By Juno McEnroe
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that there is a real “risk” to an disorderly withdrawal of Britain from the European Union unless there is a clear solution for the island of Ireland.
Speaking at a special all-island conference in Dundalk, Louth, Mr Barnier also told ministers, opposition leaders and business figures from both north and south of the border that there should not be a hard border.
His comments come amid increased scepticism about Britain provided a comprehensive solution to the border dilemma and Brexit by June.
Mr Barnier said that negotiations were “complex”. He said that there should not be a hard border and that the EU wanted to protect the Good Friday Agreement.
There was full support for Ireland's position and concern about the possibility of a hard border, added the Brexit negotiator.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Ireland or the EU were not attempting a 'land grab', as alleged by figures in Britain.
He said that there was "unity" about making progress on the border issue before the next EU summit in June if a agreement is to be reached on a withdrawal agreement by October, as is hoped.
But asked whether there was a possibility of a chaotic Brexit, Mr Barnier admitted that there must be a clear framework for a solution for Ireland.
Until this was reached, there was a risk, a “real risk” of a disorderly Brexit the audience were told.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin told media at the conference at the Dundalk Institute of Technology that it needed to be established just how much progress needed to be made by June.
He also said his party was concerned the Irish question was being “pushed down the road” until October.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Britain of trying to use Ireland as “leverage” during the Brexit talks, a move she deemed “cynical and reprehensible”.