SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has warned that politicians must “fight tooth and nail” to protect those in the north from the potentially massive impact of Brexit.
The Foyle MLA was speaking during the All-Ireland Civic Dialogue on Brexit at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham in Dublin this week.
Issues affecting the border were repeatedly raised during the talks with a large delegation from Derry and Donegal in attendance. Among the local delegates were Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Chief Executive of Derry City & Strabane District Council John Kelpie and the Chief Executive of Donegal County Council Seamus Neely. Representatvies from the Chambers of Commerce in Derry and Letterkenny were also in attendance.
Speaking during the event, Mr Eastwood said: “We haven’t given our consent to leave the European Union, that’s why we have to fight tooth and nail to protect the people of Northern Ireland – the 56% who voted to remain. We need a bespoke deal for Northern Ireland, we need to protect the freedom of our citizens around this island and within the EU.”
He added: “The freedom of movement of people, goods and services across this island must be protected and any new border controls must be at Stansted, Liverpool or Stranraer, not in Ireland.
“What we need now is an Irish solution to a European problem.”
Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Martin McGuinness meanwhile said: “The British Tory party can’t be trusted to act in the best interests of the people of Ireland. It is crucial that the Irish government represents the national interests of all Irish citizens, of the economies north and south, and safeguards the advances of the Good Friday and other Agreements.”
Speaking from Dublin yesterday, the Chief Executive of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce Sinead McLaughlin, who moderated a north-south session at the event, said: “The talks have been very constructive. There was a complete consensus around the table and it was very heartening to hear. Because they are co-chairs of the Peace Process the Irish government are very aware of issues around the manifestation of any type of border.”
She said that much of the discussions centred on establishing a special relationship post-Brexit “because we are so interlinked”.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. opened the event stating that Brexit “presents the most significant economic and social challenge of the past 50 years”. He added that he had “agreed with the Prime Minister that there will be no return to the borders of the past”.