North-South & East-West Relations

2.1.   Northern Ireland and Implementation of the Protocol

The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (“the Protocol”) is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement. It is a comprehensive and legally operative solution that addresses the challenges of Brexit on the island of Ireland. Regardless of the outcome of the future partnership negotiations between the EU and the UK, the Protocol will apply from the end of the transition period. Its implementation is a key priority for Ireland and the EU.

The Protocol protects the Good Friday Agreement, North/South cooperation and the all island economy. It avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, while preserving the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland’s place in it. It also includes commitments to ensure no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, and confirms that people in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens.

The Protocol provides that Northern Ireland is legally part of the UK customs territory but subject to certain provisions of EU law. These provisions are effectively those necessary to avoid a hard border on the island and include the Union Customs Code and EU legislation across a range of areas necessary to protect the integrity and operation of the Single Market in goods. Under the Protocol, goods from Northern Ireland will have free and open access to the EU Single Market. Necessary checks and controls (including on SPS goods) will take place on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom and other third countries.

The Protocol provides a legal framework for the continuation of the Single Electricity Market on the island of Ireland, and reaffirms the commitment of the EU and UK to the PEACE PLUS programme. Economic and social cooperation has benefited people across the island, and supported the development of an all-island economy that has enhanced the prosperity of all. The all-island economy is important to business across the island of Ireland and facilitates many people’s lives and livelihoods. The Protocol provides important safeguards that it will be protected.

The maintenance of the Common Travel Area (CTA) by Ireland and the UK is also recognised. The CTA is a long-standing arrangement between Ireland and the UK, which enables Irish and British citizens to travel and reside in either jurisdiction without restriction and provides for associated rights and entitlements in both jurisdictions, including access to employment, healthcare, education, social benefits and the right to vote in certain elections. Further information on the Common Travel Area is provided in Section 6.2.

The EU rights of Irish, and therefore EU citizens, from Northern Ireland are also specifically addressed in the Protocol. It confirms that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, “will continue to enjoy, exercise and have access to rights, opportunities and benefits” that come with EU citizenship.

Irish citizens will continue to have EU citizenship wherever they live. They will continue to enjoy the right to travel and live and work anywhere in the EU and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality. Irish citizens do not need to take any action to protect their EU citizenship.

The Protocol includes provisions to allow North South cooperation to continue and develop. North South cooperation is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement, and is essential for achieving reconciliation on the island of Ireland. We will continue to cooperate formally and informally in the areas which are important to our people, our businesses and our environment, including through the structures of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC).

Following the plenary meeting of the NSMC on 31 July 2020, which took place after a gap of more than three years, a full resumption of NSMC Sectoral meetings at Ministerial level will now take place. These meetings will provide the avenue to take forward North South engagement on Brexit and other matters, including implementation of the commitments made by the Irish Government in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, helping to deliver infrastructure to achieve greater North South connectivity, and ensuring that momentum on North South cooperation is maintained in all sectors.

It is imperative that the Protocol is fully implemented so that it achieves its objectives. The Government notes work to date and looks forward to accelerated progress by the UK on implementation of the Protocol, and to continued intensive technical engagement between the UK and the European Commission on the key issues.

From the beginning, Ireland’s approach has been guided by the principle of securing a deal that works for Northern Ireland, and the island as a whole. The Protocol achieves this.

2.2.   Common Travel Area

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a long-standing arrangement between the UK and Ireland which means Irish citizens can move freely to live, work, and study in the UK on the same basis as British citizens, and vice versa. Irish and British citizens also enjoy associated rights and entitlements including access to employment, healthcare, education, social benefits, and the right to vote in certain elections.

The CTA will be maintained in all circumstances. It has been recognised throughout the EU- UK negotiations and is referenced in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, which notes that Ireland and the UK may “continue to make arrangements between themselves relating to the movement of persons between their territories”.

The Government, together with the UK Government, has already undertaken extensive work to maintain as far as possible the CTA arrangements for all citizens of Ireland or the UK. This work will continue, including through legislative provision where necessary. Structures are in place to oversee the operation of the CTA and address any issues arising.

