Enda Kenny warns EPP of Brexit threat to NI peace process

‘We cannot have a border like before,’ Taoiseach tells European colleagues in Wicklow

Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressing the EPP Group conference at Druid’s Glen. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressing the EPP Group conference at Druid’s Glen. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

 

“We cannot have a border like we had before,” Taoiseach Enda Kenny has warned delegates at the meeting of the European People’s Party in Druid’s Glen.

At the meeting in Co Wicklow, Mr Kenny reminded the attendees that with the Irish Border came “sectarianism” and “30 years of violence”.

This, he said, “was the one point you should understand here”.

He praised the EPP delegation for visiting the Border area on Wednesday, and repeatedly assured them that Ireland remained “at the heart of Europe”.

The EPP, of which Fine Gael is a member, is the largest group in the European Parliament and is holding its Bureau meeting in the Co Wicklow hotel. Mr Kenny reminded delegates that the EPP holds the presidencies of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament and said that “whether you like it or whether you don’t” the EPP would be central to managing the Brexit process.

He warned the meeting that while Ireland has diversified its trade since it joined the EU, “we are still heavily dependent on the UK as a trading partner” and he said that several industries, including agrifoods, transport and tourism would be impacted heavily by Brexit.

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The economic impact on Ireland, he said, “will have to be addressed in the EU-UK relationship negotiations”.

Prolonged applause

This stage of the Brexit negotiations will follow the first phase of the talks, which deals with the “divorce settlement” and will centre on the Border, the status of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in Europe, and the settlement of outstanding UK liabilities to the EU.

Mr Kenny also said that he hoped that a government could be formed in Northern Ireland after the British election, before the end of June.

Mr Kenny received prolonged applause from delegates after his speech.

Earlier, he was introduced in glowing terms by EPP head Manfred Weber, who described the Taoiseach as “the father of the success story of Ireland in recent years”.

Hailing Ireland’s growth rate and sharply reduced unemployment figures, Mr Weber also praised Mr Kenny because, he said, he “spoke plainly and defended European values to Donald Trump”.

Mr Weber said that “Theresa May says she wants a soft border – I don’t know what a soft border is. Border is border.”

“We want to have no border in this area because that is too big a risk to the peace process,” he said.

Sean Kelly, the leader of the Fine Gael MEPs said that Mr Kenny was “a hero of the EPP”.

He said Mr Kenny had promised him that he would not step down until after the EPP meeting in Wicklow, and “he was as good as his word”.