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Brexit: All-island Implications

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 17th October 2016.

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Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 17th October 2016

T5. Mr Sheehan asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister for an update on the implications of Brexit for the island of Ireland, taking into account next week’s Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) meeting. (AQT 340/16-21)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

It is quite obvious that, in the upcoming discussions, we will make the case that, effectively, we are a special case. That is identified by the fact that the First Minister and I have written jointly to the British Prime Minister outlining quite a number of areas of concern, including our concern at the prospect that there might be a border of any description. It is also worth noting that, last week on RTÉ, Jeffrey Donaldson on two occasions made it clear that he thinks that the island of Ireland needs to be treated as a special case. He repeated that in Brussels 24 hours later.

We are a special case. The prospect of the Brexit negotiations impacting on the political, social and economic life of the people of the North is so profound that we have a duty to work together to ensure that the interests of the people we represent are protected. The best way forward in this — I do not know whether it is possible to do it — and the strongest hand that we can play in any negotiation will be if we can come to an agreement between ourselves and with the Irish Government on what the ask is from our perspective. We will get the first indication of where all this is going when the First Minister and I attend the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, which will be chaired by the Prime Minister on Monday next week.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat agus gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a fhreagra. I thank the Minister for his answer. Will the deputy First Minister give any indication of whether any of our European partners are aware of the issues that face Ireland?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

The Member knows that I spent last Tuesday at the European Parliament engaged in 14 meetings, including meetings with some of the key negotiators on behalf of the European Parliament when the negotiations begin. I have to say that there was a very hard-line position towards the British Government from almost everybody I met. That does not mean to say that it will be a hard-line position when it comes to triggering article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. All of us who have been through negotiations know how all of this works.

At the moment, the important thing from our perspective is that there is an appreciation among the powers that be in Europe of the fantastic achievements that we have had here through Peace and so forth in which they have made a major contribution. They are stakeholders in our peace process through the massive investments in INTERREG programmes, infrastructural projects, Peace funds and so forth. All that has contributed, along with all the other initiatives, to the transformation that has taken place over the last almost 20 years. People in Europe are under no illusions about the special nature of the problems that we have to deal with.