Dáil Speech by Brendan Smith TD during Statements on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union


Over the past few weeks, we have seen further proof that many of the British politicians who argue most passionately and vociferously for Brexit, indeed for a hard Brexit, have no idea at all about what that will mean for the people of Northern Ireland and for the Good Friday Agreement.

And, in a week where we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement referendum it is worth noting that the most recent survey shows that people in the North now more passionately oppose Brexit than they even did at the 2016 referendum.

This week we saw the British Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes tell the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that she has not even read the Good Friday Agreement.

She was there to specifically discuss Brexit and talk about what her Department was doing on Brexit in the context of Northern Ireland.

This is astounding stuff.

But it is only one small example.

We also saw the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Tory M.P. Owen Paterson and the DUP MP, Sammy Wilson publish a joint article in Monday’s Daily Telegraph in which they argue that re-establishing the Border will not be an issue.

Without any recourse to facts or reality they accuse political leaders on this island and anti Brexiteers in Britain of “exploiting fantasies about the Irish border”.

They base this on their extraordinary discovery that, and I quote, “There is a border: it hasn’t gone away”.

Yes, of course there is a border.

It is there because there are two jurisdictions on this island.

There are separate legal, criminal justice and healthcare systems.

There are separate political and governmental administrations.

Did this news seriously come as a shock to a DUP MP and a former Northern Ireland Secretary?

Yes, there is a border.

But it is as soft a border as possible.

There are no checkpoints, there is no border infrastructure and there are no military installations.

It is no longer a border that is patrolled on both sides with a heavy customs, police and armed military presence.

While Mr Wilson and Mr Paterson may not understand the difference between the two situations, I can assure them that I and my constituents do.

We know it based on experience.

We know what was there before and we know that we do not wish to travel one single step back towards that horrible and tragic past.

We know that the PSNI chief constable has warned of his fears and concerns at the prospect of any return to a harder border.

We know that the Good Friday Agreement was about breaking down borders and that it did that by creating the political conditions that allowed both the removal of the border infrastructure on the ground and diminishing the border attitudes in peoples’ minds.

The communities on both sides of the border where I live no longer live with their backs to each other.

Day to day life along the border today is now lived together across that border, not in separate silos on either side of it.

But that progress took time. It took decades of hard work and trust building.

In their excellent presentation to our Oireachtas Joint Select Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Professor David Phinnemore and Dr Katy Hayward of Queen’s University Belfast made the point that much of the history of the European Union entails devising innovative solutions to cross-border problems.

Brexit attempts to undo this progress and set back the clock on this island.

As both Phinnemore and Hayward state, and I quote:

The success of the [Good Friday] Agreement has centred on viewing the Irish border, and Northern Ireland more broadly, as a point of contact between the UK and Ireland, not a dividing line between them.

Therein lies the path to finding a way through the Brexit dilemma that that Britain has foisted upon us.

We need to impress upon the British government and political establishment.

– and that includes the British Labour Party who regrettably have become passive enablers of Brexit, though I welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s long overdue visit to Northern Ireland today –

– that the Irish border and Northern Ireland could and should become the positive point of contact, the interface, not just between Britain and Ireland, but between Britain and the EU.

If that happens, then perhaps the people I represent can have some hope of safeguarding and ensuring the hard-won progress of the last two decades.