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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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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] We must have clarity and legal certainty to sustain peace, remove any option of a hard border and respect the unique exposures Ireland will face in the years ahead.

Recently I travelled between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, as I do regularly, and found it frightening to see a vast, newly constructed border compound. The delays are significant for those involved in tourism and transport and everybody else. My question is similar to that asked by others. How can it be so different here if there is to be a border between the Republic and Northern Ireland? I ask the President to address that issue also.

Like Deputy Catherine Connolly, I have concerns about the militarisation of the European Union. That is not what we joined for. The European Union is moving further away from the people I represent and the people we all represent here. That is a problem not only in Ireland but also, as we can see, in many other European countries.

There are many issues to be addressed. Reference was made to the heavy hand and coercing people to listen. Deputy Catherine Connolly used the phrase "Bí ag éisteacht". We need the President to listen. We need him to have empathy in dealing with our problems. We did not get a good ear when we had our problems following the banking collapse. We got very rough justice from our European friends. We are paying back and our grandchildren will also be paying back. There are many issues that need to be addressed sensitively and with more respect for the electorate in each of the independent states.

I wish the President an enjoyable time during his trip and hope he will take away the message that it is not all rosy in the garden and wonderful, as some parties here would like to make it appear. There are many issues and many people are suffering as a result of the European Union's inability or unwillingness to help us in our hour of need.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I also extend a warm welcome to the President who opened his address by speaking very positively about the nature of our membership of the European Union. It was understood it was about the pooling of sovereignty. While there continues to be a very strong commitment to membership of the European Union, that confidence was badly shattered during the economic crash when there was a feeling there was an intergovernmental approach whereby each individual country looked to itself and we felt very isolated. That experience has resulted in scepticism about Ireland coming first in the Brexit negotiations. Therefore, we need to deal in realities, not just hopes.

The President talked about the possibility of there being no deal. Will he expand on exactly what he means in terms of how it might play out? It will impact on every country, but no country will be impacted on more than Ireland. We know that eleventh hour negotiations are about compromise. There is a playing for time to create that scenario in the case of the British Government.

Our focus is on survival, but the focus needs to move to something more than survival where we will see a more democratic European Union that will not be undermined by populism. There are very real issues which are about inequality and a lack of democracy.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan On the longest day I hope this will be the shortest speech. President Juncker will be glad to hear that it is the last one.

I am a member of the Irish Green Party. It is an all-island party, North and South, and a proud member of the European Green Party.

How we deal with Brexit will reflect on the European Union as a whole. I met a group of Irish nationalists last week who made the valid point that the human rights elements of the Good Friday Agreement had been forgotten. If, as the Taoiseach said, we are setting a compass, we cannot have a compass that only just looks at trade. There are four points on the compass. We also need to look at the human rights elements of the Good Friday Agreement to make sure they will be protected. I heard the leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions say the protocols and all of the arrangements made to deal with the trade and customs issue ignored workers' rights. I know from my work in the Green movement that the protocols and all of the talk are also ignoring environmental rights in how we deal with Brexit and that must change.

Listening to President Juncker it seems clear that if there is a deal, we are facing having a border in the Irish Sea. That will present real challenges. Whatever happens in this process, if that is the outcome, I ask him to help us to work with our unionist friends in order that we will be able to manage the incredibly difficult task of operating much more as an island, which for me will be good, but it will not be easy.

We should be careful in the language we use. I am concerned about some of the language used here today in criticising nationalism in other countries. There was a slight tinge to the phrase "Ireland first". I use an Irish phrase instead: ní neart go cur le chéile - there is strength in unity. Our unity should continue with our friends in the United Kingdom. I was at Westminster yesterday talking to my colleagues in advance of the vote. I regret that they have had a vote, but everyone is aware of the interparliamentary relationship where we are on the best of terms with people of all parties in the United Kingdom. We have always got on well and should continue to do so. If it goes wrong, as seems to be the case, given that President Juncker has said there is now a chance of a crash-out and the prospect of no deal, I ask two things - first, that he keep open the prospect that the United Kingdom can revoke Article 50 should it change its mind in that regard. That may happen as late as early next year, depending on the Parliament. Second, I call for support for my colleague, Caroline Lucas, who will be one of the lead speakers at the people's march next weekend. The hope is that it will give rise to the prospect of a people's vote in which they might change their minds. We have done so in the past in two referendums on the European treaty. We know how to do it. The first thing is that one must not insult the people. One does not talk down to them. Ní neart go cur le chéile. A little decency might solve this problem more than anything else.

Senator Ian Marshall: I begin by echoing the warm welcome extended by my colleagues to President Juncker and our distinguished guests. As the only Northern Irish person who has the opportunity to speak today in this House, I address it on behalf of my fellow Independent Senators. I am extremely privileged that that honour has been bestowed on me. I make no apology that my opinions are prejudiced by the fact that I live and work in Northern Ireland. I am proud to be defined as Northern Irish, British, Irish and European, a truly complex cultural cocktail.

As someone who believes in and respects democracy, we need to consider how and why we have reached this place. A decision by the citizens of the United Kingdom based on the information available and their understanding of the implications of Brexit was taken at a point in time. It is one I respect. However, as a democrat, I need to ensure that whatever course of action we follow is representative of the views of the majority; that it reflects opinion now, not two years ago; that it reflects opinion based on fact, not fantasy; that it reflects opinion based on reality and is not reckless; and, most important, that the opinion of the silent majority is expressed and represented.

Credit must go to all those who have contributed to the Brexit discussions, including those in Northern Ireland - all of the civic forum groups, lobby groups, politicians and members of the general public who are so frustrated by the lack of clarity at this late hour.

Northern Ireland's nearest neighbours are in this House today. Its biggest allies are here. In an era in which a focus is placed on fake news, we need to be aware that the fake news and spin being played out is that Dublin and Brussels are conspiring against the United Kingdom, but nothing is farther from the truth. The United Kingdom proposed a departure, which I hope will never materialise. Therefore, it must present some solutions. History will judge this period by assessing whether decisions so critical to the future of the United Kingdom and Ireland were taken in the absence of reason and rational thinking. It will judge whether the United Kingdom's position was based on a fair and balanced evaluation of the potential impact of Brexit; whether Brexit was used for political gain; whether the people were consulted and then and only then whether we made a decision to deliver for the future; whether we truly represented the interests of the generations to come and the young people eager to grow and develop as members of the largest community in the world.

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