Saturday 23 February 2019

Simon Coveney attacks 'suicide vest' comments made by former British Foreign Minister on Irish border issue

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney

Ralph Riegel

Tanaiste Simon Coveney launched a scathing attack on former British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson for what he termed "ill-judged" and "extraordinary" comments about Northern Ireland in the Brexit debate.

Mr Johnson has been the focus of furious criticism in the UK after he claimed in a newspaper article that some elements of the Brexit talks, including the so-called Irish back-stop, had wrapped "a suicide vest" around Britain.

Even senior British government ministers expressed alarm at the former London Mayor's choice of language.

His comments have been interpreted as the opening salvo of a campaign to challenge Prime Minister Theresa May and secure the Conservative Party leadership for himself.

However, Mr Coveney expressed alarm at the comments, particularly over their potential implications for Northern Ireland and the Republic.

He bluntly warned that many will be left offended by Mr Johnson's aggressive remarks - and he said it was a blatant attempt to undermine the Prime Minister.

"I think they are very unhelpful comments," the Cork TD said.

"They are ill-judged and I think they will offend a lot of people."

"We are working with Theresa May and her government who are trying now to put the basis of a deal in place to allow Britain to leave the European Union in a way that is managed and sensible."

"A way that takes account of not only Britain's concerns but also of the concerns of the EU and Britain's closest neighbours."

"The Prime Minister, to her credit, last December made a commitment to people in Northern Ireland and to Ireland generally that she would ensure there would be no physical border on the island of Ireland in the future."

"And that there would be no related checks or controls - that became known as the back-stop facility."

"Last March she agreed that there needed to be a legally operable back-stop text in what is called the Withdrawal Treaty - this will essentially be a legal document to facilitate Britain leaving the EU and solving a whole series of immediate questions that need to be answered."

"What we are asking for now is for the British Prime Minister and her government to follow through on those commitments."

"Those commitments were made when Boris Johnson was part of that government."

"He was there for the two years since the British people decided to leave the EU in a referendum."

"He was not speaking out - publicly, certainly - against the Irish back-stop at that time."

"So I think it is extraordinary now that he is no longer in cabinet that he is taking such an aggressive position to try and undermine work that he was involved in as part of the British government."

"More importantly, to try and undermine a British Prime Minister who is trying to really do the impossible at the moment given the division in the British political system and across most political parties over the type of Brexit that people want or don't want."

Mr Coveney said the British and Irish Governments will focus on the issues at hand.

"Our focus will continue to be to work with a Prime Minister who, I think, is trying protect her country and, at the same time, recognises the realities of what is needed in a deal to get agreement with the EU."

"I hope that the people who are trying  to undermine her are not successful - because I think that will be very damaging to Britain."

"I also think it creates huge challenges for us here in Ireland," he acknowledged.

Mr Coveney was speaking as he launched a major €11m expansion of the Bon Secours Care Village in Cork which will create 36 new jobs and almost 40 extra beds.

Almost 100 staff will now work at the care facility.

Online Editors

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