Monday 25 March 2019

Donal O'Donovan: 'Fine Gael frozen by fear of 'owning' a hard Border'

On guard: An Irish Customs Post stands along the Border in Tully. Photo: Getty
On guard: An Irish Customs Post stands along the Border in Tully. Photo: Getty

Donal O'Donovan

What happens at the Border? The first and most important question the Government needed to address, in setting out preparations for a worst-case Brexit, is the one they didn't answer.

If our leaders do have a plan, they're not telling us - and with barely a month to go a lack of communication may be as damaging as a lack of planning. If they really don't know themselves, it suggests a degree of recklessness almost beyond comprehension because the Brexit plans have set aside the crucial issue of what happens between Carlingford Lough and the mouth of the Foyle in the plausible event the UK crashes out of the European Union on March 29.

The raft of legislation produced yesterday by the Government includes excellent and important provisions that will kick in and limit the fallout of a dramatic Brexit crisis.

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The joint UK/Irish initiative to shore up what were the almost informal terms of the Common Travel Area (CTA) is important.

Despite the name, the CTA has less to do with travel than with guarantees that the rights of Irish people living in the UK and UK nationals living here are, to all intents and purposes, as good as if they lived at home. It is unique, covering every aspect of life from health, education and housing to the vote, social welfare and pensions. It matters enormously to millions of people.

Equally, a move to defer Vat collection if it is required on goods crossing the Border is dull but also really important. It means we'll have continued movement of goods, though not necessarily certainty over price. At least we will if the goods are in a lorry driven by an Irish or British person.

But what if it is driven by a Pole, with a Polish licence? What if the truck is French, making deliveries to Newry and Drogheda on a single trip? Is that truck insured, its driver licensed?

Longer term, if the UK departs from EU food safety or electronics standards, for instance, whose job will it be to keep sub-par goods out of the EU? If those issues matter, and Ireland fails to monitor them, what are the implications? We don't know.

Failing to plan for and communicate for all eventualities makes it more, not less, likely things will go wrong.

Simon Coveney is right to say no one, or almost no one, on this island wants a physical Border. If it comes to the worst on March 29 his plan is to sit down with the UK and EU and figure things out from there.

It appears he and Leo Varadkar are desperate to avoid "ownership" of a hard Border. Politically, that makes sense, especially for Fine Gael.

But what about the rest of us? Socially, politically, economically and in terms of security, a physical Border will be a disaster for everyone - unionists and nationalists.

It appears the country's leadership is determined to set those risks aside and hope they slip away. The problem with avoiding the elephant in the room is that it increases, not decreases, the risk of being crushed.

Irish Independent

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