Coveney: Government position on post-Brexit Border 'consistent'

Mr Coveney said this Monday would be a crucial point in the Brexit Border discussions

Simon Coveney said a breakthrough on the Border was needed on Monday or else European Council president Donald Tusk would not be in a position to bring a proposal to a summit of European Union leaders the following week.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Simon Coveney said a breakthrough on the Border was needed on Monday or else European Council president Donald Tusk would not be in a position to bring a proposal to a summit of European Union leaders the following week. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

The Government’s position on the Northern Ireland Border has been “consistent” during negotiations on Brexit in seeking to protect the interests of the whole island of Ireland, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney said this Monday would be a crucial point in the discussions on finding a solution as to what happens with the Border when Britain leaves the EU.

The Minister, who succeeded Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste this week, said a breakthrough on the topic was needed on Monday or else European Council president Donald Tusk would not be in a position to bring a proposal to a summit of European Union leaders the following week.

The Minister said he had previously talked about December 14th and 15th, the days of the summit, as “being the decision dates but actually Monday is.”

“The British prime minister goes to Brussels on Monday, she meets Michel Barnier and John Claude Juncker around 11am Brussels time and then she goes on to meet Donald Tusk for lunch,” he told reporters in Cork on Saturday.

“So these are important meetings for Ireland, these are important meetings in the context of Brexit, and these are very important meetings for Britain.”

Mr Tusk on Friday put his support firmly behind Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, saying if the UK’s offer on the Border “is unacceptable to Ireland it will be unacceptable to the EU”.

Phase one of the talks have focused on the bill the UK must pay to leave the EU, the rights of EU and British citizens post-Brexit, and Border issues with Ireland. Phase two will largely focus on the future trading relationship after Britain leaves the EU’s single market.

Mr Coveney said that the Government was holding on to a “consistent position” in relation to the Border. “That we want to try and protect the interests of the island of Ireland North and South.”

“We want to make sure we make sufficient progress in the context of providing reassurance to people, not only living in Border counties but people who care about relations on this island North and South and, of course, British-Irish relations,” he said.

“We want to try and give people reassurance in phase one of these negotiations that the detailed solutions will be possible in phase two.”

‘Complete solidarity’

Mr Coveney said there was “complete solidarity” coming from the very top of the European institutions for Ireland and that they were going to take the position of being “firm but fair”.

“We we want to get onto phase two but as a Minister with responsibility for this area and somebody who is working very closely with the Taoiseach on this, we cannot and will not allow this process to move on to phase two without the assurance that we have been asking for in the context of the border in particular.”

Asked how the DUP could be brought on board, the Tánaiste said its leader Arlene Foster had actually written to all heads of state in the European Union.

“If you look at her letter, we actually don’t disagree on most things,” he said. “I don’t believe the DUP want a hard Border. . . I believe that the DUP want to protect the Good Friday agreement.”

He said what he was looking for effectively was a “protection of the status quo” and this was not a means to promote other purposes around other constitutional issues on the island of Ireland.

“I have been very very clear on that and I will continue to be,” he said.