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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] The backstop was sold by the Taoiseach, to quote just a few of the descriptions he has used, as "bulletproof", "concrete", "cast-iron" and "rock-solid", yet six months on there has been no progress on turning it into an agreed legal text or in reconciling the Taoiseach's interpretation of the backstop with the claim he made on 8 December that there would be no new barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Following passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill last week in Westminster, Brexit is for the first time a legal fact in British law. There appears to be no reasonable scenario whereby it can be reversed and Brexiteers now have a stronger hand. Equally, there are 39 billion reasons to believe that the momentum for a withdrawal treaty is unstoppable. Given how Ireland cried wolf about suspending the negotiations if London tried to backslide, we must assume our Government accepts this.

What is the dynamic which has taken a non-productive strategy over the past six months and delivered a new impetus behind the type of deal we were told was already in the bag last December? Is it really the Taoiseach's position that our Government can go through this process without proposing anything concrete? Do we really have no proposals as to how continued free trade would work on this island? Unless something serious is done, the final status paper the United Kingdom Government is to produce will be the new focus of negotiations and will confirm that Ireland is directly linked to this wider issue. We need this summit to mark the end of a period of tough talk matched by ongoing drift. We need our Government to put aside the spin and be direct and honest about how it believes this process can reasonably end.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald My comments will relate particularly to the Friday meeting in Article 50 format and the issue of Brexit. This Council meeting is crunch time, as I have said to the Taoiseach before. We need to see realistic and workable solutions from the British Government as to how it proposes to avoid a hard border, uphold the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and ensure that citizens' rights in the North will be protected. It is not accurate to say the Government has simply been throwing shapes at the British, as though to suggest that the burden of culpability lies on this side of the water. I do not accept that. British prevarication and the British Government's failure to come up with a solution in accordance with what it claims to be its policy is a fault of theirs, and it is important that is not lost in the midst of this debate. June was set as a red-letter date and a deadline, and with good reason, and it is a mistake to allow that to slip. There can be no question of negotiations moving to the next phase without the requisite guarantees coming from the British Government. In fact, it would be negligent and disastrous for anyone to contemplate progress in the absence of a concrete answer to the Irish question.

We have had our fill of Tory playacting and game-playing. We have had enough doublespeak and dodging. What we need now is clarity and certainty. This needs to be put to the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in a direct and forthright manner by An Taoiseach at this meeting. If, as we know will happen, the British Government fails to meet its responsibilities, then it needs to be called out because its position, as it stands, would mean a hard border, damage to our economy and the erection of barriers to east-west trade. It would undermine the Good Friday Agreement - the House should be in no doubt about that - and crucial areas of cross-Border co-operation and would see the rights of Irish and European citizens cast aside. Tall tales of frictionless borders and grandiose nonsense about buffer zones have been entertained for far too long. It is now time to dial down the rhetoric and time for a little straight talking. It is time for common sense, a common sense sorely lacking in the Tory analysis and strategy brought to bear so far.

The British Prime Minister needs to understand that Ireland will not be the collateral damage in a Tory Brexit. She also needs to be reminded that the North of Ireland voted to remain and that the British Government's denial of this vote is an affront to democracy and runs contrary to the consent principle enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit is Britain's problem, of their creation, not ours, and we will not be its casualties. Irish jobs, Irish Industry, Irish rights and Irish peace agreements cannot be jeopardised to appease the Brexiteers. It is the Taoiseach's duty and the duty of the Irish Government to stand up to the Tory sabre-rattling. The Brexiteer bullies cannot be allowed to bully Ireland. Their threats of the undoubted economic fallout for Ireland from Brexit are loudly mouthed by those who care little for this country, North or South, much less for our achievement of peace. The manner in which they loudly glory in the harm they can do to their nearest neighbour is matched only by the self-harm they are intent on inflicting on their own country. People who espouse the views encapsulated by Boris Johnson in his tirade at the weekend need to understand that we will not be threatened or intimidated by him.

The British Government cannot be allowed to hide from its responsibilities, especially when it comes to the issue of the backstop. Its tactic of playing for time while turning its face against the political agreement reached last December is not acceptable. The backstop agreed in December is Ireland's insurance policy against the imposition of World Trade Organization, WTO, rules in the event of a no-deal scenario. The British Government cannot be allowed to think that this backstop is now off the table, that somehow Ireland and the EU will buy the Alice in Wonderland notions it is selling, that it can scrap the December deal and that it can leave Ireland without any legal assurances. The firm position of the Taoiseach and the Government must be that the December backstop is the bottom line, that the backstop is not and cannot be temporary and that it will not have a lifespan determined and set by the Tories. The backstop is in fact the bare minimum. We should regard it as the floor, not the ceiling, to be built upon. It is an absolute essential in the absence, as I said, of a trade agreement. The aim of the Irish Government at this meeting should be to secure a commitment from the British Government that it will honour, at a minimum, the deal as enunciated in December and that it will now provide the very necessary legally binding guarantees to that effect.

To be clear, if the British Government refuses to give these assurances, we cannot wait until October to see if the sunshine and the improved mood of summer might help it to wise up. Irish political leadership cannot slip into a summertime hibernation and then emerge wide-eyed in the autumn hoping for the best. That is not a strategy. That would be irresponsible. We cannot sit back and allow the Tories to have the ball and dictate the course of play for the next three months. The EU strategy must be shaped and informed by Irish thinking, by an Irish perspective on how to move things forward. We need to initiate and to lead. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, must make it clear how they plan to respond if the British Government refuses to deliver these legally binding commitments. What happens next? We need a plan of action that spans the summer months. It must involve, with all due respect, something more than shuttle diplomacy or a tour of capitals. Otherwise, we run the real risk of Irish concerns being rolled into the EU's "new relationship" with Britain. The House should make no mistake: such an outcome would be dangerous for Ireland.

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