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'Tit-for-tat has never solved anything': Coveney responds to DUP MP calling him a 'Brit basher'

The Tánaiste told the BBC that Ireland wants to see the British government following through on its promises.

Simon Coveney said today that Ireland had been flexible in its approach to Brexit talks.
Simon Coveney said today that Ireland had been flexible in its approach to Brexit talks.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Images

Updated 3.20pm

TÁNAISTE AND MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that nothing he suggested in a BBC interview today is a “threat to unionism”, after his comments were met with an irate response from the DUP.

Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today, Coveney rejected any proposals of technology being used at the border with Northern Ireland and said that a “political solution” should be found on the issue.

He also said that the Irish government had proven its own flexibility in Brexit negotiations, and expected Theresa May’s government to stick to what has been agreed to so far.

His comments were met with an angry response by the DUP, with East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson calling Coveney “belligerent, interfering and a Brit basher”, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

The Irish government has repeatedly taken the stance of – if the UK wants to sever trade ties with the EU by leaving the single market and customs’ union – the onus is on the British to find a solution for the border.

There are three ways this could happen: either the UK actually retains membership of the single market and customs union (which May has always ruled out), some kind of technological solutions are found to address the specific problems in Ireland, or that Northern Ireland remains part of the single market while the rest of the UK leaves.

The last choice is unpalatable to many UK politicians, particularly the DUP whose support is keeping May’s Conservatives in government. Last month, the EU roundly rejected the technological solutions put forward by the UK.

Speaking today, Minister Coveney said it would be “helpful” if the British government had some consensus around the concept of the border problem.

“Let’s not forget what’s been agreed in these negotiations to date,” he said. “Last December, there was a clear agreement that the British Prime Minister signed up to that there would be no border infrastructure of any kind on the island of Ireland and no related checks or controls.

That means we’re not talking about cameras and scanning systems and drones here. It means we’re talking about a political solution that allows for regulatory alignment in a way that prevents a need for border infrastructure.

Coveney said that the British government had made a clear commitment and that the Irish government now expected that promise to be kept.

The Tánaiste also said that, up to now, Ireland has been flexible and allowed wider negotiations between the UK and EU to move forward despite the lack of solutions agreed upon regarding the Irish border.

“Again in March, when the negotiations were stuck and needed to move forward, but were stuck again on an Irish border issue when a solution wasn’t taking shape we again showed flexibility and allowed the process to move on,” he said.

In response this afternoon, Wilson accused Coveney of using Brexit as an “excuse to break up the UK”.

Sammy Wilson breastfeeding comments Sammy Wilson had an angry response for the Tánaiste Source: Liam McBurney/PA Images

“The fact is that the border issues can all be dealt with by technology but Coveney and co have stuck their heads in the sand refusing to even consider this solution because it doesn’t suit his aggressive republican agenda,” he said.

“Instead he tried to flog his pig in a poke solution to the EU negotiators and force it down the throat of the UK government.”

In a statement this afternoon, a spokesperson for the Tánaiste said: “Nothing the Tánaiste suggested to the BBC is a threat to unionism, quite the opposite in fact.

Many unionist communities and politicians are in ongoing contact with the government and they too want the closest possible relationship and ongoing prosperity on the island of Ireland after Brexit. Tit-for-tat and hyperbole has never solved anything in Ireland.

He said that the Irish government, the EU and the UK had recognised the importance of the negotiations in protecting the peace process in the North, and that efforts were being made towards that goal.

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Sean Murray

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