Irish Minister of State for European Affairs Discusses Brexit’s Aftermath at Fordham Law

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On June 8, Fordham Law School welcomed Thomas Byrne, Ireland’s minister of state for European affairs, to discuss post-Brexit issues impacting the island of Ireland. The main focus was the Northern Ireland Protocol, an agreement between the European Union (EU, of which Ireland is a member) and the U.K. in 2019 as part of the Brexit negotiations. The protocol is a unique trade arrangement that keeps Northern Ireland (a part of the U.K.) aligned with the EU single market for goods and avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland. Even after its implementation in 2021, it has encountered opposition from the British government and some political parties in Northern Ireland.

The conversation, moderated by Visiting Clinical Professor John Rogan ’14, was timely given that it came less than a week before the U.K. moved to unilaterally modify the protocol. Minister Byrne expressed the Irish government’s opposition to alterations to the protocol without agreement from the EU and U.K.

“We’re all very concerned about the impact of Brexit on peace in Ireland, the relationship between the Republic [of Ireland]and the North, and how it will all unfold,” said Fordham Law Dean Matthew Diller at the event. “It’s all on our minds very much.”

Rogan added, “Dealing with Brexit negotiations is at the heart of Minister Byrne’s portfolio so it’s a privilege to hear from [him]on this issue.”

Other Irish dignitaries in attendance included Andrew Byrne, deputy consul general in New York; Karl Gardner, director for Brexit readiness; Daniel Griffin, special advisor to the minister for European affairs; and Paul Sherlock, leader of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Brexit and North South Coordination Unit.

Pressing Legislation Issues in Ireland

Minister Byrne, who previously practiced law with a focus on EU and competition law, has served as Ireland’s minister of state for European affairs since July 2020. Beyond the Northern Ireland Protocol, Minister Byrne also discussed other issues related to Ireland’s relationship with the rest of Europe and recent proposals for dealing with past sectarian violence, a topic raised by Professor Jacqueline Nolan-Haley. The attendees at the meeting included Fordham Law faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

“We’re absolutely convinced that if there’s a willingness to act in good faith, then the challenges are solvable,” said Minister Byrne. “And I’m firmly of the view that the two governments can show leadership by working together.”

Minister Byrne noted that residents of Northern Ireland recently showed a majority of support for the protocol when they went to the polls for the May 5 Assembly election. “The EU brought forward proposals last October that addressed the key concerns of some people in business in Northern Ireland with regard to the protocol,” he said. “They brought those proposals forward after all the parties met with businesses and listened to what their concerns were. However, the British raised other issues.”

Minister Byrne explained that the British government announced its intention to unilaterally modify the protocol by introducing a new law that would change the post-Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland by removing customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain. “This is damaging … and is contrary to the wishes of people in business in Northern Ireland who want stability,” he said.

Minister Byrne’s visit came during the same week Fordham Law faculty and students were visiting Belfast during the Law School’s Belfast/Dublin Summer Program as well as on the heels of visits by other Irish dignitaries to discuss various international legal topics—including Helena Nolan, Consul General of Ireland in New York, and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and Vice President Michelle O’Neill.

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