Enda Kenny’s negotiating position in the Brexit talks has been strengthened after French president François Hollande said Ireland was in a “special situation” following Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
Mr Hollande also stressed France understood the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, a point which is likely to favour Ireland when Brexit talks begin.
But the French president also pushed for Britain to strike a deal “sooner rather than later” to leave the EU, a position contrary to Ireland’s hopes of a drawn-out process.
The president of the Republic met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday as part of a visit that was curtailed in the wake of the Bastille Day massacre last week.
It was the first bilateral visit by a French head of state here in almost three decades.
Both leaders discussed ties between the two countries, trade, security following the Nice atrocity as well as the next steps after the Brexit vote.
The French president, ahead of an EU summit in September, wants stronger defence and security co-operation.
Mr Hollande described how Ireland had stood by France when Paris came under terrorist attack last November, support which he would never forget.
He thanked Ireland for its solidarity after the killing of 84 people in Nice, adding: “Terrorists wanted to attack France because it is a country of freedom but it struck the world because terrorism makes no distinction between confessions, convictions and nationalities. And that’s why we should all be united against terrorism.”
But a key part of yesterday’s meeting focussed on Brexit and, in particular, Ireland’s position relating to the North and trade with Britain.
The Taoiseach wants EU leaders to understand Ireland’s “unique position”, being the only country with a border to Britain and within the context of the peace process.
Mr Kenny mentioned “specific concerns” the two leaders discussed, which include a desire to keep the common travel area between Ireland and Britain.
He added: “We do not favour a hard border. We do not want to see a European border from Dundalk to Derry, that would not be acceptable.”
He reiterated that the common travel area between Ireland and Britain existed long before the two countries joined the EU.
Mr Hollande responded, saying he wanted Brexit negotiations to begin “sooner rather than later”. He said he would tell this to British prime minister Theresa May at a meeting in Paris last night.
However, the French president backed Mr Kenny’s push for Ireland to be considered a unique case when Brexit talks begin.
He said, due to the border, Ireland was “very attached” to the Good Friday Agreement.
“France understands this position, because it is very important for peace.” said Mr Hollande.
Nonetheless, access to the free market for Britain could not be guaranteed, he said, unless they have free movement of workers.
“The sooner those [Brexit] negotiations start, the better, the clearer it will be. I do recognise there is a special situation for Ireland. A special situation has to find a place in the negotiations.”
His comments were viewed in government circles as supporting Ireland’s position when Brexit talks begin.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved