Ireland will not be ignored, says Coveney
Minister tells Fine Gael conference more credibility needed from UK to ensure no hard Border
Simon Coveney on stage during the Fine Gael national party conference in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, on Friday. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Ireland will not be ignored in the Brexit negotiations, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
Speaking before he addressed 1,500 Fine Gael members gathered in Co Cavan for the party’s biannual national conference, Mr Coveney said more credibility in Brexit negotiations was required if aspirations for a barrier-free Border were to be fulfilled.
He said it was a good thing the Brexit talks had come to a head in Brussels on Friday afternoon.
In the negotiations the EU has said Britain may have to accept that Northern Ireland will have to remain in the customs union and single market if a hard Border is to be avoided.
The Minister said Britain would have to show more credibility to honour those aspirations not to have a hard Border. “Ireland will not be ignored,” Mr Coveney stressed.
He said “we will never sell out” on the commitment to prevent the re-emergence of a hard Border that they had worked for decades to remove.
Protecting Irish people North and South, preventing a hard Border, protecting the peace process and reaffirming Ireland’s future as positive members of the EU were his priorities, he said.
Mr Coveney also paid tribute to former taoiseach Enda Kenny and former minister for finance Michael Noonan, who were unable to attend the meeting.
Earlier there was a standing ovation for late taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and a sustained ovation for Mr Kenny.
In his speech Mr Coveney criticised Fianna Fáil and said Fine Gael would never allow itself to “get sloppy” or allow hard-won gains be lost through “corrupt policies”.
Mr Coveney got loud cheers and sustained applause when he said Mr Kenny had made history by securing a second term in office in a row, a first for the party and that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would make history with a third term in a row for Fine Gael.
Senator Joe O’Reilly, who hopes to regain his Cavan-Monaghan Dáil seat, said “one of the compelling reasons for holding the conference in Cavan was because of the reality of Brexit”. He warned that the area was still “at risk of Armageddon” if Brexit was not handled correctly.
The Taoiseach will host a 30-minute question and answer session for Fine Gael members on Saturday evening before the conference breaks ahead of Ireland’s World Cup qualifying match against Denmark.
Spontaneity may be an issue as members have been asked to submit their questions in advance, giving their mobile number and party branch details.
One delegate, Lucy McCormack from Tipperary, was looking forward to the Q&A session to see how Mr Varadkar would perform compared to the previous taoiseach. “I know he’ll be great because he’s a good performer before the camera,” she said.
Her sister, Mary Eakins, believed the Taoiseach was doing “really, really well. He’s excellent. I know we had another candidate but he’s doing really well so far.”
She would have preferred the party not having an arrangement with Fianna Fáil “but it’s working better than I thought it would”.
Asked when she thought the Taoiseach should call an election she said: “If it’s working, don’t break it.”