Yesterday afternoon, Thursday 22 June 2017, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement released a report, “The Implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement: Key Findings”.
One year ago, Britain voted to leave the European Union, with 51.9% voting to leave and 48.1% voting to remain. However, 55.8% of the people who voted in Northern Ireland voted to remain, with 44.2% voting to stay. In the twelve months since the vote, the realities of a Brexit have been, at best, guessed at. However, further complications arose following a UK General Election on June 8. A proposed coalition by Westminster and a party in the North would only make the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland that much more difficult to navigate.
The Report acknowledges the importance the EU has had in the peace process in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the exit of the Britain could throw up obstacles for the Good Friday Agreement. The Report’s findings are based on 12 hearings over ten days, between September 2016 and this month. The Committee is made up of seven members of the Dáil and six members of the Seanad. Various stakeholders spoke at the hearings, including:
- Anthony Soares, Deputy Director, Centre for Cross Border Studies
- Brian Gormally, Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice
- Charles Flanagan TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Declan Fearon, Border Communities Against Brexit
- Diane Ruddock, External Affairs Manager, National Trust
- Conor Patterson, Chief Executive, Newry and Mourne Co-Operative and Enterprise Agency
- Duncan Morrow, Lecturer and Director of Community Engagement, Ulster University
- Gina McIntyre, CEO, Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB)
- Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive, Retail NI
- John Greer, Head of Unit – Joint Secretariat, SEUPB
- John Martin, Conservation Team Leader, Land Use & Marine Policy, The Royal Society for the
- Lorraine Higgins, Head of Public Affairs, Retail Excellence Ireland
- Máirtín Ó Muilleoir MLA, Minister for Finance, Northern Ireland
- Michael Blaney, Managing Director, Autoline Insurance Group
- Michael Ewing, Coordinator, Environmental Pillar
- Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
- Peter Conway, CEO, Warrenpoint Harbour
- Peter Sheridan, Chief Executive, Cooperation Ireland
- Protection of Birds Northern Ireland
- Rebecca Hunter, Living Seas Manager, Ulster Wildlife
- Sean Kelly, Development Manager, Northern Ireland Environment Link
- Shaun Henry, Director of Managing Authority, SEUPB
- Tanya Ward, Chief Executive Officer, Children’s Rights Alliance
Following the testimony of all of these stakeholders, the Committee identified five key areas that could present difficulties for, or undo the progress of, the Good Friday Agreement.
The work of the North-South Ministerial Council should be addressed. Clarification will be needed on North-South bodies and how they will interact with the EU, following a British exit. Impact assessments will be required where any directives or regulations by the EU in Northern Ireland are no longer applicable.
The future of many sources of EU funding is unclear after 2020. The Report identifies the PEACE and INTERREG programmes in particular. Should it be impossible for these programmes to continue following 2020, the Committee call for plans to be put in place for successor programmes.
The Border: Trade, Free Movement and Security
The Committee noted, with urgency, that clarification is still needed on the matter of a hard border between the Republic and the North. Free movement is essential to the all-island economy, “in all respects”. The Report also found that no other model, currently in place elsewhere, would be suitable to the needs of the Irish border. Therefore, a “tailored solution based on geography, relationships, politics and people” should be developed. The Report also identifies security issues at the border as an area that should be closely monitored.
While it is noted that the EU have clarified that, should there be a reunification of the North and South, Northern Ireland would immediately be part of the EU. This is in line with the Good Friday Agreement’s principle of consent.
Reconciliation and Identity
Through the hearings, it became clear that a key consideration should be “the psychological impact of Brexit in a still-fragile post-conflict environment”. The maintenance of for a like the All-Island Civic Dialogue should be of high importance.
The Report notes that the “Committee fully recognises that Brexit may impact on other elements of the Agreement outside the scope of this Report”.
In her Foreword, Committee Chair Kathleen Funchion TD certified that, “the Joint Committee is resolute in its dedication to the protection of the principles of the Good Friday Agreement” and that they would continue to explore all of the possible impacts on the Agreement as Brexit talks continue.