Brexit: People should put fingers in ears until after British election, committee told

EU exit incompatible with Belfast agreement, Sinn Féin MEP for Northern Ireland says

Fine Gael MEP Maireád McGuinness advised that people should put their fingers in their ears until after the British general election, in the hope that what we are hearing now would be tempered afterwards.

Fine Gael MEP Maireád McGuinness advised that people should put their fingers in their ears until after the British general election, in the hope that what we are hearing now would be tempered afterwards.

 

There can be no changes to the 1998 Belfast agreement as part of the Brexit deal, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin MEP for Northern Ireland, told the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs that the Northern Ireland peace agreement was incompatible with Brexit. Elements in the agreement included Northern Ireland’s relationship with the Republic, and the requirement that the assembly cannot enact laws incompatible with EU law, she said, made it incompatible. Alterations to the agreement were a “no-go area”.

“We know the damage and danger of that,” she said.

The Brexit negotiations, to facilitate Britain’s departure from the European Union, will begin formally on June 19th, following a general election in Britain. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said avoiding a hard Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be one of three priorities for the EU.

Seven MEPs attended the EU committee on Wednesday to discuss the future of Europe and Brexit.

Ms Anderson, who carries two Irish passports, one diplomatic, said she was speaking on behalf of half a million Irish citizens in Northern Ireland. She said the Government needed to focus on the Belfast agreement and the border with Europe needed to be “in the Irish sea”, and not on the island of Ireland.

Brexit negotiations will be carried out in four-week cycles, Ms Anderson said. In the first week, the European Parliament will be involved in preparations; the second week will involve an exchange of documents between the EU and British; the third week will involve “intense negotiations”; and the fourth week will be set aside for debriefing with input from the EU parliament, she said.

Ms Anderson also said there had been a “a diplomatic offensive” and support was secured from 516 EU MEPs to preserve the Belfast Agreement in all of its parts. She called for a poll for a united Ireland and said it would be the solution to Europe’s Brexit problem.

Fine Gael MEP Maireád McGuinness, who is a vice-president of the European Parliament, advised that people should put their fingers in their ears until after the British general election, in the hope that what we are hearing now would be tempered afterwards.

She also raised concerns about the fishing industry following Brexit. She said there could be “war at sea”.

Deputy Martin Kenny (SF) also said he was concerned about British territorial waters being taken out of the EU.

“Where are boats going to go, but into our waters?” he asked.

Committee member, Deputy Bernard Durkan (Fine Gael) said Ireland had developed “beyond belief” in the EU and the country was becoming “a major player on the European field”. He did not accept Ireland was in a weak position in terms of Brexit negotiations and there was “a lot to play for”.

Independent MEP, Luke Ming Flanagan, complained that people “haven’t a clue” about the work done by the EU and it does not get enough media coverage.

“It is a sick joke that RTÉ won’t put it on when people will watch it,” he said.

He also raised concerns about a white paper on the future of Europe and said we needed to make sure we did not “sleepwalk” into a united states of Europe.