Monday 20 January 2020

Government will insist on 'special status' for Northern Ireland, Coveney says

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

The Government is insisting on achieving a “special status” for Northern Ireland in the Brexit talks, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney also said it would be very helpful to have an all-island approach to dealing with Brexit, as it would provide clarity for the EU negotiators, and make an impact on the British Government's approach.

“You have heard talk about the need to ensure that we do not have the re-emergence of a hard border.,” Mr Coveney said today, at the launch of a Brexit report from the Oireachtas Good Friday Agreement Committee.

“And some people seem to be talking in the context of using technology to make sure that that isn’t the case. For me that misses the point totally.

“This is not about finding a way of avoiding queues on roads, through better use of cameras and people being able to apply online for permits to transit between two jurisdictions. What we are insisting on achieving, is a special status for Northern Ireland that allows the interaction on this island as is currently the case to be maintained as close to the current norm as possible.

“It’s not so much about a soft or hard border, it’s about an invisible border effectively that you don’t notice as you cross it, in terms of either physical barriers or indeed other barriers.”

The comments suggest a marked change in language from the Government.

Mr Coveney’s predecessor, Charlie Flanagan, was reluctant to use the term “special status” in connection with the North and the state’s efforts to deal with the fall-out from Brexit.

Mr Flanagan claimed it would give rise to serious concerns for other EU countries about precedents that might be set elsewhere.

Mr Coveney said that achieving this “special status” vision, will require a political solution as awell as a practical and technical one that “doesn’t really have any precedent in the European Union”.

“We have to respect the territorial integrity of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, and we need to find a way through the EU negotiating team of getting an acceptance from the British Government and EU partners of a way of doing that which doesn’t compromise the functioning of the common market, or doesn’t create a back door to entering the single market,” Mr Coveney added.

He said it would not be a straightforward problem to solve.

The minister said of the three issues being dealt with in the first phase of the Brexit talks, two - financial obligations and citizens rights - will be dealt with by officials, who have been tasked with finding solutions.

The third area specifically related to Ireland and the border has not been put into a working group, as there needs to be a "high level political understanding of what needs to be acheived", the minister said.

“For me what we are not trying to achieve is to provide slick technology on the border, to provide a so-called soft border, I think the consequences for the relationship in border counties, both north and south, of a new border system, would be hugely damaging and we need to avoid it.”

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