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Political leaders throw support behind Ireland in Brexit row

Inside Politics: Dutch prime minister and senior US democrat arrive in Ireland


Mark Rutte is the closest thing Dutch politics has to a Bertie Ahern figure. Doing the Hague equivalent of wearing an anorak and having a pint in Fagan’s, Rutte eschews the trappings of power, lives a modest life, cycles to work and drives a 1999 Saab.

It is in his political longevity, however, that is most reminiscent of Ahern. The 55 year old has been prime minister of the Netherlands for 12 years now and is in his fourth term. Only Angela Merkel has served longer of recent European Union leaders, although Hungary's Viktor Orbán has also been in office since 2010. The Dutch electoral get-up, by the way, is complicated – more than ours.

Rutte was one of two prominent political leaders who arrived into Dublin yesterday to throw their political heft behind Ireland in the EU's continuing wrangle with the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Here is our report on his visit.

The Dutch prime minister even threw a joke into the mix while speaking with Taoiseach Micheál Martin at a press conference in Farmleigh. He said countries shared an open approach to the world, placed trade as the cornerstone of their economies and “we both love a good laugh”.

Ahead of the EU summit of leaders next weekend, Rutte said the EU had shown “maximum flexibility” on the protocol with Britain.

Mr Rutte said he got emotional when he thought of the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

“[It is] all about preserving the Good Friday Agreement and preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland and safeguarding the integrity of the [single market],” he said.

“We are talking big stuff here. It is a big thing we are talking about. The EU has shown maximum flexibility.”

For his part, the Taoiseach said the unilateralist position being adopted by the British government towards the Northern Ireland protocol “simply does not work” and has never worked during negotiations on the Belfast Agreement.

In a criticism of the stance adopted by the UK, he said: “Simple, when people do treaties this is about behaviour, how we behave towards each other.

"When we sign agreements there is an understanding that we adhere to them. Notwithstanding that, the EU has shown good will in working with the United Kingdom in the operational performance [of the protocol] to make it as efficient and effective as possible," he said.

Elsewhere, senior Democrat in the United States Richard Neal is leading a US congressional delegation on a two-day visit to Ireland. They too met the Taoiseach yesterday and Mr Neal is addressing Seanad Éireann at 4.45pm today.

Mr Neal is chairman of the House of Representatives ways and means committee that must sign off on any trade deals between the US and the UK. He has said any trade deal that jeopardises the Belfast Agreement will be blocked.

Simon Carswell reports on his visit yesterday during which he also met Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Location, Location, Location

There is no doubt that housing is going to feature very prominently in the political timetable this week, between Cabinet decisions, new reports and an Oireachtas debate on clamping down on Airbnb providers.

Cormac McQuinn reports that Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien will seek approval at Cabinet today for a clause in new legislation that will require political parties to make an annual declaration about the properties they own.

So far, so innocuous, you might think. But it’s clear that such a law would have the biggest impact on Sinn Féin. The Irish Times reported in 2020 that it owns up to 50 properties in constituencies around Ireland. Interestingly, McQuinn reports that the proposed law will also include a ban on cryptocurrency donations.

The Cabinet is also expected to renew the law providing for the non-jury Special Criminal Court, an emergency law that has now been in situ for 50 years. Sinn Féin opposed the court for many years but dropped its outright opposition to it last year.

At midday, the Oireachtas housing committee will publish its report on urban regeneration in Ireland. Its main findings have been well-trailed – a recommendation for a vacant homes tax as well as asking the Revenue to collect taxes and levies for vacant sites and derelict sites.

Ahead of the publication, differences have emerged on the extent of vacant properties in Ireland. The figure used by the committee is 137,000 while the Government has claimed the figure is far lower.

Other Reads

Arthur Beesley reports that EirGrid has stopped talking with companies thinking of opening data centres after the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities placed curbs on access to the grid over capacity concerns.

Gerard Howlin explores how Sinn Féin would govern if elected to power in the Republic.

The French ambassador Vincent Guérend tells Conor Gallagher that Russia has no respect for Irish neutrality. He said neutrality failed to save countries such as Belgium during the first World War.

Playbook

Taoiseach Micheál Martin travels to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, today and will participate on Wednesday in a panel debate on the EU response to both Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine.

The Cabinet meets this morning.

At noon, the housing committee launches a report on urban regeneration.

Dáil

2pm: Leaders’ Questions

3.04pm: Statements on the role of journalists in conflicts across the world

6.34pm: Private Members’ Business (Sinn Féin) – Short-term Lettings Enforcement Bill 2022 (second stage). This is a Bill aimed at reversing the trend of letting vacant properties for short-term holiday lets.

8.34pm: Parliamentary Questions: Oral – Minister for Justice

10.52pm: Dáil adjourns

Seanad

12pm: Commencement matters

2.15pm: Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 – committee stage (resumed)

4.45pm: Address to Seanad Éireann by United States congressman Richard Neal, member of the US House of Representatives

6.15pm: Seanad adjourns

Committees

11am: Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action – empowering local government and local communities to climate action.

11am: Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science – roundtable discussion on the future funding of higher education (resumed) with Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education.

3pm: Select Committee on Justice – committee stage consideration of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022 with Helen McEntee, Minister for Justice.

3pm: Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage – construction costs in housing.

3pm: Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth – pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Mother and Baby Institutions Payments Scheme Bill 2022