Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted Ireland has “no hidden agenda” over Brexit and is not seeking any constitutional change when it comes to the place of the North.
His comments came after a backlash from unionists last night after Mr Coveney and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar both warned there was no alternative deal for Brexit.
Speaking at the opening of the Fine Gael conference in City West, Dublin, the Foreign Affairs Minister praised European negotiators and also sought to deny accusations about Ireland’s agenda.
The Government has “no hidden agenda”, he told delegates at the conference after a dramatic week in which the EU-UK deal, including the backstop for Ireland, was released.
Mr Coveney said Ireland had not asked for Brexit and that questions around the North only arose after Brexit.
The Government had spent two years trying to put a “sensitive agreement” in place.
Nonetheless, despite claims from Tories, Mr Coveney insisted that Ireland’s actions on Brexit were “not about seeking constitutional change” but about seeking “protection of the status quo”.
Amid applause from the Fine Gael audience, Mr Coveney praised the work of EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
“Ireland owes him a great debt of gratitude,” he said.
Mr Coveney earlier called on Sinn Féin to take their seats in Westminster and be involved in any debate on the divorce deal in the British parliament.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the conference opening, he said the debate taking place in Westminster has a direct impact on Ireland.
“I would certainly like to see Sinn Féin giving the perspective of the people that they represent in Northern Ireland in the context of the Brexit debate,” he said.
“And I would certainly like to see Sinn Féin being part of the voting on the deal that has been signed off.
However, his remarks and those of Mr Varadkar that there is only one deal sparked a backlash. Unionists slated them as “brash behaviour”.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann warned that the Government should be careful.
“Despite repeated warnings to tone down the language and act like good neighbours, the brash behaviour of the Irish Government led by Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney may yet lead to a place where none of us want to go,” said Mr Swann.
“A no-deal Brexit isn’t in anyone’s interests. But if they continue to pursue an aggressive stance in future negotiations, they will continue to raise the hackles of even the most mild-mannered of unionists across the United Kingdom.”
Election preparations, housing, and health problems and the televised leader’s speech will be among highlights of the Fine Gael Árd Fheis this weekend.
This could be Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s last chance to rally party troops if there is a general election in the new year.
Brexit and the North will dominate proceedings. There will also be a motion for a special conference to consider coalition options.
Another motion will seek a dispute resolution authority to deal with party fall-outs.