Belfast Telegraph

Progress, yes... but still many questions remain unanswered

By Michelle O'Neill

What we saw yesterday in the joint report from the EU and British government represents a degree of progress but, as always, the devil is in the detail.

Amid all the media furore which is accompanying this report, it is worth remembering that this is not a Brexit agreement; it is an assessment on whether sufficient progress has been made on whether or not to move to the next stage of the negotiations. It is not a final deal.

For our part, while we are satisfied that this paper provides protections in relation to the Good Friday Agreement, deals with some concerns around the border and citizens' rights, there is clearly much more to do. In this regard, the negotiators state clearly that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

This paper sets out principles. There are now major questions around how we turn those principles into reality.

These include how we can ensure there is no hardening of the border, how we protect our economy, business and trade, and how the rights of citizens can be protected and how we ensure the protection of the Good Friday Agreement, in all its parts.

Yesterday's document contains no detail about the future role of the European Court of Justice and how Irish, and therefore EU citizens in the north can continue to access EU institutions. We need to see more detail and clarity on these, and other issues.

Yesterday, I raised this directly with British Prime Minister Theresa May, my party colleague Mary Lou McDonald met with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Martina Anderson was in contact with the European Parliament's Brexit steering group.

I also challenged Theresa May on her letter, ostensibly to the people of the north but in reality it was a letter solely for the unionist population. I made it clear to her that she needs to understand that the DUP do not speak for the people of the north, the majority of whom voted to remain in the EU, and it is unacceptable for her to address herself to one section of the community alone.

The Irish government too need to recognise that much more work is required in order to protect citizens' rights. They should be aware of the fact that the denial of rights is at the heart of the current political difficulties in the north.

So while this paper does represent some progress, it also raises many questions that need answered.

Sinn Fein's position ahead of the publication of this paper was that securing special status for the north within the EU offers the best protection for the Good Friday Agreement and citizens' rights.

That remains our position and it is achievable and deliverable.

Michelle O'Neill is the Northern leader of Sinn Fein

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph