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Posts tagged ‘United Republic of Ireland’

Protesters at Irish border highlight Brexit as peace threat

January 26, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Hundreds of people assembled near the Irish border to highlight the risks Brexit poses to peace in Northern Ireland. The protesters gathered near Newry in Northern Ireland on Saturday to reject the possibility of a “hard” border with ID checks and customs controls going up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

Some created a mock border checkpoint where actors dressed as soldiers and customs officers showed what such a protected boundary might look like. There is concern on both sides that a guarded border could jeopardize a hard-won coexistence since a 1998 agreement largely ended decades of sectarian and nationalist violence.

The British and Irish governments don’t want a hard border, but the European Union has said it’s likely unavoidable if the U.K. leaves the EU without a deal.

Ireland passes BDS bill banning Israel settlement goods

January 25, 2019

Ireland has advanced a bill which will prevent the sale of goods from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The lower house of the Irish parliament – the Dail – yesterday voted in favor of a bill which will ban the purchase of all goods and services from Israel’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. The bill was previously passed through the parliament’s upper house – the Seanad – before proceeding to the lower house and receiving a 78-45 majority in favor, Al Jazeera explained.

The bill – officially known as the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill – still needs to pass several more stages before being signed into Irish law, but it is expected to progress given its broad base of support from Irish opposition parties.

Once approved, the law would see fines of up to €250,000 ($284,000) or five years in jail be handed down for those found guilty of importing or selling any goods or services originating in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem or West Bank settlements, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Though estimates put the value of settlement-made exports to Ireland at between only $580,000 and $1.1 million annually, the symbolic value of the bill and its potential to influence other European countries to follow suit has been hailed as a victory by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative party, said the bill is a “great victory for the BDS movement” and vowed that “we will seek to pass similar laws in a number of European countries in the near future”.

Irish politicians also welcomed the move, with Irish Senator Frances Black tweeting: “Ireland will always stand for international law + human rights, & we’re one step closer to making history. Onwards!” She added: “We have now united every opposition party behind this bill, because it is *not* a radical ask: we want to give effect to basic provisions of int [international] law & human rights.”

However Israel has reacted with anger at the bill, summoning the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly, to be reprimanded.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s office said that “Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Dail which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism”. It added: “Instead of Ireland condemning Syria for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians, Turkey for the occupation of northern Cyprus and the terrorist organizations for murdering thousands of Israelis, it attacks Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. What a disgrace.”

Meanwhile Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the vote “an expression of pure hostility on the part of its initiators,” adding: “This is a clear expression of obsessive discrimination that should be rejected with disgust.”

Ireland has been a long-time supporter of the BDS movement. In October, Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ announced that it will not sanction any staff members who refuse to travel to Israel for the Eurovision Song Contest, due to be held in Tel Aviv in May. RTÉ’s decision came after the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) called for a boycott of the competition “due to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people”.

Other Irish organisations have also expressed support for BDS, with the Dublin City Council voting in April to back the movement. In March, students at one of the country’s most prestigious universities – Trinity College Dublin – voted to support BDS, meaning the Students Union will support the movement and “comply with the principles of BDS in all union shops, trade, business and other union operations”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190125-ireland-passes-bds-bill-banning-israel-settlement-goods/.

UK prime minister vows no return to hard border with Ireland

February 05, 2019

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May told business leaders in Northern Ireland Tuesday that she is seeking changes to the Brexit withdrawal agreement but not the total removal of the backstop plan that is the most contentious part of the deal.

May said during a visit to Belfast that the British government retains its commitment to preventing the construction of a physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland when Britain leaves the European Union.

The prime minister said she was in Belfast “to affirm my commitment to delivering a Brexit that ensures no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — which is unshakable.” She also emphasized the government’s commitment to the Good Friday agreement, largely credited with ending decades of violence known as “the Troubles” when it was signed in 1998.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but no withdrawal agreement has been approved because Britain’s Parliament has voted down May’s plan, in part because of concerns about the difficult border issues.

