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Safeguarding peace

Minister for Foreigh Affairs Simon Coveney speaking at the opening of the Fine Gael confernce at the Citywest Hotel Dublin. Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

By Simon Coveney, Tánaiste and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs

These may be unsettling times to be Irish in Britain. A lot is being written and a lot is being said in parts of the media here about Ireland, about the Irish Government and about our approach to Brexit.

Some of this commentary is ill-informed on substance and strident in tone, and is a source of annoyance, and even hurt, to the many Irish people who have made their home here.

Such commentary seeks to distort the Irish Government’s motives and intentions.

It is largely best ignored or countered with a reminder that at the heart of all of this is a precious peace process that remains fragile and which both governments have a duty to uphold.

Please know that the Irish Government has no hidden agenda here.

Safeguarding peace is what we are trying to achieve and we will not be diverted or distracted by unfair comments or provocative language.

While we regret the decision of the UK to leave the EU and have been conscious of the resulting challenges for the island of Ireland, we have always respected the result of the 2016 referendum and always will.

Border communities against Brexit held a short demonstration outside Croke Park this afternoon ahead of the Leitrim vs Derry GAA match. (Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie.)

All we ask is equal respect for Ireland’s efforts to mitigate the impact of that decision on the peace process and Ireland’s wish to stay in the EU, including in the Single Market.

The current invisible, open border that runs across the island of Ireland has had a profoundly positive impact on the peace process and is fundamental to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

People now live, work, move across the border throughout their daily lives without interruption. Small businesses can trade with their nearest neighbours secure in the knowledge that a common framework of standards protects them and their customers.

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The areas of North-South cooperation, set out in the Good Friday Agreement, can function effectively to improve the lives of all the people on the island of Ireland.

Protecting all of this is not an unreasonable ask.

The shared objective of avoiding a hard border was fully accepted by the UK Government in December 2017 and an insurance mechanism to deliver this objective – the backstop – painstakingly worked out between the EU and the UK over months of negotiations.


The backstop is the child of compromise, developed around the UK’s own negotiating red lines.

There is nothing undemocratic about it – it was negotiated by the democratically elected British Government.

It includes mechanisms to ensure UK involvement in its implementation, including by the devolved democratic institutions under the Good Friday Agreement – once they are restored to full operation.

The backstop in no way undermines the Good Friday Agreement – in fact, the Withdrawal Agreement contains an explicit commitment to respect it.

Neither does the backstop undermine the principle of consent under the Good Friday Agreement, which guarantees that only a majority of the people of Northern Ireland can decide on the future constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The backstop does not change this in any way.

It’s not hard to be weary of Brexit.

Boris Johnson (Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie)

Whether you voted leave or remain, it’s all too tempting to switch off, look away and quietly simmer that it has not been resolved yet.

However, hurtling oneself over the cliff of a no-deal Brexit will not bring resolution; it will only ratchet up more fear and uncertainty in Northern Ireland and set back the progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement.

The Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, still represents the best available compromise, the fairest deal and the right way to protect the peace process.

In supporting that peace, the Irish community in Britain has been a stalwart friend.

In the weeks and months ahead, your support remains as crucial as ever.

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