Ireland was front and centre at the EU summit on Brexit over the weekend, writes Juno McEnroe. Observers claim it was a political coup for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Government.
Firmly putting the Irish stamp on the guidelines to the Brexit negotiations has prioritised the country’s interests.
Declaration that the North could seamlessly rejoin the EU with reunification, and a stipulation that “flexible” solutions are needed to avoid a hard border are a welcome start to the Brexit talks.
Nonetheless, the opposition is warning that it might just be “warm words” from Brussels.
This isn’t the case. But there’s no point in popping the Champagne corks over what Fine Gael insiders are touting as the ‘Kenny text’.
Mr Kenny punched the air as he strolled out of the iconic Europa building in Brussels, after the summit working lunch. His “mojo”, as he calls it, was back.
There is no scope for complacency. Ireland will be most negatively hit by the outcome of Britain leaving the European Union, particularly if it is a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit.
Reduced fishing rights, crippling tariffs on Irish foods, border checks, and a decline in trade are just some of the threats we face.
Nonetheless, Mr Kenny emphasised the special declaration on Irish reunification.
It was an “ important milestone”, he declared, adding: “That’s a significant European statement from the European council for something that may happen some time in the future.”
However, critics say all this is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and that it was inevitable that a united Ireland would see Belfast join the bloc again.
“The Government has settled at a level that is very low,” said Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, noting that Spain had secured a veto over changes to Gibraltar, the British-owned territory on its coast.
Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly said the Kenny text was far from a diplomatic coup, adding: “We should be aiming higher.”
Indeed, negotiations between Brussels and London will begin when trade and future relations are put on the table in the months ahead.
Britain’s huge divorce bill, EU agencies, and the rights of citizens residing in the bloc, and in Britain, must be resolved first. It will be at least October before trade comes into the negotiations. British elections next month could push that into 2018.
This is when Irish negotiators will need to push for a ‘soft’ Brexit.
“The focus will now move quickly to economic and trade issues,” said Mr Kenny. “And, clearly, here there are some challenges in respect of Ireland.”
Ireland wanted “tariff-free” arrangements, no fresh borders or queues and delays, but he also admitted: “It’s too early to say what the outcome will be.”
Ireland’s Brexit battle has just begun.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved