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Dublin: 0 °C Wednesday 21 March, 2018

Prominent figures from Northern Ireland write open letter to the Taoiseach

“The fact that the majority of voters in the north of Ireland voted to remain will not be ignored,” the open letter says.

Boxer Michael Conlan (left-hand side) and soccer player James McClean (right).
Boxer Michael Conlan (left-hand side) and soccer player James McClean (right).
Image: Photojoiner/PA Images

AROUND 200 INFLUENTIAL figures have written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to ask that he protect the rights of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland.

The list of signatories include Olympic boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, and Irish international soccer player James McClean.

Published in the Irish News today, the open letter asks that “Irish cultural traditions and Irish national identity” be protected at a time when “Brexit threatens to reinforce partition on this island and revisit a sense of abandonment as experienced by our parents and grandparents”.

“The fact that the majority of voters in the north of Ireland voted to remain will not be ignored,” it states.

We, our children and grandchildren should not be forced out of the EU against out democratic will.
Despite the British government’s co-equal and internationally binding responsibility for overseeing the Peace Process with the Irish government, we have no confidence in its commitment to do so with impartiality or objectivity.

The letter appeals to the Taoiseach for reassurance that he will protect the rights and security of citizens in Northern Ireland.

The list of signatories to the letter includes figures representing a wide range of sectors including the arts, business, education, health, law, media, sport and academia.

Last week, the EU and UK struck a deal on future arrangements on what will happen to the Irish border after Brexit.

Despite some to-ing and fro-ing, the deal reached ensured that there would be “regulatory alignment” on the island of Ireland that would ensure hard infrastructure wouldn’t be needed along the Irish border.

A commitment was also made, at the request of the DUP, that this alignment wouldn’t “compromise” the United Kingdom.

Upon the announcement that a deal had been made, Varadkar confirmed that he was “satisfied sufficient progress” had been made on Irish issues. He said the established rights of people in Northern Ireland, which had been secured in the Good Friday Agreement and other arrangements, to hold an Irish/EU passport and to allow for the free movement of people across the Irish border had been secured as part of last week’s deal.

He also laid out the options that had been discussed in avoiding a hard border that would safeguard the movement of goods and the “all-island economy”.

Despite the agreement being hailed as a success in diplomacy, the deal has been thrown into doubt over the weekend by disagreement between the Irish and UK government over how legally binding it is.

Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC 1 that the deal was “more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing”.

However, the Irish government has hit back with government chief whip Joe McHugh describing the comments as bizarre. He told This Week on RTE Radio 1:

We will as a government, a sovereign government in Ireland, be holding the United Kingdom to account, as will the European Union.

Yesterday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney also tweeted out a section of the agreement with the UK that seems to contradict what Davis said.

“The commitments and the principles… are made and must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Secretary for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire said that he hoped the deal between the EU and UK would “strike up a spirit of compromise” for talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP at Stormont.

“I think there can be progress,” Brokenshire said. “Once we’re through the European Council on Thursday, it will be clear that there’s a real need for them to be there [during Brexit talks].”

He said that the “real life pressures” of not having a government in Northern Ireland would become apparent “over the need for a new budget, work [for which] would normally have been well-advanced”.

“We can use it to refocus our attention,” he said.

Many of the British papers are reporting on the disagreement this morning, as UK Prime Minister Theresa May is due to address the House of Commons this morning to officially announce that a deal has been reached on Northern Ireland.

Read: Ireland to hold UK to agreement after Brexit Minister indicates it’s not legally binding

Read: Sky News presenter says ‘some of you Irish need to get over yourselves’

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