Wednesday 28 September 2016

Donegal air and DUP don't mix when it comes to Brexit

Published 23/07/2016 | 02:30

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Taoiseach Enda
Kenny and Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones, listen as
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
speaks during a press conference at an emergency meeting
of the British Irish Council in Cardiff. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones, listen as Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness speaks during a press conference at an emergency meeting of the British Irish Council in Cardiff. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The Donegal air went to Enda Kenny's head.

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That was essentially the rebuke offered by DUP leader Arlene Foster when asked about the Taoiseach's suggestion that a border poll will have to be factored into the Brexit negotiations.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire listens as Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster speaks during a press conference following an emergency meeting of the British Irish Council in Cardiff. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire listens as Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster speaks during a press conference following an emergency meeting of the British Irish Council in Cardiff. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

For the second time since the UK voted to leave the European Union, Mr Kenny has found himself at the backend of a slap-down from the North's First Minister.

Firstly she took grave exception to what was perceived as an attempt to bounce her into an all-island forum on Brexit.

And now she is deeply unhappy that the Taoiseach has put the idea of a united Ireland to the forefront of the news agenda.

At an extraordinary meeting of the British Irish Council in Wales yesterday, Ms Foster went so far as to suggest Mr Kenny was deliberatively provocative.

She warned that while it's "all very well" to shoot the breeze at summer schools, the Taoiseach was being "unhelpful and causing instability". She said she hoped "once the summer is over" all leaders can look to challenges ahead.

"I think I'll maybe be saying we should stay away from Donegal on the weeks in the summer and give some thought to other things," said the DUP leader, who campaigned for a 'Leave' vote in the June 23 referendum.

It's worth remembering that in the days after the Brexit vote, the Taoiseach shared Ms Foster's view that talk of a border poll was a distraction.

But the approach wasn't working and when German Chancellor Angela Merkel failed to see why Ireland deserved a special status in the exit talks, Mr Kenny decided to change tact.

He used the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal to broach the idea and arguably it worked.

French President François Hollande publicly cited the Good Friday Agreement as one of the reasons why Ireland is a "special situation". But his efforts to win influence in the EU is making the dialogue at home more difficult.

Unionists are very sore that the Irish government is going down this road - even if both sides have the same objective, which is to prevent the return of a hard border between the North and the Republic.

"But seriously I think it has been unhelpful maybe in the way which it has come over," Ms Foster told UTV. "And then there have been denials from Micheál Martin and people like that saying actually they were never calling for a border poll, they were just thinking about it in a different context."

The British Irish Council is a forum of government leaders from all the eight islands around Britain and Ireland.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, said after yesterday's meeting that he had major concerns about the return of a hard border.

But both the Taoiseach and Ms Foster made common cause on the issue. The Taoiseach conceded that the situation was difficult, but he believed the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Britain and Ireland would persist, because it pre-dated the EU and went back to the mid-1920s.

"We have difficulties but I expect we will be able to retain the Common Travel Area as it is part of what we are," Mr Kenny said.

He added that even if goods crossing the border were subjected to controls, technology meant customs checkpoints were not necessarily required.

Ms Foster said it was probable a so-called hard border could be avoided and the border experiences of the 1970s and 1980s was largely a response to terrorist violence.

She said she respected the majority of people in the North backed 'Remain' but the 'Leave' vote applied UK-wide and her job was getting the best arrangements for all the people of the North in cooperation with Mr McGuinness.

Mr Kenny stressed that the North and the Republic had common interests arising from Brexit and again brought the focus back to the fact the British and Irish governments are a co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The new Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, also attended the Council and also held his first meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan.

Mr Brokenshire said the needs of all parts of the UK had to be served in the upcoming negotiations and he believed that single market access can be maintained without open borders for EU migrants.

"It's not an either/or situation," the Northern Ireland Secretary said.

Irish Independent

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