Ireland must push for Brexit deal
The visit of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to Ireland last week, and the assurances he repeated in relation to the European Union's solidarity with this country in what are difficult Brexit negotiations, while obviously welcome have added to the appearance that such events are increasingly part of a tactical interplay between the EU and UK at a time when it seems the negotiations are more likely than ever to go down to the wire next March.
This was not the first time that a leading European figure has paid a timely visit to Dublin in advance of a pivotal moment in the negotiations, as will be the EU summit this week. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, made a similar high-profile visit before last December's crucial 'backstop' negotiations, his appearance side-by-side with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, also designed to apply maximum pressure at an opportune moment on the UK.
At that time, after a particularly fraught period in the negotiations, Mr Varadkar hailed the backstop agreement as "cast iron", "rock solid" and "bullet-proof" but events since have shown it to be not quite so, certainly not as far as the UK is concerned, which subsequently described the deal as "ridiculous". So while the continued support of the EU towards Ireland is indeed welcome, an impression has been created, nonetheless, that no matter how strong and commendable the vows of solidarity are, Ireland's hand is now weaker than it was last December.
In his typically colloquial manner, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last week warned about what could happen next: "I'm not saying we can finish it all by June, but if we are to drag it out until the end, the British could come in the last few days with their €50bn cheque and say, 'We're going to do this and we're going to do that, and going to do the other'. And they'll say to the French and the Germans who are making the running on this, we've given the Irish a lot, now is the time for the Irish to move, and the pressure will come back on us." Such a possible outcome is, indeed, of concern, particularly as it is now clearer than ever that the UK is playing for time, intent to drag the negotiations out to the last moment.
As was also stated last week, the time for shaking our heads at the undoubted incompetence and incoherence of the British government is over. It is imperative now that the Government here pushes hard for agreement on the 'backstop' deal this week and not allow Ireland to be manoeuvred into a position by next March when the support and solidarity of our EU colleagues may be truly tested.
That said, Ireland must continue to show faith in the approach of Europe in these difficult negotiations, while at the same time exploring all options to minimise the damage caused with the UK's withdrawal from the EU, which one authoritative study has suggested, in a best-case scenario, will involve the permanent loss of 4.3pc of GDP to our economy.