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Address by Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (Continued)

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] These reports stem from short-term political manoeuvring and have no substance to them.

  At this critical moment in history Ireland stands with Europe in a spirit of determination, co-operation and solidarity. There is an enormous series of hurdles to overcome in the months and years ahead, but if we all show the necessary urgency and ambition I have no doubt that the European Union can be as much a force for peace and progress in this century as it was in the last.

  Ar son ár bpáirtí agus ar mo shon féin cuirim fíorfháilte roimh an Uachtarán chuig ár bParlaimint inniu. Táimid fíorbhuíoch dó as ucht teacht chun labhairt linn agus éisteacht linn.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Cuirim céad míle fáilte roimh Uachtarán Juncker. On my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin I extend a very warm welcome to President Jean-Claude Juncker on his heroic return to the city of Dublin. Mr. Juncker has asked us to hang onto and weigh each of his words carefully and I have followed his advice. I am happy to respond, as we meet at this crucial time for Ireland in the course of Brexit negotiations.

As has already been reflected upon, Brexit is perhaps the greatest threat or challenge to our island in a generation. It is a threat to our peace agreements, our peace process, our stability, our prosperity and to the rights of Irish citizens, North and South. The potential for Brexit to cost jobs, to damage our industry and to damage and endanger the welfare of our people cannot be overstated.

Brexit is best understood as a Tory vanity project. It certainly was not designed to emancipate the masses. The Tories regarded the working time directive as a menace to democratic freedoms, so any suggestion that such a political mindset had any real intention of making a difference for the working class and the common good in Britain or anywhere else is entirely misguided.

We need to acknowledge that mistakes and failures in the European project have bolstered the arguments of those who argued for Brexit, and they succeeded. I put it to President Juncker that the economic dogma of the market above all else has alienated citizens and that this needs to be acknowledged. The increasing militarisation of our European Union, the democratic deficit, the distance between the core and the periphery, the distance between larger member states and smaller member states and the onward march towards federalisation by stealth are all legitimate matters of concern. The case for a very radical reform is now unanswerable. This is not simply a case of more Europe, it is in fact a plea for better Europe, for a Europe that commits itself to social solidarity, democracy, fair play and a sense that the citizens are in charge and have ownership of this thing we call the European project. For this to happen the establishment and the politicians need to give way and make space.

I hope that when we reflect on the experience of Brexit that we will have the collective wisdom, from whatever political perspective we come, to reflect collectively and take Shaw's advice that to mark progress we need to challenge our thinking. Europe, on many central issues, needs to change not just its mind but also change its direction.

Whatever way we come at these things, I believe we can agree that Brexit is a disaster and especially for those of us in Ireland. The Tory Brexiteers held their entire debate without any reference at all to Ireland. This arrogant and detached attitude has persisted in these negotiations. Mrs. May and her Government have yet to put forward any realistic or workable proposals. Instead, the Brexit policy of the British Government remains littered with longstanding contradictions. The Tories claim that they are committed to avoiding a hard border, but they remain intent on dragging the North of Ireland out of the European Union, the customs union and the Single Market. They claim there is no threat to the Good Friday Agreement whilst undermining that very agreement and ignoring the fact that there are 142 areas of cross-Border co-operation that will be adversely impacted. The British Government insists that the rights of people living in the North will not be eroded. That is disingenuous, as the Tory Brexiteers are insisting the North leaves the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and perhaps worse, sets out a scenario of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and that court.

Sinn Féin has highlighted these fundamental contradictions many times, not least when our friend Mr. Michel Barnier addressed these Houses. That was more than one year ago and yet these matters remain unresolved to this day. The outworking of these unresolved contradictions in British policy is absolutely clear. As it stands, the British position would impose a hard border on our island. This is a fact. As it stands the British position would erect barriers to east-west trade. This is a fact. As it stands, British policy is to undermine and damage the Good Friday Agreement. That is a fact. These are regrettable and unacceptable facts.

Last December the people of Ireland were told that we had a cast-iron guarantee that all of what I have described would not happen, and that in the event of a no-deal scenario there would be no hard border on our island, no diminution of citizens' rights and no damage to the Good Friday Agreement. The backstop was to be our insurance policy to prevent the imposition of World Trade Organization trading rules if negotiations ended without a comprehensive agreement. We were told that this draft agreement would be converted into a legally binding text in March. This did not happen. The British Government delayed and distracted with nonsensical non-proposals and it refused to commit. Instead, earlier this month and as a last minute effort perhaps to spare its blushes, the British Government dreamt up another proposal that would scrap the backstop proposal that was agreed in December and that would leave our island with zero legal assurances. I am sure that I do not have to say it to President Juncker that it is absolutely essential that we have not just words and kind sentiment; we need legal protection.

I ask that President Juncker publishes the promised annexe to the backstop that would set out the protection of citizens' rights. This is in the gift of the European side and it would be helpful and reassuring for us to see it. Sinn Féin has argued, and there is a wide consensus, as to what Ireland needs. We need the North to remain in the customs union and the Single Market. We need to ensure that the rights of citizens, particularly the citizens living in the North of Ireland, are protected and acknowledged. Irrespective of the wilder ramblings and rantings of exotic Tories, we need to ensure that our peace agreement is respected in full: every letter, every dot and every comma.

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