Opinion Editorial

Monday 21 October 2019

Editorial: 'Beef, broadband and Brexit add up to one big headache'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images
Editorial

Editorial

There is no doubt the three Bs - beef, broadband and Brexit - are causing sleepless nights for ministers and creating opportunities for the possible government-in-waiting led by Fianna Fáil.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must rue the day he was forced, mainly by the Opposition, to disband the Government's strategic communications unit.

He could certainly use some of its expertise in trying to square the contradictory PR messages about the Mercosur deal between the EU and four South American countries.

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And he could do with some help to get off the back foot trying to explain why his Government is sticking to the preferred bidder for the broadband roll-out. He also needs to continue to sound the right notes as the deadline for the UK leaving the EU looms nearer.

There are clear divisions in Fine Gael over the Mercosur trade deal. Agriculture Minister Michael Creed sees it as his responsibility "to ensure that everything is done to frustrate, mitigate, to dismantle, the ambition [of Mercosur] and to protect the interests" of the Irish beef sector. Party colleague Mairead McGuinness MEP has described it as "dangerous" for the sector.

But it also has significant benefits in terms of exports. As Phil Hogan, the EU commissioner, wrote in this newspaper on Tuesday, it creates opportunities for Irish chemical and pharmaceutical exports, which were worth €314m last year.

Similar possibilities now exist for the medical devices and the machinery and electrical equipment sectors, which support more than 37,000 jobs in Ireland.

The Government will try to buy some time and, it hopes, a cooling of heads by undertaking a detailed economic analysis of the full agreement before it delivers its verdict.

It can't do the same with the broadband issue.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has suggested that he personally wouldn't sign the deal with the preferred bidder. Party spokesperson Timmy Dooley claimed that Fine Gael was "aggressively dismissing" the alternative Eir proposal to roll out broadband for €1bn.

Whatever it thinks about the technical shortcomings of the late and surprising Eir intervention, it will be an uphill battle for the Government to convince the voting public in rural Ireland that the €3bn plan is better.

Pressing as these issues are, the biggest challenge facing the Government is still Brexit, the outcome of which will determine the futures of everybody on this island, as well as those on the neighbouring island.

Former British prime minister Harold Macmillan was once apparently asked what the most difficult thing about his job was. "Events, dear boy, events" was his now-famous reply.

We can only wait with trepidation for what events will be unleashed when Boris Johnson takes over at 10 Downing Street. Every day, he lengthens his list of ideas for a spending spree and his latest wheeze is to turn Belfast into a Singapore-style tax-free zone.

Irish Independent

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