If the Taoiseach is to lead successful negotiations with the UK as well as our EU partners over Brexit he will need to show greater political maturity than he exhibited during the debacle over former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.
While loyalty to one’s colleagues may be considered an
important trait of politicians, it should never be at the
expense of what is good for the country.
Fianna Fáil faced accusations of seeking political gain from Ms Fitzgerald’s dilemma but the situation was made worse by Leo Varadkar’s initial reluctance to engage with Micheál Martin and his stubborn insistence on continuing to support her when it became increasingly clear that her position was untenable.
He also failed to grasp the far-reaching consequences of what was happening or recognise that the fundamental issue was that the Government was complicit in the legal strategy to discredit Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.
Hopefully, the Government can now get on to dealing with issues such as Brexit as well as tackling the homeless crisis and reforming the dysfunctional Department of Justice.
The UK has agreed to pay the EU between €45bn to €55bn as part of the divorce deal. The offer is said to have been given a broad welcome in Brussels and is being seen as a breakthrough ahead of next month’s EU summit at which the UK is hoping to get the go-ahead to start the next phase of talks on future trade ties.
However, it would not be in Ireland’s interests for talks to begin on trade before the border issue is resolved. That means that the Taoiseach will need to gather support among other EU nations to ensure that this does not happen.
To date, the British government has produced no detailed plan on how to address the border question and there are growing tensions between Dublin and London on the issue. This is being fuelled north of the border by Arlene Foster and, more recently, by Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley, whose father founded the party.
Mr Paisley Jr told a committee at Westminster yesterday that the British government should make life hard for the
Republic over a post-Brexit fisheries deal as a response to its “disgraceful” behaviour in the current negotiations. He was referring to Ireland’s position that, in order to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland should continue to comply with European regulatory frameworks — even if the rest of the UK leaves the customs union and single market.
He appears to be on the same hymn-sheet as his party leader who has spoken about Dublin’s stance on Brexit as bringing about “self-harm to the Republic”. Such comments cannot be ignored, given the power wielded by the DUP in propping up Theresa May’s government.
The Taoiseach must remain steadfast in securing the best deal for Ireland. In doing so, he should listen to wise counsel at home, including Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly who has warned that moving to phase two of Brexit talks would allow the UK to use the border as a bargaining chip to secure a better trade deal. That must not be allowed to happen.