We can not allow GFA’s cross-border powers to be nullified

Posted By: March 08, 2018

Pat Fahy. Letters to Editor. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, March 8, 2018

The notion that there could be a new border imposed on the island of Ireland because of Brexit is totally unacceptable. 

It matters not whether the proposed border is ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, physical or technological. 

The UK government has clear international law obligations under the Good Friday Agreement [GFA]. Among the provisions in that agreement, there was set up a North-South Ministerial Council and a new British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference. 

The constitutional importance of the establishment of these new bodies is huge, and of crucial relevance in the situation we now find ourselves. 

For the first time since partition, the British through the GFA agreed that the role of operating the northern state was no longer just a matter for the United Kingdom Parliament or for any devolved institution in Belfast.

Across a wide range of matters, the responsibility for decision making affecting The North was through the British-Irish inter-governmental conference to be shared between the British and Irish government. 

Similarly, through the North-South Ministerial Council which the agreement also set up, representatives of any devolved institution established in The North were in conjunction with their counterparts in the Irish government empowered to make executive decisions affecting all of the island of Ireland. 

The impact of these developments on the constitutional position of the north of Ireland was immense. It is akin to the impossible notion that the British would agree to allow France or Germany to take political and legal decisions in relation to London or to Yorkshire. 

What the agreement between London and Dublin to set up these two bodies in the Good Friday Agreement means is that the governance of The North is irrevocably intertwined between north and south, and between London and Dublin. In that situation, the Irish state is the guarantor for the protection of the rights of Irish nationalists in The North.

One way in which these important powers could be revoked would be if the British government were to openly renege on the Good Friday Agreement and that remains a possibility. But an equally fatal blow to the Agreement would be delivered if the British and Unionists are able to have a new Border, ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, established as a result of Brexit.

The inevitable consequence of such a Border would be that different laws and different regulations would apply to the one part of Ireland remaining in the EU and the other part leaving the EU. In such a situation, neither the North-South Ministerial Council nor the British –Irish Inter-Governmental Conference could operate in any meaningful way. Arguably the most important element of the Good Friday Agreement – its cross-border powers – would be nullified.

Patrick Fahy. Omagh, Co Tyrone