Kenny insists on clause for a united Ireland in future Brexit discussions
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has insisted on a clause in the Brexit deal to allow Northern Ireland to rejoin the European Union as part of a united Ireland.
After a summit with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, the Taoiseach said the Good Friday Agreement must be stitched into the outcome of talks on Brexit.
Mr Kenny said a future Brexit treaty should contain cast-iron guarantees, lifted directly from the Good Friday Agreement, that would ensure Northern Ireland a seamless re-entry to the EU.
"We want that to remain in such a position that the language of what is contained in the Good Friday Agreement will also be contained in the negotiations' outcome," he said at a press conference in Brussels.
"In other words, if at some future time, whenever that might be if it were to occur, that Northern Ireland would have ease of access to join as a member of the EU again.
"We want that language inserted into the negotiated treaty or negotiated outcome whenever that might occur."
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Germany swiftly reunited and East Germany was able to join the then-European Economic Community without signing a separate treaty.
It's not clear whether Mr Juncker and his Brexit pointman, Michel Barnier - who was also at yesterday's meeting - formally agreed to the request.
"The Good Friday Agreement is like a poem: it speaks for itself," Mr Juncker said when questioned.
But what did emerge from the meeting was the clearest indication yet that the EU will work for an invisible border on the island of Ireland in upcoming Brexit talks.
"We don't want to have hard borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic," Mr Juncker said. "We want to have the Good Friday Agreement not being put under risks, and we want land borders being as open as possible."
But there is no clarity yet on how such an open border could operate.
"This is a political challenge, as distinct from any technological issue," Mr Kenny said. "While the [UK] prime minister says 'we want the closest relationship with the European Union', we support that, but clearly there are political challenges, in the sense of Britain leaving the single market and having whatever kind of relationship in respect of the customs union," he said.
The UK has said it wants out of the EU's single market but was less clear on whether it would break all ties with the customs union.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was expected to officially notify the EU of her intention to leave in early March, but Mr Kenny acknowledged that timetable "might be delayed a little".
Only after that will EU leaders agree on priorities for Mr Barnier to take into talks with the UK, but these will not go into detail on the Border.
"There should not be a return to a hard border of the past, and there won't be," Mr Kenny insisted.
He said he expected to remain as Taoiseach to kick off the Brexit talks, which are likely to take place in April, after the EU celebrates its 60th anniversary with a summit in Rome on March 25. He said Ireland would "sit on the European negotiating side of the table" during the talks, and "work assiduously with the Commission" to ensure Ireland's voice is heard.