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Hard or soft border? Crucial Brexit talks in Dublin over next few weeks

Inside Politics: reports of disharmony in Cabinet over Shane Ross circulate around Leinster House

Good morning.

The twists and turns of Brexit continue, and there was a major one skidded in yesterday morning. At the daily press briefing in Brussels, the chief spokesman for the European Commission Margaritis Schinas answered a question about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit in Ireland. He has been asked the question in many guises, in many contexts, on many occasions. Yesterday, he chose to answer it in a different way than previously: "If you'd like ... to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it's pretty obvious -- you will have a hard border."

It's on the front pages this morning, as you'd expect. Ours is here. No, no, no insisted Simon Coveney and the Taoiseach. But because the Government is resolute that it will not plan for a hard border - or "physical infrastructure on the border" as Coveney repeatedly referred to it yesterday - it seems it will also not plan to avoid a hard border if there is a no-deal outcome. All they can say is that there will be "difficult conversations" with both the UK and the EU if that happens. Difficult is right.

Also reports here and my analysis here . In a nutshell: pre-planned or not, this is a message to the Irish Government. It feels like a significant moment in the process, too. The next few weeks will be crucial and fraught ones for the politicians and mandarins managing Brexit in Dublin.


Meanwhile in London, where the British government flounders in the face of a parliament yet to make its mind up, Mrs May hopes to apply the electric shock treatment to the corpse of her withdrawal treatment by securing concessions on the backstop. Our London editor Denis Staunton reports that the House of Commons may vote next week on an amendment calling for the Withdrawal Agreement to be ratified if the backstop is time-limited. His analysis is here.

If that happens, Mrs May will be able to go to Brussels and say: this is what I can get passed. The focus on the backstop would then become intense.

Our Brexit borderlands feature, by the way, is really worth looking at and all our Brexit coverage is available here.

Be nice to Shane week

Sad to say, but reports of an outbreak of disharmony in Cabinet were circulating around Leinster House last night. The reason this time was the Occupied Territories Bill, which proposes to ban the sale of Israeli goods produced in the occupied Palestinian territories, which reaches the floor of the Dáil today, having been passed by the Seanad before Christmas. Needless to say, the Independent Alliance is all for it; Fine Gael says it is illegal, unwise, contrary to EU law, and so on.

This latest froideur between the Independents and the Blueshirts is particularly unfortunate as the Taoiseach had earlier in the day issued a heart-warming plea to his Fine Gael colleagues to stop giving out about Shane Ross. Fiach Kelly has the story and a sharp piece analysing the relationship between the two camps.

You’d wonder what the future for all this is. Most Fine Gael ministers think Mr Ross a charlatan who has been found out in Government; he thinks they are treacherous backstabbers out to thwart his bold reforming plans. Where any of them get these strange ideas is indeed a mystery.

Best reads

Our main op-ed today contains the heretical thought that Fintan O'Toole has got it all wrong .

Miriam's on form.

The Government has announced the St Patrick's Day destinations for the troupe of wandering ministers.

The Minister for Lots of Things Including Climate Change and Broadband Richard Bruton was answering questions about the government's long awaited broadband plan yesterday - quoting Shakespeare, if you don't mind. TDs should quote Shakespeare more, really.

The inquest into the fatal fire at the Carrickmines traveller halting site recorded a verdict of misadventure yesterday.

Kitty Holland's analysis of the wider failings of traveller accommodation is here. Five children were among the 10 dead. Our series feature on the rights of children can be found here.


Busy day in the Dáil today, which has leaders’ questions at noon and that occupied territories bill in the afternoon, followed by several hours of Government business.

Busy day at the committees too where scrutiny of that rather large cost overrun at the children's hospital begins at 9am. Also Brexit, the role of the arts, the Romanian ambassador and noise levels at Dublin Airport, amid other delights. Full details on

Busy day in Davos, too, where the global elite are gathering. Needless to say, the Taoiseach and his finance minister Paschal Donohoe will be travelling. Sure it could hardly take place without them.

Today is the anniversary of the end of the battle of Rorke's Drift, during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 when a handful of British troopers, under the command of Michael Caine (remember "Zulu" anyone?) held off the hordes of angry foreigners with their superior courage, discipline and pluck. A metaphor for Brexit, if there ever was one.

It's also the anniversary of the death of Arthur Guinness, the brewer and benefactor to the people of Dublin. Although as Brendan Behan noted, the people of Dublin were pretty generous to Arthur, too. Have a jolly fruity day.