Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

EU chief Brexit negotiator addresses the Dail on border issues

Local politicians and campaign groups attended last week’s joint meeting of the Oireachtas at the Dail to hear the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier address both houses on how the EU will deal with the concerns of Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.

Declan Fearon of Border Communities Against Brexit said the group travelled to the Dail for the meeting on Thursday in the hope that all the political parties in Ireland would agree to a special status for the North in the Brexit negotiations.

Michel Barnier addressed the Dail during a two-day visit to Ireland ahead of the beginning of Brexit negotiations. He is the first non-head of state or prime minister to make such an address.

He told Irish parliamentarians he had a duty to speak the truth and that the “UK’s departure from the EU would have consequences”. Mr Barnier also stressed that customs controls were part of EU border management but he said that whatever happened in negotiations, “nothing should put peace at risk”.

He also sought to “reassure the Irish people” that the Republic of Ireland’s interest will be the EU’s interest in Brexit negotiations.

EU negotiating guidelines call for “flexible and imaginative solutions” to avoid a hard border but they warn that any solution needs to “respect the integrity of the EU legal order.” Mr Barnier said the Irish border issue would be “one of his three priorities in negotiations”.

Speaking at the joint sitting of the Oireachtas, Declan Fearon said the most important element of Mr Barnier’s speech for border communities was that he would work with Ireland to avoid a hard border.

“The UK’s departure from the EU will have consequences,’’ he added.

“We have a duty to speak the truth.’’

He said customs controls were part of the EU border management to protect the single market, food safety and standards.

Declan added “If we do not achieve Special Status for the North within the EU we will have customs controls. Europe will not allow the integrity of their food chain and their environment to be damaged by products they cannot verify or endorse their country of origin. Ordinary people and all politicians need to wake up to that reality.

“There certainly is good will in Europe to our very difficult position, but we must realise that Europe have their own rules which they will not have flouted.

“We will continue our engagement with politicians and Mr Barnier’s office to put the case on behalf of border communities.”

Newry and Armagh MP  Mickey Brady, who was also present at Thursday’s meeting in the Dail, said Brexit is bad for Ireland and in particular the North.

“The people of Newry and Armagh voted to remain within the EU last June and are being dragged out of the EU by the British Tories against the democratically expressed wishes of the people.”

Mr Brady added that his party had the opportunity to put their case directly to Michel Barnier, emphasising the need for the North to be designated special status within the EU with no border in Ireland, continued access to the single market and also to the customs union.

“The North cannot be collateral damage in this self-serving, narrow and reckless British Tory Brexit agenda,” added the Sinn Fein MP.

“The people of the Newry and Armagh want the whole island to stay in the EU together. For people living along the border Brexit creates huge uncertainty and could disrupt community cohesion. We must ensure that citizenship rights, trade, business, energy and workers protections are all safeguarded.

“It is imperative that the people take the opportunity to again have their say in the Westminster election and reject Brexit, a border and Tory cuts on 8 June.”