Northern Ireland and North-South Relations
The Government has consistently highlighted the risks that Brexit poses for Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement, and repeatedly underlined that a no deal Brexit is in no one’s interests, least of all for the people of Northern Ireland who will be most affected.
The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland contained within the Withdrawal Agreement protects the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process in all its parts by:
Respecting fully the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as guaranteed by the Good Friday Agreement;
Guaranteeing, through a backstop mechanism, that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland; underpinning continuing North-South cooperation and protecting the all island economy, including by maintaining the Single Electricity Market;
Making provision for the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, ensuring that the current bilateral arrangements can continue whereby Irish and British citizens can live, work, study and access healthcare, social security and public services in each jurisdiction;
Ensuring no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as set out in the Good Friday Agreement;
Confirming that people in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens.
Many of the actions listed within this plan are cross-cutting and include those that the Government can take to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area, and mitigate as much as possible against the worst effects of a no deal Brexit on North-South cooperation.
However, it will not be possible to fully mitigate many of the risks associated with a no deal Brexit.
Political, Security and Societal Impacts
The consequences of a no deal Brexit for the political process in Northern Ireland could be very damaging.
If the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement were operating at that point, it would be a very significant test of their resilience. Should the current talks process not have resulted by that point in the restoration to operation of the Good Friday Agreement institutions, a no deal Brexit would also present an even more difficult environment for political talks aimed at restoring the operation of the NI Assembly and Executive and the North-South Ministerial Council. The further delay, following an already extended period without the institutions, would have significant implications for wider public confidence.
A no deal Brexit risks significantly undermining wider community relations and political stability in Northern Ireland, with potential related security concerns.
It could be expected that calls for a border poll to be held would increase in such a scenario. This could also have implications for the stability of the institutions if they are in place, or the process to restore them to operation.
The longer the uncertainty of a no deal scenario persists, the more political and community relationships in Northern Ireland would be tested.
Uncertainty around a physical border on the island could also be expected to become a focus for dissident republican paramilitary recruitment and activity. Garda and PSNI authorities have said publicly that any border infrastructure or personnel would become targets for dissident republican paramilitaries and require police or other protection.
A no deal Brexit also has the potential to become a focus for increased loyalist paramilitary recruitment and activity, including in response to dissident republican paramilitary actions and an increased public focus on a border poll.
If the institutions were not in place at the time of a no deal Brexit, there is a risk that the UK Government might initiate a move to Direct Rule in Northern Ireland as a response to managing the transition to new arrangements in the timeframe involved.
The central priority of the Government in this regard is to work urgently and in partnership with the UK Government to support the restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to full operation on a more sustainable basis, and to address key issues of division between the main parties that have affected partnership government in Northern Ireland. Having the institutions working on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland would be crucial in managing the impacts of any Brexit scenario on the island.
In the past months, numerous public interventions have been made, which underline how the prospect of operating outside the EU with no deal would be extremely serious for the businesses, people and economy of Northern Ireland.
Most recently a report published by the Northern Ireland Department of the Economy states that micro and small enterprises in Northern Ireland will be the most adversely affected in the event of a no deal Brexit, with the agri-food sector especially vulnerable. This scenario would also have the gravest consequences for cross-border trade, which is so significant to the Northern Ireland economy, and thus for the all-island economy, the protection of which is a major priority for this Government.
This report and other information, such as the letter from the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to political parties in Northern Ireland in March, makes clear that a no deal Brexit could have a profound and long-lasting impact on society and that, despite the considerable amount of mitigation work that has been undertaken to date across departments in Northern Ireland, there are considerable and unavoidable residual risks to the local economy that cannot be mitigated. Such risks include the introduction of EU tariffs and the challenges for businesses to adjust to new economic and trading realities.
The commitment of the Government throughout the Brexit process to preventing the reemergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland remains of the highest priority. The backstop is the only viable solution on the table that avoids a hard border, including physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, preserves the all-island economy and fully protects the Good Friday Agreement, as well the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.
