This article titled “Ireland on the edge of turmoil just as a steady hand is needed most” was written by Lisa O’Carroll Brexit correspondent, for The Guardian on Saturday 25th November 2017 04.02 Asia/Kolkata
The timing of Ireland’s Fianna Fáil party’s decision to pull the trigger on the coalition government couldn’t be worse in terms of the nation’s post-Brexit future – and many will agree that it shows Westminster politicians do not have the monopoly on putting personal ambitions before country.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin insists he does not want a general election and will save the government if it gets its scalp – the resignation of the taoiseach’s deputy, Frances Fitzgerald.
But in the act of torpedoing the confidence and supply agreement he had with taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s party, he has shortened the lifespan of the government and raised questions about the strength of Ireland’s position going into a critical phase of Brexit negotiations.
Ireland has just 19 days before the crunch European council meeting on 14 December to exact a solution on the Irish border, one of the key three issues to be resolved before progress can be made to the second phase of talks.
Varadkar has upped the ante on this in the past three weeks and his current standing in Brussels is solid. He wants a written commitment on the Irish border and has the EU full square behind Ireland’s position that Britain’s failure to come up with a workable solution on the Irish border could be roadblock to progress to the second phase.
His language has been confident and pugnacious and has prompted a sometimes shrill war of words with opponents in London and Belfast that shows just how destructive Brexit already is to Ireland which stands to suffer more economic damage than any other country when the UK exits the bloc.
The question now is whether Varadkar’s position is weakened by political turmoil at home.
Agreeing on Friday afternoon to crisis talks to avert an election, Martin declared on RTE that there would be no change in Brexit policy whatever happened in the next few days.
“On Brexit, I am strongly aligned with the government position,” he told RTE. Sources confirm Brexit policy has been agreed every step of the way with Fianna Fáil and they do not expect the position on Northern Ireland to change.
Whatever happens, Varadkar will continue to lead Brexit negotiations even if an election is called. It is impossible to have an election inside three weeks – beyond the date when the EU takes its decision on whether talks can move to the second phase.
Martin has indicated he is happy for Varadkar to continue in Europe even if a snap election is called, arguing on RTE radio on Friday that Angela Merkel was leading Germany’s talks even though a new Berlin government has yet to be formed.
The other question being asked in Dublin is whether a weakened taoiseach, distracted by political air traffic control at home, will have the resolve to block any decision to progress Brexit talks to the second phase and, with it, send Anglo-Irish relations spiralling.
Sources in the Irish government insist Anglo-Irish relations are good despite the fallout over Brexit, but clashes with London and with the Democratic Unionist party, which accused Dublin of blackmail earlier this week, shows how easy a reverse journey is.
Ireland has an effective veto on Brexit talks in Brussels in December as the decision to find sufficient progress, and to move to the second phase, is for the European council to take by consensus.
It has not gone unnoticed in Ireland that the country and taxpayers were shafted by Europe during the financial crash, with taxpayers left on the hook for banks’ losses.
The next fortnight will be a test for Europe to show how committed it is to the Irish question without the Varadkar megaphone in play.
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