Ireland and France’s relationship will get stronger after Brexit - Coveney

The Minister says he is in talks on how Ireland can support French initiatives in the EU

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Photograph: Paul McErlane/EPA.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Photograph: Paul McErlane/EPA.

 

Britain’s departure from the European Union has made Ireland’s relationship with France more crucial, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told a reception at the Irish Embassy in Paris on Wednesday night.

It was Mr Coveney’s first visit to an Irish Embassy abroad since his appointment to the role.

Earlier in the day, he discussed Brexit, attempts to restore the Northern Ireland executive and other issues with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“As our friends and closest neighbours see through the decision they have made to leave the European Union, much to our regret and disappointment, the relationship between Ireland and France will become even stronger and more strategic than in the past,” Mr Coveney said.

Those “who believe in an open, liberal global system based on values and human rights and the rule of law, on free trade and free movement and open borders” had been alarmed by last year’s events. But French presidential and legislative elections in May and June changed the outlook.

He said “2017, for those of us who care about the European project, has been the year of the French”.

“It has been the year when everybody was surprised by an extraordinary political movement that came from nowhere, led by an extraordinary individual who is now your president… I am already talking to the French about how Ireland can support French initiatives in the EU.”

Mr Coveney spoke of French support for Ireland during the economic crisis, and of Irish support for France in the face of terrorist attacks.

“We hope you will be there for us as we face difficult challenges in the context of Ireland’s vulnerability as Britain leaves the EU,” he told an audience of French officials, foreign diplomats and prominent members of the Irish community.

Brexit will “leave behind a very, very complex and difficult political and economic situation to manage in Ireland and on the island of Ireland,” Mr Coveney continued.

It was important that “the most successful peace process in the EU” be maintained “as a part of the island leaves the EU in a way that causes all sorts of confusion and difficulties in the context of the Good Friday Agreement.”

The reception was held to mark the departure of Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason, who will represent Ireland at the United Nations in New York.

“Many would say she is the best we have, in a context of diplomacy but also in terms of getting things done,” Mr Coveney said.

Ms Byrne-Nason “will play a key role” in Ireland’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 period. “This is a big deal for Ireland,” Mr Coveney said.

France has been “a beacon and a friend” to Ireland for centuries, Ms Byrne-Nason said. She and her family “rejoiced with (the French) in your victories and cried with you at the brutality we witnessed visited upon you.” Jihadist attacks in France claimed 239 lives since 2015.

“It was a fortunate wind that blew me here,” Ms Byrne-Nason concluded, quoting Seamus Heaney.