Irish government Brexit report dismissed as ‘united Ireland wish list’

Sinn Feins Kathleen Funchion  who chairs the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Sinn Feins Kathleen Funchion who chairs the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

A report compiled to shape the Republic of Ireland’s approach to Brexit has been dismissed as a “united Ireland wish list” by Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken.

Mr Aiken also described the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement document as “disingenuous” and called for the “principle of consent” to be respected.

The cross-party report makes 17 recommendations including: “The establishment of a New Ireland Forum 2 is recommended to set a pathway to achieve the peaceful reunification of Ireland.”

It also recommends that an international task force “with experts in security so that plans to meet any risks may be devised and implemented,” is established, with one stating: “Fears and concerns of the unionist community need to be examined, understood and addressed comprehensively by all stakeholders in advance of any referendum.”

In her foreword to the report the committee’s chair, Kathleen Funchion of Sinn Fein, said: “The report would also examine what would need to be done to ensure a positive outcome should reunification be agreed under Annex (2) of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr Aiken said: “This is a united Ireland wish list dressed up as a Brexit report. Instead of poorly researched and highly biased ‘evidence’ gathering, politicians in the Republic would be better served looking after their own domestic affairs and dealing with their own considerable European challenges, rather than seeking to undermine the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.”

The party’s finance spokesman added: “This report, by recommending that Northern Ireland remains a part of the EU, undermines the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent which underpins it.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said Dublin’s “now transparent republican agenda must be rejected,” and added: “For all their bluster the Republic knows that they badly need the UK market for their agricultural sector. It is therefore in their interests more than any other part of the EU that a sensible deal is done on Brexit. Indeed, though it is a matter for them, the Republic would be better serving its own long-term interests by itself leaving the failed and stultifying EU.”

Former Ulster Unionist MEP Lord Kilclooney dismissed the report as evidence the Republic was “living in dreamland”.

The cross-bench peer said: “One solution, which would overcome border issues, would be the reunification of the United Kingdom.”

Stephen Farry of Alliance also criticised the report.

He said: “There are real dangers in conflating building the case for a special deal for Northern Ireland and also how the island as a whole plans for Brexit, with the case for and planning for Irish unity.

“People are perfectly entitled to pursue their constitutional aspirations and consider how a united Ireland could be delivered. However, this must be decoupled from the immediate challenges of Brexit. It is therefore unhelpful for the committee to consider both of these matters within one report.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the report and repeated his call for “nationalism across the island to advance the process of mapping Irish unity in a way that includes and respects all traditions”.

He said: “Brexit remains the most significant constitutional challenge to face these islands since partition. The prospect of a hard border, with customs checks and immigration controls across this island should be a wake up call to us all.

“It’s critical that in facing up to the scale of that challenge, that we scale up our ambition.”

Mr Eastwood added: “The SDLP continues to believe that Irish unification is the biggest and the best idea around. This report should now prompt a national discussion on unity, our constitutional and economic future that includes and respects all traditions on the island. Irish nationalism needs to get down to the kind of work undertaken by Scottish nationalists in advance of their independence referendum.”

Sinn Fein senator Niall Ó Donnghaile sits on the committee that produced the report.

“Among several of its recommendations it calls on the Irish government to pro-actively plan and prepare for the reunification of Ireland,” he said.

“On the issue of consent the report makes clear that it supports consent but it also says that consent should not be an excuse for political inertia on the issue of ending partition and reuniting Ireland. The launch of today’s report makes the case for the need for a Joint-Oireachtas Committee on Irish unity much more compelling.

“The establishment of such a committee would further research, develop and utilise the detail collated in today’s report and also help action and scrutinise government obligations on planning for unity within the context of both the Good Friday Agreement and the negative ramifications of Brexit,” the former Belfast lord mayor added.