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'The North must be designated special status in order for the whole island to stay in the EU together'

‘While Britain is driving head first into the train wreck that is Brexit, it cannot be allowed to drag our agreements, progress and prosperity with them’, writes David Cullinane.

David Cullinane

THE TAOISEACH SPEAKING in Belfast described Brexit as the challenge of our generation.

This is no understatement.

Leo Varadkar is right.

Brexit and the imposition of an EU Frontier across Ireland has the potential to undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the progress of the past 20 years but also the future economic prosperity of our Island.

Brexit was always about the needs of the British Conservative party. Its impact on Ireland was never a consideration. But we will be the collateral damage. David Cameron only called the referendum to keep his right wing on board and to head off the rise of UKIP.

Cameron is now gone, the Conservatives are back in power. The DUP have agreed to vote in support of legislation that the Tories bring forward on Brexit. They have given Teresa May a blank cheque.

The Taoiseach asked in Belfast who will speak for the people of the North. The people of the North have already spoken, they voted to remain within the EU in June 2016. This democratically expressed view of the cross-community majority who consented to Remain must be respected.

The Tories and the DUP have refused to listen. They are pressing ahead against the wishes of the majority of parties and the interests of citizens in the north.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier made clear that he will only negotiate with sovereign member state governments not devolved administrations.

The Irish Government therefore must defend the national interests and work with all those parties that represent the majority of voters, to ensure that vote in the north is respected, that our agreements are protected and the interests of all Ireland are represented at the EU negotiation table now and over the next 12 months.

‘There can be no EU border across Ireland’

The Taoiseach’s recent commitment for the need to avoid a hard border and to keep the free movement of people and goods post-brexit on a par with current arrangements is to be welcomed. There can be no EU border across Ireland. And there can also be no barrier to trade.

The British government have failed to bring forward workable political solutions to their Brexit policy. The fiction of a frictionless invisible border post Brexit has been exposed as nonsense.

Their Brexit is bad for the economy, all Ireland trade, for the rights of citizens and for our agreements.

The British government is pressing ahead with Brexit in the full knowledge that it is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. And they are doing so with the full parliamentary political support of the DUP.

The rights of citizens and north/south cooperation are critical elements of the Good Friday Agreement. It is not up for renegotiation. It needs to be protected and it needs to be fully implemented.

The North must be designated special status within the EU in order for the whole island to stay in the EU together. That is the position agreed in the Dáil, that is the position of the cross party committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
It must become government policy.

Such status would ensure that an EU frontier is not imposed across Ireland. It would ensure continued access to the European Court of Justice and safeguard the rights of Irish citizens premised on the ECHR.

There are some that say there is no precedent for special status within the EU. But Brexit itself is unprecedented. The EU has demonstrated flexibility in the past.

The EU negotiating framework indicates that protecting progress in Ireland and our agreements is central. They have said that they are willing to be imaginative. So the government must build the case at the EU for special status.

In this they will have the support of the parties in the Dáil and deliver a solution for all our people and economy.

While Britain is driving head first into the train wreck that is Brexit, it cannot be allowed to drag our agreements, progress and prosperity with them.

Brexit is the challenge and designated special status is the solution.

The EU is also at a turning point, not only must it be imaginative in the response to Brexit – it must also radically change to respect the sovereignty of members states and live up to the ethos of which it was formed – to deliver social solidarity and equally for citizens of those states.

David Cullinane is a Waterford Sinn Féin TD.

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