Party leaders call for special status for Northern Ireland at Brexit talks

Posted By: November 03, 2016

ITV. Thursday, November 3, 2016

Northern Ireland politicians have made the case for the region being a special status in Brexit negotiations at all-island talks in Dublin.

Around 300 politicians, business people, community representatives, academics, civil servants and trade union figures are attending the daylong conference at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin, hosted by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

He said it was an opportunity for the broad spectrum of participants to deal with the challenges that lie ahead and to ensure the best possible outcome for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin, SDLP and Alliance leaders addressed the event, but unionists did not attend.

First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had better things to do than listen to “grandstanding remoaners” at her party conference, and described the forum as a “talking shop”.

Relations soured further when Mrs. Foster, who campaigned to leave the EU, also accused Irish officials of poaching investment from Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams with MLA and Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness speak to the media at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin. Credit: PA
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said in his speech that the Government needed to uphold the wishes of the Northern Ireland people and secure a special status for the region.

“The overriding and principle objective of our deliberations are in Sinn Féin’s view about securing the position of the island of Ireland within the European Union in line with the democratically expressed wishes of citizens in the north. That means openly, and meaningfully, exploring options through which Ireland in its entirety can remain within the European Union,” he said.

“There should not be a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, our discussion should be about moving beyond the consequences of Brexit and looking at alternatives.

“A referendum on Irish unity should not be ruled out, that’s clearly Sinn Féin’s preference, but we should also look to already unique arrangements in place in the European Union.”

Referring to unionist leaders who snubbed the event, he added: “Rather than wait to see what the British government does, we need to be proactive about setting alternatives, constitutional, political and otherwise that protect and promote the national interests of all of the people – including those who are absent – of our island.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also made the case for getting a bespoke deal for Northern Ireland.

“We haven’t given our consent to leave the European Union, that’s why we have to fight tooth and nail to protect the people of Northern Ireland – the 56% who voted to remain within the European Union,” he said.

“Theresa May said that she’s arguing every day for a bespoke deal for Britain, well we need a bespoke deal for Northern Ireland, we need to protect the freedom of our citizens around this island and within the European Union.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long told those gathered that her party would also support campaigning for a special deal for Northern Ireland.

“We would obviously prefer a soft Brexit, or indeed no Brexit at all, but we also need to confront the notion of a one size fits all Brexit, and in this regard we do support consideration of some sort of special status for Northern Ireland,” she said.

“What is meant by that needs to be developed over the coming weeks and months by governments, political parties, the business community, academia and civil society.

“It could see Northern Ireland as a region remaining inside the European Union or outside with some form of special recognition, a full spectrum of detailed options and scenarios should be considered.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that Northern Ireland and the peace process would be front and center of Dublin’s priorities in the upcoming negotiations between Britain and the remaining 27 EU leaders.

“This situation is not of our making, it is not the outcome that we, the Irish government, and many others wanted but we must and do respect the outcome of the democratic process in the United Kingdom,” he said.

“I also acknowledge that the electorate in Northern Ireland did not vote to leave the European Union.

“While many uncertainties remain, the United Kingdom is now on a course that will fundamentally change this relationship with the European Union and for the first time, when the negotiations are complete, Ireland will be a member of the EU and the United Kingdom will not be.”

Mr. Kenny also said that the Common Travel Area would be preserved.

“Neither I nor the Prime Minister, desire to limit the freedom of people on both sides of the Irish Sea to trade, to live, to work, to travel freely across these islands,” he said.