Chris Fitzpatrick: 'For the sake of the babies we are delivering today, please find a Brexit compromise'
As obstetricians, who come from different parts and different traditions on this island, we are gravely concerned that the babies we are delivering today will be denied the benefits of growing up in peace and prosperity - because of the failure of politicians to compromise.
Essential to peace and prosperity on this island are a) the protection of the Good Friday Agreement; b) the absence of Border checks anywhere on the island, c) a functioning Northern Ireland Executive; and d) in the context of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, a deal.
With a shared interest in Anglo-Irish history, we have both seen at first hand the power of reconciliation. In 2016 we were responsible for bringing together descendants of all present at the surrender at the end of the 1916 Easter Rising, and the re-creation of the surrender photograph - on this occasion with a handshake.
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Time is running out fast. In the interest of future generations on this island, there is an urgent need for greater compromise on all sides in relation to Brexit. Unfortunately, the latest UK "double border" proposal falls very short of what is required.
In medical emergencies, everyone pulls out all the stops to save the patient. In this political emergency, everyone needs to do the same to save our future. It is in this context we wish to put this proposal on the table:
In exchange for a deal which allows Northern Ireland to remain in both the customs union and single market for at least the next 10 years, we believe the Irish Government should formally agree to postpone holding a referendum in the Republic of Ireland on the proposal for reunification for a period of at least 10 years also. After 10 years, this deal could be looked at again by the UK, EU, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement and the social and economic relations between us.
We believe this last throw of the dice/quid pro quo compromise could have the potential to break the deadlock as, in the context of Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union and single market, it gives firm reassurance to unionists in relation to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK (firmer than is provided in the latest UK proposal) while at the same time respecting the aspirations of nationalists.
By continuing to reject a deal that would see Northern Ireland remain in both the customs union and single market, the DUP may end up with what it rejects most: a united Ireland.
Quoting Van Morrison at the DUP's annual conference in November 2018, the former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said: "It is time we all moved from the dark end of the street to the bright side of the road." The prime minister should also be reminded of how, on April 10, 1998, Morrison's 'Days Like This' became the unofficial anthem of the Good Friday Agreement. We must do everything in our power to protect this agreement.
In our proposal, the placing of a moratorium on a referendum on reunification in the Republic of Ireland is totally compatible with the Good Friday Agreement, which states consent for a united Ireland must be "freely and concurrently" given in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Within the creative ambiguity of the Good Friday Agreement, the mechanism for triggering a referendum in the republic is not clearly specified. The moratorium on a referendum on reunification in the Republic of Ireland also postpones the consideration of a post-Brexit referendum in Northern Ireland, thus obviating the destabilising and divisive consequences of a narrow victory by either side.
It also reflects the reality of our lack of preparedness to even ask ourselves such a question. By requiring the support of Fianna Fáil through the current Confidence and Supply arrangement, such an agreement by a minority Fine Gael government would also be fully protected in the event of any change in government over the next 10 years. It would also be a fitting way to mark the forthcoming centenary of the Civil War.
This lull in any attempts at reunification will also provide the opportunity to co-operate in the remodelling and development of our island economies post-Brexit, and to continue the work of reconciliation between communities. It will also give us time to think more carefully about the kind of future we wish to create in a far less pressurised atmosphere.
Furthermore, until new trading arrangements can be put in place, we believe the UK should provide financial compensation to Northern Ireland and the EU should provide compensation similarly to the Republic of Ireland for losses incurred due to east-west tariffs and delays.
Central to this proposal is the immediate re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive. For the sake of our children, the DUP and Sinn Féin need to put their differences aside.
In the coming weeks, politicians will shape the future for the babies we are delivering today. As doctors responsible for their safe arrival, we believe we have a moral responsibility to say something to safeguard their future. Like many who come from different traditions on this island, we strongly believe in working together and in compromise.
- Dr Richard de Courcy-Wheeler is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry. He is the grandson of Captain Harry de Courcy-Wheeler, who took the 1916 surrender photograph. Professor Chris Fitzpatrick is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.