BREXIT PUBLIC MEETING IN CORK WITH AN TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY

On Monday 13 February I travelled to Cork for the latest in a series of Brexit Response meetings held by Fine Gael. I shared a panel with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Dr. Mary Murphy from University College Cork. brexit-public-meeting-1-cork-12-04-2017


Over 500 people packed into the Clayton Silversprings Hotel in Cork to hear how the Irish Government intends to tackle the significant challenges that Brexit presents. I delivered a speech which touched on the issues for Northern Ireland-implications of Brexit for the border, business and the need to safeguard the principle of consent enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. 


There was an in-depth question and answer session during which the audience put their questions to the panel. Many people were concerned at what Brexit might mean for their jobs and the future opportunities of their children. 


It is clear that Ireland’s place in the European Union is more important now than it ever brexit-public-meeting-4-cork-12-04-2017-jpgwas. The EU Referendum vote in Britain will pose significant challenges for the entire Island of Ireland and we must tackle these challenges together. 

Please find below the speech I made on Monday night. 


Cork, Speech on Brexit, Monday 13 February, 7pm


I strongly advocated and campaigned for a vote to remain within the EU. Long before the 23 June 2016 I had a nightmare that we would sleep walk out of Europe. Unfortunately my worst fears came true and we have been dealing with the fallout and uncertainty of the outcome ever since.

All-Island Dialogue

I salute the Taoiseach and many of his colleagues for attempting to unpick much of the uncertainty through the excellent and engaging All-Island Dialogue which took place on November 2 last year. I look forward to attending the upcoming session on Friday (17 February) as we continue to find a way to navigate through the choppy seas of Brexit. 

Europe and Peace

In the aftermath of last June’s result I led a delegation to Brussels to meet with a range of MEPs and key thinkers in Brussels. Many were depressed, in shock, despairing and uncertain about the future.

The one time I saw a spark of interest was when I mentioned the unique and outstanding contribution the EU had made to securing and sustaining peace in Northern Ireland. People lit up when I referenced just what some of the EU peace monies did to transform our region. It is clear that Northern Ireland is seen as the Jewel in the crown of the EU and we must invoke that special relationship in these perilous times.

I have never pretended that the European Union was perfect or that it does not need reform—even radical reform—but the EU has delivered for Northern Ireland. It helped to deliver parity of esteem and prosperity for all sides of our community, and it has helped to bring peace in difficult times.

European investment and access to the single market has done so much in the past 25 years to remake my city, Belfast. It is a world-leading city that faces the 21st century, having had a difficult 20th century, not least because of the hard work of hundreds of people who came to Belfast from across Europe to work and contribute positively to our society, and to help to build a better economy, in the process building prosperity. In my South Belfast Constituency I was proud that 70% of my constituents voted to remain in the EU, with a 70% turnout.

 

Belfast Agreement

Peace in Northern Ireland culminated in the Belfast Agreement, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South, had at its heart the principle of consent and was underpinned by a presumption of membership of the EU by Ireland and Britain. The EU is also referenced in the agreement in relation to the competence of the North South Ministerial Council.

Last week in the House of Commons my SDLP colleagues and I strongly advocated that there should be a commitment by Parliament that Brexit should not be allowed to undermine the Belfast Agreement or its provisions. Just as those who would argue that the EU referendum result needs to be respected, those same people need to respect the fact that the people of Ireland overwhelmingly endorsed the Belfast Agreement and its terms.

Border

Our fears will not be alleviated by clichéd platitudes from the Prime Minister and Secretary of State that there will be no return to the borders of the past-we need much more certainty than that, particularly when our peace and security is in the balance. With 30,000 people crossing the Irish border every day for work we need effective coordination between Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels to sustain reasonable access to their livelihoods.

 

Leaving the Customs Union would necessitate customs checks and therefore restrictions on travel at the Irish border. We need to look at an option of Northern Ireland having a “Special Customs” status whereby it is treated as within the Customs Union for goods/services travelling solely within the island of Ireland. There is a precedent for this in the German town of Büsingen which is treated as part of Switzerland for customs purposes. It is essential to our small businesses trading across the border that we remain within the Customs Union and to our exporters that we remain within the Single Market. 

