Brexit: Ulster Unionist Party chief critical of Government’s Brexit stance

Orderly, agreed transition for UK departure a ‘great economic prize’, says Donohoe

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann has sharply criticised the Government's approach to Brexit and said Fine Gael remarks were delivered "like a poke in the eye to unionism".

Speaking at the Fine Gael Ardfheis, Mr Swann said his party faced a kind of “suck it up attitude” in relation to legitimate concerns they had about the backstop.

The backstop is a position of last resort, to protect an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an overall exit deal. At present, thousands of people cross the Border daily and goods and services pass between the two jurisdictions without restriction.

Mr Swann was addressing a panel discussion on relations with Northern Ireland and called for the Government and other parties to take a change in tack.


The UUP leader said he also wanted to challenge perceptions in relation to unionism. And he said he was tired of being portrayed as snide, obnoxious and exclusive.

His party did not want the reintroduction of physical structures on the Border.

He said, however, that he did not see the same understanding from the Government about unionist concerns in relation to a hard border in the Irish sea.

A sea border was a direct challenge to the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent and was not a concern that should be waved away, he insisted.

Stretch relationships

A selective reading of the Belfast Agreement and an Ireland first rhetoric would serve only to stretch relationships, he warned.

Cavan Fine Gael Senator Joe O’Reilly said the Brexit draft withdrawal agreement would give the North unfettered access to the EU and the UK.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan described as “unhelpful distractions” , calls for a border poll.

He added that it was unacceptable that the Northern Ireland Executive was not functioning.

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said the unionist community should not fear a hidden agenda for Northern Ireland in the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement, .

She told the Ardfheis that “as a member of the Irish Government, I understand and appreciate why members of the unionist community in the North might be feeling vulnerable and isolated at this time. I also understand why they want to ensure that whatever is done to avoid a hard border will not affect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK.”

But she said she wanted to assure the unionist community that “they should not feel threatened or fear a hidden agenda. We have the utmost respect for the cultural identity of each and every citizen on our islands and the constitutional status of that citizenship.”

Ms Humphreys, a Cavan-Monaghan Border TD added that “we respect the territorial integrity of Northern Ireland and we respect the integrity of unionists as UK citizens. Our only ambition in the negotiations through the EU taskforce, has been to ensure that we can continue to live in harmony and that people can go about their normal lives and business as usual.”

Inward investment

She believed the draft withdrawal agreement represented “the best way of achieving that ambition. And I genuinely believe it is an agreement which is in the best interests of everybody on this island.”

Ms Humphreys said earlier that there was no sign of any let up in inward investment from abroad as the Brexit negotiations on the withdrawal agreement were concluded.

She said three in five jobs were now being created in the regions outside Dublin which was very encouraging.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said "the prospect of Ireland having an orderly transition and an agreed transition period as the UK leaves the European Union is a great economic prize".

There were very few scenarios he said in which Brexit would be a good thing for all sectors of the economy but they would continue to prepare for dealing with different scenarios.

“A no-deal disorderly Brexit will pose very significant difficult challenges to all economies across Europe and Ireland will face particular risk.

“This is why the focus of everybody now has to be on supporting prime minister May in the passage of the protocol and the vote that will take place in early December in the House of Commons.”

Fine Gael is committed to ensure “that we have a stable political environment here”, said Mr Donohoe.

Stability was not an end in itself but “creates the environment in which we can deal with the kind of challenges that Brexit may pose”.

Challenges ahead

He downplayed enthusiasm for a general election and said he was determined to work with Fianna Fáil to put in place an agreement and it was in the interests of the country and the kind of challenges that we’re facing that the negotiations reach conclusion soon”.

Mr Donohoe said that because he was involved in the negotiations with Fianna Fáil I think what’s appropriate at this point is to reiterate the kind of timing and deadline the Taoiseach has already sought, to have an agreement to summer 2020.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton highlighting the Government's latest political programme "Taking Ireland Forward Together". He said it reflected the values Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asked the party to adopt including personal freedom.

He flagged remarks by the Taoiseach that each generation must face its own challenges and under Mr Varadkar’s’ partnership Government they had confronted “changes that I suppose we dared not name for many years. And because we wouldn’t name them it abandoned many people to the mail boat and suppressing or hiding their sexuality.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times