Durkan warns ‘fissures are being driven into foundations & bedrock of GFA’
Speaking at length during yesterday’s House of Commons debate on the British government’s plan for Brexit, Mr Durkan said:
“I am here to represent my constituents, who voted by more than 78% to remain – and the people of Northern Ireland who voted by 56% to remain.
“The people of Northern Ireland, moreover, previously voted for the Good Friday Agreement in a unique dual referendum process involving the north and south of Ireland – that was the high watermark of Irish constitutional democracy. I am pledged to adhere to that and I make no apology to anybody for it.
“The principle of consent is meant to be the core of the Good Friday Agreement. It is not only housed in that agreement, but it was the principle of consent that was used to endorse the agreement.
“A week after the 23 June referendum, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers tabled a written statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland. The words she used about republican dissidents on 30 June were interesting. She said: “Their activities are against the democratically expressed wishes of the people in Northern Ireland. They continue to seek relevance and inflict harm on a society that overwhelmingly rejects them. She continued: “Their support is very limited. Northern Ireland’s future will only be determined by democracy and consent.”
“Where is the democracy and consent for the people of Northern Ireland when it comes to Brexit? When we come here and vote against Article 50 that will be consistent with our principled support for the Good Friday Agreement and consistent with our pledges to our constituents to honourably represent them.
“People such as Michael Gove (and others) do not recognise the damage that they are doing. Carefully compacted layers of understanding created the bedrock of the Good Friday Agreement, and fissures are being driven into those key foundations. Remember that, as a result of that agreement, the principle of consent is housed in the Irish constitution as well, because the referendum – north and south – changed the constitution. It removed the territorial claim, and two additional clauses were inserted.
“If the key constitutional precept of the Good Friday Agreement is not housed in any new UK-EU treaty that might result from these negotiations, we shall be in a very serious situation. The promise and the understanding that the people of Ireland, north and south, were given when they endorsed the Good Friday Agreement in overwhelming numbers will have been betrayed and damaged. I do not accept, and no Irish nationalist, north or south, who supported the Good Friday Agreement has ever said, that the principle of consent that is housed in the Irish constitution can be removed, replaced or surpassed by a vote in England on Brexit or on anything else.
“The Good Friday Agreement states very clearly that the question of Irish unity will be a matter for the people of Ireland, north and south, without external impediment. That key principle must be reflected in any new UK-EU treaty, making clear that if in the future Northern Ireland votes to become part of a united Ireland, it will do so as an automatic part of the EU, without any change in Ireland’s terms of membership and without the need for any new negotiations on the part of Northern Ireland. We cannot afford, in the Northern Ireland context, the sort of trickery that was used in the Scottish context to raise question marks over whether EU membership would apply. This is a key principle and tenet for those of us in the House who support the Good Friday Agreement.”