Kenny leaves Merkel talks empty-handed after 'special case' snub
Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30
German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to commit to making Ireland a 'special case' in the post-Brexit negotiations in a move that will come as a blow to the Government.
Ms Merkel said she was not prepared to issue any "guarantees" to the Irish Government and insisted the concerns of all 27 EU member states would be treated equally at the negotiation table.
"It's difficult to give guarantees at this point of time," Ms Merkel said when asked to ensure Ireland would not be 'sidelined' in the negotiations.
"We don't even have the position of the United Kingdom. We have to wait for Great Britain to take a stand and give us an idea of the type of relationship they are thinking about."
Ms Merkel made the remarks at a joint press conference with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the German chancellery in Berlin.
During a 40-minute meeting, Mr Kenny voiced concerns that Britain's decision to leave the EU could jeopardise the Common Travel Area and the Peace Process.
Asked about the impact on the North, the Fine Gael leader described peace as a "fragile entity".
"We have had, over 30 years, 3,000 people blown up and shot and killed. We also have some people who are still missing from that time, and they are called 'the Disappeared'. I always remind people of the value of the EU, which is itself a peace process," the Taoiseach said.
Ms Merkel did give a glimmer of hope in relation to the border with the North, emphasising that she recognises that the Common Travel Area has been in place since 1922.
But she noted that Ireland, like the UK, is not a member of the so-called 'Schengen' area, which allows for mutual borders between member states.
And on two occasions, she pointedly declined to accept a scenario whereby Ireland would be considered a 'special case'.
"I cannot anticipate the outcome of the negotiations," she insisted.
"The 27 member states will bring their influence to bear. The Irish voice will be heard as much as every other voice.
"It is important that Ireland plays a part here and we will do so in a special friendship. We will approach the post-Brexit challenges on the basis of friendship between the two countries."
Both Ms Merkel and Mr Kenny placed pressure on Theresa May, who will today be sworn in as British prime minister, to trigger the formal process of leaving the EU.
"So until the British government actually decides its strategy and points out what it wants, Europe is not in a position to put forward propositions," Mr Kenny said.
The Fine Gael leader added that he told Ms Merkel of the various connections between Ireland and the UK.
"But I pointed out to the chancellor that Ireland offers a different perspective in many respects because of our close association over many hundreds of years," Mr Kenny said.
"Because of the many thousands of people working in British companies and the almost million people living in Britain and because of the extent of our trading relations across the Irish Sea."
The Taoiseach also moved to dampen down the ongoing controversy surrounding his leadership of Fine Gael. He called on ministers to concentrate on their respective briefs in what will be seen as a warning shot to his detractors.
"We have an agreement with Fianna Fáil in terms of confidence and supply, we have a programme for government with the Independent Alliance and the independent members with over 600 commitments and my focus is entirely on that future in making this happen.
"We have a great deal of work to do in the time ahead and I would like to think that people can concentrate on those duties in the time ahead."
As the row rumbled on back in Dublin, one of the Fine Gael TDs who had expressed disquiet in recent days called on Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor to withdraw remarks in which she said that those within the party who were criticising the Taoiseach were "unpatriotic".
But Fergus O'Dowd said: "It's wrong to be calling people unpatriotic. It's balderdash."
Ms Mitchell O'Connor made the comments in yesterday's Irish Independent.
Asked about her remarks, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said he would not use "language that's going to prolong that debate".
He said he expected the commentary surrounding Mr Kenny's leadership to end tonight with the Taoiseach outlining his "ambition for the future" at the weekly meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators.
Meanwhile, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan also weighed into the debate, telling his local KCLR radio station that Mr Kenny "saved the country".
"He's now going to have face the challenges of Brexit for Ireland. He's very well received in Europe by other states."