Mary Robinson fears Brexit could threaten Northern Ireland peace process
Former president says British-Irish relations ‘much more fraught’ than in recent past
Mary Robinson said she did not want to “say anything that would cause any sort of waves” while “very delicate discussions” were taking place on Brexit. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Ms Robinson, when delivering a tribute lecture to former US senator George Mitchell at Queen’s University in Belfast on Tuesday evening, expressed reluctance to enter the debate on the UK quitting the European Union.
“I don’t want to say anything political about Brexit,” she said in the inaugural senator George Mitchell peace lecture.
However, during a question and answer session after her lecture the chairwoman Yvette Shapiro asked had she fears that Brexit might threaten the peace process and did she believe there were “reasons to be fearful” over Brexit?
“Yes I do,” said Ms Robinson. She added too that British-Irish relations appeared to be “much more fraught” compared with the “very good and easy relationship” of the recent past.
Ms Robinson did not expand on this comment, saying that as former president she did not want to “say anything that would cause any sort of waves” while “very delicate discussions” were taking place on Brexit.
She did say however that earlier this year on the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Belfast Agreement that the Elders group of former leading world figures established by the late Nelson Mandela issued a statement warning that under Brexit nothing must be done to undermine the Belfast Agreement or lead to a hard border.
“I think I will have to leave it at that,” she said.
While Ms Robinson was reminded that at one stage she indicated she would not meet US president Donald Trump she said she subsequently qualified that comment and would be prepared to meet him in her “capacity as leader of the Elders”.
“I don’t like bullies,” she said, while adding that if such a meeting took place she would be “firm and it will not be an easy conversation”.
She said that Mr Trump’s preparedness to send 15,000 American troops to the US-Mexican border to head off a march of Central American migrants “who are still a thousand miles away” was “bad politics and is very serious”.
Ms Robinson saluted Mr Mitchell “as a true champion of peace”.
Mr Mitchell was unable to attend but in a video presentation welcomed Ms Robinson to Queen’s, describing her as a “stateswoman” and one of the “most delightful and admirable persons I have ever met”.