Saturday 26 May 2018

British approach to dealing with Irish border 'defies logic' - former Taoiseach Brian Cowen

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Picture: Arthur Carron
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Picture: Arthur Carron

Kevin Doyle, Group Political Editor

FORMER Taoiseach Brian Cowen has the British government’s approach to dealing with the Irish border “defies logic”.

In a rare media appearance, Mr Cowen said the country should be backing Leo Varadkar in Brexit battle.

“We’re in a very critical period in the negotiations,” he said, adding that agreements already signed up to by the UK government now seem like a “rather fallible suggestion”.

Mr Cowen’s comments come amid reports that the EU has comprehensively rejected UK proposals for avoiding a hard border.

It is understood EU negotiators say plans put forward by UK Prime Minister Theresa May were subjected to a “systematic and forensic annihilation”.

On RTÉ’s Today With Sean O’Rourke, Mr Cowen said the Irish government has been “very strong in ensuring the border question is addressed”.

The ex-Fianna Fáil leader said the onus is on the UK to put forward workable solutions for keeping the border open after March 2019.

“It defies logic to me as to how that is going to happen. But we have to await the ingenuity of the Brits,” he said.

Asked whether he believes the Irish government should have stalled the talks rather than allow them move onto the second phase, Mr Cowen said it’s a “real dilemma”.

But he said we must rely on EU negotiator Michel Barnier to “put flesh on something that deifies logic at the moment”.

“Ideally that would be the case but we also have to take into account that the dynamic of the negotiations is not something we can dictate,” he said.

On domestic politics, Mr Cowen, who was Taoiseach from 2008 to 2011, said he did not want to comment on the controversy surrounding Independent News & Media.

PR lobbyist Eoghan Ó Neachtain who is at the centre of the story worked as Press Secretary for Mr Cowen during his time in Government Buildings.

A phone conversation he had with Communications Minister Denis Naughten in November 2016 relating to a proposed merger of INM with the regional newspaper group Celtic Media has led to calls for the Minister to step down.

But Mr Cowen said: “It doesn’t appear to me on the face of it that the minister involved himself at a level of detail that would mean his position is untenable.”

Asked whether Michael D Higgins should seek a second term as president, Mr Cowen replied: “I’ve admired his presidency. Certainly he’s been a very good president.”

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