Opposition parties have demanded Enda Kenny “stand up to” Theresa May in Brexit talks after they accused him of being “very flat-footed” in his response to date.
The Government has announced an all-island civic dialogue on Brexit — a series of round table discussions with interested groups and measures in next week’s budget to Brexit-proof the economy as it ramps up preparatory work on Britain’s exit from the EU.
Mr Kenny, who met with opposition leaders last night to outline plans around Brexit, brought a memo to cabinet earlier in the day and said he would be co-chairing the civic society conference on November 2, with Minister for Foreign Affairs Charles Flanagan.
He said: “Now that we have clarity from Prime Minister May regarding the timetable, we will intensify our engagement and preparation for the negotiations.
“I will continue to engage with Northern Ireland party leaders on the range of issues involved and I welcome the commitment of the executive parties to working through the issues in the context of the North South Ministerial Council.”
Mr Kenny said the summit on November 18 would be “hugely significant”, as there would be a complete Brexit audit of North/South programmes and members would also consider how best to protect the peace process and North-South interests in Brexit talks.
High-level Government meetings will also be held with Michel Barnier, the newly appointed EU Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, who is expected to visit Dublin shortly.
However, Mr Kenny faced criticism in Dáil yesterday for not taking swift enough action on planning for Brexit, especially in relation to the border with the North.
Fianna Fáil’s Brendan Smith said all the indicators from the Conservative party now point to a hard Brexit.
“Government will immediately need to show the heads of the EU — the president of the council, the president of the commission and the other 26 heads of government — forcefully and clearly that Britain’s approach will unfortunately have a wide and negative impact on this island,” he said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary-Lou McDonald said it is clear that Ms May believes that Brexit “means a hard Brexit” and little or no concessions would be made on the border between the North and the Republic.
However, Mr Kenny refuted Ms McDonald’s accusations that he had been “flat-footed” in his response to the UK referendum result.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan called on Mr Kenny to stand up to Ms May during the Brexit process adding that “our national interest and the interests of this island as a whole are of no less importance than the UK’s”.
“Theresa May made it absolutely clear and simple in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference — it’s the UK or the highway,” said Mr Ryan said. “Her lack of recognition of the special status of Northern Ireland was a direct snub to Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan who is saying the Irish Government was looking for the North of Ireland to have special status in any negotiations.”
“We cannot allow the UK, or the EU, to dictate the outcome and results of Brexit on this island.”
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