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Northern Ireland

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 23 June 2022

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Ceisteanna (93)

John Brady


93. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the Government's response to the decision by the British Government to introduce unilateral legislation that will undermine the Northern Irish protocol; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32921/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I ask the Minister to provide an update regarding the Government's response to the decision by the British Government to move unilaterally to introduce legislation that effectively tries to tear up the Irish protocol and jeopardises the Good Friday Agreement.

The Government has been very clear in its response to the British Government's decision to introduce legislation which, if enacted, would disapply core elements of the protocol on Northern Ireland and breach international law. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and I, along with all other Ministers, have expressed our deep disappointment and concern at the British approach. Far from fixing anything, the UK Government's legislation would create a whole new set of uncertainties and damage relationships within Northern Ireland, across our islands, between our Governments, and between the UK and the EU and its member states.

The British Government's actions undermine the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. Partnership, vision and compromise delivered the Good Friday Agreement. Partnership, vision and compromise are necessary now to get beyond these current difficulties. The British Government's approach is also contrary to the views of the majority of people and businesses in Northern Ireland. They want predictability and stability. They want the UK to work with the EU to jointly agree solutions in respect of their genuine concerns.

Furthermore, at a time when we should all be supporting and respecting international law, it is disheartening to see the UK's international reputation and its standing as a strong voice on the rule of law being undermined deliberately. I made these views known directly to the British Government, including the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, when I spoke to her last on 13 June. I have engaged extensively on this issue with my EU counterparts and with Commission Vice-President Šefčovič. It is clear that the EU's commitment to Northern Ireland is undiminished and member states are united in their strong opposition to the UK's unilateral action. The EU remains ready and willing to talk to the UK about finding joint solutions so people and businesses in Northern Ireland can benefit from the unique opportunities that the protocol presents. I urge the British Government to step back from this unilateral approach and engage in good faith discussions with the EU.

It has to be said that the British Government has deliberately set out to break international law. It is one of only two European countries prepared to deliberately flout international law, the other, of course, being Russia. Its decision to act unilaterally to engage in reckless and shameful acts on the Irish protocol is an assault on the Good Friday Agreement, and these are attacks which are largely driven by the nefarious internal politics of the Tory party. Boris Johnson's approach to the protocol is driven by the need to fend off potential leadership challenges within his own political party. To do so, he has entered into an unholy pact with the most right-wing and reactionary elements within his party and the DUP. We in this House have to remain very focused and united in our condemnation and our agreement that this is right. We must defend the Irish protocol and also the Good Friday Agreement. We need to remain focused and united in our approach.

I want to use this opportunity to try to speak directly to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. I want to say to them that we in the Irish Government and, I can assure them, in the EU also, within the European Commission, want to respond to their legitimate concerns in regard to how the protocol is implemented and the need to make a clear distinction between goods that are staying within the United Kingdom, travelling from Great Britain into Northern Ireland and being purchased and consumed there. I believe there is a landing zone here, if there was to be good faith on both sides in terms of approaching a negotiation with a view to finding a common landing ground which would involve compromise on both sides, compromise that I believe the EU has already shown and is willing to continue to show.

The problem now is that we have legislation published which asks of the EU things that the British Government knows the EU cannot accept, and effectively sets aside the protocol and disapplies it deliberately. That cannot be the basis of negotiation. What is needed now is for the British Government to make a decision to step back and to actually try to rebuild some trust with Ireland and with the EU. In my view, it is possible to solve a significant amount of the issues that have been raised, predominantly by the Unionist community and business leaders in Northern Ireland, in terms of how we approach this issue in the future.

I thank the Minister and I totally agree with what he has said. Indeed, it has to be said that Unionist leaders are out of sync, they are out of touch, with ordinary people in the North and what they view needs to happen and must happen. Yesterday, as the Minister will be aware, a coalition of 170 groups from across civil society in the North described Boris Johnson's plans to replace the Human Rights Act, which is supported by 84% of the population of the North, as a violation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is yet another example of the British Government reneging on its commitment to the peace process. It is another instance of a Tory agenda designed to continually erode the rights of citizens in the North. We in this House must remain unified, along with our European colleagues and with the support of the United States, in offering the strongest possible opposition to all of these illegal actions by the British Government, which endanger the peace process, threaten our economic well-being and continually erode the rights of citizens in the North.

It is important to call out what is happening in an open and blunt way. The approach towards political stability and maintaining that in Northern Ireland post the Good Friday agreement, for nearly 25 years now, has been based on partnership and trust between the British and Irish Governments, when it was needed, to provide a platform and a foundation to help the parties agree to compromise positions on awkward issues and find a way forward. That partnership is absent right now and has been for quite some time. We have seen that in terms of legacy legislation, we have seen it in the context of the Human Rights Act and we are seeing it in respect of the protocol linked to Brexit.

It is taking us in the wrong direction in terms of relationships on this island, between these islands and between the UK and the EU. I hope the British Government will reconsider that approach because it is taking us to a place where, certainly, we do not want to go. It is going to make matters worse rather than solve problems on this island, I am afraid.