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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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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald] Deputy Pearse Doherty and I spoke to Ms Theresa May last night and reminded her again that in the absence of an agreement, a unity referendum must be called as a matter of urgency. I also told her that the basic protections contained in the backstop are non-negotiable and cannot be unpicked or diluted. The British Government signed up to an agreement last December to protect the Good Friday Agreement, to avoid a hard border and to put in place a legally enforceable backstop. That agreement must be honoured, even in the midst of the madness at Westminster.

The current position of some in the Conservative Party and the DUP is reckless and irresponsible. We need a deal that recognises the unique circumstances that present for our island. This is critical to safeguard investment and to protect jobs, trade, the integrity of the peace process and our citizens' rights. This is what is required. Nothing short of this is acceptable. The Taoiseach and the Government must stand firm on that point and the EU must remain true to its word that without an agreed, legally enforceable backstop, there will be no withdrawal agreement.

I hope the Taoiseach will bring that message to Brussels tomorrow and I hope he will consider, perhaps quietly away from this Chamber, the necessity to look to the prospect of a crash and all of the long-term damage that presents and begin planning the pathway for constitutional transition because it is surely upon us.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I would like if the Fianna Fáil leader when contributing in the Dáil on statements on the EU summit would not when speaking about the North attack Sinn Féin. It does not impress anybody. Many of the Fianna Fáil backbenchers have previously referenced Sinn Féin walking away from its responsibilities. We do not walk away from our responsibilities in the North. We have a mandate.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Sinn Féin walked away from Stormont.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I did not interrupt speakers from the Fianna Fáil benches. Sinn Féin contests every election in the North and it has a mandate from the people. Fianna Fáil has no mandate in the North, nor does Fine Gael. They do not like elections in the North. They are the hurlers on the ditch.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien What has Sinn Féin done with its mandate? It walked away.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Neither party should criticise those who contest elections when they run away from voters in the North.

Regardless of what happens today in Westminster, we have to make a number of observations about Brexit, the obvious one being that there is a withdrawal agreement on the table which provides basic protections for the North in the event of a no-deal Brexit. These include maintaining cross-Border co-operation, supporting the all-island economy and protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. It will do this by ensuring that the North essentially remains in the customs union and large elements of the Single Market. This is not ideal and the Taoiseach will accept that the best solution for Ireland is no Brexit and the entire island remaining in the EU.

The issue for Westminster is that large elements of the backstop would apply to Britain as well. It would also mean more checks between Britain and the North and this would essentially mean Britain effectively remaining in elements of the customs union. This is the reason the hard right in the Tory Party wants the backstop dropped. We have all heard the clamour from some on the hard right of the Tory Party, and the DUP, for the backstop to be dropped. Can the Taoiseach assure this House, the people of this State and the remaining people on the island of Ireland that the terms of the backstop are non-negotiable?

The EU Council will be under pressure to give some leeway to Prime Minister, Theresa May. While she is seeking clarifications, the message that must go out from the European Union and the Irish Government is that there cannot be any renegotiation on the terms of the backstop or the agreement that has been reached, which was voted on and passed by this House. A backstop that is temporary cannot be a backstop. The best way for those in Britain who are concerned about the backstop to ensure it is not temporary is for Britain to remain in the customs union and elements of the Single Market. This is a matter for them and they have to face up to that reality.

Last weekend, one Tory MP threatened to starve Ireland unless the backstop is changed. Yesterday, an unnamed Tory MP said that the Irish need to know their place. We know our place. Ireland's place, North and South, is in the European Union. As stated by Teachta McDonald, in the event of a hard crash by Britain from the European Union - Sinn Féin does not want to countenance a hard crash but it is somewhat outside of the control of politicians in Ireland - we will have to plan for every eventuality. In my view, and as indicated by the opinion polls, an increasing number of people in the North want a united Ireland in that scenario, such that there will be a responsibility on the Government to prepare for such an eventuality. No amount of hand wringing and statements that this cannot happen can take away from that reality. Nobody wants a hard crash. We all want a deal passed by the House of Commons and put in place but if that does not happen, then every eventuality has to be examined.

The people of this State cannot have confidence in what we heard from the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in respect of a no-deal Brexit or a hard crash. We are not hearing of any preparation and people, farmers and businesses are concerned. For example, companies in the south east that export to Britain, employ large numbers of people, and are affected by the currency fluctuations, and that would be affected disastrously if there was a hard Brexit, are also concerned. It is not only people in the North but people across the island of Ireland who will be affected. There can be no negotiation downwards on what has been agreed. A hard Brexit will result in a drop of between 4% and 7% in GDP for the South and potentially the loss of thousands of jobs.

Collectively, we have all got behind getting a solution for Ireland. We all want a deal that protects Ireland from the worst effects of Brexit. We all accept that Brexit is not good, that there is no good outcome and no good Brexit. We all want a deal to be put in place that will avoid a hardening of the Border and protect the Good Friday Agreement but some in Britain do not want this to happen, will attack the backstop and have no difficulty using Ireland as collateral to get their Brexit through. On behalf of the people we represent, that cannot happen. The people of the North, and this island, need these basic protections fully protected. My message for the Taoiseach is that there can be no renegotiation of those basic protections that collectively we have secured for the people of our island.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Technology is advancing relentlessly. Every year, workers, businesses and consumers have to adjust to new ways of working. Some jobs decline and new occupations emerge. Businesses and workers have to adapt. The downside is that technology is voracious in its appetite for energy and too reliant on fossil fuels which have caused climate change and the destruction of the natural world. All of these challenges mean that the work of Government is never done. Government is needed to provide leadership on climate action, job security and the just transition that the planet now requires. Governments cannot stand still. The same applies to the EU Council.

  When the Council meets on Thursday, one member state, the United Kingdom, will project its turmoil onto the other 27 members, as it has done periodically throughout its membership. Sometimes, the UK's disruptive influence has been beneficial in shaking up or confronting bureaucracy and giving the EU more urgency on trade with the wider world. On other occasions, such as now, the UK's influence is just disruptive. In her statement this morning, the Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, said:

The people want us to focus on the other vital issues that matter to them, including building a stronger economy, delivering first class public services and the homes that families need. These are the public's priorities.

Mrs. May was speaking about the British people but the same is true of the Irish people and people of every nation across the EU. There is no doubt that future generations in the UK will look back at the lost years when Brexit caused a lack of progress on so many important fronts.

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