One-year countdown to Brexit begins with focus still on Border
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted progress must be made by next June clarifying how the UK will guarantee no hard Border in Ireland.
Brexit will become a reality exactly one year from today, on March 29, 2019.
A deadline has been set for October for the so-called "Withdrawal Agreement" setting out the EU-UK divorce terms.
The Foreign Affairs Minister told the Dáil there was now a focus of the British negotiating team and the EU taskforce on getting a legally operative wording truly reflecting what was agreed between Brussels and London last December.
Fianna Fáil has been accusing the Government of delay in properly nailing down the issue and allowing the final phase of talks to begin without full clarity on the Border.
But Mr Coveney brushed these suggestions aside, saying progress on the Border deal will be assessed by EU leaders at their next summit in June.
"I think June is a significant date from an Irish perspective," Mr Coveney said.
"If it is not possible by June, is it going to be possible by October?"
The Tánaiste said the British government had in February rejected a legal draft of the deal done in December. But Ireland fully accepted the EU version of the agreement.
"It is now up to the British government to come forward with their proposals that would have the same outcome," Mr Coveney said.
Mr Coveney was replying to Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly, who said he was concerned about the delay in reaching agreement.
Mr Donnelly again expressed his impatience at the Government allowing final Brexit phase talks to start without clarity on the future of the Border.
"Last Monday, many of us were taken by surprise when the EU taskforce released the Brexit document which showed that no progress had been made on releasing the legal wording for the backstop ensuring no Border around Northern Ireland," Mr Donnelly said.
"And last Friday the Taoiseach said the wording may not be agreed until October. How long will the Government allow phase two to continue without clarity on that specific legal wording that needs to be in the final document?" the Wicklow TD asked.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is today mounting a whirlwind tour of the four nations of the United Kingdom with a promise to keep the country "strong and united".
Speaking to voters in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, Mrs May will say that, whether they voted Leave or Remain, what is important now is making Brexit "a success for everyone".
Ahead of a visit to Northern Ireland, she restated her rejection of EU proposals which would effectively create an administrative border down the Irish Sea by keeping the North in the customs union.
"As the prime minister of the United Kingdom, I have an absolute responsibility to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom as a whole," she said.
"That means ensuring that no new barriers are created within our common domestic market and that the UK is able to meet its international obligations in the future.
"No prime minister could leave these things to chance, because they are absolutely crucial to our success as a country in the future."