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Thousands died for the Irish state - Europe just erased their sacrifice

By Gary Johns - posted Monday, 19 June 2017

As you read this column I will be on a ferry from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Cairnryan, Scotland, which is a good place from which to contemplate the state of Britain.

Prime Minister Theresa May's big gamble failed. The temptation to go with an opponent as pathetic as Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership was too great. But no use grumbling or chasing the next piece of political intrigue. The ­lesson for politicians is to get on with the job.

May's government will carry on after agreement on confidence and supply with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.


Brexit will proceed. What is difficult to predict is its scope. For example, the Scottish Conservatives increased from one seat to 13 in the election at the expense of the Scottish National Party, putting paid to Scottish separatist urges. As for Ireland, had the Conservatives obtained a large majority Brexit negotiations might have resulted in a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland may have voted for reunification to avoid the hard border. As it is, the DUP, which is pro-Brexit, wants a soft border, no Customs points or passport checks, thus foreclosing the urge to reunify.

Britain may not be sure what sort of Brexit it wants but it is clear that restoring the primacy of British law, and control of borders, is paramount.

Both issues are summed up in the question of the continuing rights of EU citizens and access to European courts. This will be one of the essential sticking points of the negotiations between the EU and the British government.

Right on time, the Supreme Court of Ireland has provided the perfect case study of overweening courts and human rights in the ­European pond. The "interim" decision in NVH v Minister for Justice & Equality considered an asylum-seeker's right to work, denied him by the Irish government.

Irish law is in the common law tradition but, as it is part of Europe, ­appeals are heard to European courts.


The asylum-seeker's cause was supported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which sought a declaration of the incompatibility of the government's decision with the Charter of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the constitution.

The argument was whether a non-citizen, and in particular an asylum-seeker without any other connection to the state, had any right guaranteed by the constitution of Ireland and, if so, "the ­unenumerated constitutional right to work".

There was debate whether the Irish constitution contained an enforceable right to work: the court decided it might contain a right to seek work.

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This article was first published in The Australian.

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About the Author

Gary Johns is a former federal member of Parliament and served as a minister in the Keating Government. Since December 2017 he has been the commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

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