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First detailed report on potential impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement launched today – Funchion

22 June, 2017 - by Kathleen Funchion TD

The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement today launched its Report on the Implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement.

The Committee has been considering the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process on the island of Ireland over a series of hearings from September 2016 to date.

The Committee’s report focuses on a number of interlinked areas that directly impact on the Good Friday Agreement. These include: Cross-Border Cooperation, EU Funding, Trade, Free Movement and Security; Constitutional Issues and Reconciliation and Identity.

Some key findings in the report include:

• Brexit should not distract from any of the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement being implemented. It has never been more important that the institutions and principles provided for in the Agreement are respected, protected and promoted.
• The North South Ministerial Council should meet more regularly providing a forum for addressing emerging aspects of the withdrawal process. The EU focus of the North South Ministerial Council’s work will need to be clarified in the course of the negotiations. 
• It is the Committee’s strong recommendation that a solution is sought that allows the PEACE and INTERREG EU funded programmes to continue as they are. The Good Friday Agreement provides a clear pretext for such an arrangement. One solution could include funds continuing to flow to Northern Ireland on a ‘lean to’ basis post-Brexit via Ireland’s EU membership and through the North South Ministerial Council. This option should be explored further under the Government’s planning.
• The free-flowing movement of business, commerce and people across the border must be protected. Any restrictions would be negative and retrograde. 
• Urgent clarity is required on how a ‘seamless and frictionless border’ as referred to by the UK Government might be possible in the scenario of a UK departure from the Single Market and Customs Union. Creative solutions must be employed to ensure that neither cross-border trade nor intercommunity relations suffer unduly.
• No other cross border model can be transposed to Ireland; a tailored solution for Northern Ireland will have to be developed based on geography, relationships, politics and people on this island. 
• It is essential to invest in informal relationships as the formal ones are withdrawn. This should include at civil society level and in upscaling relationships between councils. In this regard, the Committee acknowledges the important role that the All Island Civic Dialogue has played and urges that it continues to be convened throughout the entire Brexit negotiation process and afterwards if required. 
• Issues of reconciliation and identity are not as tangible as economic issues but must be monitored very closely. In this regard, the Committee calls on the Government to commission a detailed study into the potential implications of Brexit for reconciliation which would set benchmarks and provide a tool for measuring the effect of Brexit on the reconciliation process. This would help identify quantitative and qualitative issues which may impinge on reconciliation and stability in detail.

Committee Chair, Kathleen Funchion TD, said, “The Committee recognises the extent to which the unique situation on the island of Ireland in terms of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a hard border has been recognised by the main parties to the negotiations. However, there is no room for complacency.”

“This report, the result of nine months of consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, highlights the very real and serious concerns that businesses, communities, think tanks, local authorities, the retail industry, environmental actors, and those working on peace, justice, human rights and reconciliation have. Those concerns must be heard and acted upon.”

“One particular concern is around the future of EU funding through the Special EU Programmes Body. Since their inception over 20 years ago these programmes have provided almost 3.5 billion euro to projects focusing on issues such as cross border cooperation, peace and reconciliation; infrastructure development, research and innovation. They have benefited hundreds of thousands of people. The scale and importance of these programmes cannot be overstated. A solution for successor programmes must be found. Ireland’s continued EU membership and the role of the North South Ministerial Council must be explored in this regard.”

“There has been much talk of avoiding a hard border – an issue so central to the peace process - yet it remains unclear how that will be achieved if the UK leaves the single market and customs union, which now seems to be a certainty. Clarity is required. The all island economy must not be affected. A tailored solution, taking into account the very unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, is required.”

“The Committee is keen to see a functioning power-sharing Executive return to the North. This is so important in ensuring the North’s voice is heard as the negotiations get underway. Our Committee uniquely invites Northern Ireland MPs to attend Committee meetings where they have speaking rights to engage with stakeholders and contribute to discussions. The Committee intends to travel to the North in the coming weeks to launch the report there.”

“I am particularly pleased that the Minister was at today’s launch – the Committee hopes this is indicative of the Government’s seriousness in its approach to safeguarding the Good Friday Agreement and taking on board the Committee’s findings. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s initial response to this report and we would urge him to take these findings to Brussels and London as he engages with the EU negotiating team, other EU Member States and the British Government.”

The Committee will also be seeking a Dáil debate on this report.

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