The British government’s threat to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol is “disingenuous and dangerous”, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.
In a speech to the Dáil, Mr Coveney was scathing in his criticism of the British government for claiming that implementing the protocol is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement.
He said he finds it deeply disappointing that the British government has said that it intends to table legislation in the coming weeks that would unilaterally dis-apply elements of the protocol.
“This action is contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, where genuine trust and partnership between both governments have, time and again, proved crucial to shared progress,” he said.
“As the protocol is an integral part of an international agreement, such action would amount to a serious violation of international law.
Mr Coveney said we are experiencing a distinct shift away from partnership by the British government in relation to Northern Ireland.
“This is a new and difficult context for the bilateral relationship, creating risks for our relations on and across these islands.
“I firmly believe that, in the longer arc of history, we are moving in the right direction, less bound by the conflicts and differences of the past, but, right now, we are in a challenging place,” he said.
He said recent actions by the UK give us cause to reflect.
"We are not where we want to be. We are fighting fires, rather than looking to the future," he added.
In a pointed attack, Mr Coveney said in the heated atmosphere of the last few weeks, leading up to and following the Northern Ireland election, he was accused of threatening violence in the context of Brexit.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. I have warned about unravelling the fabric of the agreement, because I remember what went before.
“To remember those days is not a threat. It is a motivation,” he said.
“In fact, I was subject to the direct threat of violence, when I was delivering a speech in Belfast in March of this year. A van driver was hijacked at gunpoint and forced to drive to where I was speaking with what he believed was a viable explosive device,” he said.
Mr Coveney said the introduction of a Legacy bill into the House of Commons, seeking to grant an amnesty to military personnel amounts to a repudiation of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.
“If they wish to move away from what we agreed at Stormont House, it should do so with the parties; with the representatives of those most directly affected by these cases; and with us, the Irish Government,” Mr Coveney said.
In terms of the draft legislation itself, Mr Coveney said there are serious questions to be asked.
“I know that many in the political parties, civil society, and academia have deep concerns. I think there is a fundamental question as to whether the legislation as drafted is properly compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and, by extension, the Good Friday Agreement — which as you know committed to the full incorporation of those rights into Northern Ireland law,” he said.
“On initial reading, I also have real concerns about the independence of the processes outlined in the bill. This is in direct contrast to what was agreed at Stormont House, where we sought to guarantee the genuine independence of the investigations and information recovery arrangements,” Mr Coveney said.
Mr Coveney said he strongly urges the Secretary of State to reconsider this approach.