Sunday 21 January 2018

May to be pressed on vision for Irish links post-Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

British Prime Minister Theresa May will be asked to outline her post-Brexit vision for the relationship between the Republic and Northern Ireland when she visits Dublin today.

Following high-profile trips to the United States and Turkey, Mrs May will make the briefest of stopovers at Government Buildings for a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Irish Government has made it clear what it wants from the Brexit negotiations and must now listen to the British side.

He said that once Article 50 is triggered in the coming weeks "it will be 'game on' as far as Brexit is concerned".

"There are really important priorities for us here in Ireland, priorities for the island of Ireland having regard to the fact that Northern Ireland is in election mode," Mr Flanagan said.

"Our priorities are well known to the British prime minister and I believe it's important that we hear her view on what again is a great challenge to the island of Ireland with particular reference to our economy, our trade with the United Kingdom, and of course the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process."

He added that there was a need "to ensure, in the context of the forthcoming negotiations that the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is fully adhered to".

The Department of the Taoiseach said the "summit meeting" will provide an opportunity for both leaders "to exchange views on a wide range of issues of mutual interest and concern, especially in light of the recent developments in Northern Ireland".

"Discussions will cover the current situation in Northern Ireland, the UK/Ireland Joint Work Programme, and key bilateral issues that the UK and Ireland are committed to working closely on as the UK prepares to leave the EU," the department said.

Mr Kenny said last night that he looked forward to welcoming the prime minister to Dublin.

"This meeting will provide an opportunity for us to have a strategic and constructive discussion on issues of mutual concern and how we are going to work together to protect the interests of all our citizens on these islands," he said.

Prior to her arrival in Dublin around lunchtime, Mrs May will be meeting with Northern Ireland's key political leaders at an event in Wales.

The DUP's Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin's new Northern leader Michelle O'Neill are likely to give contrasting views on how they believe Brexit should be handled.

The DUP supports the decision to leave the EU, while Sinn Féin is arguing that a majority of citizens of Northern Ireland voted 'Remain'.

In advance of that meeting, Mrs May said she hoped the talks would be constructive but warned they "will not agree on everything".

She highlighted how the Supreme Court ruling on triggering Article 50 had set out "beyond doubt" that relations with Brussels would be determined by the UK government.

"We will not agree on everything, but that doesn't mean we will shy away from the necessary conversations and I hope we will have further constructive discussions today," she said.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned Mrs May that she must take proposals from the devolved administrations seriously.

Ms Sturgeon wants Scotland to remain in the European single market even if the UK decides to leave.

She said the UK government was showing "no sign whatsoever" of taking Scotland's position "remotely seriously".

"It is becoming clearer with every day that passes that the UK government is determined to pursue a hard Brexit and I am determined to do all I can to protect Scotland from the devastating impact that would have," she said.

"Time is running out for the prime minister to demonstrate that she is going to uphold the commitment she made to me shortly after taking office that Scotland will be fully involved in discussions to develop an agreed UK approach and listen to alternative proposals for Scotland."

What Enda must tell Theresa

1 Ireland considers the retention of an open Border between the Republic and the North as a red-line issue. The British must be prepared to back this position during negotiations with the EU, regardless of their views on overall immigration policy.

2 Ireland intends to fight tough but fair for any companies that are looking for a new base in the wake of Brexit.

We might be good neighbours but Brexit has created a situation where niceties come after practicalities.

3 Irish citizens living and working in the UK must be protected. Rules governing the movement of workers pre-dated our membership of the EU and both sides should seek to maintain the current arrangement.

4 The status of the Good Friday Agreement must be written into the final exit deal between the UK and the EU. The ethos of the deal which has helped secure a long-term peace in Northern Ireland must be preserved. This includes recognition of the fact that at some stage in the future a referendum on Irish unity could take place.

5 Ireland is a friend to the UK, but on this occasion we are on Team EU. We want them to get a good deal but it was the decision of the UK to leave the union and the consequences of that must be dealt with, for the most part, by the British government. Outside of the UK, Ireland has the most to lose from Brexit and therefore we must work to protect ourselves during the negotiations.

Irish Independent

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