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Dublin: 3 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Coveney says he doesn't want a quarrel with the DUP, but says the minority can't have a veto

Simon Coveney has said the UK’s Brexit proposals contain ‘significant problems’.

Simon Coveney says the customs proposals are the biggest problem in the UK's plans.
Simon Coveney says the customs proposals are the biggest problem in the UK's plans.
Image: Virginia Mayo

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said “there is scope for change” in the British government’s Brexit proposal. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme this morning, Coveney reiterated that the proposals form the basis of further discussion but not the basis for an agreement. 

Boris Johnson’s proposals plans to replace the Irish backstop, which is meant to avoid border checks, by introducing Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland custom checks.

The proposed customs arrangement is the “main problem” in the plans put forward, said Coveney. 

The UK Prime Minister has proposed the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be a customs border, but said that does not mean that customs checks and controls need to take place at, or even near, that border.

Such an arrangement has been widely dismissed by those in Northern Ireland and by some in the UK, said Coveney. He said MPs, MLAs, businesses and business groups both on the island of Ireland and the UK have said “this will not work”. 

“That’s simply not going to work,” he said.

It’s not just me saying it – everybody in Northern Ireland except for one particular party is saying that as well.

Yesterday, the DUP leader has accused the Irish Government of trying to ride roughshod over unionism, as she criticised Dublin’s rejection of the UK’s latest Brexit plan.

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster’s comments came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Coveney both voiced opposition to the proposals.

Both men expressed concern at the suggestion of letting Stormont decide whether to opt in to the proposed all-island regulatory zone post-Brexit.

Stormont voting mechanisms allow a bloc of either unionist or nationalist Assembly members to block a decision, even if the majority vote for it.

Foster said the proposals would ensure that Northern Ireland could not be “trapped at the whim of Dublin or the EU”.

“Simon Coveney’s remarks are deeply unhelpful, obstructionist and intransigent,” she said, adding:

The Irish Government’s majoritarian desire to ride roughshod over unionism was one of the reasons why the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected.

She said Coveney’s rejection of a “reasonable offer is paving the road for a no-deal exit because unionism will not allow Northern Ireland to be trapped at the whim of Dublin or the EU. We will not buy that”.

This morning, Coveney said he did not want “a quarrel” with the DUP, but said Ireland cannot back a Brexit deal which lets minority veto wishes of majority.

“We can’t have a situation where a minority of people in Northern Ireland are vetoing decisions,” he said. 

“We want to help him get a deal and work through the Michel Barnier taskforce through the negotiations to get that deal in place,” he added. 

Border security 

When asked about the Chief Constable of the PSNI Matt Baggott stating this morning that he will not staff border security, Coveney said Baggot has been “consistent” in his views on Brexit and what it means for the borde. 

He said the chief constable has concerns. “He is very worried about the prospect of border infrastructure,” said the Tánaiste. 

“I am too,” he added, stating that the gardaí shares these concerns. 

There is a “serious security risk”, said Coveney, who added: “That is not me flaring up the issue.”

For anyone to look at the border and only seeing it as “a trade facility issue misses the point here”. 

The border issue is about “identity” and “emotion”, as well as the trauma that physical infrastructure on the border caused in the past, he said. 

“That is why it is so emotive politically,” he concluded. 

With reporting by Press Association

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