Kenny plays down fears for Irish living in post-Brexit UK
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has played down fears about the status of Irish citizens in a post-Brexit UK, saying the matter is "separate" from any talks on the future of other EU citizens.
It comes as he announced that Theresa May's first visit to Dublin as British prime minister will take place next month.
Ms May failed to rule out a change in status for Irish people living in the UK when she answered questions on Brexit earlier this week.
She appeared to link their future with that of UK citizens living in other European Union countries.
Responding to Ms May's remarks, Mr Kenny pointed out the rights of Irish citizens in Britain have been acquired over "a very long period".
"The common travel area is not just for social reasons and travel reasons, but it is also for work opportunities," he said.
He said Ms May has spoken of how she wanted the question of the rights of British citizens in living in the EU to be dealt with early in Brexit negotiations.
"That is separate from the traditional rights and relationship that Ireland has with the UK and they with us," he said.
Government sources last night said Ms May's remarks may have been conflated in response to two different questions - one on the status of Irish citizens in Britain, and another on people from other EU countries.
It is understood Ms May's government has no intention of making the status of Irish citizens conditional on the outcome of talks on those from other EU countries.
Mr Kenny outlined what he has already agreed in principle with Ms May that there won't be a return to a hard border with the North, and "no derogation from the benefits of the Common Travel Area".
"These are very important principles that have been built up between Britain and Ireland for a very, very long time indeed," he said.
Mr Kenny did reiterate that the EU has told Britain it will not be able to "cherry-pick" policies and that access to the single market will require agreement on freedom of movement.
"Until such time as the prime minister moves Article 50, we will not be clear about the nature of the proposition," Mr Kenny said.
"In the meantime our officials will talk to their counterparts in Brussels and London and Belfast. I have spoken to most of the EU leaders at this stage and will continue to do so."
Mr Kenny also said there will be further meetings of the all-island civic dialogue on Brexit, including a plenary session in Dublin Castle in February.
That's the month before Ms May intends to trigger the mechanism for leaving the EU.
Mr Kenny said he hopes her visit here in January will provide "greater clarity ... as to the position that Britain is moving towards in terms of the kind of relationship they want to have with the European Union".
Mr Kenny was also asked about the prospects of a united Ireland post-Brexit.
He said the Good Friday Agreement leaves open an option for the future reunification of the island but that a referendum can only be considered if there is sufficient support on both sides of the Border.
He added that it's "the peoples north and south who will decide to join Ireland in a new Republic".
He said he will be on the European side of the Brexit negotiations but that he intends to see that an understanding of that principle from the Good Friday Agreement "is enshrined in the language of negotiations to be concluded".
Meanwhile, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is also set to come to Ireland next month, the first such visit in 25 years.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said it will be "a great honour" to welcome Mr Kishida on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan. Mr Flanagan said trade between the two countries totalled €9.8bn last year, and that he will discuss ways to "further strengthen and deepen" ties during Mr Kishida's visit.