On Monday 14 November, the Future of the Island of Ireland series was pleased to hold its first in-person meeting of the year, welcoming Dr Andrew McCormick (former lead official on Brexit for the Northern Ireland Executive), Professor Katy Hayward (Professor of Political Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast), and David O’Sullivan (IIEA Director General and former Secretary General of the European Commission) to St Catharine’s College for a panel on the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, currently under consideration in the House of Lords. Unfortunately, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (leader of the DUP) who had been due to attend, could not join us.

Chaired by Dr Niamh Gallagher with an introduction by Dr Barry Colfer, the panel held a lively conversation on the implications of the Protocol and Protocol Bill on the Good Friday Agreement and concepts of sovereignty and consent on the island of Ireland.

The panel agreed that Brexit and the subsequent Protocol agreement had disrupted the assumptions of the Good Friday Agreement by shifting away from politics that focused on consent and conversation and instead towards Westminster imposing decisions on Northern Ireland and polarising debate. They argued that the UK government’s exclusion of Northern Ireland’s politicians from the negotiation process had been a particularly harmful decision, especially as it has given rise to the perception among Unionist communities that Northern Ireland’s right set out by the Good Friday Agreement to decide it’s constitutional future has been altered by the introduction of the Protocol. Although the panel considered a solution to the current crisis possible, they concluded that trust had been seriously undermined. Andrew McCormick highlighted the inconsistencies between statements from the DUP on what they understood government ministers had promised them and what the legal text of the Protocol Bill actually includes. Katy Hayward thought that the Protocol in its current form was not realisable and expressed hope that the UK government moves towards evidence-based decisions on the Protocol and away from policy based largely on ideology.

Their discussion was followed by a spirited Q&A session with the in-person and online audience, in which the panelists answered questions on how the UK government moves forward now, on whether the EU is treating the Irish sea border as rigorously as other borders, and how much peace in Northern Ireland is currently at risk.

From left to right: David O’Sullivan, Dr Niamh Gallagher, Dr Andrew McCormick, Professor Katy Hayward, and Dr Barry Colfer.

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