Monday 20 May 2019

Fianna Fáil hits out at 'strident walk' of Tánaiste, Taoiseach and Barnier as they attended Ireland France game

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, IFA President Joe Healy, EU Brexit Negotiating Chief Michel Barnier and Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney. Pic: Chris Donoghue/twitter
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, IFA President Joe Healy, EU Brexit Negotiating Chief Michel Barnier and Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney. Pic: Chris Donoghue/twitter
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

FIANNA Fáil has hit out at the “strident walk” of Tánaiste Simon Coveney and the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier when they attended a Six Nations rugby game last Sunday.

Mr Barnier watched his native France get badly beaten by Ireland in the company of the Tánaiste and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Before going into the Aviva Stadium, he posed outside with the two politicians, IFA President Joe Healy and French farmers’ union chief Christiane Lambert. The photograph, which was tweeted by Mr Coveney’s spokesman, appeared widely in the media.

The Financial Times also carried a separate image of Mr Barnier inside the stadium which was captured by the news agency Reuters.

Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers today criticised the jovial images at such a sensitive time in the negotiators.

Speaking about how she believes the Irish government has sought antagonise the UK, Ms Chambers said: “Even look to Sunday when Michel Barnier arrived into Dublin and the strident walk of Michel Barnier and the Tánaiste down the street after the rugby match. That was choreographed.

Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Ireland v France - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - March 10, 2019 European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier looks on before the match REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Ireland v France - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - March 10, 2019 European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier looks on before the match REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

“Similarly when the Taoiseach was in Brussels with a giant green card saying thank you to the Commission, that was choreographed.”

Ms Chambers said Irish politicians should be thinking about “the optics”.

“And usually the Taoiseach is very good at choreography when it concerns its how image.

“How did that image look in British papers to British citizens and members of parliament given the volatile position they are in. It’s a sensitive time in the negotiations.”

Fianna Fáil also accused the Government of over-selling the original backstop deal as far back as December 2017.

She claimed the fresh documentation attached to the Withdrawal Agreement has made it easier for the UK to leave the backstop.

“It’s a little bit easier today to exit the backstop than it was yesterday,” she said.

However, Sinn Féin is backing the Government’s approach. Their Brexit spokesman David Cullinane said they are “very satisfied” EU has “held firm”.

“I don’t think there are any changes at all to the backstop,” he said.

Asked for a response to the criticism, a spokesperson for the Tánaiste told Independent.ie: “Give me strength. There are important political matters on Brexit that we’re focused on today and the Deputy is being petty and is factually incorrect.”

He said the card referred to was sent to President Juncker by an Irish family and was merely being shown to the Taoiseach, “not vis versa”.

“Secondly, Michel Barnier is welcome in Dublin anytime and the Tánaiste was glad to take him to the match.

“An RTÉ camera filmed Mr Barnier returning to his car and we believe in the freedom of the press to film in a public place, perhaps the Deputy doesn’t?” the spokesman said.

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