The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has called on the Irish Government to establish a ‘Brexit adjustment fund’ to protect vulnerable groups of workers and industries in the case of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. This followed Enterprise Ireland’s prediction that, if it happens, 25,000 workers would be directly affected by such a shock.
It also emerged in newspaper reports last weekend that the Government is pursuing measures first mooted by Fórsa at its 2017 Brexit seminar. These include EU supports for agriculture and the food sector, and a temporary relaxation of EU state aid rules.
Last week Irish trade union representatives met political leaders in London to stress the need to uphold the Good Friday agreement, avoid a ‘hard’ Brexit, and prevent the reintroduction of customs infrastructure on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Owen Reidy of ICTU’s Northern Ireland office met the Northern Ireland secretary, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the leaders of the Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist parties.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Reidy said a hard border would be hugely damaging to workers across the island of Ireland. “In the absence of an alternative, ICTU, reluctantly backed Teresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement. We did so on the basis that this proposal, while clearly inferior to the status quo, would do less harm than a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
“It now remains to be seen if the UK political establishment has the capacity and indeed the wit to get its act together and avoid what the majority of politicians, and those of us who represent real people in representative organisations, want. That is an agreement between the UK and EU if there has to be a Brexit at all,” he said.
Earlier, ICTU general secretary Patricia King responded to the UK parliament’s rejection of the draft withdrawal agreement last week, saying it made a “no-deal crash-out Brexit” more likely.
“This is unacceptable, given the damage it will do to Northern Ireland and the consequential collateral damage to the Republic of Ireland. It is incumbent on the British political establishment to develop a consensus that is also acceptable to the EU, to protect the interests of citizens and workers across these islands. The coherence and sense of purpose of the EU 27 contrasts significantly with the chaos in Westminster. Workers across the island must not pay the price of this ham fisted Brexit,” she said.
She said trade unions and other representative bodies should be invited to play a central role in a ‘Brexit Stakeholders Forum’ under strand 3 of the Good Friday Agreement, to address the impact of Brexit in Northern Ireland.