Fianna Fáil MEP says he cannot vote for Brexit deal

Billy Kelleher wants rights of Irish/EU citizens in North protected from dilution by UK

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher has sent  a letter to Tánaiste Simon Coveney concerning the rights of Irish/EU citizens in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher has sent a letter to Tánaiste Simon Coveney concerning the rights of Irish/EU citizens in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

 

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher says he plans to vote against the Brexit deal in the European Parliament over fears it could erode the rights of Irish/EU citizens in Northern Ireland.

In a letter to Tánaiste Simon Coveney, the Ireland South MEP says that while he recognised the importance of the agreement passing to avoid a damaging no-deal Brexit, he was “very concerned” that the UK may seek to dilute the rights of Irish/EU citizens in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

“In all conscience, I cannot vote for an agreement that is so vague and leaves it open for a dilution of citizens’ rights into the future,” said Mr Kelleher in the letter sent last week.

“EU citizens in Northern Ireland need clarity and confirmation that their futures are protected and that they cannot be used as future bargaining chips.”

The Cork politician asked the Tánaiste to raise the issue at EU Council level with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Mr Kelleher told The Irish Times that he had also raised his concerns in letters to the British prime minister Boris Johnson and the European Commission.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was aware of his concerns and the position he had taken on the agreement, he said. He pointed out that the European Parliament had a right to debate the issue as part of the EU’s ratification of the withdrawal agreement.

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“If you don’t raise these issues in advance, well then there is no point in I saying afterwards that maybe I should have done something differently,” said Mr Kelleher.

The European Parliament is due to vote on the agreement on January 29th. This is the last legal hurdle before the agreement comes into effect and the UK departs the EU on January 31st.

The MEP said that if his concerns about Irish/EU citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland were not addressed in “an impartial, independent manner”, then he would have “grave concerns” about the withdrawal deal “without having any ability to deal with these issues at a later stage”.

‘This is their home’

In his letter – seen by The Irish Times – Mr Kelleher says that “of most concern” to him about the withdrawal agreement are the “hundreds of thousands of EU citizens living in Northern Ireland, the vast majority of whom are Irish citizens.

“When Brexit does happen, there will be more EU citizens in Northern Ireland than there are in some member states such as Luxembourg or Malta, ” he said.

“These Irish/EU citizens have done nothing to deserve this. They have consistently voted remain in the referendum and general elections since 2016.

“They were born here and this is their home. They supported the Good Friday Agreement on the assumption of continued EU membership.”

Mr Kelleher said EU citizens from the other 26 member states who had made Northern Ireland their home and started families with other Irish/EU citizens were “now in complete limbo”.

The withdrawal agreement made no explicit reference to Irish/EU citizens born and living in Northern Ireland, he wrote, stressing that they were not the same as French or Dutch nationals living in London and “should be treated in a different way”.

He told The Irish Times that an Irish citizen living in Dublin who is married to a French national may have to apply for “settled status” from the UK if they decided to move to Belfast.

“That just diminishes the free movement of people in terms of working North and South and the co-operation built up over the last 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement was passed,” he said.

Brexit has renewed general concerns in Northern Ireland about the birthright status of citizens to identify as Irish or British or both under the 1998 Belfast Agreement and in turn their right to EU protections if they consider themselves Irish/EU citizens.

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