Tuesday 16 July 2019

Laura Larkin: 'Michael Creed's radio intervention underlines messaging from Government is outdated'

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

ALL we needed was to see if Michael Creed was shaking head with fervour and it could have been 2010 when head-in-sand denials from government ministers were the order of the day.

It was the Agriculture Minister who was deployed on Morning Ireland to ease anxiety over the border question today - a solid communicator with responsibility for the sector facing the worst hit from Brexit in any scenario.

But it did not go to plan - in fact it descended almost into parody as he repeatedly refused to answer questions on the border in a no deal scenario.

The EU Commission made a deft and pointed intervention in never-ending Brexit turmoil by stating what a spokesman termed “obvious” - in the event of a no deal there will be a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

That suggestion was nothing new in itself - it had long been the obvious answer to an unfavourable question but it was the first time it had been laid out by the EU so starkly.

At home the government were taken by surprise by the statement. Again they said they will not countenance erecting a hard border. No preparations are being made.

It is the first time since Brexit was triggered that the EU and Ireland have not been singing in unison from the same hymn sheet.

But worryingly the government have opted to continue reading from the same script they have stuck so closely to date.

The famous denial of the imminent bailout by then ministers Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey sprang to mind. That came just days before the Troika arrived in Ireland.

Those shaking heads have become shorthand for ill-thought out communications strategy from government. Back then ministers were kept in the dark about bailout negotiations, leaving them open to accusations of lying to the public.

Deliberately misleading the public or simply not knowing any different - it all amounts to one and the same to the public: information not shared.

This morning what played out over the eight minute interview was a familiar refrain for journalists covering Brexit, when the answer remains the same no matter the question.

There will be no hard border, the deal on the table avoids one, the backstop is the insurance policy the government points out.

To which comes the obvious question: what happens in the event of a no deal? 

There’ll be no hard border - the deal on the table avoids one, the backstop is the insurance policy.

That the deal cannot be the solution for the no deal scenario does not seem to deter ministers from the party line.

“Many people listening this morning may think you are treating us all as if we are stupid,” she said, something the minister immediately rejected.

But it does appear that the first rule in Government Buildings on the border in a no deal scenario is ‘do not talk about the border in a no deal scenario’.

There comes a point when that position becomes untenable unless one of two things are true: Either the government has decided the sensitivities of the situation overrule the public’s right to know and to interrogate their approach or there is no concrete plan in place to avoid a hard border in the event of  a no deal other than a staunch commitment not to erect one.

Mr Creed’s intervention on radio has underlined that the messaging from government is outdated and will only add to the Brexit anxiety among the public.

Online Editors

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