Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On Adrian O Neill

  • In an open letter to the Irish community in Britain, Ireland’s top diplomat here says the EU and Downing Street will protect the Good Friday Agreement
  • He says Irish people in Britain should rest assured that there will be no change to the Common Travel Area and Irish people’s reciprocal rights here

As Europe and Ireland step up preparations for the possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal next March, the Irish Embassy in this country has taken the unusual step of appealing to Irish people here to keep calm and carry on as normal.

Ireland’s Ambassador to Britain Adrian O’Neill has issued a letter to the Irish community, and several of its groups, to reassure them that there will be no hard border and that their voting rights and freedom of movement under the Common Travel Area are safe – and that talks are continuing to ensure they remain so.

And he reminds everyone that Prime Minister Theresa May has already agreed the so-called backstop that would prevent smuggler- friendly legal and regulative anomalies between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island of Ireland – or a hard Border.

In his letter he writes: “The Irish Government’s objective in these (Brexit) negotiations is to do whatever we can to ensure an orderly Brexit that does not damage Ireland’s fundamental national interests – safeguarding the peace process, maintaining the Common Travel Area (CTA), protecting Ireland’s trade and economy and ensuring the closest possible future relationship between the UK and the EU.”

Understandably, Ireland’s top diplomat in this does not mention the recent serious scandal in which the Home Office was found to be wrongly deporting members of the so-called Windrush generation and their children despite their every entitlement to remain in this country, or the concerns expressed by some about the Home Office’s statement of intent to operate a settled status scheme for EU citizens in this country, or that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland are treated by the Home Office as third country nationals.

But he does seek to reassure Irish people in this country that their existing, longstanding rights – reciprocated for British citizens in Ireland – will be safe.

“The Irish Government is…working to ensure that the status of Irish citizens in the UK is preserved post- Brexit. “Since long before Ireland and the UK joined the EU, the Common Travel Area (CTA) has allowed Irish and British citizens to move freely, reside in either jurisdiction and access associated rights and entitlements, including those related to employment, healthcare, education and social benefits, as well as the right to vote in certain elections.

“It also underpins the rights of those born in Northern Ireland to be British or Irish or both.

“In December of last year, the EU and the UK agreed that the CTA and associated rights and privileges can continue to operate. The UK Government has confirmed that Irish citizens will not need to apply for the “settled status” scheme (which has been established for other EU citizens living in Britain) although they can if they wish to.

“This was re-confirmed most recently in the UK’s White Paper on the Future Relationship between the UK and the EU, which states that the CTA means that Irish citizens will continue to hold their current status in the UK,” he writes.

Just days after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that Ireland will potentially be the EU state worst hit by Brexit, the Ambassador points out that where people favoured Remain or Leave it is important not to let the delicate balance of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement – and the 21 years of peace and stability it fostered in Northern Ireland be jeopardised.

He writes: “Whether you were in favour of Leave or Remain, the reality is that the UK’s decision to leave the EU has the capacity – if not properly managed – to disturb the delicate and complex balance of the Good Friday Agreement.

Therefore, the aim of the Irish Government has been to conserve what we have enjoyed for the last 20 years – an evolving peace process, a Good Friday Agreement that has transformed life for the better, and an open and invisible border that is both a cause and reflection of that transformation.

“In the negotiations, the EU has proposed a backstop solution for Northern Ireland that contains all of the elements necessary to ensure this status quo remains and that will apply unless and until another solution is found.

“I assure you that this proposed backstop, as set out in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, fully respects the Good Friday Agreement; the EU would not have proposed it, and Ireland would not be supporting it, if it did not. It simply sets out the practical and technical measures needed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and in no way affects the status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK.

“Under the Good Friday Agreement, the constitutional status of Northern Ireland can only be changed with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

“As recently as last week, Prime Minister May reiterated her commitment to ensuring there is no hard border in Ireland, and has also committed to having a legally operable backstop in the EU UK Withdrawal Agreement, which we welcome. For final agreement to be reached, delivering on these commitments will be essential.”

Read the full letter here:

Ambassador Adrian O’Neill: A letter to the Irish community in Britain

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