Wednesday 18 September 2019

John Downing: 'Fianna Fáil should back stability - there is enough chaos over in UK'

Meet the people: Anne Cooke (83) chats with Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy at the opening the Dolphin House Project in Dublin. PHOTO: FRANK McGRATH
Meet the people: Anne Cooke (83) chats with Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy at the opening the Dolphin House Project in Dublin. PHOTO: FRANK McGRATH
John Downing

John Downing

Fianna Fáil is playing a dangerous and unhelpful game with Brexit and it should stop it immediately.

If the 'Soldiers of Destiny' really want to show they are operating in the national interest, they could get real about talks on renewing the current government arrangement and give Ireland some political stability in time of extreme economic peril. As the UK goes into political meltdown we are already getting early signs of the carnage that may be headed our way.

Let's stay with a few simple facts: It was wrong of Fianna Fáil to accuse the Government of "triumphalism" over the Brexit outcome. That is what the party's Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers did along with other key party figures Stephen Donnelly and Darragh O'Brien.

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That false allegation is also dangerous. It feeds into antipathy towards Ireland in Britain right now.

That risks in turn justifying some dangerously wrong comments by ultra-Brexiteers who seek to attach at least part of the blame to this country for their own woes, created by hubris, ignorance and muddle-headed British politics at home and abroad.

On Thursday, Mr O'Brien told the Dáil the Government should "try from today to resist the temptation to brief the press with victorious statements, such as we have seen in some of the Irish newspapers today. That is irresponsible and you should desist from that."

Earlier at a press conference on the Leinster House plinth, Ms Chambers criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's comments. He had told reporters that what the Government had achieved was "even stronger" than the agreement in principle reached last December between the UK and the EU.

It echoed a trend started on Tuesday night on RTÉ radio's 'Late Debate' by former Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly. He made a deal of the Taoiseach "smiling" at his press conference an hour earlier.

Two points are worth making here. Firstly, the draft deal - which admittedly may not ever fly due to lack of approval from the London parliament - is a good one for Ireland, positively addressing all the key issues of concern to us.

It is worth congratulating everyone involved, including the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, and the key officials at the coalface such as John Callinan.

Mr Varadkar was not only entitled to make the comments which he did - he had an obligation to communicate a complex legal document in every day language.

Readers who have made it this far may think I am some kind of closet Fine Gaeler. I am no such thing.

Perhaps the best argument for saying the Government did well on Brexit is to say it was publicly acknowledged by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who is a veteran of two decades of tough EU negotiations.

Mr Ahern did also quickly, but rightly, give a bigger accolade to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier for his clear understanding of Ireland's Brexit predicament.

The reality is that the Frenchman is a political giant. A bit like US Senator George Mitchell in his Good Friday Agreement role, Mr Barnier was heaven sent to Ireland at a crucial time.

And let's also acknowledge the Taoiseach must continue to mind his mouth on Brexit, especially as he gets considerable adulation from exultant Fine Gael activists at their Ard Fheis which continues today in Dublin.

Mr Varadkar has form in the "foot-in-mouth department" and he is far from blameless in the tedious foot-dragging game that is the ongoing talks about Confidence and Supply agreement renewal talks.

For example, when Micheál Martin called last month for a "no-election pact" for the duration of the Brexit crux, the Taoiseach wrapped the green flag around him and unleashed rhetoric about never letting "a foreign parliament" decide the fate of an Irish government.

Do let's all keep things real here. The fate of small countries like Ireland is often made or broken by decisions in various political fora far from these shores.

In fact the UK is now learning that on occasion the fate of larger countries is also decided by factors and actors outside its own jurisdiction. That is realpolitik in a global world.

Irish Independent

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