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Deputy David Cullinane

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Snippet Contents:

Three issues emerged from the last European Council meeting: Brexit, defence and monetary reform. All three are crucial and central to the future of the people of this island. All of these Council meetings are at a time when there is a focus on the future of Europe and discussion on the type of Europe we want to build. We all now recognise that this future will be without Britain and that Britain is intent on leaving the European Union. It is the job of the Irish Government to ensure we protect our interests and those of Irish people.
With regard to Brexit, we welcomed, as the Taoiseach knows, the relative progress made in recent times in the joint agreement and joint report agreed by all member states regarding the Irish issues and others also. We are now entering a second round of talks at which the heavy lifting will be done, at which the flesh will be put on the bones of all these issues and where the real negotiations will begin. The caveat and background to all that is that the other member states will be really focused on the big issue of whether there will be a trade agreement between Britain and the European Union. Obviously, we want such an agreement and, if possible, Britain to stay within the customs union and the Single Market. The difficulty we have is that there are real contradictions. By "we", I mean everybody on the island of Ireland, particularly those who want to avoid a hard border and those who want to ensure we protect the rights of citizens, be they Irish citizens or citizens from other member states living in the North or South, and protect the Good Friday Agreement.
What we are hearing from the Tory party depends on what wing one is listening to. It is very difficult when one is negotiating with three wings, or possibly four, of another political party, but that is what the member states are trying to do. If one listens to the British Government and British Prime Minister, however, one notes they are saying that Britain and the North will come out of the customs union, Single Market and legal framework of the European Union. That means the Good Friday Agreement also. Thus, we do not have assurances that citizens in the North will enjoy exactly the same rights as European citizens in the South when the North is taken out of the European Union. These are contradictions that cannot be squared unless we have absolutely firm commitments that the North will stay in the customs union and the Single Market and remain subject to the Good Friday Agreement.
We have consistently said all of this is possible. We, and even members of the Taoiseach's Government and the former Taoiseach, heard that any kind of special solution for Ireland was not possible. It is possible. It is possible for the North to remain within the European Union. It is possible to have special status. It is possible for the North to stay in the customs union and Single Market if the political will exists. If the political will exists, anything is possible. All of this is unprecedented in terms of Britain leaving the European Union anyway. Let me state my words of caution to the Taoiseach. I doubt that he needs them. He has been described as being a bit greener than previous Fianna Fáil leaders in the past, which some might regard as quite ironic. Even leaving that aside, I do not need to remind the Taoiseach that when the heavy lifting will be done over the coming months and when we begin to negotiate the actual detail, the British Government will act in British interests, as Teachta Adams said. That is what it would be expected to do. The Taoiseach must act in the interest of Irish citizens in the North and South. He has to make sure he gets the best possible deal for us and make sure full alignment means full alignment. The only way he can achieve full alignment is by having the North stay in the customs union and Single Market. If he comes back with something less, if there is a hardening of the Border, if the Good Friday Agreement is not protected and if EU citizens who live in the North do not have the same rights that they have now, it will be a problem and a matter for which his Government will have to account. As long as the Taoiseach is acting in the national interest for all people who live on the island of Ireland, he will enjoy the support of Sinn Féin. I am sure he will enjoy the support of many people across the island.
We are very focused on the time ahead. We want to get the best possible deal and result but that will require considerable diligent, hard work and attention over the coming weeks and months. My party will not be found wanting in making sure we do whatever we can to achieve the best possible outcome for everybody. As I stated, that means the North staying in the European Union, the customs union, the Single Market, the political framework and legal framework, in addition to remaining subject to the Good Friday Agreement.