Friday 20 September 2019

Election will turn us into a lame duck in EU talks

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arrives at the Eastern Partnership summit at the European Council Headquarters in Brussels. Picture: Reuters
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arrives at the Eastern Partnership summit at the European Council Headquarters in Brussels. Picture: Reuters

Shona Murray

As acts of self-harm go Britain has led the way. And now those responsible for the UK's current crisis are likely licking their chops watching Ireland do something similar.

Already we've seen the pro-Brexit press turn its tirade towards the Irish Government for daring to defend its own sovereign interests. Whether it's the latest rant in the tabloids or Lord John Kilclooney referring to the Taoiseach as "the Indian", the whole spectacle is indeed a "horror show".

But soon that could be us.

A general election at a time when EU talks on the future of peace and stability of the State hang in the balance is deeply irresponsible. For months we've criticised and at times gloated at the series of political catastrophes dogging Britain. From the ill-judged referendum hijacked by lies, to the grossly misguided snap election.

The paralysis in the British government, with its fate depending on the Eurosceptic DUP, was problematic enough in securing a fair deal and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

Just months ago, the DUP voted against a European Parliament motion protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. We were already on our own on this one. But at least there was cross-party support for the Government as well as the EU's position in demanding that Britain come up with proposals to ensure Brexit wouldn't mean we were on a fast track to the past.

We've been found wanting from Britain and it's pretty clear that the UK has no intention of minimising the impact of Brexit on Ireland. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It has sought to satisfy the other two priorities instead: citizens' rights and the financial settlement.

The hope is that Ireland will come under pressure from its fellow EU governments to move on to the second stage of talks without giving concrete plans on how it intends to deal with the Border.

"Perfidious albion," one Irish official uttered of the British tactic in Brussels.

In less than three weeks, Ireland will face the most consequential European Council meeting since we joined the EU in 1973.

The Taoiseach will need to consolidate support among EU member states insisting that Britain no longer shirks its responsibility to the Good Friday Agreement. A hard-fought peace deal supported by a resolution from the UN Security Council.

But there are several member states whose priorities on a deal on citizens' rights are a much more important than Ireland's unwanted Border.

Poland represents the largest foreign-born group in Britain and nearly one million of its citizens have settled there. The future of three million Europeans, many from Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Hungary hinge on a deal on citizens' rights. Their governments are entitled to push to secure this as soon as possible.

In recent weeks much has been debated on how more "hardline" the Government has become on demanding Britain solve the Northern Ireland conundrum.

A now weakened leader will be seen as a lame duck and will dilute Ireland's negotiating standpoint. Moreover a general election will be a dangerous distraction when we need to keep Ireland on the table.

Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney accused Fianna Fáil of failing to act in the "national interest".

As Ireland and the UK battle over how to maintain the all-island economy and protect the peace process after 2019, Mr Coveney said political instability at home was "not helpful".

"This is about politics, it's about Fianna Fáil taking an opportunity to try and damage the Government at a time when that is not in the national interest," Mr Coveney said on his way into a special EU summit with Ukraine and five of the bloc's other eastern neighbours.

He accused Fianna Fáil of "behaving recklessly" and risking a general election at a sensitive time for Brexit talks, saying the party was "effectively breaching" its confidence and supply agreement with the Government.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and others in Fine Gael point to the situation in Germany and Angela Merkel's incomplete government, where she still appears to have her authority intact. It's a terribly naive and misleading point. Germany's very future is not at stake. For us, the stakes couldn't be higher.

Others in Fine Gael say an election could secure an even better mandate; strengthening our resolve against Britain and in Europe. Where have we heard this before?

We've watched aghast and with some sympathy at the often pathetic position UK Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself in after gambling on an election. Would we not be better off learning from her mistake rather than following her down the rabbit hole?

Irish Independent

Also in Business