Sunday 20 October 2019

'The government must be absolutely honest' - Micheál Martin calls on Varadkar to reveal plans for custom checks near border

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

FIANNA Fáil leader Micheál Martin has warned the government to be “absolutely honest” and “up front” about plans for customs checks near the border in the event of a crash-out Brexit.

Mr Martin also piled pressure on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's government saying that he doesn't believe its done enough to avoid chaos if Britain leaves the EU without a deal on October 31.

It comes after Mr Varadkar confirmed that in the a no-deal scenario there will have to be checks near the border.

Mr Martin hit-out at the Fine Gael-led government claiming they "haven't been up front about this from the beginning and they should have been".

He referred to an incident revealed by the Irish Independent where Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Transport Minister Shane Ross were caught on tape discussing remarks where Mr Ross suggested there will be checks on goods.

Mr Coveney said at the time: "Once you start talking about checks anywhere near the Border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we'll be the Government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland".

Mr Martin argued that Mr Coveney's remarks were "to the effect of 'we don't want to be the government that's seen to be doing this so keep quiet'."

The Fianna Fáil leader said: "The government needs to be upfront is that's what jolts people into preparing properly."

He said there's “quite alarming” statistics on businesses that aren't prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

"I think there's been a sense from government and indeed many various sectors that it will be alright on the night," he said.

Mr Martin said the government should "spell out clearly what is involved" in checks near the border.

He said he doesn't believe the government is prepared for the chaos that could ensure if there's a no-deal Brexit at the end of October.

He claimed the Government wasn't ready for the previous March 31 deadline either.

"I'm not confident people are fully [prepared] in terms of the capacity of the ports for example in terms terms of what happens with transport and what happens with the compliance costs and things like that."

He said he's "very concerned about the disruption that would occur."

Mr Martin said a no-deal Brexit still may not happen and a lot depends on events in Westminster in the coming weeks.

"For example do they prolong the timing of a general election beyond October 31... We can't control that.

"All we can control is telling the people what will happen if it's a no deal and be absolutely honest about that and be up front about that."

Mr Martin said he doesn't want to see an election here until "there's light at the end of the Brexit tunnel".

Later in a speech at the Kennedy Summer School, Mr Martin renewed his attacks on the Government.

He said his party's facilitation of the Fine Gael-led minority government meant it has "not had to look over its shoulder".

Mr Martin said some rival parties have demanded an immediate election and attacked Fianna Fáil for not delivering on but he is more and more convinced that the right decision was made to "refuse to play party politics with Brexit".

He said "it's not easy" pointing to rising homelessness and hospital waiting lists and added: "Equally the lack of candid briefing, partisan sniping and electoral manoeuvring hasn’t helped."

Mr Martin said he's concerned at reports of the discussions at Cabinet this week about a no-deal Brexit.

He said: "According to senior sources quoted in the media, ministers were shocked by what they heard, arrangements are being finalised for checks which in the past we were told wouldn’t happen and it was decided to withhold the briefing from the public.

"What concerns me most about this is that it is five months after Brexit was originally supposed to happen."

He said: "We dodged a bullet earlier this year and simply cannot afford the same failings in a much more serious situation.

"It is long past time for the government to publish everything it has about no deal preparations. Let’s see the full details."

Mr Martin claimed: "Our government has to end the policy of hoping that something will turn up to stop it all happening – and a full openness and transparency about what will have to be done is long past due."

He also said: "We need to reject the idea that someone asking hard questions is letting the side down or risking our national consensus of remaining true to the European ideal.

"In fact, the biggest threat to our consensus on Europe is an approach which is intolerant of debate and which treats the public as if it cannot be trusted with hard facts."

Online Editors

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