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Posts tagged ‘United Republic of Ireland’

Irish drivers warned to get paperwork for ‘no-deal’ Brexit

February 28, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Ireland’s deputy prime minister said Thursday that the European Union wants to work with Britain to ensure there is a Brexit deal, as Irish drivers were warned they will need new paperwork to cross the currently invisible border to Northern Ireland if the U.K. leaves the bloc without an agreement.

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland says it has issued insurance firms with 1 million application forms for the internationally recognized “Green Card” insurance document. British drivers traveling to Ireland or other EU countries will also need the paperwork — just one of a host of new rules and hurdles citizens will need to negotiate if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a framework for departure terms and future relations.

Currently, auto insurance in any EU country covers the whole bloc. If Britain leaves with a deal, there will be no change until at least the end of 2020. Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc on March 29, but so far its Parliament has rejected the government’s divorce deal with the EU, raising the prospect of a chaotic “no deal” Brexit.

Governments in EU countries, as well as in Britain, have warned citizens and businesses to prepare for potential disruption to trade and travel as tariffs, customs checks and other barriers are erected between Britain and its biggest trading partner.

But U.K. authorities admitted this week that neither individuals nor businesses are ready for a “no-deal” departure, and “the short time remaining before 29 March 2019 does not allow government to unilaterally mitigate the effects of no deal.”

British lawmakers rejected May’s deal with the EU last month, largely over a provision to guarantee there are no customs posts or other barriers along the Irish border. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to remove the need for checks until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.

May wants to revise the deal to reassure opponents that the backstop would only apply temporarily. But EU leaders insist that the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement can’t be reopened. Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said the EU “wants to work with the U.K. to try to give the reassurance and clarification” it needs on the border issue.

But he said the EU had made it “very clear” that the text of the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened. “What they’ll be providing will be an addition, but in a way that doesn’t undermine the meaning of that text, which I think is very important from an Irish perspective,” Coveney said in Dublin.

May says U.K. lawmakers will get to vote again on her deal — including any amendments she secures — by March 12. If it is rejected, Parliament will then vote on whether to leave the EU without an agreement or seek to postpone Brexit by up to three months.

Any delay would require approval from all 27 remaining EU nations. Austria’s leader said Thursday that if Britain seeks an extension to prevent a disorderly exit, Vienna would back it. But Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he wanted to see Britain leave before European Parliament elections in late May.

Kurz said that “the participation of a country that wants to leave the European Union in European Parliament elections would, I think, seem more than absurd.” Speaking after meeting Kurz in Vienna, chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said any delay “must serve not to put off the problem but to resolve the problem” in the British Parliament.

“Today, above all we need decisions, much more than extra time,” he said.

Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.

Ireland publishes no-deal Brexit bill it hopes it won’t need

February 22, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The Irish government published legislation Friday designed to ease the damage if Britain leaves the European Union next month without a Brexit divorce deal — but said it hoped the law would never be needed.

The Irish government plans to fast-track the bill through Ireland’s parliament before the U.K.’s scheduled departure from the bloc on March 29. As a major trading partner of Britain, and the only EU country that shares a land border with the U.K., Ireland faces a huge economic hit if a “no-deal” Brexit introduces tariffs, customs checks and other barriers between Britain and the EU.

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said the bill would try to “offset the worst effects of a disorderly Brexit.” It seeks to support Irish businesses and ensure that citizens can still get health care and pension payments in the U.K.

But Coveney said a no-deal Brexit would be “lose, lose, lose — for the U.K., for the EU and for Ireland.” “I hope we never have to use the provisions set out in this piece of legislation. I hope we never have to commence this bill,” he said. “Simply put, as a result of a lot of hard work my only desire is see this legislation sit on the shelf.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU struck a Brexit deal late last year laying out the terms of an orderly departure and establishing a long transition period so businesses can trade under existing rules while future trade relations are worked out.

But Britain’s Parliament rejected the deal last month and sent May back to the EU seeking changes. EU leaders insist that the legally Brexit binding withdrawal agreement, which took a year and a half to negotiate, can’t be reopened.

Still, the two sides are still holding talks, which the U.K. has called “constructive.” May is due to meet European Council President Donald Tusk at an EU-Arab summit in Egypt on Sunday, although there is little prospect of a breakthrough.

With Brexit just five weeks away, May is stuck between an intransigent EU and a resistant U.K. Parliament. Three lawmakers from her own Conservative Party quit the party this week over the government’s handling of Brexit.

May faces facing another showdown in Parliament next week with British lawmakers eager to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government and halt the slide to a chaotic “no-deal” exit. May must tell Parliament on Tuesday whether she is ready to re-submit her Brexit deal for approval. If not, legislators will get a chance Wednesday to try to change the government’s course.

Irish election produces an earthquake as Sinn Fein tops poll

February 10, 2020

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland braced for weeks of political uncertainty Monday after an earth-shaking election that saw the Irish Republican Army-linked party Sinn Fein — long shunned by its bigger rivals — take the largest share of votes.

In a surge that upended Ireland’s traditional two-party system, the left-wing nationalist party beat both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the centrist parties that have governed Ireland since it won independence from Britain a century ago.

