Army troops patrol in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Sept. 24, 2018. (Martyn Goodacre/pool photo via AP)
Updated at 4:44 p.m. | After days of dithering, the Irish government and Belfast will put their marriage equality plans on hold while the United Kingdom prepares for its next move in the Brexit negotiations.
A spokesman for Ireland’s Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan, told the Associated Press that the Justice Department would be suspending plans to introduce marriage equality in time for the country’s Christmas holidays.
The government in Northern Ireland is nervous about a no-deal Brexit for fear it will have less influence on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
There are concerns that the Northern Ireland will be stripped of its political sovereignty as a result of Brexit, with a loss of federal authority. It also fears it could lose a major economic benefit by being excluded from economic deals designed for Britain and other parts of the EU.
Northern Ireland is due to be outside the EU next March 29 and after Britain leaves, EU officials have said Northern Ireland will have to make its own choices on how to negotiate future trade relations with the bloc.
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Northern Ireland would have to join the European Union as a new customs territory by March 29, 2019, and Brussels will adopt customs rules applying to Northern Ireland.
In practice, that means that goods from the U.K. will have to go through ports, before being shipped up to the Republic of Ireland, a European member state with free-trade agreements with both the EU and the United States.
The Irish government in Dublin, which says it is fully behind plans to introduce marriage equality on Dec. 22, is concerned that other issues, including a EU budget between 2019 and 2021, could be too much for the Northern Ireland parties to overcome when it comes to Brexit talks.
Northern Ireland’s largely Protestant community is still largely opposed to allowing same-sex marriage and fears that its economic access to the EU will be harmed because of it.
The Catholic population is more in favor of the measures and is politically aligned with the Irish government.
Last week, London said it will be restricting access to the non-EU population for all residents in Northern Ireland when Brexit is due to take place.
The changes, included in the U.K. government’s action plan for Brexit, will only apply to those living in Northern Ireland.
But Ireland’s international relations minister, Charlie Flanagan, told the Associated Press that the restrictions are too severe.
He said that Northern Ireland has a good relationship with many countries in the European Union, for example the EU visa waiver scheme, which is particularly important to people living and working abroad.
The total population of EU countries in Northern Ireland equals about 1 million people.
“People are living and working and contributing to our economy, and when we don’t have this fundamental human right to equality, we’re missing out on so much,” he said.