European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has apologised for “mistakes” that led to Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol on Brexit being triggered.
Dublin, Belfast and London were blindsided by a recent attempt by the commission to invoke the clause in a row over the supply of vaccines to Europe.
Irish MEPs in Brussels have said more clarity is needed on how the clause came to be triggered by the commission.
During the #EUVaccines debate I asked @vonderleyen three questions re: #Article 16
❓How was the decision arrived at?
❓Who made the decision?
❓Why was the decision made?
These answers are needed to make sure the same mistake doesnt happen again.@fiannafailparty @RenewEurope pic.twitter.com/6tRpqyTJbl
— Billy Kelleher MEP (@BillyKelleherEU) February 10, 2021
Article 16 overrides part of the Northern Ireland Protocol which prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland, and was intended as an emergency measure only.
The European Commission quickly backtracked on the decision to trigger it, but it caused massive political fallout, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Ms von der Leyen said: “The bottom line is that mistakes were made and the process leading up to the decision, and I deeply regret that. But in the end we got it right.
“And I can reassure you that my commission will do its utmost to protect the peace in Northern Ireland, just as it has done throughout the entire Brexit process.”
Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said: “How was the decision arrived at, who made the decision, and why?
“These are fundamental questions because we do need to put in place mechanisms to ensure that commissions in the future will not make similar mistakes.
“We are playing with a very sensitive issue on the island of Ireland.”
We didn’t want the protocol to become a political football
Speaking on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder later, Mr Kelleher said the commission’s actions had allowed Article 16 to become a “political football”.
He said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol and Article 16 is included for very, very obvious reasons, they’re very sensitive reasons as well.
“We didn’t want the protocol to become a political football. Unfortunately, by the European Commission invoking Article 16, it has been.
“Boris Johnson, the prime minister, today in Westminster, was again threatening to invoke Article 16 as well.
“I would still sincerely hope that, if there’s any accountability, that the commission should outline the timeline.
“Who decided it, why was it decided and how it actually came about that there wasn’t a red flag raised at some level in the commission.
Full speech of my call @europarl today to @vonderleyen to assure the people of Ireland, North and South, that the delicate situation on the island will never be threatened again, after article 16 almost being invoked recently. pic.twitter.com/gZrBI2HgeM
— Grace O'Sullivan MEP (@GraceOSllvn) February 10, 2021
“My concern is that I have no logical reason to understand why the commission triggered it without there actually being any evidence that vaccines were flowing through the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, into Great Britain, and then out into the world,” Mr Kelleher continued.
“I mean it just wasn’t happening. So I still don’t understand why they actually triggered it.”
Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan questioned Ms von der Leyen’s assertion that “in the end we got it right”.
She said: “President, you did not get it right. What concrete steps will you put in place to assure the people of Ireland, north and south, that the delicate situation on the island of Ireland is never threatened like this again?”
On Tuesday, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne said the Government was seeking an “early warning system” on the use of Article 16.
Mr Byrne said: “What the Government wants, fundamentally, is an early warning system to be put in place.
“There is a view, and it’s a risky view, that, yes, the commission made a mistake, yes, the commission acknowledged its mistake, and that is everything solved now.
“Clearly that’s not the case because the consequences of this are continuing.”