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The Government Chief Whip has warned the Northern Ireland peace process is not a “finished product” and appealed to British politicians not to send Ireland “back to the dark days” after Brexit.
Joe McHugh said the UK’s decision to leave the European Union had “cast a shadow” over the peace process, which needed to be protected and nurtured.
“The peace process is still a process as far as I am concerned. Too many people have looked away from Northern Ireland and thought ‘that’s sorted’ and that’s a dangerous position,” he said.
“While respecting the British people’s decision to leave the European Union and all the reasons for that decision, one thing I would ask from British politicians is to consider the prospect of going back to the dark days that are still fresh in so many of our memories.”
The Minister of State, a TD for Donegal, said his county was cut off from its “natural Ulster hinterland” for decades and was only linked to the rest of the Republic via a 2km stretch with Leitrim.
“People in Inishowen for example have had two decades now of reconnecting with Derry after so many years of checkpoints and terror,” he said.
“A border, any border outside of the existing arrangements is a price too big to pay.”
Mr McHugh, who was appointed Chief Whip by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in June, said the peace process and the concept of free movement allowed thousands of cross-Border journeys for work every day between Donegal and Derry.
An estimated 8,000 residents of the Republic commute across the Border to Northern Ireland for work or study, while 6,500 residents from the North are believed to commute daily into the Republic.
“It is vital that this continues. You can’t put a checkpoint up stopping this; any slowdown in the movement of people and goods is unacceptable to citizens on both sides of the Border,” Mr McHugh said.
He said physical infrastructure needed to be created to make Northern Ireland and the Republic closer, while also improving connections between Co Donegal and the rest of the Republic.
Co-operation on the healthcare front meant hundreds of patients from Donegal were being treated at the cancer care centre and cardiac unit in Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital.
“More lives are being saved in ways we never expected as a result of the peace process.
“We cannot allow Brexit to scupper the gains. Too much has been lost already on our island.”
Mr McHugh was a strong supporter of Mr Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership contest earlier this year and his wife, the former Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly Olwyn Enright, was a key adviser to the campaign.
He is now Minister of State at the Department of Culture with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands.
He was previously junior minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, a position he was appointed to without a command of Irish, although he is now fairly fluent following extensive study.