on a six-month deadline, after which the entire edifice will collapse and, in theory, a general election must be called. The general expectation is that it will not be until we reach the business end of this deadline in the autumn that significant progress might happen, although it is hoped that it will not take that long.

That said, in the wake of the announcement by Liz Truss on Tuesday that London intends to legislate to scrap parts of the protocol unilaterally, there has been a softening of language from the DUP, which may provide the landing zone, to use the new phrase du jour, needed for at least a partial solution. It is notable that when he was interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster last week, the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson called for decisive action, which was cited as the prerequisite for re-entering the political institutions. In full, however, he emphasised the need to first see the detail of the legislation. That points towards the possibility of a staggered solution that would permit the election of a speaker and, therefore, the restoration of the assembly. This would be only the starting point, however. The North would still be without a full and functioning Executive and there is much to be done to calm tensions and repair the relationship, political and otherwise, damaged by this crisis, as well as to address the reality that a substantial section of unionism feels alienated and that its identity has been undermined by the protocol. So far, so febrile, yet the likely next step will be "unspectacular and rather familiar at this point", according to Katy Hayward, professor of political sociology at Queens University Belfast.

Throughout the Brexit debacle, the consistent cry from business has been for clarity. There is an appetite for what would effectively be a stock-taking exercise by the technical teams from the UK and the EU to establish exactly where things stand.

I am glad to have the opportunity to get in a few words in this timely debate. As Deputies are aware, there is a lot at stake at present in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. It is clear that the protocol and the legacy issues are all currently being discussed.

All of us need to work extremely hard together and be united in ensuring that we maintain peace and protect the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit was a fierce disappointment which upset the harmony that existed between Ireland and England. Being nearest neighbours, Ireland and England benefited from that but, sadly, Brexit was Britain's decision and the route that was taken. It is having an effect on our economy and the work we do. There are severe delays and losses in bringing goods and services back and forth between Ireland and England.

We certainly need to get the Stormont Assembly and the other institutions up and running again. Following the recent election, the unionists are not happy campers. We need to bring them along and ensure we do not go back to the rancour we had in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. We need the people in the North to work and we must allow them to do their work like any normal people. We need to ensure the survivors and victims get satisfaction and not the amnesty being proposed by England. We all need to thank Representative Richard Neal and the US delegation for taking an interest by visiting us yesterday and going up to the North today. He is doing whatever he can to ensure the Good Friday Agreement and all the institutions are kept in place.

I am glad to be able to say cúpla focal faoin scéal seo. The people of Northern Ireland are quite bewildered. They went to the polls a couple of weeks ago. I met some of them at the Fleadh Cheoil Thiobraid Árann two weekends ago and they are asking why they got up and voted. They voted for nationalists and the Assembly is not sitting. There is more to this than meets the eye. There is whole clamour around a border poll. I am well known as a republican. My late dad fought in the War of Independence. He spent quite some time in prison and suffered, as many people did. We do not have any monopoly on that.

The statements - even on the night of the election Deputy McDonald said we must have a Border poll – are going faster than we think. We must make haste slowly here because we must bring the people with us. Ní neart go cur le chéile. We had intransigence from the unionist side for long enough. We now have Brexit and it seems it has not registered with some people that Brexit happened. A sovereign people voted to leave the EU. I remember, as leader of our group, attending late-night meetings in Government Buildings with the then Taoiseach, the current Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar. When we asked about the Border we were told there would be no borders. I remember asking about the hard border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, which I used to pass through regularly. We put our heads in the sand and said this would not happen. The then Taoiseach told me there might be a border in Bali or someplace else. These are the problems.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, knows, there are huge problems with industry and imports and exports. There are huge issues to be dealt with. The latest stalemate or crash-landing may cause damage the Good Friday Agreement. I salute the architects of the agreement, including the late Martin McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, a former colleague of mine, Fr. Alec Reid from Nenagh in Tipperary, and the many others who worked very hard to secure it. The late Dr. Paisley and Martin McGuinness got together. We all have to get together and do it in the spirit of the meitheal and of forgiveness, trust and respect.

My family knew Aidan McAnespie who was killed at Aughnacloy. He worked for one of my brothers-in-law. We cannot just wash away those events or forget the past and throw a thick cloak over it. There needs to be reconciliation but there must be a good deal of counselling, research and respectful engagement with and listening to the people who were involved to get past the impasse and move forward. It is of no one's benefit to have the institutions in Northern Ireland closed down. Above all, the electorate will grow very tired of that very soon. Some Deputies asked why MLAs are getting paid? That is a valid question if they are not going to sit.

