Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland needs 'special status' after Brexit, says Irish government

The Irish government has declared it is demanding "special status" for Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Dublin's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has dismissed "language coming from London" in recent days that technology alone - cameras and online permits - could bypass the need for border posts on the island of Ireland.

Mr Coveney, who met with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier during the week, said an unprecedented "political solution" was needed to keep the status quo and an effectively invisible frontier.

"What we are insisting on achieving is a special status for Northern Ireland that allows the interaction on this island, as is currently the case, to be maintained," he said.

"It is not so much about a soft or hard border, it is about an invisible border effectively, that you don't notice as you cross it.

"To achieve that, we need to draw up a political solution here as well as technical and practical one, which doesn't really have any precedent in the European Union."

Mr Coveney said the solution would have to respect the territorial integrity of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

It would also have to makes sure it did not create a back door to entering the European single market, he added.

"This is not going to be a straightforward problem to solve," he said.

The call for "special status" is a departure for the Irish government. It was immediately welcomed by Sinn Fein senator Niall O Donnghaile as a "significant" shift.

Unionists have argued against special status for Northern Ireland within the EU, claiming it is being planned as a back door to a united Ireland.

Mr Coveney said the language coming from Dublin on Brexit over the past week has been somewhat different to language coming from London.

"I have heard talk about the needs to ensure we do not have the re-emergence of a hard border and some people seem to be talking in the context of using technology to make sure that isn't the case," he said.

"For me, that misses the point totally.

"This is not about finding a way of avoiding queues on roads through cameras and people being able to apply online for permits to travel between jurisdictions."

The Foreign Affairs Minister also urged an all-island approach to Brexit if the Stormont power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland can be restored.

Talks aimed at breaking a political impasse in the region are ongoing ahead of a deadline for agreement at the end of this month.

Mr Coveney was speaking at the launch in Dublin of a parliamentary committee report on the threat of Brexit to the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 deal which cemented peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland after decades of conflict.

The report outlines cross-border cooperation, EU funding for the region, the border, constitutional issues and reconciliation as key issues of concern.

Kathleen Funchion, chairwoman of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, said the UK's decision to pull out of the EU has brought huge uncertainty to work ongoing to maintain peace-building.

"We have heard much about the economic impact Brexit may have on this island," she said.

"We have not heard so much about the psychological impact. It is the psychological impact that has the potential to derail the peace process that so many have worked so hard to achieve."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said he was disappointed at Mr Coveney's calls for "special status" in Northern Ireland, which he described as " a thinly veiled attempt to break up the union".

"As the Belfast Agreement makes clear, Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom until its people say otherwise," he said.

"'Special status' would undermine the principle of consent enshrined in the agreement.

"With the Republic of Ireland's economy intrinsically linked to that of the United Kingdom, perhaps Minister Coveney would be better served seeking special arrangements for his country after Brexit, which may be one way to overcome some of the challenges which Brexit presents."

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