At the Order of Business in the Seanad today, I asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the Seanad today to explain how the Irish Government intends to defend every line and dot of the Good Friday Agreement in light of this morning’s ruling by the UK Supreme Court.
The UK Supreme Court delivered its BREXIT judgment earlier this morning and there has been much focus on its implications as it relates to votes of parliament in the UK.
There has also been considerable attention drawn to the fact that the consent of the Northern Ireland & Scottish Assembly is not legally required before the UK Prime Minister can formally notify under Article 50.
I believe that there has been little focus on a key passage of the judgement which has serious implications for the Good Friday Agreement.
The UK Supreme Court was asked to consider the following question:
“Does any provision of the Northern Ireland Act, read together with the Belfast Agreement and the British-Irish Agreement, have the effect that primary legislation is required before Notice can be given?”
The Supreme Court at paragraph 131 of its judgment gave the following answer.
"It is unquestionably right……to claim that the Northern Ireland Act conferred rights on the citizens of Northern Ireland. Sections 6(2)(d) and 24(1), in imposing the EU constraints, have endowed the people of Northern Ireland with the right to challenge actions of the Executive or the Assembly on the basis that they are in breach of EU law."
As the Supreme Court already ruled that the consent of the Northern Ireland assembly was not required, it did not give judgment on the necessity or otherwise to amend the Northern Ireland Act of Westminster which put the Good Friday Agreement into Law. It did however make it absolutely clear that Northern Ireland Citizens were given new EU based rights as a result of that legislation.
Those citizens, who in a majority voted against BREXIT, will see those rights stripped away from them two years after the UK formally notify under Article 50 without having any say on the matter. Furthermore, citizens of this state who voted in record numbers to amend our constitution that enabled Ireland sign up to the Good Friday Agreement, will equally have no say in the stripping away of rights enshrined in this agreement.”
I am seriously concerned that we have heard nothing from the Government on what they intend to do to protect the rights of our Northern Citizens rights and to prevent what will in effect be the unilateral breach of the Good Friday Agreement by the UK Government. Once Article 50 is issued, the irrevocable process will have begun and essential clauses within the Good Friday Agreement that confer rights on Northern Ireland citizens will vanish in two years with no recourse to protect them. Amending the Good Friday Agreement is not the concern of the European Union, neither is it the unilateral concern of the British state, it is the concern of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the elected Executive of Northern Ireland. The UK Prime Minister cannot simply ignore her obligations to this State and our Taoiseach cannot ignore the citizens of this state who voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday’s ratification. I firmly believe that the Good Friday Agreement was one of the greatest achievements to bring peace and stability to this island in my lifetime and I am stunned that our Government has no strategy to defend against its imminent destruction. Today I called on the Minister for Foreign affairs to explain how this Government intends to defend every line and dot of the Good Friday Agreement before the UK Prime Minister triggers Article 50.