The vote in Saturday’s election essentially split three ways, complicating the negotiations on forming a government that lie ahead. Sinn Fein, received 24.5% of the first-preference votes, besting the two long-dominant parties. Fianna Fail received 22.2% of the votes. Fine Gael, the party of incumbent Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, got 20.9%.

“I think it’s a mess, to be honest with you,” said Pat O’Toole, a public sector worker in Dublin. “I think we’re going to be in a situation again where we are not going to be able to form a stable government in this country. I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Sinn Fein’s left-wing proposals for tackling Ireland’s housing crisis and creaking healthcare system proved a powerful draw for young voters in a country that is still dealing with aftershocks of the 2008 global financial crisis, which hammered its debt-driven “Celtic Tiger” economy.

Vote counting resumed Monday to fill all the seats in the 160-seat Dail, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament. Ireland uses a proportional-representation system in which voters rank candidates from first to last, with the lower preferences of elected or defeated candidates redistributed among their rivals.

With more than three-quarters of the seats in parliament filled, Sinn Fein had taken 37, Fine Gael 29 and Fianna Fail 27. No party is likely to reach the 80 seats needed for a majority, making some form of coalition inevitable. But forming a stable alliance looks tough.

Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael said before the election that they would not go into a coalition with Sinn Fein because of its links to past violence. Varadkar said Fine Gael’s stance was unchanged. “I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” he said Monday.

But as the scale of Sinn Fein’s surge became clear, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said: “I’m a democrat.” “I listen to the people. I respect the decision of the people,” he told Irish broadcaster RTE.

Talks among the parties are likely to take weeks, though some hope a new government can be formed by St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, when the Irish prime minister traditionally visits the White House. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald suggested her party could try to form a government with the support of independents and smaller parties such as the Social Democrats and Labour.

“We want to talk to anyone who is interested in delivering a program for government, that is about getting to grips with the housing crisis and solving it, getting to grips with the crisis in health and giving families and workers a break and giving a new lease of life to government,” she said.

The IRA was responsible for murders, bombings and other violence for decades during decades of violence known as the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. More than 3,500 people were killed in conflict between forces that sought to reunify Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland and those who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the U.K.

Supporters of Sinn Fein point out that it has been more than 20 years since Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement and 15 years since the IRA announced the end of its violent campaign. Sinn Fein already sits in government in Northern Ireland as part of a power-sharing arrangement created by the peace process.

Eoin O’Malley, associate professor of political science at Dublin City University, said the party’s past meant little to younger voters without memories of living through the Troubles. He said Sinn Fein had offered the clearest message on social problems in Ireland, which include a growing homelessness crisis, house prices that have risen faster than incomes and a public health system that hasn’t kept up with demand.

“It’s a direct analogue to the left-wing populism that you see in Greece and in Spain,” O’Malley said. “In many ways, Sinn Fein are offering relatively simple solutions to pretty complex problems. Mary Lou McDonald said she was going to form ‘a people’s government’ as if all the other governments that have been formed in Ireland had no connection with the ordinary people. It is classic populism.”

Fine Gael’s third-place showing likely spells the end of the premiership of Varadkar, who has been Taoiseach, or prime minister, since 2017. Ireland’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister, Varadkar led Ireland during Britain’s lengthy divorce negotiations with the European Union. The outcome of those talks was crucial to Ireland, the only EU country to share a land border with the U.K.

Many Irish voters think Varadkar and his party handled Brexit well, securing guarantees that people and goods will continue to flow freely between Ireland and the north. But Brexit featured little in an election campaign dominated by domestic problems.

Still, Sinn Fein’s triumph could have implications for Ireland and the U.K. The party’s struggle for a united Ireland was on the back burner during the election, but the party is calling for a referendum on reunification within five years.

That is not something an Irish government can deliver without the support of Britain and Northern Ireland — highly unlikely in the short term. But Brexit looks likely to nudge Northern Ireland’s economy closer to that of its southern neighbor, and could increase pressure for a vote on unification.

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said the U.K. was “following the results of the Irish election carefully.” He insisted that “the close relationship between the U.K. and Ireland will continue regardless of the election result.”

Jill Lawless reported from London.

Irish prime minister seeks new mandate in February election

January 14, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Leo Varadkar sought a fresh mandate to govern Ireland on Tuesday, arguing he’s the best person to represent Irish interests in the next phase of Brexit negotiations between the European Union and Britain.

The leader of the Fine Gael Party formally asked President Michael Higgins to dissolve the parliament, the Dáil, and set the election for Feb. 8. Varadkar described it as the ‘’right time” for a vote — given recent agreements on Brexit and power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

“As a nation, we have every reason to be hopeful about the future,” he said in a Dublin speech. “We’ve modernized our society — marriage equality, women’s rights, real progress in education, welfare and childcare. But, it’s not enough. I know it’s not enough.”

Though Varadkar framed the timing around future EU negotiations, his administration had been facing potential defeat in a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris in the first week of next month. That prospect will now be averted.

The election is likely to revolve around the issues of housing and health care. “People want their government to do much more,” Varadkar said. “And I want us to do much more.” The contest will be Varadkar’s first election as prime minister. He succeeded Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader in 2017.

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.


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.

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