Labour MP Conor McGinn pushing for Brexit protection
By Bernard Purcell
An attempt to include statutory safeguards to protect the rights of Irish citizens living in Britain in the Brexit Bill is being made this week by Labour Party MP Conor McGinn.
Mr McGinn, the MP for St Helen’s in Merseyside and originally from Armagh, is the chair of Westminster’s All- Party Group On the Irish in Britain.
The Irish World reported last year that legal experts in the UK cast serious doubts on British and Irish claims that the existing rights enjoyed by Irish people here and British people in Ireland – dating back to the 1920s – could just be transcribed into new post-Brexit legislation.
Now Mr McGinn has tabled a series of amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit Secretary David Davis, as well as Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, have insisted that existing rights to settle, work and even to vote are enshrined in the Ireland Act 1949 which explicitly states Irish people are not to be regarded as foreign under UK immigration and domestic law.
Migration Law expert at the University of Leicester Professor Bernard Ryan has said the 1949 Act does not provide any detailed protections and people are proceeding under a misapprehension.
He, and other experts, have said that new, detailed legislation will be necessary to continue enjoying the rights currently enjoyed by Irish people here and reciprocated in Ireland.
Mr McGinn is also seeking, should his amendments be accepted, to ensure there will be further statutory protection for the Good Friday Agreement, which is, admittedly already, a binding international treaty between the two countries. He wants protection, in domestic law, the 1998 Accord’s commitments to power-sharing, cross-border institutions, a Bill of Rights and legal protection for the Irish language.
He called in MPs from all parties to protect the rights of their constituents who originally came from Ireland – many of them decades ago. Many on the All-Party Group he chairs, including deputy chair Tory MP Maria Caulfield whose father is Irish, have not just Irish constituents but Irish roots themselves.
He said: “The UK parliament has a duty of care to Irish citizens living here who are contributing to the British economy and British society. Hundreds of thousands of older Irish people in particular have lived in Britain for decades.
“This is their home and where they have worked, raised families and made huge contributions to their communities. This uncertainty is causing them a great deal of anxiety. “MPs from all parties should get behind these amendments and support the rights and protections of Irish citizens — their constituents — in Britain.”
“MPs from all parties recognise the importance of protecting the peace process and the tremendous progress we have seen on the island of Ireland and in British-Irish relations since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement nearly 20 years ago, and the government has the chance through my amendments to show it does too.”
The full amendments that Mr McGinn, MP for St Helen’s North, has tabled to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill:
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill Conor McGinn
• To move the following clause- “Status of Irish citizens in the United Kingdom Before making any regulations under Section 9, the Minister shall commit to making available to Irish citizens lawfully resident in the United Kingdom after this Act receives Royal Assent, any status, rights and entitlements available to Irish citizens before exit day, inclusive of and in addition to their status, rights and entitlements as EU citizens.”
• To move the following clause- “Provisions of the Good Friday Agreement Before making any regulations under Section 9, the Minister shall commit to maintaining the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent Agreements agreed between the United Kingdom and Ireland since 1998, including- (a) the free movement of people, goods and services on the island of Ireland; (b) citizenship rights; (c) the preservation of institutions set up relating to strands 1, 2 and 3 of the Good Friday Agreement; (d) human rights and equality; (e) the principle of consent; (f ) the status of the Irish language; and (g) a Bill of Rights.”