Brexit and Northern Ireland
Sir, – The substance of the current debate on Brexit is both frustrating and quite worrying. Brexit is not primarily about trade or borders – it is about justice.
By far the most important and pressing issue for the Dublin government is the protection of the rights and opportunities of the 800,000 people or more in Northern Ireland who identify themselves as Irish.
These people are European citizens – they are not likely to allow themselves to be stripped of their citizenship by a slender majority vote by a different people in a different country.
The Irish community in Northern Ireland do have, on the other hand, legitimate aspirations for their economy, their freedom of movement and association, their children’s education and their cultural identity.
Every political advance they have made over the past 45 years has been facilitated by the European Union and could not have been made without membership of it.
Above all, the issue is justice – what people anywhere would willingly give up the judicial protection they currently enjoy and swap it for an inferior system of jurisprudence? Or would simply give up the social and cultural parity of esteem they have worked so hard to achieve, for the sake of a deluded, bigoted, narrow and exclusionary vision of the future – one which, moreover, they specifically voted against?
The Dublin government must, as a matter of urgency pertaining to the current Brexit negotiations, make it quite clear that the Irish community in the North will retain their European citizenship – and all of the rights and opportunities that go with it. They must continue to avail of European funding for programmes in education, the arts, agriculture and business. They must be afforded, by the Dublin Government, a route whereby they can contribute, including in financial terms, to the support of those programmes and continue to belong to the various European agencies which operate them.
In short, the Dublin government must now make it absolutely clear that all people in Northern Ireland who are entitled to, and avail of, their Irish identity, now or in the future, will continue to enjoy the full protection and benefits of membership of the European Union, just as they currently do.
That is the only basis for agreement with the UK as it currently stands – Dublin will continue to work on diverting trade to Europe so that the current anomaly of 40 per cent with Britain is reduced to around 15 per cent, especially in agricultural goods. Dublin will continue to develop direct transport links to the Continent so that the British land-bridge can be avoided.
But these are essentially money matters, for which we can expect to receive help. The huge, fundamental question of justice and citizenship is something we must lead on ourselves. – Yours, etc,