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Ireland risks losing out on EU Covid-19 economic aid deal under revised plans

 

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Advice: Ex-minister Brendan Howlin has told the Taoiseach to base his case to the EU on the Brexit fallout. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Advice: Ex-minister Brendan Howlin has told the Taoiseach to base his case to the EU on the Brexit fallout. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Advice: Ex-minister Brendan Howlin has told the Taoiseach to base his case to the EU on the Brexit fallout. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Ireland is at risk of seriously losing out in the division of a post-coronavirus EU aid package worth €750m, the Taoiseach has been warned.

The issue is among a packed agenda for an EU leaders' summit in Brussels on Friday which will be Micheál Martin's first such meeting. Other issues down for decision are the final leg of Brexit negotiations, and a future EU seven-year €1tn budget plan, which must plug a €12bn yearly gap left by the UK's departure on December 31 next.

EU summit chairman, the former Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, this weekend framed new compromise proposals aimed at resolving a deadlock over budget plans and the coronavirus aid package. Ireland and Belgium had objected to division plans for the €750bn aid package published on May 27 last.

This suggested that Ireland's take would be as low as €3bn and Dublin has since argued that the ground rules for aid division base too much on economic conditions before the virus struck in early March. Mr Michel's revised plans now allow 30pc of aid to be assessed on economic conditions this year and in 2021.

But former public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin has warned the Taoiseach that even these changes are unlikely to deliver significantly more money to Ireland. 

Mr Howlin, who chaired a large section of the EU's last budget planning discussions under Ireland's six-month presidency in 2013, has urged the Taoiseach to base this country's case mainly on the Brexit fallout.

"No EU country, besides Ireland, will be more impacted by Brexit. Combined with the coronavirus disruption it amounts to a terrible double-blow.

"The Taoiseach has to make this case - it's the best chance," Mr Howlin told the Irish Independent.

Fine Gael MEP Máiréad McGuinness pointed out that the revised EU budget and coronavirus aid plans include a special €5bn Brexit aid package for countries most affected by the UK's departure on December 31. 

"This is an opportunity for Ireland and I believe the Taoiseach will be making the case for this at the summit," she said.

Ms McGuinness, who is the senior vice-president of the European Parliament, said the Taoiseach's first summit posed a huge challenge. 

She predicted the summit itself, with the three key issues all interconnected, will prove a very difficult meeting, pointing to complications also with former East Bloc states, Hungary and Poland, over fundamental rights.

"There may not be any agreement at all here. 

"They may have to come back again and work longer on the matter," Ms McGuinness said.

The last time the EU leaders met in Brussels, on February 21, Ireland was represented by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

Since then the leaders have had several meetings via video-conference, but Brussels diplomats say if a deal is to be done it will happen via face-to-face talks and various side meetings.

Strict precautions will be in place for the summit on Friday and Saturday.

Delegations are curtailed and, for the first time in the EU's history, media will not be allowed at the summit centre.

Irish Independent