Ministers told to engage with Northern colleagues on Brexit

Trade implications and Border issues are main concerns

Government Ministers have been instructed to initiate "intensive engagement" with their counterparts in Northern Ireland to prepare for the negotiations on Brexit, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan has revealed.

He was responding to the announcement by British prime minister Theresa May that she intends to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which will set the Brexit process in train before the end of March.

“I welcome the clarity provided by the prime minister, although it is along the lines that we were expecting,” said Mr Flanagan.

He said Mrs May’s announcement meant the Irish and British governments could now intensify work on their own positions in advance of the negotiations.


“The Taoiseach has issued an instruction to all Government departments to prepare a Brexit impact assessment and that work is well under way,” said the Minister.

He said the work was focused on the likely impact Brexit would have on the Border and relations between the two parts of Ireland as well as on the common travel area and on trade.

“I have spoken to all my Government colleagues and asked them to get involved in intensive engagement with their counterparts in Northern Ireland.

“The Border remains a crucial issue for us and it is vital in the context of the wider negotiations between the EU and the UK that we develop a clear strategy to minimise the negative impact in both parts of the island.”

Open conversation

Mr Flanagan pointed to the Taoiseach’s determination to ensure there was a conversation involving all facets of society on both sides of the Border in devising the best approach to the issue.

He pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement provided mechanisms that could facilitate joint consideration of the challenges ahead.

At a political level the North South Ministerial Council enabled contact between the administrations North and South and there was a clause in the agreement providing for consultation with civic society bodies.

“I would urge all of the interested parties in Northern Ireland to participate in talks so that we can develop a coherent approach to the vital strategic issues that affect us all,” he said. “We are anxious to bring the concerns of all the people on the island of Ireland to the negotiating table.”

He said he had spoken to British foreign secretary Boris Johnson in Jerusalem last Friday and had earlier talks with the Brexit minister David Davies. He had emphasised to both of them the damage that would be done by the reintroduction of a hard border between the two parts of Ireland.


The Minister said the Government was also preparing to deal with a range of other areas. Another meeting of the Export Trade Council would take place next week to plan for the impact of Brexit.

The council, chaired by Mr Flanagan, brings together the heads of six Government departments, five State agencies and 10 representatives of private sector exporters.

It is working on how Ireland can diversify its trade links with other parts of the world following the departure of the UK from the EU.

“This meeting will focus on the Asia-Pacific region and the work that has been taking on a cross-sectoral strategy to develop our trade with that part of the world,” he said.

“Michael Creed (Minister for Agriculture) has just come back from China and Andrew Doyle (Junior Minister for Food) from Korea, so we are working hard on that.”

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times