Co-operation between the Oireachtas and Westminster has “never been more necessary”, the Seanad was told in an address by the speaker of the House of Lords on Wednesday.
Lord John McFall of Alcluith, known as the Lord Speaker, was addressing the Seanad in advance of next week’s second reading of the UK’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in the House of Lords next Tuesday.
He told Senators that before he took up the post he led the reorganisation of the Lords’ committee system including establishing a sub-committee on the Northern Ireland protocol.
Describing it as “unique” because the House of Commons has no equivalent, he said the committee “has a determination to make a useful contribution to scrutiny of the protocol and its operation”.
“It has consistently stressed the need for dialogue, constructive engagement, the building — and in some cases rebuilding — of trust and relationship-building.
“One key aspect of this has been its invaluable bilateral dialogue with committees of the Oireachtas and I know it will continue to prioritise this dialogue in the coming months.”
Lord McFall said the committee is chaired by Lord Michael Jay, former head of the UK Foreign Office, an experienced diplomat and regular visitor to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
“The committee also includes members with wide-ranging expertise, including a former secretary of state for Northern Ireland, a former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and former leaders and deputy leaders of three of the political parties in Northern Ireland, representing both the unionist and nationalist communities.”
The speaker, who later visited the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Co Wicklow, was accompanied on his visit by British ambassador Paul Johnston and a number of officials.
The visit reciprocates one by Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann Mark Daly to Westminster last year and follows Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl’s visit in June.
Fewer than half the Seanad’s 60 members were in attendance for the address. Lord McFall noted that in 100 years of operation the Seanad had some 830 members in total. That is only a few more than the current membership of the House of Lords, he said.
The Scottish former Labour MP is the first lord speaker to address the Houses of the Oireachtas and had been a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which meets in Co Cavan later this month.
He said: “I hope we will be able to continue and enhance the co-operation and engagement between members of our two chambers.
“That is one of the ways we can make our contribution to resolving the uncertainties and difficulties in the relationships across these islands and involving the European Union.”
Stressing that co-operation between Ireland and Britain had never been more necessary, he cited the war in Ukraine and said: “There are so many areas that require us to rise to the challenge and where we are stronger when we work together.”
He stressed that “we must be resolute in defending democratic values and the fundamental importance of human rights, and responding to acts of aggression.
“I applaud the generosity and the famous hospitality of the people in Ireland in offering welcome and shelter to so many people from Ukraine and, indeed, to other refugees.”
He welcomed the establishment of an Ireland-UK parliamentary friendship group, under the leadership of Senator Lisa Chambers.
Lord McFall expressed appreciation for the sympathy shown in Ireland on the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, “The sympathy and support brings home to me the closeness of the relationship between our two countries.”