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Snippet Contents:

Following the previous statements in advance of a Council meeting, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach promised we would see real and significant progress at this summit in June on Brexit, the Irish issues associated with Brexit and the December and March agreements, which in the past were considered to be cast-iron guarantees. The benchmark set for achievement and delivery at this summit was not set by those of us in opposition. We want to make sure we get the best outcome for Ireland, and we would have wanted to see real and substantial progress well in advance of June, but this date for progress was set by the Government, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.
The entire approach of the Government to the Article 50 negotiations and the ongoing talks between Britain and the EU in respect of the future relationship between Britain and Europe is that we decouple the Irish issues from the wider issue of that relationship and trade issues between those two blocs. It was important this was done because we are all still trying to avoid ending up in October with a scenario where huge pressure will be put on the Government in respect of some potential deal that may be a bad deal for Ireland or may be just an okay deal, but not the deal we were promised and not the deal we need to avoid any hardening of the Border, to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to protect citizens' rights.
The benchmark set by the Government was not just with regard to decoupling the Irish issues from the wider relationship issues between Britain and the European Union; it was also to hold the British Government to account on the high-level principles and commitments it gave to avoid a hard border, and to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all it parts and the rights of EU citizens and Irish citizens who live in the North. Sadly, since then, we have not had any progress. We are not just saying this. Today the Taoiseach said that from the Government's perspective we have not seen any real and substantial progress. The Union in its statement that will be published tomorrow will clearly state there has been no real and substantial progress. What incentive is there for British Government to come to the table with serious proposals when every time a deadline is set and every time a deadline is made the British Government is simply allowed to walk away from its responsibilities? How can we have a cast-iron guarantee in December and then arrive in June with no real or substantial progress on any of the issues that were meant to be an insurance policy for the Irish people, whereby we would effectively have alignment with the rules of the Single Market, the internal market and the customs union on the island of Ireland to ensure no divergence in rules and standards, no hardening of the Border, absolute certainty for businesses either side of the Border and absolute certainty for citizens in terms of their rights?
The British Government has torn up our insurance policy, which is the backstop. We have no guarantees, apart from the common travel area, on citizens' rights. We have no guarantees from the British Government on how it will protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. We are wandering into a space where in October all the issues, including the Irish issues, will be in one big melting pot and there will be crisis talks from which something will emerge but not, unfortunately, what we were promised.
While my quarrel is directly with the British Government - and Teachta McDonald made the point that the fact the British Government made promises in December and seems to be resiling from them, or has not followed through should not be lost on people - we also have a responsibility to hold the Government to account. When the Government stated there had to be progress by June, that means there should have been progress, yet it has not happened. Everybody in the House has been supportive of the position that we get a good deal for Ireland, and has supported the approach of the EU and the Government to get there, but that strategy up to now has failed. It has failed the Irish people because we simply do not have the certainties that people need and, unfortunately, this is something to which the Government will have to face up. This means tough straight talking has to be done at the June summit by the Taoiseach to our European counterparts and the British Government that it is not good enough. We need to see progress well in advance of October or we will be in serious danger of having a bad Brexit for Ireland.