Northerners cast adrift once again

Posted By: July 12, 2018

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, July 11, 2018

While all the drama at Chequers and thereafter filled the news agenda with customs facilitation arrangements, common rule book, services, no-one in Britain or the Republic cared, and hardly anyone here noticed, that your rights as an EU citizen have gone down the Swanee.

Yes, yes, they were supposed to be protected, guaranteed even. The taoiseach last December in a statement to northern nationalists promised: “I want to assure you that we have protected your interests throughout these negotiations. Your birth right as Irish citizens, and therefore as EU citizens will be protected.’’

You might have thought paragraph 52 of December’s Joint Report clinched that. It stated: “The people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland.” Both parties to the report (the UK and EU) agreed in paragraph 52 to ‘examine arrangements required to give effect to the ongoing exercise of, and access to, their EU rights, opportunities and benefits.’ They didn’t.

We know the UK is very hostile to anyone in the UK retaining any EU rights and strongly resisted the contents of paragraph 52. However the EU Commission didn’t like the idea either and worried about creating a precedent for EU citizens not resident in the EU. There was no pressure from the Irish government who placed all their eggs in the “no border” basket and may have felt to insist on northerners’ EU rights as well risked antagonizing the commission.

In any event,  when it came to the Irish Protocol in the draft Withdrawal Treaty paragraph 52 is substantially repeated but there are no arrangements or mechanisms ‘to give effect to the exercise of, and access to, EU rights.’ On June 26 an answer from President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin’s MEP, put the tin lid on the matter. Anderson, who has been knocking her brains out on this subject for months, wrote to Juncker in April asking what rights there will be and what mechanisms.

His answer was clear. None. After Brexit Irish citizens in the north will no longer reside in an EU state so, ‘Irish citizens will no longer benefit from the UK’s participation in EU programmes, policies and activities when this participation ends following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.’ In other words your Irish passport gives you the same rights as someone in Honolulu or Timbuktu holding an Irish passport. You will be part of the Irish diaspora.

Niall Murphy of KRW Law has helpfully provided a catalogue of some practical consequences. You won’t be able to vote in EU elections. As you have read here before, next year your EHIC card lapses. You will need travel insurance in the EU. If you are elderly or chronically ill you’re not going to be travelling unless you’ve plenty of money to afford the premium. You won’t be able to work in the EU if you need a professional qualification because the mutual recognition of qualifications lapses with Brexit. Your children won’t be able to avail of EU rates for university fees if they want to study say, in the Netherlands instead of paying exorbitant fees in the UK. There’s more, much more, on foot of lost EU membership, all courtesy the DUP who prop up the appalling crew in Westminster.

The Irish government knew all this. If they didn’t, Anthony Collins SC, one of the Irish judges in the European Court of Justice, warned them in his Brian Lenihan Memorial lecture in February this year. He was ignored. The negotiation of mechanisms for access to rights for northerners was left entirely to the EU and the British, both of whom are hostile to the concept, though for different reasons.

It’s possible the Irish Protocol in the Withdrawal Treaty could be amended to treat northerners ‘as if resident in an EU state’ but unlikely for it opens another front in negotiations when the British still haven’t presented anything on the Irish government’s priority, the border. So folks, despite Varadkar’s promise that your rights as “Irish and therefore as EU citizens will be protected,”mar dhea, once again northerners have been tossed overboard to lighten the load.