Republic should pay for Northern Ireland special EU status, says Fine Gael MEP
The Republic should pay for Northern Ireland to be an associate member of the European Union, Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said.
Mr Hayes, a member of the European Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee, said that the Republic should be willing to pay Northern Ireland's entire EU budget, likely costing hundreds of millions of euro a year.
Speaking in Brussels at the Institute of International and European Affairs, Mr Hayes said that an associate membership of the EU might be negotiable for Northern Ireland, if the Republic pays its budget contribution to sell the deal to both unionists and EU officials.
He suggested that the arguments for Northern Ireland having free trade are similar to those of Gibraltar, which is British territory but which has a land border with Spain - an EU country.
"Both land borders represent a major disruption to trade and the single market in a circumstance where the UK is leaving the EU," he told the institute.
He said that an associate membership could be similar to that of Norway, which is a member of the European Economic Area and has free trading rights within the EU.
Mr Hayes stressed that the Republic paying for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU should in no way interfere with its position within the UK and the principle of consent, which he said was a cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement.
"I believe that all options need to be on the table without questioning the fundamental and overarching reality that Northern Ireland is part of the UK and will be until a majority of its citizens decides otherwise," he said.
He welcomed comments by Charlie Flanagan, the Republic's minister for foreign affairs who said the Irish government would be seeking a special status for Northern Ireland in the EU, and quotes by DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who said that he was also seeking a special deal for the island of Ireland as a whole.
"I regard this statement by Jeffrey Donaldson was very significant in recognising the importance of the all-island economy," he said.
Speaking afterwards on RTE radio, Mr Hayes rejected claims that paying Northern Ireland's EU contribution would cost the state €400m (£365m) a year and said that Northern Ireland's contribution is still not known.
He said that, overall, Northern Ireland was a net beneficiary of EU funding, so paying its contribution to the EU budget made economic sense for the island.
Mr Hayes also noted that DUP MP Ian Paisley has called on constituents to get dual British and Irish passports, especially if travelling abroad.
Clive McFarland, a DUP spokesman, strongly rejected Mr Hayes's proposal and said that the UK had voted for the entire country to leave the EU and that is what should be enacted.
"To say that the Republic would pay our EU contribution and that this would not impact the constitutional position is far fetched to say the least," he said.
"Someone could be flippant by turning the thing around and say that the UK could pay for the Republic to leave the EU.
"Would that be acceptable?" he added.
Mr McFarland said that "even if the intentions are good, it is difficult to justify and it's not going to be flyer".