Sinn Féin say Good Friday Agreement facing its biggest threat

Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney
Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney

The Good Friday Agreement is "facing its most serious threat in the history of the peace process," Sinn Féin said last night.

The party's National Chairperson Declan Kearney said the British government and DUP alliance had caused significant problems.

“They have created the current crisis and, as a result, the entire basis of the Good Friday Agreement is now faced with its most serious threat in the history of the peace process," he said.

“A successful resolution hinges on whether political unionism can accept, and co-exist in partnership, with the Irish cultural tradition, and Irish nationalist and republican identity."

His comments came ahead of a crunch Brexit meeting between the British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU chiefs which will take place today.

Mrs May is to travel to Brussels for talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

While the British are hoping that “sufficient progress” has been made to allow trade talks to begin, the meeting takes place in the backdrop of comments made by EU president Donald Tusk on a visit to Ireland last week.

After a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin, Mr Tusk supported Ireland’s demands that Britain give a written commitment to avoid a hard border.

Mr Tusk also said that Dublin will decide on behalf of the 27 European governments whether the British proposals are sufficient to allow trade talks to progress.

Negotiations between the UK, EU and Irish officials continued last night ahead of today’s crucial meeting.

The Irish cabinet is expected to hold a special session this morning to decide if the government is in a position to accept any proposals arising out of negotiations as “sufficient progress”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said there was no wish to veto Brexit talks or delay progress.

"So there is no desire I can tell you in Ireland to delay this process, but at the same time we have a responsibility as a government to represent the interests on the island of Ireland - north and south - and let's not forget that next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement which is the basis for the peace process and relations between Britain and Ireland on the island of Ireland,” he said.

As the deadline for progress approaches, unionists in the north have continued to voice their concerns.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that the Irish have taken a more aggressive stance on Brexit since Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney took office in June.

The North Belfast MP said they wanted to dismiss technological solutions that could prevent a hard border.

"They say none of that is acceptable," he said.

"It has to be a political solution which involves the UK staying inside the single market or the customs union, or failing that Northern Ireland doing so," he told the BBC.

Mr Varadkar has said he understands unionist concerns over the issue of the border and said his government is “not looking to change the constitutional status of Northern Ireland".

"We want the Good Friday Agreement to work," he said.

"We're totally committed to that as a government.

“We're not looking to replace it with something new," he told RTE.

Ahead of her meeting today with Mr Juncker, Mrs May faced a series of demands in a letter from pro Brexit campaigners before she agrees any payments to the EU.

The demands from Leave Means Leave include an “in principle” agreement for free trade, the ending of free movement of EU citizens into the UK, no EU regulations should apply in the UK, the European Court of Justice should cease to have any jurisdiction in the UK and both parties will work in “good faith” to secure agreement on the Irish border.

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry last night said the Good Friday Agreement must be protected.

“No one realistically believes that the Irish questions are going to be fully resolved at this stage, but enough clarity and certainty has to be given in terms of how an Irish border will be avoided and the Good Friday Agreement protected,” she said.

UUP leader Robin Swann called on the DUP to reveal what the party knows about the current negotiations.

“Given the leverage which the DUP claim they hold over the government, it is incumbent on them to make clear what the government told them about the proposals for dealing with the border,” he said.