The situation is complex because Ireland is a member of the EU while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The currently wide open border between the two entities will after Brexit become the only land border between the U.K. and the EU.

May plans to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday seeking concessions on border-related issues and will return to Parliament next week with what is expected to be a modified plan.

Her original plan was defeated by more than 200 votes, a loss of historic proportions for her minority government. May is expected to have an uphill fight in Brussels because EU leaders have steadfastly opposed reopening the 585-page withdrawal agreement negotiated over the course of two years.

Ireland to Become World’s First Country to Divest From Fossil Fuels

By Lorraine Chow

Nov. 23, 2018

Ireland’s landmark Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill passed the Seanad, or upper house, on Thursday, putting the Emerald Isle on track to become the first country in the world to divest from fossil fuel-related funds.

The bill—which requires the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to sell off about €318 million ($361 million) investments in coal, oil, gas and peat assets over a five year period—now heads to President Michael D. Higgins for signature, where it will likely become law by the end of the year, according to the Irish Times.

Alice-Mary Higgins, an Independent Senator and the president’s daughter, was jubilant about the bill’s “swift passage” in the Seanad.

President Higgins told Green News in July that Ireland has a role in tackling climate change. He said the bill, first introduced by independent Donegal Deputy Thomas Pringle in 2016, was “greatly” needed and a “testament to cross-party cooperation and support.”

“While we are a small nation, we have a huge impact on the most vulnerable citizens in the world. It’s morally imperative that we urgently respond to climate change as it’s those most vulnerable who cannot afford to wait for us to act accordingly,” he added.

The bill’s passage is a major step for Ireland, which ranks last among European Union countries in the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index.

Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan welcomed the final passage of the bill.

“Ireland can finally hold its head up high on an issue of climate policy, as the first country in the world to put a national divestment strategy into place,” O’Sullivan said in a press release. “This bill will help protect us from climate change, will allow us to stand as an example to the world and protect Irish tax payers from massive losses as the world moves to a post-carbon future.”

Source: EcoWatch.

Link: https://www.ecowatch.com/ireland-fossil-fuels-divestment-2621293680.html.

Irish PM: Brexit is undermining N. Ireland’s peace accord

November 03, 2018

LONDON (AP) — Brexit is undermining Northern Ireland’s hard-won peace by creating tensions between Catholic and Protestant communities, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Saturday, even as hopes rose for a solution to the Irish border problem that has deadlocked negotiations.

“Brexit has undermined the Good Friday Agreement” — the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence in Northern Ireland — “and it is fraying relationships between Britain and Ireland,” Varadkar said.

“Anything that pulls the two communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship,” he told Ireland’s RTE radio.

Negotiations between Britain and the European Union over Britain’s departure from the bloc have stalled over the issue of the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland. Both sides agree there must be no customs posts or other barriers that could disrupt businesses and residents or undermine Northern Ireland’s peace. But they haven’t agreed on how to guarantee that — and Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29.

The border impasse has heightened fears that the U.K. might crash out of the EU without a deal on divorce terms and future relations, leading to chaos at ports and economic turmoil. The EU has proposed keeping Northern Ireland inside a customs union with the bloc to remove the need for border checks on the island.

But Britain’s Conservative government and its Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, won’t accept that because it would mean customs and regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

Britain wants instead to keep the whole U.K. in an EU customs union, but only temporarily. Although there has been no outward sign of a Brexit breakthrough, Irish and British officials say they are increasingly optimistic that a solution can be found.

After meeting Friday with Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney in Dublin, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s deputy David Lidington said negotiators were “very close” to an agreement. Coveney agreed there had been “a lot of progress.”

“I think it is possible to get a deal in November,” he said.

Irish border issued entangled with questions of identity

October 15, 2018

CARRICKCARNAN, Ireland (AP) — The land around the small Irish town of Carrickcarnan is the kind of place where Britain’s plan to leave the European Union runs right into a wall — an invisible one that’s proving inordinately difficult to overcome.