Throughout this process, Ireland and the EU have been at one. The EU has been clear that it is determined to do all it can, deal or no deal, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and to protect the peace process.
Since earlier this year, there has been a process of engagement between Ireland and the European Commission on how to achieve, in a no deal scenario, our shared twin objectives of protecting the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it and avoiding any physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland.
Without the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop, there are no easy answers. Both the EU and the UK Government agree that no one has yet come up with any alternatives that meet the same objectives as the Withdrawal Agreement. There should be no illusion – a no deal Brexit would result in far-reaching change on the island of Ireland. This would particularly impact on North-South trade, which could no longer be as frictionless as it is today. The impact of tariffs and of the customs and SPS requirements and associated checks necessary to preserve Ireland’s full participation in the Single Market and Customs Union would be significant for the operation of the allisland economy and would involve additional costs for and disruption to businesses throughout the island, particularly those in Northern Ireland. We continue to work closely with the Commission with a view to minimising these negative consequences of no deal, but any arrangement will clearly be sub-optimal.
Overall, the challenges associated with a no deal Brexit would be particularly significant for the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland, given the relevance to the sector of issues including but not limited to tariffs, seamless cross-border supply chains and food safety. The economic impact for Northern Ireland could be further intensified by the approach announced by the UK in mid-March that, on a unilateral and temporary basis, no tariffs would be applied on goods crossing from Ireland into Northern Ireland.
The commitment of the Irish and British Governments to the maintenance of the Common Travel Area will provide important assurances for the way people from both the North and the South live, move and access public services on the island of Ireland (as well as across both Ireland and Great Britain).
North-South Cooperation Impacts
A no deal Brexit will raise serious concerns about the future effectiveness of NorthSouth cooperation, including across all the formal and informal areas identified in the Withdrawal Agreement and the report on North-South mapping published on 21 June 2019. EU-funded programmes will also be brought into question.
North-South cooperation is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement and, as such, will continue in any scenario. However, and as with so much else, a no deal context would present additional challenges. Areas identified in the joint EU-UK mapping exercise include the six North South Implementation Bodies and cooperation in the areas of environment, health, agriculture, transport, education, tourism, energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, inland fisheries, justice and security, higher education and sport.
The published report of the mapping exercise makes clear that North-South cooperation is linked to the avoidance of a hard border and also relies to a significant extent on a common European Union legal and policy framework and that the UK’s departure from the European Union gives rise to substantial challenges to the maintenance and development of North-South cooperation. The implementation of the Protocol would enable Ireland and Northern Ireland to jointly or individually adopt measures to ensure that North-South cooperation would continue after UK withdrawal. This would not be the case to the same extent in the absence of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Concerns are likely to increase around both the rights and entitlements associated with EU citizenship, such as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), access to Erasmus+, and on fundamental rights issues.
It is important to underline that under any scenario Irish citizens, no matter where they live, will continue to have EU citizenship. They will continue to enjoy the right to live and work throughout the EU and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality. On fundamental rights, the European Convention on Human Rights will remain incorporated in Northern Ireland law as required under the Good Friday Agreement.
The Government will continue to reinforce the message that the rights and entitlements of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland are of fundamental importance and must be protected to the greatest extent possible.
The Government of Ireland understands the importance placed by residents of Northern Ireland on continued access to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and to the Erasmus+ programme and is seeking to make arrangements to provide for continued access to these programmes, as well as taking measures in a number of other areas, which are set out below.
The Government of Ireland and the UK Government have signed a Memorandum of Understanding confirming the commitment of both Governments to the maintenance of the Common Travel Area (CTA) in all circumstances. This is particularly important for the ways in which people live on the island of Ireland.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
The Government is seeking to make arrangements so that the people of Northern Ireland will have access to EHICs after a no deal Brexit. The Department of Health is working to progress arrangements that are compatible with both domestic and EU law, and to ensure that the HSE has the necessary operational arrangements in place to administer this in a no deal scenario.
