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Barnier told us what we want to hear on Brexit


EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: Reuters

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: Reuters

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: Reuters

He told us what we wanted to hear.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, wants to protect the peace process, avoid a hard Border with Northern Ireland and understands the unique circumstances of our relationship with Britain.

And his speech acknowledged what Ireland went through during the Troubles, pointing out he was a European Commissioner when the peace programme in Northern Ireland was put in place, partly thanks to the EU.

The European Commissioner said returning to the "instability of the past" would be avoided and he acknowledged that Ireland was in a "unique position" regarding the negotiations.

His address to a joint session of Dáil and Seanad showed the importance we are placing on Brexit and its centrality to the political agenda.

Mr Barnier sought to be reassuring in return, saying he wanted to aim for a deal that respects the Good Friday Agreement in "all of its dimensions".

"Ireland's interests will be the union's interest," he said. "We are united and a united Europe will be here for you."

Yet he also warned there will be consequences from the British departure and customs controls would be needed to protect the single market.

However, Mr Barnier provided little enough detail about the plan to achieve the aims in Ireland's interests.

The mood music coming from Brussels suggests there will be tough negotiations with slim chances of a Brexit deal being struck as both sides dig in ever more.

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Mr Barnier's sentiments are welcome but his soft words will be worth little if Ireland is simply a pawn on the Brexit negotiating table.

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