One of the great advantages of the Good Friday Agreement is that it changed the way people in Northern Ireland viewed national sovereignties. Prior to that, the majority of people in Northern Ireland viewed national sovereignties in a very binary way. They saw themselves as being either Irish or British. The Good Friday Agreement enabled that to be changed and with the passage of time, people in Northern Ireland saw themselves as Irish and British, others saw themselves as Northern Irish and European, or Irish and European. That was a great achievement. What it did, as Professor John O’Brennan said, was it transformed national sovereignties in Northern Ireland from being something threatening to something that was viewed as being complementary.

Unfortunately, Brexit changed all that. Prior to the Brexit vote, no consideration was given to the impact Brexit was going to have on the Good Friday Agreement. Whatever about changing the perception people in Northern Ireland had about national sovereignties, the subsequent decision by people who advocated Brexit to go for the hardest form of Brexit had very serious consequences for the workings of the Good Friday Agreement. That was recognised in this House. I recall we debated the issue in 2016 after the Brexit vote. It was only when negotiations commenced between the UK Government and the European Union in November 2017 or thereabouts that the reality of Brexit met the fantasy of Brexit. For once, there was a recognition by the British Government and the Brexiteers that this was going to be much more complicated than they had thought. The immediate response at that time by those who advocated Brexit was to try to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. The charge used was that the Good Friday Agreement was unsustainable or it had served its use. One Brexiteer referred to it as being a bribe to two sides, to the extremes, in Northern Ireland. The original policy was to try to undermine the Good Friday Agreement in order to get around the obstacle that it posed to the type of Brexit that Brexiteers wanted.

Fortunately at that time, Britain had a Prime Minister, Theresa May, who prioritised peace and the Good Friday Agreement. She put forward a deal that was rejected. The Prime Minister was changed and the new Prime Minister told the unionist politicians of Northern Ireland he would do one thing and then did the complete opposite. We need to appreciate that is what actually happened. The protocol that was entered into was a reaction and an unnecessary consequence of Brexit but it was agreed to by the British Government.

We now fast-forward to recent times. The current argument being made by those who advocate Brexit is that the protocol is undermining the Good Friday Agreement. The cynicism and irony of that charge cannot be overestimated. The same people who in 2017 were saying that the Good Friday Agreement was unsustainable and unnecessary are now saying the protocol that was entered into is damaging the Good Friday Agreement. Let us recognise from the outset that Brexit itself damaged the Good Friday Agreement and the consequences of Brexit probably also damaged the Good Friday Agreement. However, that does not mean that we have to abandon and sacrifice peace on this island and all we have achieved in order to facilitate those who come to this with a Brexiteer mentality.

I believe the reason the British Government has now sought to present the Good Friday Agreement as being under threat by the protocol is that it is trying to gain support in the United States for what it is seeking to do. It knows the Good Friday Agreement is recognised in the United States as being a very important international agreement.

It is great that the United States has allowed itself to assume the position of a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. However, the British Government is now trying to say the protocol it entered into is damaging the Good Friday Agreement when before that it never showed any consideration for it.

We need to be careful in what we are doing. We need to send out a clear message that the protocol will not be changed or renegotiated. However, what can be done is that the manner by which it is implemented can be changed. The Irish Government and the European Union have sought to do that but, unfortunately, that does not fit within the political agenda of the current British Government.

What is the reason the current British Government wants to get away from the protocol or wishes to raise it as a political issue? It is not out of concern for unionism and unionist politicians. We know that because it threw unionists under a bus a number of years ago when it signed the protocol. The reason it is doing this is twofold. First, it suits the political agenda of certain individuals within the United Kingdom Government to have a situation where Brexit is still a burning issue and attacking the European Union still serves a political purpose it has. Second, and this is probably a more legitimate purpose, maybe there is a proposal and plan to try to preserve the union because of the threat posed by Scottish independence. I do not know but the Government needs to be clear in its response.

The summation by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan is a good chronology of what happened during the Brexit process. We must look back at what has happened in the peace process in order to understand where we are. I was particularly pleased, as the co-convenor of the Irish-US parliamentary friendship group, to welcome, along with Senator Malcolm Byrne, the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle, US Congressman Richie Neal and his delegation this week because it allows us to reflect on the peace process.

