Micheál Martin TD, Leader of Fianna Fáil

Statements on Special European Council on Article 50

Dáil Éireann, Thursday 13th April 2017

While this special summit is intended to solely address the Article 50 negotiations people expect Europe’s leaders to take some time to discuss and act on the recent events in Syria.

Once again the Assad regime has committed a war crime against the people of Syria.  The latest chemical weapons attack was another grotesque and inhuman act.  This adds to the daily accounts of the targeting of civilian facilities and disregard for even the most basic standards of respect for the lives of people the regime claims to be its citizens.

Syria is by some distance the greatest humanitarian crisis of this generation.  Assad’s actions are the direct cause of the refugee crisis and the escalating destruction and barbarity.  It is not clear what further sanctions can be implemented on his regime, however we should assert the basic principle that any entity which continues to trade with or aid Assad should at a minimum be completely banned from the European Union.

The deeply dishonourable behaviour of Russia becomes starker by the day.  Having directly enabled Assad and encouraged his aggression, Russia has even vetoed a call for an independent investigation of the use of chemical weapons which have been banned for well over half a century.  These are also weapons which Russia four years ago assured the world that Assad had destroyed.

Taoiseach, you have a duty to seek on behalf of the Irish people a strong statement and credible action by the European Union against Assad and all who enable his barbarity.

The Summit’s discussion of the guidelines for the Article 50 negotiations marks the end of the beginning of the Brexit process.

There is no positive outcome possible to these negotiations.  Whatever emerges will be bad for Ireland, bad for Europe and, quite frankly, bad for world.  Irrespective of the bluster from London or the shrill jingoism of the anti-EU press, the UK is taking a step backwards towards a more unilateral, isolated and nationalistic approach to relations with other states.

Damage from Brexit is inevitable; in fact it is already underway.  All that can now be achieved is to limit the damage as much as possible.

As far back as May 2013, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, I first laid out our policy on the threat of Brexit and Ireland’s role in the future of the EU.  Since the referendum result last year we have gone much further and have outlined a detailed approach to the main issues and specific action which we believe should be taken.

These short statements do not provide an opportunity to go into most of the issues.  However, I want to repeat yet again Taoiseach that there are urgent actions required which can be pushed forward entirely independent of the Article 50 negotiations.

We must not wait quietly until these negotiations are over before addressing the already evident impact of Brexit on many Irish businesses and communities.

Whatever emerges from the negotiations we will need a major programme to aid those worst hit.  They need support for diversification and innovation.  There is no deal possible which removes all economic disruption.  The UK is already funding businesses to protect supply chains – we need this action now and we need EU support in doing this.

Through the course of last week’s debate on Brexit and the many questions tables since Article 50 was triggered the Taoiseach has refused to give any details on whether Ireland is seeking any changes to the draft text circulated on March 31st.  We have to assume from his statements that he is fully content with the draft.

Reports from this week’s meeting of official in Brussels have referenced the contributions of a number of different countries but Ireland is not one of them.

Fianna Fáil believes that this is a mistake and that there are important changes to the negotiating text which we should be seeking.

In relation to the general approach proposed by President Tusk, we are supportive of these.  His proposals relating to sequencing and timing are reasonable.  We welcome the fact that he is proposing to make it clear to the UK that the EU will promote the interests of the 27 in these negotiations.

The British government should be told politely but firmly that we have no intention of being influenced by their usual approach to EU negotiations – which is to caricature and hysterically denounce anything which doesn’t suit them.

The UK has chosen to go it alone and cannot expect special treatment.  They have eaten their cake and they no longer have it.

Separate to the text on these matters, the 27 should be asked to agree a general statement expressing solidarity and supporting the principle that the EU will both in the negotiations and in it’s other actions seek to prevent countries from being damaged disproportionately.  This is important because of a potential pitfall in the negotiating text as it relates to Ireland.

As I have said before, we acknowledge Michel Barnier’s positive attitude to Ireland and that of Donald Tusk.  They are sincere statesmen who are friends of this country.  However the current text is incomplete and raises some concerns.

We welcome the commitment to finding “flexible and imaginative solutions” relating to Ireland.  However there is a serious problem where special measures relating to the connections between Ireland and the UK are required to be “compatible with EU law” and protect the “integrity of the Union legal order”.

This implies a significant inflexibility.  It is highly likely that any full implementation of the Common Travel Area or any “flexible and imaginative solutions” protecting cross-border activity will require new EU laws to permit them.  Current laws relating to trade and customs are completely inflexible.

Because the government has not produced an analysis of what is possible within existing EU law and what changes we might need to seek, these provisions in the draft are a serious concern.  At a minimum they should be amended to include the idea that changes to EU law may be required.

The insistence on the applicability of the “integrity of the Union legal order” appears to be a reference to the legal roles of the Commission and Court of Justice in investigation and arbitration.  Given the position of the British government, we should seek a guarantee that unique arrangements will be considered.

As I have said before, we are deeply disappointed that the draft makes no reference to the fact that 1.8 million residents of Northern Ireland will continue to have the right to EU citizenship post-Brexit.

Simply referring to the Good Friday Agreement does not address this point.  Recognising their citizenship upfront immediately sets a new tone and pushes all parties to greater flexibility.

This is a unique situation and it should be explicitly referenced in the text.  It is simply inexplicable that the Taoiseach has refused to seek this small but important change.

On a separate but important matter, the Prime Minister May’s Article 50 letter once again fails to acknowledge that nearly half of her electorate voted to Remain.  16 million people resisted the lies and anti-EU hysteria and remained true to the ideal of Europe.

It would be symbolically very positive if the EU in its statement explicitly mentioned this – and that fact that two devolved administrations voted to Remain.

While this is a matter for a separate process, a fast and generous approach to EU membership for Scotland should it choose to become independent should be agreed policy.

One of the few changes agreed already to the text has been inclusion of the role of the European Parliament in the process.  This is welcome because of the positive role the Parliament is taking in relation to Ireland.

Last month I discussed this with the Parliament’s lead negotiator Guy Verhofstadt.I believe he is very supportive of Ireland and eager to respond to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland and its EU citizens.

We welcome the Ceann Comháirle’s positive response to our proposal that Mr Verhofstadt be invited to Dáil Éireann in the near future.

Whatever is agreed at this summit it will not undo the harm of Brexit.  However in charting the course of negotiations we should start with clarity and a substantive commitment to aiding those who remain true to the European Union.

In order to avoid significant difficulties during the negotiations and in the years afterwards, it is imperative that the Taoiseach seek small but important changes to the draft text.