Tuesday 23 July 2019

Laura Larkin: 'Creed on ropes as hard Border message sounds ominously like a rerun of bailout denials'

  

Hard Border questions: Michael Creed repeated the Government line when questioned yesterday. Picture: Damien Eagers
Hard Border questions: Michael Creed repeated the Government line when questioned yesterday. Picture: Damien Eagers
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

All we needed was to see if Michael Creed was shaking his head with fervour and it could have been 2010 when head-in-sand denials from government ministers were the order of the day.

It was the Agriculture Minister who was deployed on 'Morning Ireland' to ease anxiety over the Border question - a solid communicator with responsibility for the sector facing the worst hit from Brexit in any scenario.

But it did not go to plan - in fact it descended almost into parody as he repeatedly refused to answer questions on the Border in a no deal scenario.

The EU Commission made a deft and pointed intervention in never-ending Brexit turmoil by stating what a spokesman termed "obvious" - in the event of a no deal there will be a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

EU officials have since moved to roll back assuring Ireland that it is determined to avoid a hard border - but did not outline how this could be done.

The statement was the first time it had been laid out by the EU so starkly and as many commentators remarked Brussels is not a place flippant comments are often made. Despite attempts to clarify by the EU the genie cannot be put back in the bottle.

It is the first time since Brexit was triggered that the EU and Ireland have not been singing in unison from the same hymn sheet.

Worryingly, the Government has opted to continue reading from the same script it has so far stuck to so closely.

The famous denial of the imminent bailout by then ministers Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey sprang to mind. It came just days before the Troika arrived.

Those shaking heads have become shorthand for ill-thought out communications from government. Back then, ministers were kept in the dark about bailout negotiations, leaving them open to accusations of lying to the public.

Deliberately misleading the public or simply not knowing any different, it all amounts to one and the same to the public -information not shared.

What played out over the eight-minute interview was a familiar refrain for journalists covering Brexit, when the answer remains the same no matter the question: There will be no hard border, the deal on the table avoids one, the backstop is the insurance policy, the Government points out.

So what happens in the event of a no deal? Answer: There'll be no hard Border - the deal on the table avoids one, the backstop is the insurance policy.

That the deal cannot be the solution for the no deal scenario does not seem to deter ministers from the party line. "Many people listening this morning may think you are treating us all as if we are stupid," Audrey Carville said - something the minister immediately rejected. But it does appear the first rule on the Border in Government Buildings is that a no deal scenario is "do not talk about the Border in a no deal scenario".

There comes a point when that position becomes untenable unless one of two things are true: Either the Government has decided the sensitivities of the situation overrule the public's right to know and to interrogate their approach; or there is no concrete plan in place to avoid a hard Border in the event of a no deal other than a staunch commitment not to erect one.

It would appear it is time to update the party line to avoid adding to the public's Brexit anxiety.

Irish Independent

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