The peace process is built on three fundamental principles. The first was the statement by the British Government in 1990 that it had no selfish or strategic economic interest in the North. That was hugely important because it allowed the communities in the North to deal with the British Government and for the Irish Government to deal with the British Government. It allowed the second principle, the principle of consent, to emerge. This is the idea that we in the South were willing to understand that there was a majority in favour of the Union in the North. The principle of consent was one of the developments that allowed us to replace Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and to believe in that principle. The third principle was the principle of parity of esteem, the idea that both communities should be seen and respected, and that there should be no tyranny of the majority, as exercised by the previous Stormont regime. The three principles were the ideas of no selfish or strategic interest, consent and parity of esteem.

Unfortunately, the Brexit process and the actions of the British Government have torn up many of those principles. Throughout the Brexit process, it has used its selfish and strategic interest and the North to negotiate. The Irish Government has been good at calling that out but we need to continue to do so. The principle of consent was clearly breached when the majority of people in the North voted against Brexit, yet their constitutional arrangements will change as a result of it.

The last issue is the idea of parity of esteem. The reason I raise it is that it brings us to the current impasse. There was no majority cross-community consent for Brexit and there is no cross-community consent for the protocol but both came about because of the failure of the British Government to do the hard work, have a long-term plan and engage with the issues in the North in a meaningful, as previous British administrations had.

Other Deputies may have been critical of or may have demonised the unionist response. Let me take a different action because I believe the two large parties in the North should have done far more in the past 15 years to build greater community consent. I will not demonise the unionist community. I will do something else. I will invite it to work with us in the South on how we share this island. I may want that process to end in a united Ireland, whereas unionists may want to protect their traditions and remain in the United Kingdom. In the meantime, we can work together to share this island, protect unionist traditions and ensure we can control our own destiny.

Unionists are in an abusive relationship with the British Government, which has let them down repeatedly. This week, the British Government, in tearing up another principle, has taken unilateral action in order to govern Northern Ireland from Westminster, which nobody on this island wants to see. It has taken unacceptable action on victims and on the Protocol and while I welcome the Irish language Act, it is another unilateral action by the British Government. The unionist community is open to work with us and I encourage it to do that through the shared island initiative.

Before becoming a Member of this House, I was a teacher. Every morning, I would begin by doing a short Irish lesson. I will give this Chamber a short Irish lesson. The word "Tory" is a derivative of the old Irish word "toraidhe", which means robbers. I was watching Sky News earlier and I saw the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, grovelling. He was on his feet defending a party in 10 Downing Street. That is not the real issue, however. For so many people on this island, regardless of what tradition they come from, the real issue is that Mr. Johnson is robbing the young people of Northern Ireland, unionists, republicans and youngsters with no political allegiance, of the bright-light future the 1998 Good Friday Agreement paved for them. I will elaborate on that. To talk of dismantling protocols, introducing legacy and reconciliation legislation and delivering on Brexit, as the British Government repeatedly does, is to continue that abusive relationship from Westminster all the way to the Six Counties in Northern Ireland and it is letting them down.

Only a few weeks ago, when the election there was in full swing, Deputy McAuliffe and I, along with many colleagues in Fianna Fáil, travelled up to canvas with our colleagues in our sister party, the SDLP. We met young people on the streets of Newry who do not feel shackled to their past. Their parents may identify as nationalist and their great-grandfather might have been unionist but they do not feel shackled to the past. They are talking about issues such as climate change and marriage equality. They are talking about language rights and all the issues that young people should be inspired to stand up and fight for, but every action that I have seen coming from Boris Johnson recently, insofar as Northern Ireland is concerned, robs them of a bright future that the Good Friday Agreement paved for them.

I will drill down on some of those issues. The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would offer immunity to those deemed to have co-operated with the independent commission on reconciliation and information recovery. It would stop further inquests and civil actions relating to the Troubles. That is wrong. Victimhood and loss belongs to a family or an individual and to deny people the right to justice with a stroke of a pen or the enactment of legislation is unfathomable. The British Government needs to be pushed back on that. The message that must be voiced repeatedly by the Irish Government, in unison with our partners in Europe, is that this legislation is absolutely unacceptable. It does the opposite of delivering on reconciliation.

The objective of the Government at all times should be to support the parties. No matter what we might say and hear and what political rivalries we have, we support parties that are willing to go into government and form an Executive in Northern Ireland to rule, govern and deliver for their people. The objective of the Government should at all times be to uphold and defend the Good Friday Agreement. The Northern Ireland protocol is a breach of the co-operative spirit that the Good Friday Agreement was supposed to instil in terms of both Governments working together.

