Gibraltar is not Ireland, says Kenny in defence of Brexit stance

Taoiseach insists British and EU assurances on Border and peace process are not ‘soft’

Taoiseach  Enda Kenny: He rejected claims by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald that the EU negotiating document dealing with the North and the peace process “is vague and conditional”.  Photograph: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: He rejected claims by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald that the EU negotiating document dealing with the North and the peace process “is vague and conditional”. Photograph: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended the Government’s approach to Brexit negotiations against sharp criticism that he had failed to get the same right of veto on Northern Ireland that Spain got on Gibraltar.

He also denied assurances to the Government on Ireland and Northern Ireland’s position were “soft”.

Mr Kenny rejected claims by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald that the EU negotiating document dealing with the North and the peace process “is vague and conditional”.

She said the Government had to act immediately to ensure the North gets special designated status within the EU.

Mr Kenny insisted, however, that the guidelines included a “very strong acknowledgement of our unique circumstances and special case, the need to protect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and our intention to maintain bilateral arrangements with the UK such as the common travel area”.

He added that Gibraltar was a different case from Ireland.

“Gibraltar joined the EU with the UK and any change in the status of Gibraltar is a matter between the UK and the kingdom of Spain.”

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That was a “clear position and different from what applies here where we have a peace process, a Border, an international legally binding agreement and where priorities outlined by the Government are contained in the EU guidelines, the British prime minister’s letter and the European parliament letter”.

Labour’s Joan Burton said her understanding was that the Taoiseach had got a lot of “soft assurances from different people and I’m sure you feel a sense of achievement” but she questioned what would happen next.

Ms Burton said the Labour Party had repeatedly asked whether there would be an all-island dimension to the negotiations because there had been slippage in tourism, agriculture and agribusiness.

Mr Kenny said British prime minister Theresa May’s letter triggering Brexit stated that the UK “does not want to do anything to harm Ireland. It is not a soft assurance.”

Ms Burton said “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

‘Categorical assurance’

Meanwhile, the British ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett assured TDs at the European Union Affairs Committee that the British government had “a great deal of focus” on the issues arising for Ireland and the North from the process of Brexit.

Mr Barnett gave TDs a “categorical assurance” that the UK is mindful of its bilateral arrangements with the Republic, mentioned the common travel area specifically.

However, Mr Barnett avoided many of the TDs questions in his responses, preferring instead to quote from the statements of Ms May when pressed for information about the British government’s intentions.

He referred to the “deep and special partnership” Whitehall hoped to maintain with the EU and said he hoped a “bold and ambitious free trade agreement” could be concluded – sentiments previously heard from Ms May on a number of occasions.

Committee members asked a variety of questions on specific matters, including the customs union, Irish people in the UK and Scottish independence. Independent senator Gerard Craughwell asked about the position of Irish people entitled to British pensions, declaring an interest as one such person himself.

The ambassador undertook to ascertain the position and reply to him in due course.

Sinn Féin’s Seán Crowe said it was “infuriating” that the British government was treating people in the North as “second class citizens”.