Friday 18 October 2019

Micheál Martin: 'Ireland requires solutions, not soundbites, to a no deal disaster'

Deal or no deal: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has negotiated with UK Prime Minister Theresa May but the clock is running down quickly on preparing for the nightmare of a crash-out Brexit. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Deal or no deal: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has negotiated with UK Prime Minister Theresa May but the clock is running down quickly on preparing for the nightmare of a crash-out Brexit. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Micheál Martin

ACCORDING to both British and European law a hard Brexit will happen in 54 days' time unless something is agreed and ratified before then.

The immediate economic threat of a no-deal scenario, allied to the wider and unavoidable political, social and cultural damage which comes with any Brexit, makes this a very grave moment.

Businesses and communities are telling us of a rising anxiety which is rapidly becoming a fear of what will happen at the end of next month. It is a failure of all involved that we are now at a minute to midnight with no ratified solution and mounting evidence of incomplete preparations.

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There will be more than enough time later on to review how these negotiations were handled - but for the moment the only priority has to be to deal with the crisis in hand.

Let's be very clear. Not being ready for all eventualities represents a major threat to Ireland's position - and the biggest threat to our strong national consensus on Brexit is a lack of transparency.

The chaos in London and the ignorance and prejudice which continues to drive the policy of the hardline Brexiteers cannot be allowed to distract us from taking actions which our country needs.

At EU level there is no doubt whatsoever of the continued solidarity which our partners are showing for Ireland. Ireland retains the right to decide how its concerns are addressed. Europe will not impose any solution on Ireland.

Equally, the EU has been 100pc consistent over the past two-and-a-half years about the implications of different scenarios on the operation of the Border in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

Unfortunately there is nothing like consistency or clarity from our government about what choices we face. If the deal as agreed last December is not ratified, what are the full implications for Ireland?

On something as basic as Border arrangements there have been wild swings between one minister being told to stay quiet when he said there might be extra security required to only a few days later the Taoiseach saying the Army would be deployed.

As recently as Wednesday, the Taoiseach refused to answer a direct question from me in the Dáil about what would happen on the Border on March 29 if there is no ratified deal.

He has also refused to fully explain what he said in a recent 40-minute telephone call with Angela Merkel. Her spokesperson said this week that they had explored options of what might happen - while the Taoiseach claimed to the Dáil she simply repeated past public statements. On a purely national level, it took three months of pressure from my party's spokespeople before the Government was willing to admit that there will be a significant hit on the Budget under a no-deal scenario.

Last week outline legislation for a possible no deal was finally published. However, the finished draft will not be tabled in the Oireachtas before February 22. This means the country in Europe which will be worst hit by a no-deal Brexit will be the last in Europe to have its legislation in place.

In every area, Irish businesses, universities, communities and representatives who want to be ready for all scenarios are being let down.

The consistent pattern of withholding information until the last minute or until the pressure is too strong to resist has to stop.

The onus is on London to explain how it proposes to deliver a soft Border under the "alternative arrangements" which the House of Commons voted for on Tuesday night. But the onus is on our Government to explain to the Irish people what it proposes to do in the next 55 days to address our major deficit in preparations and what the implications are of different scenarios.

While Sinn Féin and others wanted an election campaign at this time, my party took the decision in December that the Brexit threat to Ireland was too serious and too grave a threat to the country to cause a general election and the months of campaigning and formation of Government negotiations that would follow.

We've all seen the damage done to Ireland by Sinn Féin and DUP's refusal to restore the Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland. We were determined not to allow this to happen in Dublin. I don't think anyone can question the wisdom of that decision now.

Our Government has what Theresa May's lacks - the ability to act without worrying about an imminent election. It has the freedom to focus on the urgent issues at hand.

Faced with a situation of real gravity the first thing people want is openness. People need to be able to make informed decisions about actions which may need to be in place in 54 days' time. They want to see the full facts about the choices the Government is making and the seriousness of preparations.

The time for government by soundbite is long since over.

Irish Independent

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