Monday 24 July 2017

Taoiseach insists on united Ireland clause in any Brexit deal with UK

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Tom Burke

Sarah Collins

The Taoiseach has insisted on a clause in the Brexit deal to allow Northern Ireland 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 Britain leaving the bloc.

Referring to the fall of the Berlin Wall, he said the EU divorce deal must allow for Northern Ireland to "seamlessly" reunite with the Republic of Ireland if a majority votes for it.

"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 European Union again.

"We want that language inserted into the negotiated treaty or negotiated outcome whenever that might occur."

Flanked by Mr Juncker, Mr Kenny said Europe supported the internationally recognised Good Friday Agreement peace deal, which allows for a united Ireland if democratically backed by Northern Ireland.

The region voted to remain in the EU during last year's in/out referendum by 56% to 44%.

However, the largest party, the Democratic Unionist Party, campaigned for a leave vote and has insisted the overall UK result must be respected.

Mr Kenny said the language of the Good Friday Agreement speaks for itself.

"It provides for that opportunity... in respect of that situation that arose arose when the Berlin Wall was taken down and East Germany was able to join West Germany in a seamless fashion," he said.

"That is already inherent in the Good Friday Agreement, therefore in protecting that, we want that language incorporated into the (Brexit) agreement that will eventually emerge."

The Taoiseach has also confirmed that he intends to represent Ireland at the initial Brexit negotiations after Article 50 is triggered in early April.

"Our focus is on the discussions up ahead, and that’s our only focus,” Mr Kenny told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

“Clearly the important meetings for setting up the negotiations are ones that I do hope to be in attendance at, and play our part in setting out again our priorities here,” he said after a meeting at the European Commission.

Once Brexit is triggered - which the UK has said it will do by the end of March - EU leaders will have to meet again to sign off on guidelines for the bloc’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, to use to hammer out a divorce settlement with the UK.

The UK was expected to trigger Brexit in early March, but that “will be delayed a little” according to the Taoiseach.

The main Brexit summit will most likely take place in Brussels in early April, following an informal summit in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the EU.

Meanwhile, President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said he would be “very, very sad” to see the Taoiseach go.

"I will continue to work as closely as possible with Enda in the next coming weeks and months, and if something would happen which would lead me to be very, very sad, relations will nevertheless continue,” Mr Juncker said. "Relations between persons are not linked to the functions these persons have."

Mr Juncker also said “we don’t want to have hard borders” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and said the Good Friday Agreement should not be put at risk.

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