 

Any future British-EU treaty must uphold the principle of consent inherent in the Belfast Agreement, which allows a democratic route to a United Ireland if the majority of people in Northern Ireland desire it. In the case of such a referendum taking place, there must be no uncertainty around Northern Ireland’s direct admission to the EU as a consequence of a vote for a United Ireland. 

Role of Europe

My SDLP colleagues were proud to vote against the triggering of Article 50 in the commons two weeks ago and we are determined to fight for the best deal for Northern Ireland. With the current imbalance in the Conservative Party and the continuing turmoil in the Labour Party we will be looking to you, our neighbours in the South to support us. Europe also has a crucial role to play.

 

Our relationship with our neighbours in Europe is more important now than it ever was. In August of this year I was invited to speak at the ‘Digital Day’ of the Inter-Celtic Festival in Lorient, France. I was struck by the French people’s interest in the unique circumstances of people living in Northern Ireland and had an insight into just how much Europe values one of the jewels in its crown-peace in Northern Ireland.  

 

At the festival I met the French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain and other French Assembly members who were very concerned about the impact a British withdrawal from Europe will mean for the wider European family. Off the back of these conversations Paul Molac, a French Assembly member invited me to address the French Assembly on 8 November for a debate on Brexit. This debate was packed and again underlined the intense interest in the predicament of Ireland, both North and South in light of Brexit.  

 

Looking Ahead

 

Two crucial dates loom large on the horizon. In June 2019 we have the European Election and July 2020 sees the end of the current budget and the start of the new budget. So realistically we are facing three to four years of uncertainty and instability. 

 

So what is the role for the European Union during this period of uncertainty? Europe needs to reassure many people who are feeling insecure and frightened about their future prospects. The EU must address;

 

  1. The disentangling of Britain from the EU
  2. Negotiating a new relationship between Britain and the EU
  3. Re-working a new Europe which is in sync with people’s needs and expectations 

What I am doing

 

The Independent Council on Europe has been meeting over the last couple of months. I was keen to set up such a body in the aftermath of the EU Referendum result. I did so because of the amount of anger and anxiety constituents displayed at a number of public meetings I hosted in South Belfast and beyond. The Council is made up of people from the business, voluntary, community and political world who are determined to get the best deal for Northern Ireland following the EU Referendum result on 23 June of this year.

Steve Aiken MLA, former CEO of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Chairs the Council, Ian Parsley, Head of the European Movement NI is Vice-Chair and I hold the position of the other Vice-Chair. In 2017 the Council intends to hold a number of seminars on the sectors that will be impacted most by Brexit and try to identify what we can do to mitigate the worst aspects of Brexit for people living in Northern Ireland. We also intend to visit Brussels shortly.

 

We will continue to do all we can to promote special recognition for Northern Ireland as a European Place of Global Peace-Building. From Brussels, London, Dublin and Belfast there is a duty of care to protect and safeguard the Northern Irish Peace Process, to ensure good relations between the UK, Ireland and the EU and to promote international peace-building in these extremely challenging times.    

 

 

ALASDAIR MCDONNELL HEARD CUSTOMS EXPERTS WARN OF ‘NO CHOICE’ ON CHECKPOINTS

Article by Andrew Fanning, Business Post (Dublin)

5 February 2016

SDLP MP for South Belfast Alasdair McDonnell has told The Business Post he is “deeply despondent” about Brexit and the prospect of retaining a seamless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the EU.

Dr McDonnell is a member of the British parliament’s Northern Ireland Select Committee, which heard evidence on Wednesday about the future of the border from Michael Lux and Eric Pickett, two customs experts and international trade lawyers.

Lux told the MPs that British prime minister Theresa May’s declaration in Dublin on Monday that she wanted a “seamless, frictionless border” after Brexit amounted to no more than “nice words”.

May said earlier this month that Britain would not be a full member of the EU customs union – in which goods can cross the border without tariffs – after Brexit.

Lux said that although Britain could choose not to have customs controls if it left the EU customs union, the Irish government would have no such choice under EU law.

The SDLP MP described Lux’s evidence as “stimulating”, but added that “the more he talked, the scarier it became”.

“Whatever happens, we’re going to have a border. You cannot control the movement of people or goods without having a checkpoint of some sort,” McDonnell said.

He said Lux made clear that even if this is as seamless as possible, there will be transaction costs for people moving goods across the border.

Concerns about impact on food industry

Lux told the MPs that customs checks would hit the food processing and dairy industries in particular, as the administration involved in transporting ingredients and products across the border would lead to extra costs.

Dr McDonnell has particular concerns about this aspect, saying the island of Ireland has effectively become a single market in this area in the past 25 years. He cited the example of milk, which in some cases crosses the border five times in the course of processing.

“Each one of those crossings entails a customs check and an expense. That’s the worry,” he said. “I don’t want there to be delays, but it is not possible for us not to have some sort of border, and some sort of control, of goods moving up and down,” the SDLP MP said. “Even the perfect solution will require documents to be prepared, which will take up companies’ administrative time,” he added.

“the arrogance of the Brexit wing of the Tory party is frightening”.

The South Belfast MP said he and many other people have been aware that this type of scenario was inevitable, despite others including Theresa May trying to talk it down. He said the Irish Government was aware and had done “a massive amount of work behind the scenes” trying to minimise the effects. But he urged the government in Dublin now to redouble its efforts to minimise the effects of Brexit on the border.

“Europe has very clear guidelines, with all sorts of waivers and special adjustments around the edges, but these can only be worked if both sides want to work them, and the arrogance of the Brexit wing of the Tory party is frightening,” McDonnell said.

“Ultimately, the easy way to deal with this is to retain the island of Ireland as a customs union,” he said. Lux said at the hearing that it may be possible for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union for a transitional period after Brexit, but then there would have to be controls between the North and the rest of the UK.

Speaking about the House of Commons vote in favour of the bill enabling the British government to trigger Article 50, Dr McDonnell said the debate against the bill had been driven by the Scottish Nationalists.

And he predicted that Brexit could have longer-term consequences, due to what he called the “delusional” anti-European wing of the Conservative Party.

“Effectively, what they have done is started a process that will only be complete when Scotland is independent and Ireland is united. That’s the only solution. Any other solution will be temporary and dysfunctional,” the SDLP MP said.

ORAL QUESTION ABOUT THE CUSTOMS UNION – MOVEMENT OF GOODS AND SERVICES BETWEEN NORTHERN IRELAND AND REPUBLIC

01 February 2017

Alasdair McDonnell MP “May I agree with the Secretary of State in that we are very impressed with the strength of the Union, too––that is, the European Union? Beyond theAlasdairNIQJune112014 common travel area, there appears to be a significant gap between the wishful thinking and the reality of movement of goods. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect of exiting the customs union on the movement of goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic?”

James Brokenshire MP “As the hon. Gentleman will have seen, the Prime Minister’s james-brokenshire-mpspeech underlined the clear desire of the Government in the negotiations ahead to get the best possible trading arrangements with the European Union and therefore we are reflecting on how we do that, whether that is some form of membership of a customs union or a bespoke customs agreement. He should be intent on our desire to get that deal and to see a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.

SPEECH IN HOUSE OF COMMONS DETAILING WHY I AM UNABLE TO SUPPORT THE TRIGGERING OF ARTICLE 50

31 January 2017 – House of Commons

EUROPEAN UNION (NOTIFICATION OF WITHDRAWAL) BILL

I am unable to support this Bill and the triggering of article 50. Like Mr Clarke, I think that the whole operation is a bit like following a rabbit into the hole and hoping to emerge in Wonderland, with or without Alice.NIQJuly16thB2014PNG

Like my colleagues and many other Members, I do not seek to deny England or Wales their right to exit the European Union, if that is what the people of those nations have decided. I might disagree with the wisdom of that view, but that is not why I oppose the Bill. I have never pretended that the European Union was perfect or that it does not need reform—even radical reform—but the EU has delivered for Northern Ireland. It helped to deliver parity of esteem and prosperity for all sides of our community, and it has helped to bring peace in difficult times. European investment and access to the single market has done so much in the past 25 years to remake my city, Belfast. It is a world-leading city that faces the 21st century, having had a difficult 20th century, not least because of the hard work of hundreds of people who came to Belfast from across Europe to work and contribute positively to our society, and to help to build a better economy, in the process building prosperity.

