Sunday 11 December 2016

Stress on peace and the border seen as better approach to UK-EU negotiations

Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan TD Picture: Gerry Mooney
Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan TD Picture: Gerry Mooney

Enda Kenny's suggestion of a future referendum on the status of the North was a big first step. But yesterday he was furiously explaining.

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No, he did not believe the citizens of the North would be voting for a united Ireland any time soon. But it was time to remind the newly-appointed ministers in London, and counterparts in other EU capitals, about the realities of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Dublin and London are co-guarantors, and this for Mr Kenny meant he had obligations to the people in the North in the upcoming mammoth Brexit negotiations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan had another point to make in this. "The Good Friday Agreement recognises the right of the people in the North to be Irish or British - or, indeed both," he argued.

We were witnessing the opening bouts of what will be a very long battle to bring home to the rest of the EU just how perilous and unique our position is. The existence of the border - a de facto singular land border between the UK jurisdiction and the rest of the EU - puts us under serious pressure to make a meaningful case that will command attention.

Bleating on about Ireland's very real upcoming trade problems will only cut so much ice. Many other EU states have similar problems. But Germany, which was divided from the aftermath of World War II until October 1990, does know about the realities of partition and the crazy anomalies it throws up. The realities of Ireland's border has some potential for making a case which may get some attention.

Enda Kenny has had some bad days since his first reactions to the shock Brexit result broke upon all of us on June 24 last. In his first reaction, he blew away a Sinn Féin proposal to hold "a border poll" as provided for under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He had further difficulty in publicly trailing an "all-Ireland Forum" to deal with Brexit fallout before consulting Northern Ireland First Minister, "Leave" campaigner, and Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster. It gave her the chance to publicly rebuff the idea.

By Monday, Mr Kenny appeared to be back-tracking on the question of a border poll. Speaking in Donegal, the Taoiseach suggested the prospect of a united Ireland, as part of the EU, should be factored into the Brexit negotiations.

Read More: Government to use fears over peace process in Brexit talks

What he is saying appears a bit more complex than it is. And Mr Kenny's tortured language yesterday was not entirely helpful.

But he is in essence making two points. Firstly, the Good Friday Agreement does give Dublin some standing in talks on what happens the North post-Brexit.

Secondly, future scenarios include the prospect of the people in the North opting to stay with the European Union, along with the Republic. And that should be added to the post-Brexit negotiation mix.

The interesting thing is that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is backing Mr Kenny to the hilt on this. Yesterday, he even went out of his way to compliment the Taoiseach for defending Scotland at the EU leaders' summit in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

Mr Martin's spokesman said the Taoiseach's words "mirrored" Fianna Fáil's take on Brexit. For now, Mr Martin is wearing green.

Irish Independent

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