OPINION: ‘We can have no backsliding from the Irish government’

A  previous Brexit protest in Derry
A previous Brexit protest in Derry

Foyle MP Elisha McCallion spoke at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties last night in a debate on Brexit wi th Irish Foreign Minister and Tanáiste, Simon Coveney, Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin, and the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly.

In this article she calls on the Irish government to ensure the ‘backstop’ option is maintained and that there is no reduction of the rights of the people of the north as a result of Brexit.

Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Elisha McCallion

Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Elisha McCallion

A hardening of the border on the island of Ireland is inevitable under the British government’s insistence on dragging the north out of the customs union and single market through Brexit.

No matter what Theresa May or her Brexiteer allies say, the only way that we can avoid a hardening of the border is if the north of Ireland remains in the Customs Union and Single Market under the auspices of the European Court of Justice.

The EU and the Irish Government recognise that and that is why we have the ‘backstop,’ which must be protected.

The DUP say they do not want to see a hard border but frankly, I don’t believe them. For some in the DUP leadership this is really about reinforcing partition and they will happily destroy the economy of the north as long as the union is maintained.

The backstop is not a threat to the union, it has nothing to do with the constitutional issue.

Representing a border area like Derry, I know the economic damage any hardening of the border will cause.

The backstop option is the absolute bare minimum. In our view it does not go far enough and we want to see it built upon. Significant elements of the Single market are not included, especially services.

This will cause major problems for the all island economy and for cross border life. Cross border legal services, financial services - including Credit Unions etc, will all be badly damaged.

Under the backstop you may be able to purchase a washing machine in Letterkenny and bring to Derry but the servicing contract that should come with it can’t be honoured.

Another major concern for us is the issue of citizen’s rights.

Jean Claude Juncker confirmed in a written answer to Martina Anderson MEP that Irish/EU citizens in the north will not be able to access their rights as EU citizens after Brexit.

This will mean a loss of workers rights, healthcare rights, human rights, and democratic rights.

At this time of year many citizens in the north are currently going their holidays to places like Spain, this summer they will be covered by their EHIC card (European Health Insurance Card).

Therefore, they will be covered if they or a member of their family has an accident. After next march they won’t.

They can of course get private insurance but if you have a health problem or are elderly that will be very difficult or expensive. So, for many in the north this year may be their last holiday.

Secondly, many young people from the north go to study in universities like Galway or UCD. As it stands they pay the standard EU fees of 3000 euros. However, after next march they will be regarded as international students and will be charged the international fees of between 14,500 to 50,000 euros.

Here in Derry later this year we will mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march that was brutally attacked by the RUC.

The Taoiseach said some months ago that: ‘The citizens of the north will never again be left behind’. If that is true, then 50 years on he needs to ensure that citizens in the north do not get left behind and don’t lose many of their citizenship rights.

As the British cabinet becomes mired in more chaos, it’s strategy is clear; they are trying to run down the clock, while dressing up old, already dismissed proposals, as new proposals and try to increase the pressure on the EU 27.

We can have no backsliding from the Irish Government. This cannot become about saving Theresa May from the Brexiteers, this must remain about protecting Ireland north and south from Brexit.

But if, despite of all of our collective efforts to achieve a workable deal that avoids a hardening of the border and protects people’s rights, the British Government, assisted by the DUP, are determined to take us all against our will over a cliff, then the issue of a referendum on Irish unity has to come to the fore.

The Good Friday Agreement’s foundation stone was the principle of consent.

The people of the north did not consent to Brexit or to being dragged into the economic oblivion of a no deal Brexit.

The people of the north need to be given the choice as to which union they now want to be part of, the European union or the union with Britain.

The Good Friday Agreement allows for this and the time for that choice is fast approaching.