Somehow, a border of sorts will have to be drawn between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and EU member Ireland to allow customs control over goods, produce and livestock once the U.K. has fully left the bloc.

That means the largely unpoliced and invisible Irish land border will become the boundary between the EU and the U.K. — raising vexing questions about trade and customs checks. Of all the thorny issues in Brexit negotiations, this has been the toughest, because the challenge of keeping trade running smoothly is deeply entangled with questions of identity: what it means to be from Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant communities remain divided decades after 30 years of conflict claimed around 3,700 lives. The peace agreement signed in 1998 provides people with the freedom to identify as Irish or British, or both. It helped dismantle Northern Ireland’s once heavily-policed and militarized border with Ireland — and the last thing people want now is a new one.

“The peace process took identity and borders out of politics. Brexit has put them slap bang back into the middle again,” lamented Northern Ireland business and strategy adviser Conor Houston. Talks between EU leaders and British Prime Minister Theresa May ran aground this week over the Irish border issue, and are trying to find ways forward ahead of a summit starting Wednesday.

The Northern Ireland-Ireland border zig-zags all over the map. It cuts around properties, veers over roads and dodges villages. People cross it when they leave home to visit their doctor or go shopping. It’s mostly only visible when the speed signs change from kilometers to miles.

The dividing line stretches for 500 kilometers (312 miles) and is dotted with over 250 official road crossings, more than on Europe’s entire eastern flank. A fine example of the Brexit conundrum is the Jonesborough Parish Church. A padlock secures the gate of this run-down Protestant place of worship in the U.K. An Irish flag flies in the cemetery next door, over the border. In the parking lot, a weather-beaten sign reads: “No EU Frontier in Ireland.”

Not so long ago, 12 fortified watchtowers, 4 helicopter bases, a handful of army barracks and police stations dotted the countryside within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius. Border posts stood for authority and made easy targets for paramilitaries. So police came to guard the customs officers. Then the army was called in to protect the police.

Some think that modern technology — drones and cameras — can defeat old enmities. Others suspect they would be used for target practice. “For some, that will be seen as surveillance and a throwback to the troubles. Then you’re going to have to decide how to protect those drones and cameras,” said Peter Sheridan, a retired senior police officer with 32 years’ experience in dealing with organized crime.

Still, Sheridan says politicians should not cave in to threats. “We cannot be pressured into decisions by those who wield the biggest stick,” he said. About 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, in Northern Ireland’s capital of Belfast, the barriers are far more visible. In many places, neighborhoods are still separated by high, graffiti-daubed “peace walls.” Schools are mostly segregated.

The territory has the U.K.’s highest poverty, suicide and unemployment rates — and there are fears that Brexit might make things worse. “The tensions just can’t be underestimated and it’s absolutely pervasive” in parts of Belfast, said Angila Chada from Springboard, a group working with unemployed Protestant and Catholic young people.

It’s not all bad news. Trade — mostly in the agricultural and food sectors — has doubled in the last 20 years and Northern Ireland’s economy has steadily improved. Still, even in the best Brexit scenario, Aodhan Connolly of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium notes there will be “a substantial new administrative burden.”

More checks on goods crossing the border will mean more paperwork. That means delays, and delays create costs. “There is very little wiggle room for business. These costs will get passed onto the consumer,” Connolly told reporters during a visit to Northern Ireland organized by the Irish government. “It’s literally death by a thousand cuts. The food prices will go up, the fuel will go up, the shirt on your back.”

Creating a “hard border” — something all parties want to avoid — would make things worse. On average, commercial vehicles cross the border 13,000 times each day. In the future, around 3,000 loads a day carrying beef, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs or dairy products might have to be stopped. Each check would take about 10 minutes, said Seamus Leheny from Freight Transport Association.