If I can speak on the tourism brief on which I am my party's spokesman, the measures Boris Johnson's Government is proposing to introduce to curb migration and illegal immigration into his country might work in the Dover context where inflatables land on the shore day after day but what has been designed for Dover does not work for Derry. The British Government needs to rethink what it is doing. A multibillion euro tourism industry is ready to flourish as we come out of Covid. We will soon see tour buses turn around at the Border because it will not be worth the hassle for German and French tourists on a one-week tour of Ireland to cross it and they will remain down here. That, too, will be a retrograde step. What has been designed for Dover will not work for Derry or the border with the North. Boris Johnson may not admit it but he is slowly trying to reimpose a border that all of us in this House have been striving to dismantle for decades.

I will finish by saying that the flag behind the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is an embracing one. The orange in the flag stands for unionism. Many of us in this House may be from a different tradition but we are willing to cede some of our old loyalties and speak with unionists as we seek to unite Ireland in a new way.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak in this important debate.

The legacy proposals put forward by the British Government in Westminster last week were a shocking attempt to cover up the wrongdoings carried out by the British state in the North and can only be described as an insult to the people of Northern Ireland.

It is clear the proposals put forward on the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill were not about delivering justice, truth or peace for victims of the Troubles and their families, who have waited decades for answers. It is clearly about taking access away in order to protect Britain. The model Bill team, made up of researchers who have been looking at human rights compliance solutions to the legal and political challenges regarding Northern Ireland's past have agreed this Bill will not deliver for victims and survivors. Not only that but they have also deemed the Bill unworkable and in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and international law. We must take this very seriously.

"Derry Girls" was mentioned earlier today and it seems we all watched and were moved by the series finale, which so eloquently captured the emotions surrounding and the significance of the Good Friday Agreement. The episode was a great reminder of the importance of the agreement for many people in this Chamber and across the island who were a bit out of touch with what goes on in the North. There is no doubt peace must be protected and advanced.

Unfortunately, what the Good Friday Agreement fails to fully recognise is Britain's role in the hurt and the violence and trauma it caused in the North. Watching recent debates in Westminster, it seems this role is still being ignored and denied. Westminster seems to see itself as a neutral observer whose role is to go in and sort out the conflict in the North. There is a serious misunderstanding and ignorance in this; those in Westminster fail to recognise the fact that not only are they not innocent observers but they are the perpetrators of much of the violence and the conflict originated from their occupation of this island in the first place.

The British have inflicted pain after pain on the people of the North and they continue to do so with this legislation. With help from the model Bill team in Northern Ireland, I will outline some of the ways in which the proposed Bill is a breach of the Good Friday Agreement and serves only to cause further pain to the victims and survivors in the North. The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would end all ongoing inquests, despite the fact these inquests are delivering results. This is not acceptable. All promised inquests deserve the chance for legal mechanisms to discover the truth. It is shocking that such processes, with a clear human rights approach that is delivering results, would be stopped. In an incredible observation, the model Bill team has queried whether part of the reason for introducing this Bill is that existing mechanisms are working too well in exposing past human rights abuses. It seems Britain is trying to protect itself from the damning findings of these inquiries.

In place of inquiries, the Bill provides for direct Government control over the establishment and operation of all proposed mechanisms, and the delegated powers memorandum makes explicit the intention to override devolved institutions in order to achieve the delivery of this policy. It is clear the British Government is looking for full and complete control over the narrative of what happened in the North because it does not like light being shed on the terrible crimes committed in its name.

The proposals in the Bill for oral history and academic research on the conflict appear to be designed to provide legal and political cover rather than an accurate account of events. This is extremely concerning and incompatible with academic ethics, independence, rigour and integrity. We cannot let the narrative of Irish history be controlled and determined by the British the way it has so often in the past. It is evident the British Government is egotistically more interested in its own appearance than in giving victims the information and closure they need. Let us not beat around the bush, that is the Bill's main aim.

The proposed Bill would also directly limit the ability of people in the North to challenge alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights in Northern Ireland courts. This is completely unacceptable and the Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot stand by while this goes ahead. I take this opportunity to urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure this Bill does not progress any further in Westminster. Breaches of international law must be taken very seriously and it is our job to ensure the people in the North are protected from this happening.

In the time left I will speak about the protocol. It is clear the protocol, like everything else, is being used to achieve British aims and Ireland is at the crux. Everything we hear about the protocol indicates it is not a hindrance to business and that businesses will actually benefit from it. There may be some difficulties with imports from the UK but businesses will benefit in the long run. It seems businesses are happy enough with it going ahead.

