Charlie Flanagan TD, the minister for foreign affairs, has written a surprisingly forceful article for the New European, a pro-EU magazine in the United Kingdom, setting out Ireland’s expectation that the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 will be part of the “letter and spirit” of any final Brexit deal between Brussels and London:
For Northern Ireland, which itself voted to remain but will exit the EU along with the rest of the UK, there is a risk of profoundly negative consequences. The duty of Ireland and the UK, as co-guarantors of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, is to work within these negotiations to avoid such consequences.
Given the recent history of conflict and division during the years of the Troubles, the day-to-day interconnectedness of life on the island of Ireland that we enjoy in 2017 was unimaginable just 20 years ago, before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. For example, more than 30,000 people cross the open border every day for work, for school, for university, or to visit family and friends. Specialist Medical services such as cancer care are organised on an all island basis. The food industry North and South is deeply integrated. The list goes on and, put simply, life is normal.
As Ireland’s Foreign Minister I know that getting to that simple but invaluable word ‘normal’ takes a lot of hard work and willingness to compromise – elements which will be needed in the Brexit negotiations.
Hard work has led to an encouraging start – albeit just a start. Both negotiating parties on Brexit, the EU (including Ireland) and the UK have formally highlighted the border in Ireland and the absolute necessity of full respect for every element of the Good Friday Agreement. It is an internationally recognised treaty (registered with the United Nations), which will have to be fully respected in letter and spirit, and even stitched into the fabric of any Brexit agreement. The peace dividend, which has been achieved on the island of Ireland over the past 20 years, must not be jeopardised.
Britain would almost certainly baulk at the idea of the Irish-British peace accords of the 1990s and early 2000s being incorporated into its final exit agreement from the European Union. However the Fine Gael minister seems to be indicating that this may become a key demand from Dublin. Is the government adopting a harder line in the face of confusion and lacklustre cooperation from the Tory administration of Theresa May?