I am here today on behalf of the people of South Belfast, where 70% voted to remain on a 70% turnout, so the result is without doubt. I ask the Government not to take away unnecessarily our membership of the EU, which has already done so much for my constituency and has the potential to do more. Queen’s University Belfast in the heart of my constituency is highly dependent on EU funding for its research and development, but I have received no guarantees—in fact, I have little expectation—that the Government will match that funding post-Brexit.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have already said, both here and elsewhere, that they have no desire to return to the borders of the past. I am glad to hear that, and so are the 30,000 people who cross the Irish border every day for work, but they need a bit more than warm words of comfort. They need a concrete arrangement between Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels to sustain reasonable access to their livelihoods, but the Government seem to have missed the fact that our concerns in Northern Ireland go much deeper than just avoiding border posts. Our membership of the EU is written throughout the fabric of the Good Friday agreement, or the Belfast agreement as some prefer to call it. Our political settlement in 1998 keeps all our parties at the table and sustains a peace process, and hopefully a better prosperity process to follow. The EU values and rules that are written into the fabric of that agreement have helped to maintain stability. Without the EU, that stability would not have been obtained and maintained. Maintaining that stability and the settlement requires the principles of the Good Friday agreement to be underpinned in law throughout the exit process, both at the outset and in the final exit deal, and that is without even touching on the wider concerns that hon. Members have raised about the impact of Brexit on our universities, the rights of European citizens already living here and the rights of our own citizens who wish to study or work across the European Union.

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on the role of the devolved Administrations, which I beg to differ from, it is in the Government’s interest to get this process right for Northern Ireland and to maintain the political stability that has been achieved. Indeed, as a co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the Government are obliged to sustain that stability.

It will be much harder to get things right and to restore stability in Northern Ireland if we rush to meet an artificial timetable that has been imposed unnecessarily by the Government. That is why I call on them, even at this late stage, not to rush now and regret later. I beg them to take the time to get this right for all of us. Earlier today the Secretary of State told us to trust the wisdom of the people. Well, there is no one I trust more with the future of Northern Ireland than the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain. I remind the House that people in Belfast South voted by 70%, on a 70% turnout, to stay in Europe. I hope that I am representing them and their views here today. With no answers—or, at the very best, foggy answers—about the border, our economy and protecting parity of esteem, my colleagues and I cannot vote to support the triggering of article 50.

DR. ALASDAIR MCDONNELL MP SIGNS HOLOCAUST EDUCATIONAL TRUST BOOK OF COMMITMENT

holocaust-memorial-day-27-jan-2017This week Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

Friday 27th January will mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the lead up to and on Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. The theme for this year’s commemorations is ‘How can life go on?’

After signing the Book of Commitment, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP commented:

“Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people from South Belfast to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust. As the Holocaust moves from living history, to just history, it becomes ever more important that we take the time to remember the victims and also pay tribute to the survivors. I would encourage my constituents to show their support for such an important day.

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

Our mission is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. We are very grateful to Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP for signing the Book of Commitment, signalling a continued commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust as well as challenging antisemitism, prejudice and bigotry in all its forms.

WHAT ARRANGEMENTS WILL THE UK GOVERNMENT MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE THE 70% OF MY CONSTITUENTS WHO VOTED TO REMAIN IN THE EU AND INTEND TO RETAIN THE BENEFITS?

On the 17 January 2017, I asked the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Mr David Davis  about what arrangement will the UK Government make to accommodate the 70% of my constituents who voted to remain in the EU and intend to retain the benefits.

Alasdair McDonnell “I commend the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) for her sanity and common sense, and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) for bringing a degree of integrity to the discussion.

