A hard border dividing Ireland is inevitable unless a special EU status is secured for Northern Ireland, Gerry Adams has said.
At a major Brexit summit, the Sinn Fein leader said the Irish Government’s refusal to back widespread calls to negotiate a special status is a “grave mistake”.
“Without such a designation a hard border is inevitable,” he told the all-island civic dialogue forum in Dublin Castle.
The summit is the second all-island gathering hosted by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to help form Ireland’s response to Britain’s decision to pull out of the EU.
Mr Kenny said when Theresa May triggers Article 50 to begin the process, Ireland faces the “most important negotiations in our history as an independent state”.
“The Irish Government will oppose a hard border, argue for free movement on this island, seek EU funding for cross-border projects and protect the rights of EU citizens, whether from North or South,” he insisted.
“We must not return to a hard border or create a new border of the future.”
Mr Kenny’s minority Fine Gael-led government is opposed to a special EU status for Northern Ireland, warning it could set a precedent that would worry other European countries.
But Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, the main opposition party which props up the government as part of a three-year deal, said Northern Ireland is a special case.
“For a range of reasons which we have outlined in detail we believe that Northern Ireland is a unique case and it should have a special status,” he told the gathering.
“If the UK Government will not propose this, then it is our job to propose ways forward.
“Given just the fact that Northern Ireland will contain the largest concentration of EU citizens outside of the EU, it is different.”
Mr Martin warned Brexit is the greatest threat to Ireland since the State was founded.
Under the Good Friday Agreement peace deal, people in Northern Ireland have a right to either or both British and Irish citizenship, and therefore EU citizenship.
A majority of Northern Ireland voters backed remaining within the EU in last year’s in/out referendum.
But the Democratic Unionists, the region’s largest political party which is snubbing the all-island forum, campaigned for a Leave vote.
Stephen Farry, deputy leader of Northern Ireland’s cross-community Alliance Party, warned the imminent hard Brexit threatens the security of the region as well as plunging it into an economic and social backwater.
“We do believe we should be considering a special status for Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The choice really isn’t between a one size fits all Brexit for the UK as a whole and special status for Northern Ireland.
“The reality is Northern Ireland is already a special case.
“The choice is having that properly managed and negotiated or having an unholy mess with Northern Ireland becoming a major anomaly.”