'Ireland's border is the EU's border, and the EU's priority' - Juncker's words receive applause in the Dáil
Resolving the Irish border crux over Brexit remains a key priority for the EU, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has told the Dáil.
On a solidarity visit to Ireland with EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, Mr Juncker said many in Britain misunderstood the importance of the Irish border in the Brexit talks.
"Those people have not understood what being part of our union means. Ireland's border is the Union's border, and the Union's priority," he told TDs and his comment drew warm applause from TDs and Senators at Leinster House.
The former Luxembourg Prime Minister recalled many important EU landmark events which occurred in Dublin such as framing rules for the EU currency in 1996 and welcoming 10 new EU member states from the former East Bloc in 2004.
He also recalled that his own European People’s Party chose him as their candidate for the top EU job at a conference in Dublin in 2014.
Mr Juncker said the UK voters had exercised their right to leave the EU – but Ireland could not be allowed suffer for it.
"It's their decision and I respect it fully. However, other member states – and Ireland in particular – should not pay the price for that choice. I have always said it is the case that 'Ireland First'," Mr Juncker said.
Overall, he struck a cautiously optimistic note about the potential for a reasonable Brexit EU-UK Brexit deal. But a "no-deal" exit by the UK cannot be ruled out and every eventuality must be provided.
"This is neither a desired nor even a likely outcome. But it is not impossible," he said of the prospect of a "no-deal Brexit."
Mr Juncker said the EU had done a lot to support peace in Northern Ireland and the peace grants would be continued in the new budget regime.
Mr Juncker said the proposed backstop option is "bespoke" and cannot be extended to the rest of the UK.
As the clock to Brexit continues Mr Juncker said Europe needs "more answers and fewer new questions" and that he and Michel Barnier will take a pragmatic approach to progressing negotiations.
Mr Juncker noted that there is no agreement which can be struck that will bring the same benefits of remaining in the EU.
In a wide ranging address Mr Juncker also paid tribute to Ireland as an optimistic, youthful and globalised country.
He noted that the recent referenda on Marriage Equality and the Eighth Referendum showed a societal shift that would not have been possible a generation ago.
Closing his remarks he pledged to keep Ireland at the heart of Europe.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, also speaking in the Dáil, said Ireland wants to move to "detailed negotiations" about Ireland’s future relationship with the UK.
The December agreement on the backstop "must be legally operative in the withdrawal agreement, to apply ‘unless and until’ an alternative solution is agreed," he said.