Does the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU recognise that I, and thousands of others in AlasdairNIQJune112014Northern Ireland, will not be leaving the EU willingly? We recognise the very significant benefits that have flowed from EU membership. We hold EU passports and we intend to retain them. What arrangements will he make to accommodate us, the people like me and the 70% of my constituents who voted to remain in the EU and intend to retain the benefits? Will he, while he is at it, perhaps tell us how he intends Northern Ireland to have its voice heard at Joint Ministerial Committee meetings and in the negotiations generally over the next three months?”

David Davis “Since the beginning of this process—since I took up my post—we have put the preservation of the stability and the interests of Northern Ireland pretty much at the top of the tree of the negotiations, particularly on issues such as maintaining an open bodavid-davis-mprder and preserving the economic basis of Northern Ireland, which is very dependent on trade with the Republic of Ireland. On the JMC, I do not know if it has gone yet but yesterday I approved a letter to the Northern Ireland Executive—although the next Government is now subject to an election, most Ministers are still in place—asking that during the interim period they send representatives, whether ministerial or otherwise, so that we are always across the interests of Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman must take it as read that I am absolutely committed to maintaining the stability, peace and prosperity we have got used to in the last several years.”

 

ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT RHI, PUBLIC INQUIRY AND THE ASSEMBLY ELECTION

On the 17 January 2017, I asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire about the RHI scandal, the need for a public enquiry, restoring public confidence in the political settlement and what will happen after an election in Northern Ireland.

Alasdair McDonnell MP “Will the Secretary of State share with us more of his thoughts on what he expects to happen after an election in Northern Ireland? Does he accept that theAlasdairNIQJune112014 problems will remain? Without his calling a public inquiry on the RHI or, if he cannot find a way to do that, his making it clear that he fully supports a public inquiry, public confidence in our political settlement will sink even lower, making restoration of the Executive even more difficult. That is what people have been telling me on the streets during the past few days and the past week. They said that they need clarity, as we are having an election in a fog”.

James Brokenshire “Clearly, RHI scheme issues have been very much at the heart of what has led to the election that I have now called. It is right that we get answers on that, because it is crucial to james-brokenshire-mpre-establishing trust and confidence, seeing accountability and giving answers to the public about what has taken place. As I have said, it is right for that to come from Northern Ireland, as much as is possible, as this was a devolved issue and something that related to decisions within Northern Ireland. But I stand ready to work with people and consider options on a cross-community basis where support is commanded across the community. This is about how we get those answers and inject confidence back into the whole process”.

PROPOSED REMOVAL OF RATES CAP IN NORTHERN IRELAND – PUBLIC MEETING

On Monday 16 January 2017, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP held a Public Meeting in the Wellington Park Hotel to hear the views of constituents on the proposed removal of the rates cap announced by Finance Minister, Máirtín O’Muilleoir MLA.

On the panel was Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP, Cllr Declan Boyle (Botanic) and Ray Farley from the Fair Rates Campaign.

Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP explained that he organised the meeting because Cllr Declan Boyle and himself had been inundated with calls, emails and text messages from constituents concerned about the impact of removing the rates cap.

After a brief introduction from all the panellists, Alasdair opened the meeting to the floor as the main focus was to hear the views/concerns of local constituents.

img_5027
A constituent addressing the public meeting about the removal of the rates cap.

 

A wide range of concerns were raised from the floor as we heard from single persons, pensioners and parents with young families.

There was a consensus that a more equitable approach should be taken by Finance Minister, Máirtín O’Muilleoir MLA.

It was also stressed that the Rating System needs to be properly updated but should reflect best practices in other jurisdictions.

With the uncertainty at Stormont and the forthcoming Assembly Election this proposal may be shelved but we cannot be sure it won’t come back in 6 months time.

This is why I am urging you to respond to the Consultation Paper of the Rates Rethink.

You can print/download the consultation paper by clicking on the link https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/consultations/rates-rethink

Queries and consultation responses should be sent to: ratingpolicy.cfg@finance-ni.gov.uk

Written responses to: Rating Policy Division, FinTru House, 1 Cromac Avenue, Gasworks Business Park, Belfast, BT7 2JA.

The deadline for submission of consultation responses is 16 February 2017 at 17:00.