The British foreign secretary, Ms Liz Truss, is quoted today on the RTÉ website as saying the protocol causes political instability, so it seems the British Government is more concerned about political instability rather than instability for business. The British, once again, are using the North as a way to further their own political ends, and that is what they intend to do. We must oppose such efforts and shine a light on them at all times. That means standing up and fighting for the protocol and against the collapsing of the Assembly over the protocol. That is vital.

The American delegation has been here and there is a relationship with the British, who are trying to influence the Americans by speaking about the protocol's value and impact on the Good Friday Agreement. The British approach to what is going on in the North must be called out and challenged. The British cannot be allowed to get away with this. As usual, they are using the North to further their own ends and political agenda. We should be trying to counter that as far as possible. We are concerned about Brexit's effects but we must keep an eye on the inquiries and the Irish language Act. We must pursue those as well. They are vital. Regardless of Brexit, they will have to be put in place as well. We must ensure they continue.

Tá áthas orm a rá agus a fháil amach gur foilsíodh an Bille aitheantais agus teanga inniu i dTeach na dTiarnaí i Londain. I am really happy the identity and language Bill has been introduced to the House of Lords. We wish that safe and successful passage as soon as possible. Many Deputies raised it and is ábhar an-tábhachtach é seo. No language is a threat to anybody. Tá teangacha ag an mBreatain amhail an Choirnis, an Bhreatnais, an Mhanainnis agus Gaeilge na hAlban freisin agus tá aitheantas á thabhairt aici don Ghaeilge i dTuaisceart Éireann. Ní bagairt d’aon duine é seo. Language is never a threat. Unfortunately, there are language issues in various parts of the European Union as well. I bring the message wherever I can that it is never a threat.

De bharr na staire, na tíreolaíochta agus stádas Thuaisceart Éireann, caithfear freagraí ar leith a bheith againn do na dúshláin atá os comhair Thuaisceart Éireann. Caithfear comhpháirtí a bheith againn agus muid ag dearadh na bhfreagraí sin. Is é an comhpháirtí sin ná Rialtas na Breataine. Níl an chomhpháirtíocht sin sochar faoi láthair ach ní féidir léi teip a bheith uirthi.

Táimid tar éis a bheith tríd amanna deacra ach d’éiríomar i gcónaí trí na tréimhsí deacra sin. D’éiríomar agus d’éirigh le pobal an Tuaiscirt ach go háirithe. Níl aon dabht ach gur féidir linn na buaicphointí a bheith againn arís ach chun bheith soiléir, tá imní dhomhain ar Rialtas na hÉireann maidir le gníomhartha Rialtas na Breataine leis na seachtainí anuas. Caithfidh mé bheith an-soiléir faoi sin.

Tá an caidreamh idir an dá stát anseo i bhfad níos leithne ná an caidreamh atá idir an dá rialtas áfach. Tá ár naisc deimhin agus leathan tríd an mBreatain Mhór go léir. Tá nasc bunúsach idir Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór. Is comhpháirtí nádúrtha muid i réimsí gan líon. Is beag duine nach bhfuil gaol nó cara acu sa Bhreatain Mhór. Tá na naisc seo idir dhaoine i gcroílár chaidreamh an dá stát.

Sna blianta i ndiaidh Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta, tháinig an caidreamh sin idir an dá stát chun buaicphointí nua dearfacha. Is cuimhin leis a lán daoine na híomhánna beoga a tháinig ó chuairt na Banríona Éilis go hÉirinn i 2011 agus an fháilte a cuireadh roimh an Uachtarán Mícheál D. Ó hUigínn i rith a chuairte stáit go dtí an Ríocht Aontaithe i 2014.

Tá an leibhéal páirtnéireachta sin de dhíth orainn arís, go háirithe ina dhiaidh na Breatimeachta, chun an caidreamh eadrainn a athnuachan. Táimid ag iarraidh fíor-pháirtnéireachta idir an tAontas Eorpach agus an Ríocht Aontaithe.

Ar Chomhairle Slándála na Náisiún Aontaithe, tá Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór ag obair le chéile. Tá comhoibriú déanta ag an Aontas Eorpach agus ag an Ríocht Aontaithe maidir leis an Úcráin ar an gComhairle Slándála chomh maith. Feictear go soiléir go bhfuil an fhéidearthacht sin ann dúinn go léir. Ach bunófar an caidreamh láidir idir an dá Rialtas ar mhuinín agus ar mheas eadrainn go léir. Is fada ón mbunús sin iad roinnt de na ráitis agus gníomhartha atá ag teacht ón Rialtas i Londain le déanaí, ach caithfimid leanúint ar aghaidh ag cur in iúl don Rialtas sin an tábhacht a bhaineann leis an sórt caidrimh sin atá bunaithe ar mheas agus ar mhuinín.

