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Laura Larkin: 'Abandoning our long-held 'silence is golden' policy is risky strategy'

 

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On ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ on BBC1, Mr Coveney outlined in notably strong tones that the Irish and EU position is not for turning. Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

On ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ on BBC1, Mr Coveney outlined in notably strong tones that the Irish and EU position is not for turning. Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

PA

On ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ on BBC1, Mr Coveney outlined in notably strong tones that the Irish and EU position is not for turning. Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

The Irish Government has abandoned its policy of keeping out of Theresa May's way by staying out of the Brexit debate in the UK. In November a directive was issued to TDs, senators, MEPs and ministers to steer clear of British media in a bid to take the heat out of the negotiations.

But now the Government has pursued a different tack - throwing caution to the wind and appearing on as much British media as is possible to squeeze in over a weekend.

It is a risky strategy - Irish intervention in UK politics has become a lightning rod for Brexiteers over the past two years.

There has also been an undercurrent of anti-Irish sentiment that has emerged amid the endless debate. One former minster famously complained to a BBC reporter that the "Irish really should know their place".

It has irked many that Ireland has so firmly stood with the EU despite its close ties with the UK on trade and other areas. It has also become a bone of contention that Ireland's demands have become Europe's red lines.

The media blitz this weekend risks galvanising that sentiment even further at a time when further compromise is needed from MPs, but it is seen in Government circles as necessary to challenge the "false narrative that we are at the beginning of something, instead of at the end of something" and to remind Britain of its obligations.

But a hardening of anti-Irish sentiment is also worrying amid stark warnings about a return of violence. The threat of violence re-emerging on this island has been the focus of much of the Brexit debate to date, with experts warning consistently that Brexit has the potential to act as a spark to reignite the troubles of the past.

In that context, the tone and the content of everything uttered by Irish ministers must be carefully weighed.

Yesterday saw both junior minister Helen McEntee and Tánaiste Simon Coveney appear on two of the UK's most high-profile current affairs shows. On 'The Andrew Marr Show' on BBC1, Mr Coveney outlined in notably strong tones that the Irish and EU position is not for turning. No deal would be ratified that did not involve a backstop, he said, adding: "It's as simple as that." What's more Ireland will "insist" on the UK keeping its word on commitments made.

The marked shift in the tone emanating from Dublin is said to stem from "frustration" with the British position.

This was why Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made dramatic claims about troops on the Border in Davos, according to his aides. He was later forced to roll back on those comments amid a backlash. The Tánaiste's message was more controlled and more explicitly pointed towards Westminster and those holding out for a change on the backstop.

The Cork TD was at pains to point out that the ongoing stalemate is not a game of chicken, but it is - and it's a matter of who will blink first.

The offensive in the British media was a bid to drive home the message that Ireland, and by default the EU, is not for blinking - but it is a precarious course to navigate.

Irish Independent