‘Lock yourselves in a room until a deal is reached’ - Coveney tells Brexit negotiators
THE Government will refuse to sign any UK Brexit deal that does not respect commitments given under the Good Friday Agreement or under London's guarantee to no 'hard' border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.
The warning came as Tanaiste Simon Coveney stressed that it was now "critical" that both the EU and UK negotiators be effectively "locked into a room for the next 10 days" until an acceptable deal is hammered out.
The Cork TD warned that time was now running out for an acceptable agreement to be reached - though he again expressed optimism that London and Brussels will avoid a scenario of the UK crashing out of the EU without an exit agreement.
Mr Coveney was speaking at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork as almost 400 Irish businesses and agencies attended the first is a series of special nationwide conferences aimed at preparing Ireland for Brexit.
"Let me be very clear - Ireland will never sign up to a withdrawal treaty that does not protect the Good Friday Agreement, does not protect the peace process on the island of Ireland and that does not follow through on the commitments that have been given to Ireland, guaranteeing no future border infrastructure on this island," the Cork TD vowed.
"They are commitments that were given last December, they are commitments that were repeated again last March when the British Prime Minister committed to a legally operable text in the withdrawal treaty to that effect."
"It is very important."
"We will not sign, the Taoiseach nor I, any withdrawal treaty that does not protect the core interests of all the people on the island of Ireland as a whole."
"We will not see as an unintended consequence of Brexit the re-emergence of a border infrastructure on this island."
"I believe that, by the way, the British Prime Minister (Theresa May) is sincere in her commitments. To her credit, she wants to follow through on that - I think she understands the complexities of the peace process and the fragility of relationships on the island of Ireland."
"We now need to get down to the business of agreeing a text to follow through on those commitments."
"That is what the next two weeks will be about - that is why the negotiating teams need to lock themselves in a room and get this done over the next 10 days and come out with a text and recommendations for political leaders to make decisions on the back of."
"I believe that is doable and that is where the focus should be."
Mr Coveney also warned the Government could not rely on an eleventh-hour Stormont Assembly involvement in the Brexit talks given that no assembly has met for almost two years.
"We have not had an assembly up and running now for almost 20 months," he said.
"Any agreements that are made and signed off on are between the British Government and the EU."
His comments came amid speculation Mrs May's Government, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on which is depends for its Westminster majority, may use a little-known procedure under the Good Friday Agreement to ratify controversial proposed elements of the Brexit deal.
"In all scenarios, Brexit needs to work. What that (commitment) relates to are the current checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK on issues like animal and plant health."
"We manage an all-island economy on that basis in certain areas which already requires some checks between Northern Ireland and the UK because it suits everybody in practical terms to do that."
"If anything, this should be a reminder to people that Northern Ireland is different to other parts of the UK."
"What we now want in this (withdrawal) agreement is the reassurance for everybody, both Nationalist and Unionist alike, that the status quo we have on the island at the moment we be protected through Brexit."
Mr Coveney stressed that this extends to everything from employment to State structures and respect for achievements of the Good Friday Agreement.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, who previously warned that there were "no winners from Brexit", said it was vital a deal be hammered out to protect the hugely integrated agri-food sector across Ireland and the K.
"From an Irish point of view, I don't believe there is any sector as exposed," Mr Creed said.
"We exported in 2017 about Euro 5.5 billion worth of agri-food to the UK."
"The commodity area is 80,000 tonnes of cheddar cheese and over half of our beef exports."
"What is not often understood is that we are also the UK's biggest market with a really integrated logistic supply chain. The value of an event like this today is that it concentrates the mind."