Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Irish politicians up the Brexit ante in Brussels

Pushed for maintenance: Minister Charlie Flanagan
Pushed for maintenance: Minister Charlie Flanagan
Jean-Claude Juncker

Sarah Collins

Three Government ministers and five members of the Oireachtas EU affairs committee were in the Belgian capital last week to press Ireland's case for special treatment.

While the message about Ireland's "unique concerns" seems to be well understood by Brussels, the conversation hasn't really moved on since the UK voted out of the EU last June.

After a meeting with the EU's lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, foreign minister Charlie Flanagan (pictured) pushed for the maintenance of an "invisible" border with Northern Ireland following the UK's exit.

"It's time now for Ireland to start putting solutions on the table, not restating the problem. The tea-and-sympathy day has been and gone," Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell told the Farming Independent after his own meeting with Mr Barnier.

"I do not want us to be following Britain - I want us to be leading Europe," he said, calling on the Taoiseach to make a set-piece statement to the nation setting out Ireland's Brexit priorities.

Mr Barnier believes that trade will be the most difficult issue to tackle in the divorce settlement.

But a more immediate fight is looming over Britain's Brexit bill - for budget commitments and officials' pension payments - which the Financial Times has reported could run to €60bn.

"The figures are going to be astronomical," said Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae, chair of the Oireachtas EU Affairs committee.

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"The question is: how will it be paid, who will pay it and what are the knock-on consequences of that bill?" he said.

The president of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), Joe Healy, says Irish farmers in particular must be compensated for the losses they will incur as a result of Brexit.

"There is no sector anywhere in Europe as exposed as Irish agriculture as a result of Brexit," Mr Healy said in Brussels. "We have to plan for the worst, and at the best it will be damage limitation."

He said a "hole has to be filled" in the EU budget when Britain, its third-largest contributor, leaves.

One of the ideas floated by the Oireachtas committee was to have the European Investment Bank support Ireland as it withdraws from the UK market and secures other trading partners.

The Government wants Ireland's concerns to be incorporated in the EU's overall negotiating position, which should be ready by June.


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