The European Commission has adopted a set of unilateral contingency proposals which aim to mitigate the significant impact on the current programme in a no deal scenario. This will permit students who will be ‘on Erasmus’ in the UK, including in institutions in Northern Ireland, to complete their placement without interruption. This also applies to students from GB and Northern Ireland institutions who will be studying in EU Member States.
The Government is also seeking to make arrangements for students of relevant institutions in Northern Ireland to have continued access to the Erasmus+ higher education programme in the event of a no deal Brexit. This may have cost implications for the Exchequer. Ireland is working domestically and with the EU Institutions to identify an approach for delivering on this commitment.
EU Funded Programmes (PEACE and INTERREG)
The Irish Government has been clear and consistent in its commitment to the successful completion of the current PEACE and INTERREG programmes and to a new programme post-Brexit. The European Union has adopted a special regulation to allow for the continuation of the PEACE and INTERREG programmes even in the event of a no deal Brexit.
As regards a future programme, the European Commission has responded to the Irish Government’s support for a future programme with a proposal for a special new PEACE PLUS programme that will build on and continue the work of PEACE and INTERREG into the future.
UK Driving Licences
Visitors with a UK (including Northern Ireland) licence will be able to drive in Ireland while visiting, using their existing valid driving licence, in all Brexit scenarios. Such drivers will not be required to carry an International Driving Permit with them in order to drive here: they just need to carry their valid driving licence.
Motorists resident in Ireland with a UK (including Northern Ireland) driving licence should exchange that licence for an Irish driving licence in good time before the UK leaves the EU. In the event of a no deal Brexit, for persons resident in Ireland, their UK driving licence will no longer be valid for driving here.
Motor Insurance Green Cards
In the event of a no deal Brexit, Green Cards will be required for EU-registered vehicles entering the UK and for UK-registered vehicles entering the EU. These act as a proof of insurance.
In advance of 29 March, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) engaged in a publicity campaign on this, and issued approximately one million Green Cards to insurance firms and brokers. Green Cards are typically valid until the renewal date of an insurance policy, so some drivers will need to obtain a new Green Card. The MIBI are working with insurance firms and brokers on this issue.
In the event of a no deal Brexit, the UK has indicated that Irish registered vehicles entering the UK will require either a Green Card or other documentary proof of insurance cover for UK, including Northern Ireland.
The Government will engage with the insurance sector to identify any further actions in advance of 31 October.
Mobile Roaming Charges
The Government has engaged with Ireland’s main mobile operators – Vodafone, Three and Eir, who between them represent 88% of the market. These operators have announced that there will be no return to roaming charges for people travelling to the UK, including Northern Ireland, after Brexit. UK mobile operators have indicated their intention not to reintroduce mobile roaming charges after Brexit.
Provision of Passports
Strong demand for Irish passports in recent years reflects an increased demand from Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and Great Britain since the Brexit referendum.
In the period January to June 2016, 15,174 first-time passport applications were received from Northern Ireland and 4,147 from Great Britain. In the same period in 2019, 47,645 first-time applications were received from Northern Ireland and 31,099 from Great Britain. This represents increases of 214% and 650%, respectively.
To deal with rising demand, the capacity of the Passport Office has been strengthened through the recruitment of additional permanent and temporary staff to process applications and answer customer queries. Over 80 permanent staff have been recruited in the Passport Service offices in Balbriggan, Cork and in Dublin city centre, as well as over 230 Temporary Clerical Officers. In light of the continued increase in volumes, work is ongoing to provide additional temporary back-office processing capacity.
A new Customer Service Hub was established in January 2019 to ensure that the Passport Service is equipped to deal with the large volume of queries received through its phone and webchat services. 90 Passport Office staff members are currently assigned to the Customer Service Hub.
The introduction and expansion of the Online Passport Renewal Service has increased efficiencies and allowed more staff to focus on first time applications.