Foreign Affairs investigates leak of sensitive Brexit documents

Coveney says culprit is from another department as Micheál Martin applies pressure

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

 

An internal investigation is under way into a “very serious breach” and leak of Department of Foreign Affairs Brexit documentation, it has emerged.

The material, leaked recently to RTÉ’s Europe Editor, included strong criticism of Britain’s performance in Brexit negotiations. The documentation included interviews with government ministers, politicians, civil servants and stakeholders across the EU and cited their views on Brexit. It also quoted a British judge who criticised the “quality of politicians in Westminster”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed in the Dáil on Wednesday that the leak had damaged UK-Irish relations.

Mr Martin asked “how can any diplomat, civil servant or politicians around the world have any confidence in the Irish Government’s capacity any more to garner such off-the -record briefings”.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the leak should not have happened. The department was investigating the breach and also reviewing the circulation of working briefing documents on a weekly basis to ensure it did not happen again.

“We have explained that very clearly to our counterparts in the British government,” the Minister said.

He indicated that the culprit was from outside his own department.

Circulated widely

The Department of Foreign Affairs received working briefings from its diplomatic missions in the EU and, as there was a lot of feedback on Brexit, the weekly document was “circulated quite widely”.

It was also released to “some other departments in order to keep people informed of the state of play as we get feedback from our various different consulates and embassies”.

The Minister said that “it should not have happened” and they were investigation how it did.

Mr Martin, a former minister for foreign affairs, said he could not remember a precedent for such a breach.

He described those briefing documents as invaluable in building up “low-grade intelligence” to understand what is going on in other capitals to inform policy.

He believed that “from the perspective of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I think it will damage UK-Ireland relations”.

No need for veto

The Fianna Fáil leader, a constituency colleague of Mr Coveney, cited the commitment in the programme for government to enhance Ireland’s relationship with the UK.

He said there could be no doubt about the damage done to Ireland’s relationship with the UK, and he called for the Dáil to be informed of the outcome of the investigation.

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he believed Ireland would not have to use a veto on the Brexit negotiations at the EU leaders’ summit in December.

“I am very confident that the European Council will operate by consensus that there will be no need to use or threaten to use a veto because we have and will continue to have the support of our European colleagues on the issue of the Border.”

Labour leader Brendan Howlin expressed concern that Ireland could lose leverage if talks proceeded to stage two without agreement on the North.

He said France and Germany had prioritised the divorce bill and citizenship rights and these were close to being agreed.

Mr Varadkar said none of the issues under discussion had reached sufficient agreement to move to the second phase of talks and he was confident EU leaders would operate by consensus.