Irish government not portraying draft Brexit deal as victory – Coveney

By David Young, Press Association

Ireland’s deputy premier has rejected claims the Irish government is portraying the draft Brexit deal as a victory.

Simon Coveney denied ministers had indulged in triumphalism in the wake of the agreement between the UK and EU negotiators.

Mr Coveney was challenged in the Dail by main opposition party Fianna Fail on the language his administration has been using to describe the latest Brexit developments.

Fianna Fail’s Darragh O’Brien suggested it would be better if ministers remained silent amid the turbulence in Westminster, suggesting comments made in Dublin could be counterproductive in London.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney, left, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a press conference on the draft Brexit deal in Dublin on Wednesday night (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr O’Brien’s comments came after a number of national newspapers in Ireland proclaimed the draft deal a victory or win, as they referenced upbeat quotes from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s late-night press conference in Dublin on Wednesday.

Mr Coveney insisted he and Mr Varadkar had not characterised the deal as a victory.

“That has not been happening,” he said.

“Yesterday we were very careful not to comment when it wasn’t helpful to do so. But we do have an obligation to explain to the Irish people what has been agreed.”

He said ministers could not remain silent.

“Because there are many people out there who are very sceptical that it was possible to get this deal done and it is the role of government to explain to people in appropriate language why this deal is no threat to nationalism or unionism in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Why it is no threat to the sovereign integrity of the United Kingdom but instead this is a practical compromise on all sides to allow for a managed, sensible Brexit to move forward in a way that protects core Irish interests and ensure we are not collateral damage from an unmanaged Brexit deal that doesn’t take into account the interests of Britain’s neighbours, as well as Britain itself.”

The Tanaiste added: “The Irish government needs to be careful not to be pretending that we can influence British politics and not to try to do so publicly either, because we might well find that it would have the opposite effect.

“There is a British political system that needs to tease through the detail of this text, that will happen in the coming days and weeks and there’ll be a vote at the end of that.”

Mr O’Brien said it was not the time for triumphant language when there was a “sensitive and volatile” situation in the UK.

“That’s irresponsible and I think you should desist from doing that,” he said.

He added: “There’s no triumph in negotiating something that can’t be delivered, so we all need to be mature about this and I would say further that the time for victory and celebration is when this draft agreement is accepted and ratified by all.

“Every statement being made in Ireland is being scrutinised and we should be aware of that.”

During Dail questions, Mr Coveney was asked whether the deal was already doomed, given the developments in London.

The Tanaiste said he had faith that Prime Minister Theresa May could navigate the “difficult days” ahead.

“Of course there are challenges to selling any package in the United Kingdom and Westminster,” he said.

“Many people would say there isn’t a majority for any way forward in the House of Commons and so the British Prime Minister said last night that she faces difficult days ahead, and I’m sure she does, but she’s resilient and she’s shown a remarkable capacity to get things done in difficult circumstances.”

Mr Coveney, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs, said the deal involved “compromise and flexibility on both sides”.

“What we have is a deal and text that follows through on the commitments that have been made and does so in a way that protects Ireland’s core interests now and into the future in a way we can all stand over, I hope,” he said.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty accused the DUP of ‘incendiary, rash and ostentatious rhetoric’ on the draft deal (Niall Carson/PA)

During the exchanges in Leinster House in Dublin, Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty criticised the DUP for using “incendiary, rash and ostentatious rhetoric” in regard to the draft deal and claimed the unionist party represented a minority “narrow” view in Northern Ireland, where 56% of people voted Remain.

Mr Coveney said he did not want the debate north of the border to break down to majorities versus minorities.

“I hope it’s not going to be about a majority versus a minority in Northern Ireland trying to win the argument against each other in the weeks ahead,” he said.

“We need to ensure that majorities as well as minorities in Northern Ireland are reassured that any wording of a legal treaty relating to Brexit is not a threat to them and we can try to protect, where possible, the status quo on this island, where neighbours and people with very different backgrounds and very different ideas and dreams for the future of their country can actually live together, understanding that we are protecting the core interests of everybody, which is what we are trying to do here.

“So for anyone to take absolutist positions has been and continues to be unhelpful in terms of trying to find a way forward.”

Mr Doherty had also called on Mr Coveney to publish the Irish government’s legal advice on the “permanence and certainty” of the border “backstop” position outlined in the draft text.

The Tanaiste pointed out the advice was EU advice, not the government’s.