Near universal backing of EU-UK backstop agreement in Dáil despite hard border concerns

The Dáil has given near universal backing the crucial EU-UK backstop agreement despite ongoing hard border concerns and fears Ireland is failing to prepare for a doomsday deal collapse.

The clear Irish support for the deal came as British prime minister Theresa May said she will hold further talks with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker on Saturday after not resolving issues in Brussels on Wednesday.

Speaking before a crunch EU summit on Sunday to ratify the deal which German and Spanish officials claimed on Wednesday will be scrapped unless key issues are resolved by Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stressed the deal must go ahead.

At the start of a four-hour Dáil debate in which he insisted Ireland will not back down on the backstop, the Taoiseach said:

Many predicted that in the final moment our European partners would turn on us. That didn't happen... No matter anything else Ireland will remain a committed member of the EU. It's a home we've built together, and where we will stay.

The Taoiseach's comments were repeated by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who called for a "clear message" to be sent from the Dáil and urged Sinn Féin to take up its Westminster seats.

However, despite backing the calls, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin warned "we are nowhere near Brexit ready" and compared Ireland's planned hiring of 400 new customs officials to the "1,000 trained customs staff" already appointed in the Netherlands.

He was followed by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who backed the deal but tabled an amendment to ensure citizens in Northern Ireland have the same EU rights post-Brexit.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said while he was backing the deal he wanted an amendment to allow for a border poll.

However, both amendments were subsequently shot down by TDs in late night Dáil votes.

The Government motion to support the EU-UK Brexit deal was walked through on Wednesday night after the debate due to Dáil rules which stipulate no vote is needed if less than 10 TDs oppose the move.

Despite noting the clear need for a deal, nine opposed the move on Wednesday night, namely:

  • Paul Murphy, Mick Barry and Ruth Coppinger (Solidarity)
  • Mick Wallace and Clare Daly (Independents4Change)
  • Mattie McGrath, Maureen O'Sullivan, Thomas Pringle and Michael Collins (Independents)

During the debate the nine TDs said they were opposed to the existing deal for various reasons, including concerns the deal is a "neo-liberal" and "Tory Brexit" that will still damage the working class, risks exacerbating sectarianism in Northern Ireland and could impact negatively on rural Ireland's tourism economy.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, greets British Prime Minister Theresa May on arrival at EU headquarters in Brussels, today. Photo: AP/Olivier Matthys.

Independent TD and member of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group abstained on the vote, saying he wants to withhold his support until the Government, Britain or the EU publishes a secret doomsday dossier on Brexit's impact on Northern Ireland - the existence of which was confirmed by EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly on Monday.

The Dáil move came as British prime minister Theresa May confirmed she will hold further talks with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker on Saturday.

Ms May announced the last-ditch talks, which will occur 24 hours before Sunday's crunch EU summit, sparking fresh claims the deal may still be under threat.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also suggested last night she may not attend Sunday's summit unless all issues are resolved, with officials saying they want the withdrawal deal and non-binding future relationship political agreement "rubber stamped" before the weekend.

However, while this is still expected by Friday evening, Spanish demands to clarify the Gibraltar situation have led to concerns over the summit timeline.

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