Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced into an embarrassing climbdown on proposals for an all-island forum on the impacts of Brexit, with political leaders effectively admitting yesterday the idea was dead in the water.
The Government has also played down concerns about British chancellor George Osborne threatening to lower corporation tax, a move which could woo businesses away from Ireland.
Political leaders met at the North-South ministerial summit in Dublin, at which Britain’s decision to leave the EU was the central discussion point.
The meeting was overshadowed after it emerged unionists had not been consulted about plans mooted by the Government here for a cross-border forum to assess damages from Brexit.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said the forum had not been discussed at the meeting. Furthermore, enough mechanisms were in place between the North and South, she said.
The comments were viewed in some circles as a snub to Mr Kenny’s suggestion, which had been flagged by two junior ministers on the weekend as a body which would work on mutual issues for both jurisdictions.
Asked if the idea had now been blown out of the water, Mr Kenny said nothing had been officially proposed and therefore there had been no rejection of the idea.
“That invitation is open to everybody but obviously it couldn’t function effectively unless you have a buy-in from everybody,” he said.
An all-island “conversation” could take place about the impact of Brexit, he said, but this would require a buy-in from all sides.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said the idea would have been welcomed by businesses and groups both sides of the border.
But Mr Kenny, in a surprise statement, then also admitted Ireland had “no mandate to negotiate on behalf of the North” when it came to the next steps after the Brexit vote.
Mr Kenny went on to say the idea for the forum had occurred to him following a decision here to have a conversation about the upcoming budget.
Mr Kenny said very serious challenges lay ahead for both sides of the Irish border.
“We are heading into unknown territory,” said the Taoiseach, adding that nothing would change until David Cameron’s successor as prime minister is appointed in Britain and also when Brexit is triggered.
Ministers yesterday were also asked about a newspaper interview given by Mr Osborne in which he signalled that Britain will try and make the country a tax haven.
Mr Osborne said he would reduce the rate from 20% to below 15%. This would compete directly with Ireland’s treasured low rate of 12.5%, which has attracted major investment here.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan played down the corporation tax fears yesterday.
“Two years ago [Mr Osborne] announced the principle of bringing UK corporation tax rates down to 17% by 2020. 15% or less is not a million miles away from what was announced already,” he said.
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