Wednesday 24 July 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Coveney's got all the answers - if you don't bring up the Border'


Contingency: Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee. Photo: Damien Eagers
Contingency: Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

'This time it's for real." That's what Tánaiste Simon Coveney told reporters after yet again "ramping up" preparations for a disorderly Brexit. Your memory isn't lapsing - we were, of course, told they were ready last March and April - but now they mean it.

So what was being ramped up? Well, mostly the language.

Mr Coveney, who is more careful with words than most ministers, was doing his best to concentrate minds.

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He denied there is "an evil plan on a shelf" for dealing with the Border question. He warned of the "ugly prospect" of no deal. And insisted there would be no "rabbit out of a hat".

For 45 minutes he answered questions on everything from online shopping to drivers' licences. But at the end of it all, he still couldn't answer the Border question that has dogged Brexit for the past three years.

Journalists tried again and again to elicit even the faintest idea of how Ireland will manage cross-Border trade after October 31.

And while Mr Coveney stonewalled, there was a noticeable shift in his language from the last time we sat on this cliff-edge.

Prior to the previous two Brexit deadlines, the Government insisted that the backstop was the only viable solution. They said "difficult conversations" would have to take place if a no-deal Brexit occurred.

Now Mr Coveney is admitting that those talks are under way amid concerns that Northern Ireland could become an "unguarded backdoor" to the single market.

"Make no mistake, a no-deal Brexit is an ugly prospect," the Tánaiste said, adding that it would cause "fundamental disruption to the all-island economy".

"There is no sugar coating of that message."

So does that mean there will be checks at farmyards? Will some sort of warehouse facilities need to be built to stage checks?

Will there be an online element to the paperwork? If the checks aren't at the Border, how will smugglers be stopped?

Well, it seems we'll just have to wait for the answers to those questions. When will we get them? We can't be trusted with that information either.

The reality is that Ireland is now in a negotiation with the European Commission, with which the Government is desperate to stay on good terms.

It would be a disaster if we suddenly found ourselves on the wrong side of the EU.

The Good Friday Agreement is our trump card. Both parties have the "twin objective" of ensuring the Border remains open and the single market is protected.

There are good reasons why the Government remains cautious about the Border question, but an answer at 10.55pm on Hallowe'en night won't cut it.

At one point Simon Coveney declared he is "not a gambler" - but neither is Paddy, who likes to know the story. All the scary language will be for nothing if businesses don't know what they need to fear.

Irish Independent

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