Northern Ireland and the future of our shared island
Bunreacht na hÉireann affirms our national aspiration for territorial unity. Fine Gael, the United Ireland Party, shares that aspiration based on the principle of consent and a clear majority, North and South, being in favour. We believe that uniting people is even more important than uniting territory.
Fine Gael has consistently worked to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of this island. In government, we have helped agree the Sunningdale Agreement, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration, the Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement.
The strong and consistent calls from across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland for the devolved institutions to operate must be heeded. The devolved power-sharing institutions are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and they are the best means for achieving accountable, representative decision making for all the people of Northern Ireland. This is a critical time for Northern Ireland. Brexit and its impacts on Northern Ireland should be dealt with by elected representatives in Northern Ireland through the devolved institutions. There are many important decisions that have an impact on public services and people’s lives that are waiting to be taken by a new Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. So the restoration of the devolved institutions needs to happen as soon as possible.
Fine Gael is deeply concerned at the continuing impasse in Northern Ireland. Some memories may have faded, but the legacy of loss, injury, fear and violence has left deep scars. The peace process is fragile and, like the Good Friday Agreement, must be protected.
Fine Gael in government has been engaging with the British government on the imperative for both governments to chart a way forward so that the operation of the devolved institutions of the Agreement can be restored. We are in regular contact with the British government and with the leaders of all the political parties.
In parallel with our efforts to get Stormont back up-and-running, we have sought to revive structures of the Good Friday Agreement which fell into abeyance under Fianna Fáil. We have successfully reinvigorated the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which most recently met in November. At that meeting, both governments re-affirmed their shared commitment to securing the operation of the devolved power-sharing Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland, and the consequent resumption of meetings of the North South Ministerial Council at the earliest opportunity.
Both governments are agreed that a new political process is required to get beyond the current impasse and secure the necessary agreement between the parties on operating the devolved institutions again. We are working to see this process in place as soon as possible.
Protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process is at the forefront of our approach to Brexit. This includes the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, maintaining EU support for the Peace Process, supporting continued North-South cooperation and ensuring there is no border infrastructure of any kind on the island of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement has profoundly transformed lives on these islands. And it will continue to do so. It remains the cornerstone of the peace process and the fundamental framework for relationships across these islands. The people of this island voted overwhelmingly for it and continue to believe in it.
This is a shared island, with a shared future. We want to shape that future together for the benefit of all our people. Our vision for the island of Ireland embraces all identities, religions and minorities. We have always been about building relationships and bringing communities and people together. We recognise that unionism is integral to Irish culture, heritage and history and we respect it.
Our vision aligns with the Good Friday Agreement aspiration of “equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity” and fully equal rights for same-sex couples and LGBT people across the island. Our vision harnesses the potential of the entire island of Ireland, where students move freely around the island, where patients access high quality healthcare and where trade flows smoothly. Fine Gael is committed to identifying, resourcing and developing stronger partnerships on both sides of the border. Thousands of people cross the border each day. They are people running a business, going to work, going to university, visiting family or accessing public services. We need to facilitate that movement.
In the absence of power-sharing at Stormont, we will continue to act in the best interests of all the people of Ireland, North and South. In keeping with the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement, we want to develop the three interlocking relationships on our two islands – between communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South on the island of Ireland, and across the Irish Sea.
Deeper and wider North-South cooperation
Regardless of Brexit, it makes sense on an island the size of Ireland to collaborate across a range of public services and on key infrastructure projects such as the N2/A5/N14 and the Narrow Water Bridge. We strongly support the North/South bodies and want to use them to foster deeper, practical North-South cooperation.
Fine Gael in government will work with our partners in the North to deliver necessary and transformative projects that are in our mutual best interests. These cover healthcare, transport, tourism, research, education and energy to name just a few.
Improved connectivity across all our island is essential to our combined long-term prosperity. Fine Gael is committed to improving the rail line between the three largest cities on our island, Dublin, Cork and Belfast. We will carry out an economic evaluation of a high speed rail link between Dublin-Belfast, Dublin-Limerick Junction and Dublin-Cork, and compare that to what could be achieved by existing line upgrades. We will then advance the best option. As previously stated, we want to improve access from Dublin to Derry and Donegal.
Further East-West cooperation after Brexit
The United Kingdom will continue be our nearest neighbour, the largest market for many of our exports and where many of our family and friends will continue to live, study and work. The role of our respective governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, the keystone of the process that has secured peace in Northern Ireland and underpins power-sharing and North-South cooperation, will be unchanged by Brexit.
We want to protect and strengthen our relationship with the UK in the years after Brexit. As set out in ‘Global Ireland’, the government will:
- review all aspects of our presence in the UK and strengthen our diplomatic and enterprise teams. As a first step, we will commit additional resources to our embassy in London and reinforce our agency presence in Manchester and Glasgow;
- open a new consulate in Cardiff next year and an additional consulate in another UK location post-2019; and
- confirm in early 2019 a new structure to facilitate high-level meetings of Irish and UK Heads of Government, Ministers and senior officials to sustain East-West cooperation after Britain leaves the EU.
Giving all Irish citizens a vote in the Presidential election
The Office of the President represents more than just the citizens living in Ireland, it represents all Irish citizens. We support extending the franchise at Presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the state. This referendum should take place on the date of the local and European Elections in May 2019. If passed, this will allow Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and around the world to vote in the next presidential elections.