Thursday 13 December 2018

Key Brexit report on Northern Ireland should be published 'without delay' - Taoiseach

Emily O'Reilly says publication of mapping exercise is in 'public interest'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath

Louise Kelly & Kevin Doyle

A key document outlining all the areas of North-South cooperation under the Good Friday Agreement that are under threat due to Brexit should be published, EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has insisted.

Ms O'Reilly has called on the European Commission to publish the confidential document which deals with the so-called mapping exercise.

The mapping exercise was carried out by British, Irish and EU officials which indicates the extent to which North-South co-operation is underpinned by EU law.

This exercise spelled out how North-South cooperation depended on, or was enhanced by, mutual membership of the EU by Ireland and the UK.

It has been a key pillar of Irish government's argument that Brexit undermined the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement.

When the officials examined all the avenues of that cooperation they discovered that there were 150 areas which were underpinned by EU law.

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly. Photo: Peter Cavanagh
European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly. Photo: Peter Cavanagh

However, both the European Commission and Britain both resisted the report's publication saying that its contents were too sensitive as negotiations were underway.

The mapping exercise emphasises the extent to which North-South cooperation relies upon, or is enhanced by, mutual EU membership by both Ireland and the UK.

EU Ombudsman Emily O 'Reilly said that the document should now be published, but accepted the argument that the Irish border was a highly sensitive part of the negoatiatons.

Read more: EU's Michel Barnier 'suggests Brexit transition could be extended until 2022'

Ms O'Reilly told RTÉ Morning Ireland: "The reason the Commission did not publish this document was because they didn't want to disturb the 'serenity' of negotiations, but the negotiations have ended now.

"I believe it would be in the public interest now for this document to be released.

"At a time when the UK are making very important decisions for the future of their citizens, it's important that the citizens be as informed as possible, particularly in relation to the controversial areas on North and South," she said.

In January a complainant asked the European Commission to publish the document.

However, the Commission refused to release it as the document was effectively the property of the UK and that London wanted it to remain confidential.

Read more: Rejecting deal could spell chaotic Brexit - Karen Bradley

The complainant subsequently turned to Ms O'Reilly on the grounds that the Brexit negotiations were supposed to be transparent, and that the public had a right to know what areas of North-South cooperation would be at risk because of Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the document should be published “without delay”.

He told reporters today that the Government would  be “very happy” for it to be made public – but added that Ireland could not release it.

“It’ll be published as a joint UK/EU document so it’s not ours to publish. It’ll be done jointly by the EU and UK.”

Mr Varadkar said the report shows “the extent to which so much North-South cooperation is underpinned by EU law”.

He noted it wasn’t just about trade and customs but “even things like recognising qualifications for cross-border workers are very much underpinned by European law”.

“I’d like to see it published without delay. It’s not our call,” the Taoiseach said.

Ms O'Reilly added that there is no real reason now to keep the document from the public.

She added: "There's over 100 different areas...none of this is inherently secret...anybody sitting with Google opened in front of them for a few days could pretty much come up with the same list.

"The fact that it is all drawn together in one document gives it a particular strength, a particular force."

She said there was now "no obvious reason for the [mapping] table not to be published".

Ms O'Reilly added: "My overall point if you consider that part of the reason why Brexit got across the line in the referendum because people weren't sufficiently informed on a number of matters.

"That relationship between North and South has become such the dominant issue, it's very important that people are aware the extent to which EU law underpins much of that."

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