The Dáil has passed a motion on the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement without a vote as there were fewer than the necessary 10 TDs seeking to have one.
Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, most of the smaller parties and most independents supported the agreement but nine TDs called for a vote.
They were Paul Murphy Mick Barry, Clare Daly, Ruth Coppinger, Michael Collins, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, Mick Wallace and Mattie McGrath.
The House rejected a Sinn Féin amendment on citizens’ rights in the North and a People Before Profit amendment for a Border poll in the event of the UK leaving without a deal and the prospect of a hard Irish Border looming.
Earlier, Tánaiste Simon Coveney had said support in the Dáil for the Brexit withdrawal agreement would send a "strong signal" that Ireland was fully behind the deal.
He said “it is time that we kept our message simple and clear” as he urged all parties and TDs to support the Government motion, during a four-hour debate on the draft agreement.
The motion states that “Dáil Éireann supports the draft agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community (the draft withdrawal agreement), as published on 14th November 2018 including the draft protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland which forms an integral part of draft agreement”.
Mr Coveney said any amendment “potentially loses the opportunity to be crystal clear in that message that the withdrawal agreement text is fully supported across all parties in the Dáil”.
Sinn Féin introduced an amendment to the debate that party leader Mary Lou McDonald said was not intended to “take from the motion”.
She said the deal was not perfect and she could not describe it as good but “I acknowledge that last week’s deal is one that mitigates against the worst aspects” of Brexit and her party supported the deal.
But she said citizens’ rights should have been included. Her party’s amendment called for citizens of the North to continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens and to have access to the European Courts, to education within the EU and to the EU health insurance card.
Mr Coveney said he agreed with the sentiment and words in the amendment but he did not think it was “helpful for us to take away from the core message that we are trying to send from this House tonight that we support the text of the withdrawal agreement”.
“It is time that we kept our message simple and clear that we have I hope all party-support for that text.”
Opening the debate Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted the agreement “fully secures the negotiating objectives we set out at the start. Most importantly, it fully protects the Good Friday Agreement, and ensures the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland”.
“We have insisted that there could be no going back on this, no new barriers to the movement of people or commerce.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his party supported the motion despite the Taoiseach’s refusal to supply any legal opinion on the impact of the proposed text.
He said “it appears that there are significant practical issues over what checks would and would not be required for North/South trade under the proposed arrangements post-2020”.
And he claimed that the Netherlands, the EU state most similar to Ireland in terms of the potential scale of Brexit, was better prepared than Ireland.
“It has already hired and trained 1,000 customs and related staff who will be in place on March 29th next year,” while Ireland has just started the hiring and it is “absolutely clear that we will not have the staff in place to meet all eventualities next March”.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said his party would “warmly welcome a second referendum, before the door is finally closed, perhaps after a postponement of the date to trigger Article 50”.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett called on the Government to “seek a border poll to happen simultaneously north and south that if there was even an inkling that there would be a hard border”.
He said it would be a “warning shot to Europe” if there is any attempt to impose a border between north and south.
But Solidarity TD Mick Barry rejected a border boll as a “sectarian head count”. He also said his party would vote against the motion because “the politics of neo-liberalism run through this document like stitching in a jacket”.
Social Democrats TD Roisin Shortall said there was no way to square the circle of a common travel area between Ireland and Britain when British prime minister Theresa May had been “vociferous” that the deal “will end free movement for non-Irish EU nationals into the UK”.