UK government cannot throw Good Friday Agreement under the bus, campaigner says

People gather at a rally dubbed #WeAreIrishToo outside the Northern Ireland Office on Saturday on Horse Guards Road, Whitehall, London. (Georgina Stubbs/PA Wire)

The British government cannot just "throw the Good Friday Agreement under the bus" to pursue a shortsighted Brexit agenda, a campaigner has said.

Rallies held in both London and Belfast on Saturday, dubbed #WeAreIrishtoo, called on all governments to uphold the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.

The protests came after the UK Government rejected Emma DeSouza's American husband's application for a visa over her refusal to call herself British.

Mark Hughes, who was born in Newry and now lives in Lewisham, south London, said Ms DeSouza's case highlights the "legal grey area" that Northern Irish citizens could fall into.

"The Good Friday Agreement gave us peace, normality and a shared future no matter what - we could be British, we could be Irish and we could be both," the 33-year-old said.

Speaking outside the Northern Ireland Office in Westminster, the paralegal said the murder of journalist Lyra McKee has shown "just how fragile" peace is.

"We need to show the Government that they cannot just throw the Good Friday Agreement under the bus to pursue a myopic Brexit agenda."

"The current stance of the Tory government dumps on that parity of esteem which is provided by the Good Friday Agreement."

He added that they do not want a "two-tiered society where EU rights are given to one group and not the other".

Under the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, people from Northern Ireland have the right to hold UK or Irish citizenship, or both.

But Ms DeSouza and her husband Jake were told after their wedding in 2015 that his application for a family member residence card to remain in Northern Ireland had been rejected because she applied for the visa as an Irish national.

She and others have claimed they were being forced to declare as British, or formally renounce British citizenship they insist they never held, to engage with the residency application process.

In a video posted on Twitter ahead of the rally in Belfast, which she attended, Ms DeSouza said in the current climate it is important to come forward and stand up for the Good Friday Agreement, peace process and their rights which are "under threat".

Ms DeSouza has previously said the "lack of legislative protections" for citizens in Northern Ireland is because the Good Friday Agreement "has not been fully implemented".

This legislative gap which leaves citizens vulnerable will "only widen after Brexit", she has said.

With a silence held in memory of Ms McKee, Mr Hughes said they want the Government to recognise the "special circumstances" of Northern Ireland citizens.

Derry Girls actress Siobhan McSweeney attended the rally in London and said that as someone from the Republic of Ireland, she felt a "responsibility to support Northern Irish voices".

"What I see is a sleight of hand by the British Government to dismantle the Good Friday Agreement which was hard-won and hard-fought for, and a deeply-treasured agreement that allows citizens of Northern Ireland to identify as Irish as British or as both," she told the Press Association.

"When you start messing with that we end up with the tragedy that happened Lyra ... peace is not a partisan matter."

Mr Hughes warned how the current leadership vacuum in Northern Ireland "has allowed dissidents to rear their ugly heads" and how no-one wants to go back to borders and violence.

"If anything this protest and the spirit of it - given what has happened - is to show that the Good Friday Agreement has done so much, so please don't tear it up," he added.

PA & Digital Desk

More on this topic

Race to replace May steps up as contenders set out their stalls

Gordon Brown calls for urgent investigation into Brexit Party’s ‘dirty money’

May to begin discussions on ‘bold’ new Brexit offer

Coveney: EU will not renegotiate Brexit deal with new UK PM

More in this Section

Bus Éireann passenger numbers at 10 year high, carrying more than 83 million in 2018

McDonald claims Government are out of touch on housing and homelessness

Government 'sleepwalking' toward unsafe cannabis legislation, warn doctors

Couple in Holles Street termination case call for inquest


Lifestyle

What is queerbaiting and why has Calvin Klein been accused of it?

Pelargonium power: How to make the most of these summer favourites

Life on Earth is not as plentiful and may soon be extinct

Aonghus the white-tailed sea eagle has fans intrigued

More From The Irish Examiner