'A united EU will be here for you' - Chief negotiator Barnier tells Dáil and Seanad
Michel Barnier has said the EU "will be here for" Ireland throughout the Brexit talks and recognises are "unique position".
However, the EU’s chief negotiator warned an historic joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad that Brexit “will come at a cost” to every EU member.
“Today, in front of these two houses, I want to reassure the Irish people: in this negotiation Ireland's interest will be the Union's interest.
“We are in this negotiation together and a united EU will be here for you,” Mr Barnier said.
He acknowledged that the “historical and geographical ties wit the UK” need to be factored into the early part of the talks.
“With the depreciation of the sterling, Brexit is already having an impact on the value of Irish exports to the UK. In particular, the agri-food sector.
“And many in Ireland fear the return of tensions in the North,” he said.
Mr Barnier gave the sitting a history of how European integration helped remove “borders that once existed on maps and in minds”.
“Brexit changes the external borders of the EU. I will work with you to avoid a hard border,” he said.
However, the French politician added: “We have a duty to speak the truth. The UK's departure from the EU will have consequences.
“Customs controls are part of EU border management. They protect the single market. They protect our food safety and our standards.”
Mr Barnier said Ireland had done “remarkable preparatory work” and was working towards solutions.
“We have to use our combined strength. And deliver solutions that benefit all member states.
“I want to listen to the concerns of the Irish people. But I also want to pass on a message of hope and determination. For all the problems it creates, Brexit also reminds us of what the EU has built together,” he said.
Mr Barnier also told how he was 21 years old when Ireland joined the EU in 1972.
“France had a referendum on the accession of Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Norway.It was my very first vote. And I campaigned for a 'yes' vote.
“For the UK's accession, back then, voting yes was not so easy for a member of the French Gaullist party. But I did it wholeheartedly.
“But I never regretted that vote. I regret that Brexit is happening now,” he said.
He said Irish people are known as “hard working and open minded”.
“They saw EU membership as a chance to modernise their economy and society. We see this in innovative companies and in the creation of new jobs.
“Investors see Ireland as being central in the European market, not peripheral.
“And we see it across Irish cities, towns and villages.
“They have been enriched by fellow Europeans who have come here to work, study, travel, and live,” Mr Barnier said.