‘Dear Tánaiste’ Brexit letters from public: ‘Please hold steady’

Complaints, queries and comments dominate correspondence to Coveney on UK exit

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade  Simon Coveney: had 192 letters from the public between November and February about the UK’s departure from the EU. Photograph: Yves Herman

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney: had 192 letters from the public between November and February about the UK’s departure from the EU. Photograph: Yves Herman

 

Warnings that the Government’s strategy over Brexit would “backfire” and Irish lorries would be stopped from using UK roads are among the letters received by Tánaiste Simon Coveney from the public.

Mr Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, received 192 letters from the public between November and February about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, his department said.

Comments account for the bulk of the correspondence, which increased in January and February as the Brexit process became bogged down in political differences at Westminster over the withdrawal agreement and the contentious “backstop” solution to avoid a hard Irish border.

The Department of Foreign Affairs released a sample of the correspondence under the Freedom of Information Act. The identities of the writers were withheld.

One UK resident who voted to leave told Mr Coveney in an email in February he was “disgusted” the Minister planned to “involve Irish-American US politicians in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU”.

“We have always traded with you and your lorries use our roads to access their trading partners in the EU; perhaps now it is time for this to stop, perhaps you should send everything by sea,” the writer said.

Another correspondent told Mr Coveney that he felt his approach to Brexit was “fundamentally” flawed. “Essentially, to hold Britain to ransom over ‘the Irish backstop’ and thereby prevent an orderly withdrawal agreement being agreed was a fundamental error of judgment,” the writer said.

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‘Russian roulette’

Another correspondent accused Mr Coveney of “playing Russian roulette” with the Irish economy over his insistence on the backstop “for half a million Catholics” in Northern Ireland.

One English writer threatened to “boycott everything Irish” over the Government’s approach.

Not all the letters were critical. For example, there was support from residents of Northern Ireland who were concerned about the UK’s exit.

“We have no political voice to represent us in the Brexit debate during probably the most important time for the people in the North in a generation,” one Co Fermanagh “nationalist” told the Tánaiste in January.

He urged the Government to continue support the people of Northern Ireland because a majority there did not vote to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum and did not want a hard border.

“Many of my Protestant friends and neighbours don’t want this either; most of them are disgusted at the way the DUP are conducting themselves,” he said of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party that keeps Theresa May’s minority Conservative government in power and is opposed to her withdrawal deal.

Describing his frustration and powerlessness at what was unfolding, he wrote that if “the middle of the road people don’t stand up, we are going to be railroaded down a road we don’t want to go”.

Border checkpoints

Another writer, a Dublin native living in south Fermanagh for 13 years, asked Mr Coveney whether there would be checkpoints along the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit. “Will our community be subject to customs control when passing to Clones [in Co Monaghan] for a GAA match? A checkpoint is a checkpoint no matter who runs it,” said the writer.

One writer, who admitted they were worried about Brexit, suggested the Government should broadcast TV programmes with contributions from economist David McWilliams and RTÉ journalist George Lee after the main evening news bulletins “to inform the general person as to the changes that will inevitably happen”.

In another email under the subject “the bloody Border”, a writer says that the “apparent acceptance of electronic devices by the EU, at least for discussion in monitoring the NI Border is very unnerving”.

A 58-year-old Belfast man thanked Mr Coveney in a letter in mid-November for representing the significant majority of people in Northern Ireland in a “very professional, thoughtful and diplomatic way”.

“Please hold steady,” he wrote, warning the Tánaiste of his concerns about the DUP and the Tories. “I hold an Irish passport. I am an Irish citizen. I am a proud EU citizen. I want my 17-year-old daughter to be brought up with a global outlook, proud to be Irish and European.

“I don’t want her to endure the Little England attitude of the DUP and British Govt (sic), which I have endured all my life. The days of colonies and the British empire are long gone.”

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