Derry & Strabane Council is to write to Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and other leaders to ensure the voices of local people, aghast at the British Government’s plans to try to re-negotiate the ‘backstop,’ are heard loud and clear .
There was a lengthy and, at times, heated debate in the Council Chamber recently after an urgent motion was tabled by SDLP Councillor Sinead McLaughlin following the vote in Westminster last week.
That vote gave the British Prime Minister a mandate to try and re-negotiate the Brexit deal and, particularly the Irish backstop element of it, despite senior EU figures repeatedly stating there will be no alterations to what has been agreed.
Colr. McLaughlin proposed that council write to the Prime Minister and Labour leader “outlining our serious concerns at the government’s attempts to re-negotiate the Irish backstop as it will have a disastrous impact on the economical, cultural, social and physical well being of our cross-border city region.”
Speaking on the issue, Colr. McLaughlin, who is also a former CEO of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce, said: “The House of Commons vote this week in Westminster is such to cause this council great concern. The decision of the British Government to allow the dissolution of the backstop is being done over the heads of people here. This decision was taken against the interests of the majority of the citizens and businesses of Northern Ireland.
“The Conservative and DUP parties have demonstrated that it is party interest over the people in the North. This in, and of itself, demonstrates the absolute necessity of having a backstop that is legally binding in the withdrawal agreement.”
She added: “The rejection of the Irish backstop - the only viable mechanism to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland - is an affront to the Good Friday Agreement.”
DUP Alderman David Ramsey said the big issue here was some people seemed to have a problem with democracy.
“This is all we have heard since the Referendum and what happened the other night was again democracy. But things are getting confusing now because for the last couple of years there has been talk from everyone that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, that free movement of people will continue, but all of a sudden now when things are getting a wee bit tough at the top in the EU, they are now turning round and saying there is going to be a hard border.
Troops at border
“Leo Vardkar is talking about bringing an army up to the border,” he claimed, adding: “There was no army at the border whenever we had a massive terrorist campaign, so are we going to have one for doing searches?
“This is ridiculous. A democratic vote was made in Westminster. We are going and seeking the best deal for this country, Northern Ireland and the Republic as well, because we are partners. On March 29 we are leaving the EU and if the EU don’t sort this out, we will be leaving with no deal. It will be in the WTO [World Trade Organisation] and in the future we will prosper.”
‘BASH THE BRITS’
He went on: “What we need is assurances NI remains part of the United Kingdom as per the Good Friday Agreement, until the people of NI vote otherwise. That is what we are trying to protect and all this is being used for is ‘Bash the Brits’.
“It’s actually ridiculous. It’s just total political warfare. We are leaving.”
Sinn Fein Colr. Sandra Duffy claimed Alderman Ramsey was “living in a bit of a fantasy world there if he believes there were no troops on the border in the past.”
Colr. Duffy said she had no problem supporting the motion as her party was on record stating that there was no good Brexit for the North and that the backstop “was the very least we need to protect ourselves.”
She added that there might not be much use in sending a letter as the Tory party was in chaos with infighting. “Thankfully our MEP team has been working hard in Europe, led by Martina Anderson and the Europeans have come out to say there will be no re-opening of negotiations, so I’m content with that,” she declared.
Colr. Duffy then proposed the first of several amendments tabled at the meeting, that the council should also write to Taoiseach, Leo Vardkar,and senior EU figures involved in the Brexit talks, chief negotiator Michel Barnier, EU Council President Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker.
“In terms of the actual motion,” Colr. Duffy added, “I think it does open up the case for a border poll. Ireland’s interests are best served in Ireland and this just proves it.”
This amendment, seconded by Colr. Christopher Jackson, was voted on and later adopted into the motion.
UUP Alderman Derek Hussey, meanwhile, said the suggestion was that they do not re-negotiate what was, in fact, bad for a lot of people in Northern Ireland. He said: “I prefer the democracy coming out of Westminster as opposed to the benign dictatorship, Orwellian in nature, that is coming out of Europe.”
Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said a border “hard or soft’ was an affront to democracy.
“We are only just past the 100th anniversary of the first Dail, a process where 78 per cent of those elected stood on a separatist ticket, refused to go to Westminster and founded their own parliament. That’s why we have a border; that we have two artificial States on this island is because of a denial of democracy and it can’t be rewritten.”
Colr. Donnelly said Brexit had shattered any acceptance of the status quo and said there were now moderate nationalists getting political and large numbers of unionists getting Irish passports. “The unionists in their dive to implementing Brexit, it’s almost watching Unionist self-harm and there’s some people now actually saying there’s a distinct danger that Padraig Pearse and James Connolly will be replaced by Sammy Wilson and Arlene Foster as the people who did most to bring about a United Ireland!
SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney said he found the DUP position “ridiculous.” “The reason for this motion is that the reality is, the only people representing the views of people in the North of Ireland is the DUP and the reality is they do not represent the views of the majority of people in the North. I think it’s extremely important the Prime Minister and all the names mentioned listen to the worries and concerns we have if the British Government attempt to re-negotate the backstop. “It’s not about political warfare. It’s not about bash the Brits, it’s about making sure the people who are going to be attempting the re-negotiating of the backstop hear this chamber loud and clear.”
Independent Unionist Maurice Devenney said he believed Barnier , Juncker “and all them boys” were playing hardball and would fold as the exit date nears.
Sinn Fein Colr. Maoliosa McHugh said whether or not his party attended a British Parliament would have no consequence, but where they had influence was at the European table with one Sinn Fein MEP from every county of Ireland.
“Exercising their influence there they have ensured this backstop has come into place.”
He said the reason it was vital the EU stand firm, was that “only last week Theresa May has shown how the British can change their minds. How duplicitous the British can be when they are involved in negotiations. They bring you to the bottom line and then they go away and change their minds.”
DUP Ald. Drew Thompson said if the backstop is not re-negotiated then there would be a hard border and said the SDLP needed to think about how and why they lost their seats and therefore, their voice at Westminster. He accused them of “aligning themselves with a republican party in the south.”
Ald. Ramsey proposed a second amendment to the original motion to the effect that “we ask the Taoiseach not to send his troops to the border in the event of a No Deal Brexit.” This amendment was also passed by majority. Independent Colr. Darren O’Reilly stated: “Whilst we are asking Prime Ministers to pull the troops out, can we ask the British Government to pull the troops out of Ireland?”
DUP Ald. Hilary McClintock claimed “the union is stronger now than it ever was because of this process because Conservative MPs and Labour MPs have woken up to the fact that the backstop would be disastrous to the constitution of the UK.”
Colr. Duffy said Ald. McClintock was “also living in fantasy land” as the union was now fractured and there could be an independence poll in Scotland soon.
Party colleague Eric McGinley proposed a third amendment calling for “no deployment of the British Army at the border in the event of a No Deal Brexit,”which was also accepted.