Irish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Ireland are not required to take any action to protect their status, or the rights associated with the CTA. Irish citizens resident in the UK do not need to register or take any action under the UK Government’s Settled Status scheme. They will continue to hold their CTA rights, which are not reliant on EU membership. However, as EU citizens, Irish citizens may apply to the scheme, if they so wish. Similarly, British citizens resident in Ireland will not need to apply for a permanent residence document from the Irish Government, although they may choose to do so. Further information is available on the FAQ page of the Government’s Getting Ireland Brexit Ready website.

In May 2019, the Government of Ireland and the UK Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) confirming the commitment of both Governments to the maintenance of the CTA in all circumstances. This is important for the ways in which people live on the island of Ireland, as well as across both Ireland and Great Britain. In 2019, the two Governments also signed a Convention on Social Security to maintain the current arrangements. MoUs in the areas of health and education are expected to be completed before the end of the transition period.

Access for Irish and EU citizens in the North to certain EU programmes and benefits continue to be addressed in the context of discussions between the EU and the UK on the future partnership. Similarly, discussions continue on the recognition of professional qualifications and further detail on this issue is set out in Section 4.4 of this document.

The Government fully recognises the importance of programmes such as the European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) and Erasmus+ for Irish, and therefore EU citizens, in Northern Ireland.

Preparations are continuing on developing a scheme to address any loss of access to EHIC Cards by residents of Northern Ireland. This scheme will allow eligible residents of Northern Ireland to seek reimbursement for the cost of necessary healthcare while on a temporary stay in another EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland, should it be required from 1 January 2021.

The Government will also introduce a scheme to allow for the continued participation in Erasmus+ mobilities for eligible students of higher education institutions in Northern Ireland, on the basis of temporary registration at Irish higher education institutions.

The 2020 Brexit Omnibus Bill will support enhanced cooperation between Ireland and the UK on a North-South and East-West basis, including in areas such as access to healthcare, higher education supports, social insurance and childcare schemes. The provisions of the Bill will also contribute in a positive way to ongoing close cooperation between Ireland and the United Kingdom in the areas of extradition and immigration.

2.3.   East-West Relations

Ireland regrets the UK’s decision to leave the EU, although we respect it. While we will no longer meet in Brussels, the relationship between Ireland and the UK will remain a vital one between close neighbours, trading partners, and co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

Our bilateral trade with Britain, worth over €1 billion per week, as well as our significant people- to-people links, ensure that close co-operation remains firmly in the interest of our respective citizens after the transition period ends.

We are committed to finding new ways to engage with our UK counterparts at political, as well as official levels. The Taoiseach and Prime Minister Johnson agreed at their meeting in Belfast on 13 August, on the importance of nurturing and developing the bilateral relationship in a structured way, as an urgent task.

We are discussing a new framework for regular meetings at Heads of Government, Ministerial, as well as senior official levels. An important part of any new framework will be enhancing the role of the valuable institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement that already facilitate structured East-West co-operation: the British-Irish Council and British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Working through these institutions, as well as regular bilateral engagements between the Irish and British Governments across all sectors, will help to ensure that our interests are protected and advanced.

We will carry out a strategic review of British-Irish relations in 2020/21. This is the first such review of this vital relationship. It will seek to establish how we can best adapt to this new context in which the UK is outside of the EU while we remain at its heart. It is a good opportunity to set new priorities, and signal a new ambition for the relationship.

The continued effective operation of the Common Travel Area, and the safeguarding of reciprocal rights in social protection, education, and healthcare, is vital of course in underpinning this close and distinct relationship.

East-West relations are, of course, broader than those between Dublin and London alone. The Government is committed to strengthening our relationships with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. We also recognise the need to deepen our engagement at a regional level. To that end, the Government has committed to opening a new Consulate in the North of England which will cover major population centres such as Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. This would broadly match the area known as the ‘Northern Powerhouse,’ an area with a population of about 15 million people and close historical and current links with Ireland and our diaspora.

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