Saturday 23 February 2019

'Don't mention the war' - private understanding hard border is increasingly likely, Martin claims

Taoiseach warned only way to avoid hard border is through a deal on customs and regulations

Micheal Martin, Leader of Fianna Fail PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
Micheal Martin, Leader of Fianna Fail PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN

John Downing and Laura Larkin

There is a “private understanding” that a “hard border” in Ireland is increasingly likely - but the Government refuses to tell the public, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told the Dáil.

Mr Martin said Government was increasingly like the old episode of the classic television comedy “Fawlty Towers” which was entitled “Don’t Mention the War.”

The Fianna Fáil leader was referring to Irish Independent reports of a conversation between the Transport Minister, Shane Ross, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney.

In a joint press briefing, Mr Ross had said it was likely that border checks would be needed for goods if a no-deal Brexit happened.  Mr Coveney had then publicly intervened to correct that saying there were no plans for checks.

Then, in a follow-up conversation caught on tape,  Mr Ross admitted that he did not know what to say.  And Mr Coveney admitted there was a likelihood of checks, though it was not clear where they would happen.

But the Tánaiste also warned that they did not want to become the Government responsible for the re-introduction of border checks in Ireland.

The Fianna Fáil leader said the episode revealed that there was now “a private understanding” that border checks were increasingly inevitable.

“But at all costs, that private understanding is that that knowledge should not be shared with the public,” Mr Martin said.

Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said the Government regretted the heavy defeat for Mrs May’s proposal in the London parliament on Tuesday night.  He insisted there will be no return of a hard border – but the only way this could happen would be for Northern Ireland to keep within the EU customs territory, and also maintain EU product standards.

Mr Varadkar rejected Mr Martin’s suggestion of serious budgetary fallout in the event of a no-deal Brexit on March 29.  He said the ESRI and other experts had predicted that Ireland’s economy would “go into reverse” but reduced economic growth would continue and there would be no recession.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives statement on the outcome of yesterday's ‘Meaningful Vote’ in Westminster
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives statement on the outcome of yesterday's ‘Meaningful Vote’ in Westminster

Replying to Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, he repeated his determination that there would be no return of a hard border.

This comes after the Taoiseach warned that the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is through a deal on customs and regulations but has again insisted that no preparations are being made for border infrastructure.

Speaking for the first time since last night’s meaningful vote in the House of Commons which resulted in a humiliating defeat for British Prime Minister, Theresa May, Mr Varadkar said:

“The only way that we can avoid a harder border in the longer term is to have an agreement on customs and regulation and that’s what’s needed and that’s what we have in the withdrawal agreement and the backstop. That’s why it’s so important that we get it ratified and that’s why we have put so much work into it,” he said.

But he insisted: “The preparations for checks are being made at the ports and airports but no preparations are being made for checks on the land border.”

He reiterated his stance that  a border cannot be avoided by simply discussing the desire not to have one.

It was put to the Taoiseach that in the event of a no deal there would be a hard border and he replied:

“We are going to do everything we can to avoid a no deal scenario and we’re not going beyond that at this stage. Obviously we’ll make the preparations that are necessary but we’re going to intensify our efforts over the next couple of weeks to make sure that we have a deal ratified.”

Read More: Border checks on trade to follow no-deal Brexit - Coveney and Ross in private conversation caught on tape

He also warned that a no deal Brexit will not protect the peace in Northern Ireland.

“A no deal scenario would have a deeply negative impact on jobs and the economy, particularly on agrifood and the traded sector - our farmers, our fishermen, our rural economy and our businessmen and women. A no deal scenario would not protect the peace in Northern Ireland. We will work hard to avoid it,” he said.

Preparations for a crash out scenario are no longer contingency plans but are now being implemented by the government, the Taoiseach said.

More to follow...

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