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61st Plenary of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Concludes in London

 

28 FEBRUARY 2022


The 61st Plenary of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly took place in Westminster Hall’s Grand Committee Room today. It was the first face-to-face meeting between Assembly members in more than two years due to the pandemic.


Members adopted a resolution “condemning in the strongest possible terms” Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine and declaring that they stood in solidarity with Ukraine.


In their opening remarks, the UK’s Minister for Europe, James Cleverly, and Northern Ireland Office Minister Conor Burns both paid tribute to the work of the Assembly and its importance to strengthening bi-lateral ties. 


Mr Burns praised the great strides made in the Good Friday Agreement but warned “we should not live under the illusion that the work [of the Agreement] is complete…there remains so much to do to build cross-community understanding and respect.”


Responding to questions from Assembly members, Mr Cleverly acknowledged that some opportunities for informal bi-lateral talks had become rarer since Brexit. He said that “having chosen to step out of the European Union, the UK has a real responsibility to make sure we replicate that level of bilateral engagement that the European Union would have provided”.   


Members of the Assembly raised concerns with the UK Ministers about the impact of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK Government’s statute of limitations proposals to address the Troubles legacy, and issues arising from the UK’s Nationalities and Borders Bill.


On the implementation of and negotiations on the Protocol, Ireland’s Minister for Europe, Thomas Byrne, assured Assembly members that “the EU is proposing to give greater voice and visibility for Northern Ireland”. Noting the improved atmosphere of late between the negotiating parties, he nevertheless warned that the UK “needs to be clear that is willing and ready to work together with the European Union”.


In his address, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the UK Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer stressed the importance of Ireland and the UK working together to see through the mutual challenges both faced. He was critical of the UK Government’s approach to the Protocol and the damage he claimed this had caused. 


Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Féin MP John Finucane then set out their perspectives on the Northern Ireland Protocol in their respective addresses. 


Both commended the importance of strong bilateral relations, but Sir Jeffrey told the Plenary the Protocol had undermined diplomatic relations. He went on to say that the Protocol “an existential threat to Northern Ireland’s place in the Union”. 


Mr Finucane then defended the Protocol; “while less than perfect, it protects us from the worst of Brexit”, he said, adding that there was no alternative. 


Several Assembly Members drew attention to the lack of gender balance in the programme of invited speakers. Members of the Assembly’s Steering Committee acknowledged the issue and pledged to work harder to improve the gender balance in Assembly plenary programmes.


Speaking at the conclusion of the plenary, British Co-Chair Andrew Rosindell said “I want to thank all the members and the speakers for taking the time to grease the wheels of UK-Irish diplomacy of two years without meeting in person.


It was enlightening to have the robust debate we heard on the Protocol and being in the room really helps to gauge more accurately the concerns of Members from across the UK, Ireland and the Crown Dependencies. 


We face a growing number of challenges, with the invasion of Ukraine being added to the Covid recovery to how to resolve the issue of the Protocol. Importantly, we will face them together and with earnest.”


Irish Co-Chair Brendan Smith TD commented, “The plenary meeting was a timely opportunity to engage with colleagues face to face and to mark the passing of Sir David Amess MP and Christopher Stalford MLA.”


“The meetings on both days featured constructive and engaging debate on a range of topics from the Northern Ireland Protocol, legacy issues, Brexit and the attack on Ukraine.”


“The motion to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine was passed unanimously by the Assembly and this is testament to the strength and resolve of inter-parliamentary dialogue that exists between our Members.” 


“The strength of the British-Irish relationship can never be taken for granted. As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement - we must ensure its principles and provisions are protected.”


“The chance to engage with our colleagues at the plenary demonstrates the importance of dialogue and listening to each other. I look forward to welcoming members to the next plenary meeting when it takes place in Ireland this autumn." 


ENDS


Editor’s Notes

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Further information contact:

London: Tim West: +44 (0)7933 386 949 westtb@parliament.uk

Dublin: Aine McMahon +353 800 7312 aine.mcmahon@oireachtas.ie  

 

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