Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael Ministers claimed Fianna Fáil cannot be trusted to manage the next phase of the Brexit process as they launched the party's general election campaign in Co Monaghan.
Fine Gael sought to highlight its record on Brexit and repeated Mr Varadkar’s position that the departure of the UK from the EU later this month is only “half time”, with negotiations on Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU yet to take place.
Mr Varadkar said he, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee were better equipped to represent Ireland than Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, its foreign affairs spokesman Seán Haughey and Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers.
The launch took place at forklift manufacturer Combilift's global headquarters in Annahagh and local Fine Gael TD and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said "this is not the time for the Fianna Fáil Junior B team".
In attacking Fianna Fáil, Mr Varadkar referenced recent comments by the party's MEP for Ireland South Billy Kellleher, who said he could not vote for the Brexit withdrawal agreement in the European Parliament later this month over fears it could erode the rights of Irish and EU citizens in Northern Ireland.
"I was really concerned to learn yesterday that Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fáil's only member MEP in the European Parliament has indicated he is going to vote against the withdrawal agreement," Mr Varadkar said. "It demonstrates to me that Fianna Fáil can't be trusted on the big issue of Brexit.
"Brexit is not done yet, it is only half time and we are asking people to stick with the winning team because the first job the new government is going to have to do is negotiate a new trade deal with the United Kingdom: our jobs, our economy and the health of our public finances are totally dependent on it."
‘The right team’
He said Fine Gael had struck a Brexit deal “because we had the right team, because we built up the right relationships, because we had the right negotiating strategy”.
“We secured a withdrawal agreement that protects the interests of everyone on the island of Ireland, North and South.”
Ahead of his meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission president, Mr Varadkar said he would speak to her about a potential €1 billion "peace plus programme".
He said it would provide €1 billion over seven years to Northern Ireland and the Border counties and is "in line" with the new deal struck to restore the Stormont Institutions. He suggested it could be used to fund projects such as the A5 motorway to Derry.
Mr Coveney said Mr Varadkar and UK prime minister Boris Johnson had built a good relationship in a short period of time.
He said British-Irish relations have been important to the UK and Ireland throughout the tense Brexit process, adding: “Throughout Brexit, even in the darkest days, there has never been a moment in which I was not certain that the peace between the UK and Ireland was as important to the British side.”
Ms McEntee said “the next number of months will essentially determine our relationship with the UK, not just for the next few years but potentially the next few decades and beyond”.