By Daniel McConnell and Michelle Devane
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted the draft Brexit deal agreed between the EU and the United Kingdom does not undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Varadkar said the suggested deal would not negatively impact on the terms of the 1998 peace accord, an agreement that emphasised cross-border co-operation and linkages.
“My reading is the Good Friday Agreement is not negatively impacted by this,” he said in the Dáil. “In fact, it is protected by the draft agreement.”
On the contentious “backstop” proposal — that would guarantee a free-flowing Irish border, even if a broader UK/EU trade deal failed to materialise — Mr Varadkar insisted it could not have an “expiry date”.
“It is a fall-back, it’s an insurance policy,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said: “The backstop does have to be there. It does have to be legally operable. It can’t have an expiry date and it can’t be possible for any one side to withdraw from it unilaterally.
“But it is important to appreciate that it is our intention that the backstop should never be invoked and that if it is invoked, it should only be temporary, until such a time that a new agreement is in place to supersede all or part of it. But it must apply, unless or until that is the case.”
Mr Varadkar said he recognised it was a “difficult time” for the unionist community in Northern Ireland.
“I know that for the unionist community in Northern Ireland, at the moment, that this is quite a difficult time. I know many of them may be feeling vulnerable, many of them may be feeling isolated, and many of them may be quite worried about what may be agreed in the coming days.
“I want to say to them that the Good Friday Agreement will be protected and that includes a recognition that we respect the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and that we respect the principle of consent that there can be no change of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, unless a majority of people in Northern Ireland say so”.
Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary said the deal document is seminal in the history of the island and the Oireachtas should have the power and capacity to scrutinise it on that basis.
“We need to scrutinise it, because it affects not only economic issues, but almost every aspect of day-to-day life on this island. It is not only about the backstop for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, but about trade, economic, social, and civic issues, also,” he said.