I will speak on some of the very important issues raised in the debate. The Stormont House Agreement is the agreed way forward to address the legacy of the past. It is the product of difficult compromises. The agreement was made with the intention of securing the end to violence that was delivered by the Good Friday Agreement. These compromises were made on the understanding that all sides would adhere to the agreements reached. As former Senator Gordon Wilson said, and he has already been invoked in the Chamber, compromise is not giving in, it is maturity.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill represents a unilateral abandonment of the Stormont House Agreement. This new legislation introduced to deal with the legacy of the past is not the act of a partner. The publication of the Bill and its contents have profoundly shocked and angered many of the families of the victims of the Troubles. All of the Northern Ireland parties have rejected it. Speaking in the Chamber last year, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said the Government is committed to helping all those who lost loved ones during the Troubles and who seek truth and justice to find it. I want families to know the commitment of the Irish Government has not wavered. The Irish Government will continue to advocate for truth, justice, the rule of law and empathy with each other's pain. The protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the hard-won gains of the peace process are always our primary concerns. This is precisely what the protocol was designed to do in the difficult circumstances created by the UK's withdrawal from the EU. It is an integral part of an international agreement negotiated, agreed and ratified by the British Government with the EU. International agreements entered in good faith simply cannot be unilaterally disapplied.

I remain in regular engagement with my counterparts throughout the EU and I thank them for their solidarity and support. The European Union remains absolutely united in its approach to Northern Ireland and its commitment to peace in Northern Ireland. My clear conclusion from my engagements with my counterparts and senior European Union officials is that the EU is focused on making the protocol work and addressing the genuine concerns that people such as Maroš Šefčovič have heard raised by people in Northern Ireland on some aspects of the protocol. The European Union proposals introduced to ensure the continued long-term supply of medicines from Britain to Northern Ireland are a prime example of how the EU is taking a solutions-focused approach and not an ideology-focused approach when addressing the protocol. The European Union is not trying to punish anyone. It is not being ideological. It is being practical in trying to deliver what the protocol promises. The protocol does not damage Northern Ireland's economy. Ask businesses and they will explain why. It creates genuine opportunity, as the voices of business have been saying. There are historically high levels of investment in Northern Ireland. These are helping to counter some of the difficulties we acknowledge have been realised because of Brexit and the protocol.

Unilateral action jeopardises all of these positives. It undermines confidence in Northern Ireland's economy and is politically destabilising. The EU stands ready to talk to the UK at any time and remains fully committed to working jointly with the UK to reach solutions for the genuine issues of concern for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland. The British Government must step back from the proposals it announced last week. It is the third time it has announced a version of this. It must have further engagement with the EU in the spirit of dialogue and partnership. The uncertainty caused by this constant stream of announcements from London is deeply damaging to investment and business in Northern Ireland. Who has not met someone involved in business for whom certainty is the most important consideration? This is what is required in Northern Ireland. The British Government would do very well to look at the best interests of Northern Ireland and not any other interests.

Other legislation being introduced by the British Government is also very disruptive to people on the island. The introduction of an electronic travel authorisation scheme for cross-Border journeys could cause considerable disruption to tens of thousands of people who cross the Border every day who are not Irish or British. We want to work in partnership with the British Government on this to reach solutions. I have had meetings with my counterparts and a lot of work is going on at official and political level to solve this issue. The UK's human rights legislation threatens to move away from the role of the European Court of Human Rights in Northern Ireland. It is an essential component of the Good Friday Agreement. It is tragic because the role of the European Court of Human Rights has instilled confidence in Northern Ireland's political, policing and judicial structure over the past 24 years. Britain was one of the key voices, along with Ireland, in the establishment of the Council of Europe. We must keep reminding our British friends of the importance of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the legislation that has flowed from it.

It is vital there is a functioning Executive and assembly in Northern Ireland so the voices of the people can be heard on all issues. The Government will support the elected members of Northern Ireland in forming a government. The challenges are not insurmountable. They required the British Government not to take unilateral action not only in connection with the protocol but also with the Good Friday Agreement. It is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. It is not up to one co-guarantor to make statements about the Good Friday Agreement and the problems it sees. It is up to everybody to work together and we can solve these problems.

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