Monday 20 November 2017

Ireland 'must fight' for North to get special status

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan. Photo: PA
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan. Photo: PA
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to fight for designated special status for Northern Ireland within the EU during the Brexit talks.

An Oireachtas Committee yesterday concluded in a report that special status must be fought for in the negotiations to ensure Northern Ireland remains part of the single market, and its continued access to all EU funding streams and EU institutions such as the European Courts of Justice and Human Rights are protected. It's an argument that has been repeatedly made by the SDLP, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. But it has been shot down by both London and Dublin.

The Government here is keen to stress that Northern Ireland's interests, and the protection of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, are at the top of its negotiating agenda.

The Taoiseach and ministers have all made repeated reference to it, prompting one business organisation to say that too much emphasis is being given in Government to the North, and not enough to trade.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Flanagan has argued, however, that terms like "special status" would give rise to serious concerns among other EU countries about precedents that might be set elsewhere, and would "unnecessarily distract" from the work of ensuring Northern Ireland's interests are secured.

But the Oireachtas jobs committee has now thrown its weight behind the special status argument.

"The UK is one of Ireland's closest economic partners and, as such, Ireland is very exposed to the effects of Brexit," said committee chair Mary Butler.

"During our hearings, we heard from numerous witnesses that any imposition of border controls and tariffs between Ireland and the UK would negatively impact Ireland's trade with the UK. The ease of travel that currently exists between north and south is one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement and is a boon to Border economies.

"We are therefore recommending designated special status for Northern Ireland within the EU in order to protect both the peace process and the Northern economy from turmoil."

The report was produced by TDs and senators on the committee after a number of hearings.

Meanwhile, Brexit secretary David Davis said yesterday that a transitional deal to smooth the UK's exit will "undoubtedly" be part of early discussions with Brussels.

Irish Independent

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