“We would have paralysis here on the border,” he said. Whether customs and other checks could be done away from the border — at airports, ports, factories or markets — remains to be seen. In coming weeks, EU officials and the British and Irish governments must come up with a policy which guarantees that goods can be controlled without stifling the economy. Above all, the Brexit Irish border plan must respect the unique identities of Northern Ireland’s people and not inflame tensions, as many fear it might.

UK-EU Brexit deal hamstrung by Irish border issue

October 15, 2018

LUXEMBOURG (AP) — Britain and the European Union were still both refusing to blink Monday over the question of the Irish border in Brexit talks — only two days ahead of a summit once seen as the moment when they would have to reach deal on Britain’s divorce from the bloc.

A flurry of diplomatic meetings over the weekend had raised hopes for a Brexit agreement, but they were derailed by the issue that has dogged the talks for months — how to ensure that no hard border is created between the EU’s Ireland and Britain’s Northern Ireland once Brexit happens on March 29.

The EU has proposed a “backstop” solution that would keep Northern Ireland in a customs union to avoid a hard border between it and Ireland if no other solution can be found. But British Prime Minister Theresa May says that would create “a border in the Irish Sea” and she won’t accept it.

Britain is proposing instead to keep all of the U.K. in a customs union with the bloc — but only temporarily. Tying Britain to the EU on customs would limit the U.K.’s power to strike new trade deals around the world — a key goal of those who voted to leave the EU.

“I need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say this ‘backstop’ is a temporary solution,” May told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Monday. Insisting that a Brexit divorce deal was “achievable,” May said the border dispute should not “derail the prospects of a good deal and leave us with the no-deal outcome that no one wants.”

“I do not believe the EU and the UK are far apart,” she said. May is under intense pressure from her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies not to give any more ground in Brexit negotiations.

May’s political allies in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, stand ready to scuttle a Brexit deal over the Irish border issue. DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said “it is probably inevitable that we will end up with a no-deal scenario” over Brexit.

The Irish border is an acutely sensitive issue, with some fearing any return to customs checks and other controls could revive tensions between Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholic community and its British Protestant one. More than 3,700 people were killed in Northern Ireland amid 30 years of violence between the two groups and Britain, which ended with a 1998 peace deal.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the delays were frustrating, and suggested that May was reneging on part of Britain’s commitment, made in December, to ensure that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland.

He said that a backstop “cannot be time-limited.” “Nobody wants to ever trigger the backstop, but it needs to be there as an insurance mechanism to calm nerves that we’re not going to see physical border infrastructure re-emerging,” Coveney said.

The border impasse makes it is almost impossible that EU leaders will reach a Brexit deal at their summit, which begins Wednesday. The British and EU parliaments need to approve any deal, a process that could take months ahead of Britain’s official exit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps the strongest voice in the EU, insisted Monday that May should not count on the EU to blink first for fear of losing valuable business. Merkel said Germany wants an orderly departure of Britain from the bloc “but not at any price.”

EU negotiators and leaders have said that Britain should not seek to cherry-pick the best parts of staying in the EU without the costs and responsibilities. “We must not allow our single market, which is really our competitive advantage, to be destroyed by such a withdrawal,” Merkel said told Germany’s main exporters’ association. “And if it doesn’t work out this week, we must continue negotiating, that is clear — but time is pressing.”

If Britain leaves the EU without an agreement on future relations, there could be chaos — tariffs would go up on trade, airlines could no longer have permits to fly between the two regions, and freight could be lined up for miles at border crossings as customs checks are restored overnight.

The EU has said it is willing to call an extra meeting in November if needed to seal a deal, but only if there was decisive progress this week. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Monday that “I figure November or December is the best opportunity for a deal.”

“This is a dynamic situation,” he said. As the chances of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal rise, so do calls from pro-EU campaigners in Britain for a new referendum — dubbed a “People’s Vote” — on whether to accept a divorce deal or stay in the bloc.

Several opposition lawmakers, and even a few Conservatives, stood in Parliament Monday to call for a new Brexit referendum. “We had a people’s vote,” May replied. “It was called the referendum and the people voted to leave.”

Lawless reported from London. Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

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