Fine Gael leadership talk is ‘disruptive’, Minister says

Charlie Flanagan says the speculation is undermining Brexit preparations

Charlie Flanagan has backed the Taoiseach’s view on the need for experience in Brexit talks. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Charlie Flanagan has backed the Taoiseach’s view on the need for experience in Brexit talks. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

The constant focus on the Fine Gael leadership is “disruptive” of efforts to prepare for the consequences of Brexit, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said.

Endorsing the view of the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, that the challenges of Brexit have implications for the leadership of Fine Gael, Mr Flanagan told The Irish Times that the Taoiseach’s experience on the European stage was especially important at present.

“I regard any speculative talk about the Fine Gael leadership at present as a distraction and as disruptive in the context of Brexit,” Mr Flanagan said.

Mr Kenny is now one of the longest-serving European leaders.

While many Fine Gael Ministers and TDs believed in the wake of the general election last year that Mr Kenny would make known his intentions to resign as party leader within a few months, the British vote to leave the EU, as well as the unsettled international environment after the election of Donald Trump in the United States, are said to have convinced him not to step down in the immediate future.

“As I look around the European table, not only is the Taoiseach a skilled negotiator with lots of experience, he’s also well liked and well respected,” Mr Flanagan said in an interview before Christmas.

“I just believe that it’s really important in the context of Brexit that we have our strongest team at the negotiating table, and I have no doubt that our strongest team would be led by Enda Kenny.

“I see first-hand the importance of Ireland having its strongest team. I know from talking to my European colleagues the esteem and respect in which he is held in terms of Europe, and in that regard I feel he has a very important role to play.”

Terrorist attacks

Mr Flanagan also warned that Ireland could face terrorist attacks such as those seen in Berlin and, more recently, in Turkey.

“Ireland is not immune. Dublin city is by no means immune,” he said. “We don’t have any direct evidence, but we keep in very close contact with our colleagues throughout Europe and beyond.

“Anyone who believes that in the longer term Ireland has an exemption or an immunity [from Islamist terrorism] is naive. We need to be vigilant. But I’ve every confidence in our police force and their intelligence and their relationship with other EU resources.

“We have had evidence of a small number of foreign fighters originating in Dublin. I think it’s important that we keep a very close eye on those who may have returned.”

Mr Flanagan declined to be drawn on any concerns that Russia had interfered in the American presidential election, as alleged by US intelligence agencies.

“I have no evidence of any chicanery in the US election,” he said. “The result has been announced and I accept the result.”

Asked if there were concerns about Russian interference in crucial elections in France and Germany later this year, Mr Flanagan said he did “not intend to comment on ifs and buts”.

However, he stressed that he had been critical of Russia for its role in Syria and said there was a need to collect evidence on “war crimes” in Aleppo.