To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the rights of 1.8 million persons in Northern Ireland to EU citizenship under the Good Friday Agreement will be protected in full post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien.
As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government is determined that all aspects of the Agreement are fully respected through the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and thereafter. Our priority is to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement and the overall balance of the settlement is not in any way disturbed by the UK’s exit from the European Union. All provisions of the Agreement must be respected, including the fundamental provisions on citizenship and identity.
Under Irish citizenship law the vast majority of people born on the island of Ireland – including those born in the six counties of Northern Ireland are entitled to Irish citizenship. The Good Friday Agreement further provides that the people of Northern Ireland have the right to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British or both, and that the right to hold both British and Irish citizenship would not be affected by any future change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. It is important to state that this provision is and will remain unaffected by the UK decision to leave the European Union. Persons who are citizens of Ireland, and therefore also EU citizens, after Brexit will retain their right to EU citizenship and the entitlements that flow from this under EU law.
In the forthcoming EU-UK negotiations, the Government will work to ensure that the continuing EU citizenship of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland can be sustained in a way that is consistent with their unique situation. In this regard, we should be clear that the UK Government also has a major role and responsibility in upholding the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, regardless of the UK’s status within the European Union. The Government has made this point to the UK Government on a number of occasions, and will continue to do so.
As part of my engagement with the Secretary of State and with each of the parties in the discussions in recent weeks, I have strongly emphasised the critical importance of forming a new Executive so that Northern Ireland’s interests can be effectively represented, as part of the process of the EU-UK negotiations which are about to commence. I very much hope that the necessary agreement between the parties will be reached on formation of the Executive as soon as possible, so that it can directly represent the interests of the people of Northern Ireland in these negotiations which are of major significance.
Since the outcome of the referendum in the UK, the Government has been extremely clear that all provisions of the Good Friday Agreement must be recognised and respected following the UK’s departure from the European Union. We have engaged extensively with all EU Member States and EU Institutions on this priority, as part of our pursuit of our four headline priorities.
There is now a very good understanding among our EU partners of the importance of the Good Friday Agreement for the peace process and for the people of this island. This is reflected in the inclusion of specific references to Ireland’s priorities in the EU Council draft negotiating guidelines and the Brexit resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 5 April. The extensive political and diplomatic engagement of recent months has been effective in ensuring recognition of our unique circumstances and specific issues.
That does not mean we can be complacent. In the negotiations, the Government will pursue, together with our EU partners, an outcome that protects our headline priorities and Ireland’s fundamental interests, including to ensure respect for all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. We are not under any illusions about the challenge and complexity of these negotiations and have engaged in detailed and ongoing planning to prepare for them.