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Pre-European Council Meeting: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] This is why Fianna Fáil will extend a guarantee that Government will be able to operate throughout 2019. This will allow the introduction of any emergency legislation and budgets, as well as the full end of year budget and associated legislation. This will in turn allow the holding of an election early in the following year. Free of Brexit uncertainty, there can be an election about the need for a new approach to housing, ending systematic political failures in health and addressing the needs of people who want a Government that understands their concerns. This decision has been reached reluctantly but it is unavoidable.

We have all seen in Northern Ireland what happens when political parties undermine the functioning of government at a moment of critical risk. Northern Ireland's position has suffered dramatically from political game-playing and the absence of a democratic voice. The majority in Northern Ireland and in the Northern Ireland Assembly want to remain and also support the current deal. The absence of the Assembly and Executive has empowered people who believe the opposite. In the next few weeks we will seek to finalise as much as possible critical concerns which have been the focus of the review. Specifically, these are actions required to minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit; the chronic under-delivery of commitments in health, housing and supports for children; the likely and potential state of public finances in 2019 and 2020; and the unacceptable politicisation of public spending through the sidelining of expert agencies in funding decisions in areas such as culture, rural affairs, local development and research. If the Government shows good faith, this can be completed quickly. Of course, we cannot guarantee that the Government will not undermine itself and stumble out of office, but it is receiving a guarantee of stability unprecedented for a minority government in its situation. If we could have a new Government in days then we would be able to act differently but it will take a process of months and Ireland does not have months in which it can indulge in putting politics before the people's interests.

Tomorrow morning, I will meet colleagues from throughout the European Union, including eight members of the European Council. I will tell them that Ireland will be a stable and reliable partner for them in the months ahead. The contagion of political chaos will not spread here from London. There is a clear majority in Dáil Éireann which will ensure stability and the national interest will be put first.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald It is astonishing even by Deputy Micheál Martin's dithering standards that it took nine weeks to establish that his Government has failed in areas such as housing. I offer our services from the real Opposition benches to speed up any future reviews.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Look at how Sinn Féin has done in the North. Deputy McDonald is joking.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I could have told them that in two minutes and we could have spared ourselves the melodrama and the pretence of a-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath What about Belfast?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald -----critical tension between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien No representation in the North. Deputy McDonald ran away.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy O'Brien will have his opportunity.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Deputy McDonald ran away again.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath She was not even there to contest it.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien She abrogated her responsibilities.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy McDonald might not invite interruptions.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Indeed, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, or perhaps I might.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Sinn Féin did not pass one budget.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald It seems that the Tories' difficulty is Fianna Fáil's opportunity to run away again from the Irish electorate-----

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Hear, hear.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald -----and to deliver more of the same, more failure and more homelessness, and yet to cry crocodile tears. Bravo, Deputy Micheál Martin. Well done. That is some kind of stability, as described by the soldiers of destiny.

However, I will go on to more prosaic matters, which might be less provocative and upsetting to the delicate souls on the Fianna Fáil benches. The European Council will meet to discuss the shambles that is Brexit. Once again, the Council must remain resolute in its view that the withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated in good faith between Britain and the EU, including the Irish protocol in particular, cannot be renegotiated, diluted and picked apart in any way, shape or form. I made the point previously that any type of Brexit will represent a very bad day for Ireland, North and South. The withdrawal agreement cannot, and will not, change that. Even it is ultimately agreed, as the least worst option, it will still be a bad day for our country. It is by no means perfect and the political declaration relating to the future relationship remains aspirational.

However, it must be acknowledged that the withdrawal agreement on offer mitigates against some of the worst aspects of Brexit. The so-called backstop is a mechanism to reduce the damage caused by Brexit and nothing more. It is not a panacea for all of Brexit's ills. It is an insurance policy that ensures there will be no hardening of the Border on our island and that the interests of citizens in the north, the majority of whom voted against Brexit, will be protected. It is a means of recognising in some small way the democratic will of the majority of the people of the North who voted to remain in the European Union. The four pro-remain parties in the North - Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance party and the Green Party - which represent the majority, believe there is no such thing as a good Brexit. We accept that the majority of ordinary people across the island and those in business and in civic society do not want Brexit, and that we have a shared responsibility to protect jobs, our economic stability and people's livelihoods. That is essential. In contrast, the DUP does not speak for the people of the North on Brexit; we do.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Where?

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Where?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald That is why, since the Brexit referendum result became clear, we have been unequivocal in stating that Brexit presents the most serious social, economic and political threat to our island in a generation. We have been clear in stating that the Government’s approach to negotiations had to be guided by the fact that citizens in the North voted to remain and that democratic verdict had to be respected. We are glad that has been the case, for the most part, and I have acknowledged the work of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and, more importantly, Irish officials on that, as well as the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. I am happy to do that again.

  We are now at the end of the negotiating process and the outcome is far from clear. On Monday, the British Prime Minister shelved her plan for a "meaningful vote" because it was clear that it was going to be defeated by a substantial margin. That and the overnight machinations in London heightened the prospect of a no-deal scenario or crash scenario. No one here wants that but it is now a distinct possibility which needs to be faced up to, not accepted as an inevitability or fait accompli but a prospect that needs to be met. In the absence of the withdrawal agreement and the backstop contained therein, there is no way of guaranteeing no return to a hard border. On the contrary, there will be an automatic hardening of the Border. Citizens' rights will automatically be undermined and the Good Friday Agreement automatically sabotaged.

  I have repeatedly made it clear to Theresa May - and I put this to the Taoiseach here yesterday and again today - that in the event of a crash-out Brexit, or a no-deal scenario, we in Sinn Féin believe it will be necessary to put the constitutional future of the North to the people in a unity referendum. I firmly believe it is time for the Taoiseach to take up that position. If the people of the North are to be disregarded in this process, then they must have their say. This is a reasonable position which I believe all parties here should support. Uniting our country would end the need for a backstop definitively and permanently. As the Taoiseach rightly pointed out earlier, the Border in Ireland is no longer simply a problem for us but a European problem, not least, as he said, because it presents a real and present danger to the integrity of the beloved Single Market. The debate about Irish unity is well under way regardless of what position the Taoiseach might adopt but it is time to accept that Irish unity is now the logical and sensible option to put an end to this messing once and for all.


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