This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
Dublin: 4 °C Monday 24 February, 2020


14,505 Views 58 Comments

Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator for the European Commission, Michel Barnier, is in town to address a joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad. 

He addressed the Dáil earlier about the border, our relationship with the UK, the Good Friday Agreement, and the Common Travel Area. 

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is up for Leaders’s Questions and is getting grilled about the Garda Commissioner and Templemore Garda College.

Stay with us as we take you through the day…

The chamber is full of guests, diplomats and foreign media from Europe. It’s beginning to fill up now – Barnier is due to give his speech around now.

dail 44

The Ceann Comhairle welcomes Barnier to the joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad.

barnier 2

He says Britain’s decision to leave the EU will have a huge impact on Ireland.

He wishes his task force well and hopes he can protect the interest of the EU states while keeping a close relationship with the EU.

Barnier says one of his first votes was for Europe in the 1970s – adding that it wasn’t easy to campaign for the union as a French man back then. However, he said he voted with his heart and never regretted it.

He says Ireland is better in Europe and Europe is better with Ireland in it.

Barnier says he is disappointed that Britain has decided to leave the EU.

“But we are where we are.”

barneir 4

He says smaller countries are often more aware of the benefits of being part of a the union.

He points out the benefits – that European’s can study, live, and access services and be treated just like they are part of the country they happen to be in.

Barneir mentions other aspects like the incoming roaming charges restrictions that will kick in in the next month, as well as airline travel – which he says Ireland were first to take advantage of.

He says he flew to Ireland last night “on a well-known low cost carrier. Still no coffee, but a little bit more leg space than before”

He makes a little joke – they have “a little more seat space” now, “a little”, he smiles.

One of these men on either side of Agriculture Minister Michael Creed will have to deal with Brexit.

barneir 4

Barnier says Ireland is in a unique position.

With Sterling, he says Brexit is already having an impact on the agri-food sector.

I want to reassure the Irish people in these negotiations the Irish interests will be the union’s interest.

Barnier says Brexit will have consequences.

We have a duty to speak the truth… UK’s departure from the EU will have consequences. Customs controls are part of EU border management

However he adds “nothing in the negotiations should put peace at risk, nothing”.

Barnier says the EU is not perfect -”we know that”.

There are lessons to learn from both the crisis and Brexit, he adds.

He says he wants to listen to the Irish people.

I want to pass on a message of hope and determination.

Barnier now reflects on when Nelson Mandela addressed the Dáil chamber and urged them to stand up to apartheid.

He says we need the same fight now.

barnier 5

“If we put things in the right order… there is no reason why our strong Europe cannot maintain a strong relationship with the UK.”

That concludes his speech.

“Merci” says the Ceann Comhairle.

Next up, Enda Kenny.

Kenny says events have moved on quickly since Theresa May indicated Britain’s intention to leave.

“We know just how serious the issues are” says the Taoiseach.

He says we need to avoid a hard border and minimise the impact on the economy.

We have over 400 engagements with our EU partners on Brexit, says Kenny.

We will have to be flexible and imaginable to get through it, says Kenny.

We are please with the tone of the guidelines, he adds.

He says they highlight the important of getting clarity on EU citizen’s rights.

The unique circumstances of Ireland are fully acknowledged in these guidelines, says the Taoiseach.

Kenny is now speaking about why Brexit should not undermine in anyway the Good Friday Agreement.

Now is not the time to have such a referendum on Irish unity.

He says the circumstances for a border poll do not currently exist, but says he wanted to assure that the constitutional aspect which allows for one, one day, should not be effected.

Brexit is a British policy, it is not an Irish policy, it is not an EU policy.

He says Ireland remains committed to Europe and cites a poll published this week, which he says finds that 88% of Irish people agree that Ireland should remain a part of the EU.

Next up, Micheál Martin for Fianna Fáil.

micheal m

Martin says last year’s Brexit referendum was ugly, full of bluster and aggression.

It was a culmination of 30 years of scapegoating of Europe and immigrants, he says.

“It asserted a narrow vision of sovereignty which developed in the 19th Century and directly led to the two bloodiest wars in history.”

He says long-term damage for those living in the UK is becoming ever the more certain.

We have never sought to stand apart from the world, jealously guarding the right to say no to everything.

We have no nostalgia for a lost empire and no wish to assert superiority over others.

Let there be no doubt about where Ireland stands. We want nothing to do with a backward-looking idea of sovereignty.

We fully understand that only when states work together can they achieve progress and peace for their members we have no nostalgia for a lost empire.

gerry 555

Gerry Adams is on his feet now and says he want so tell Barnier a little bit about Sinn Féin, pointing out that they have the largest number of MEPs in Europe.

He says SF is opposed to the partition and wants an end to the British government in Irish affairs.

“It is clearly not in interests of the people of this island to have one part of the island outside of the EU and the other part inside,” says Adams.

He says any restriction of movement of people would be unacceptable to people across the border and the island of Ireland as a whole.

He calls for a special status for Northern Ireland. The Tory government should not be allowed to ignore the North’s vote, he says.

Sinn Féin, unlike the Taoiseach, would like to see a referendum on Irish unity in the next five years, says Adams.

There is a bit of laughter in the chamber as Brendan Howlin notes that he is rather close to Barnier.

He’s practically on his lap, which is a bit awkward.


Not phased, he says he is going to use his proximity to the chief negotiator to get his points across.

Howlin says he first met Barnier when they were both Environment ministers. He welcomes his presence here.

Because Brexit means that, for us, the idea of achieving the European single market has been set back a generation or more.

Bluntly, once the UK leaves, it will no longer make any real, practical, day-to-day sense to talk about our membership of a single market in relation to the goods and services that we import and export.

Talk of the single market will, from our perspective, revert from being something approaching reality, towards something more closely resembling a pious aspiration.

The basic reason, as I said earlier, is geography.

There will in future be a large chunk of ‘non-Europe’ between us and the rest of the Union.

Richard Boyd Barrett says: ‘I don’t trust the European Union, Mr Barnier.’

He says we were threatened that a “bomb would go off in Dublin” if Ireland didn’t sign up to not burning the bond holders. He says Barnier was involved in drawing up the fiscal rules.

He wants to ask Barnier a few questions.

Will you guarantee not to try to break up the freedom of movement of people and will you not impose a hard border and if you believe in democracy will you give us a vote on the final deal, he asks.

Boyd Barrett says the EU has inflicted cruel and absolutely vicious austerity on hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens.

There is some confusion now about speaking time.

Solidarity-PBP had three assigned minutes, but it appears Boyd Barrett used them all up.

Ruth Coppinger wants to speak.

“Let’s not have a scene,” says the Ceann Comhairle and allows her to say her piece.

She criticises some European agendas, and mentions the EU’s policy on immigration and the thousands of people travelling across the Mediterranean.

Thomas Pringle says his constituency of Donegal faces real consequences from Brexit.

‘Bonjour’ says Dr Michael Harty on behalf of the Rural Independent group.

He is speaking about the concerns from farmers. He says it is the most serious economic threat to the agriculture sector.

Social Democrat’s Roisin Shortall says as a small country, we are concerned that our voices won’t be heard in the negotiations. She says unrestricted movement of people must remain.

Next up the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan – who tries his hand at a bit of French.

Now the members of Seanad Eireann get to have their say.

First up is the former justice minister and now independent TD who is back in the Dáil today for the day that’s in it.

michael mc

He says the Seanad are exploring the issues around the Brexit in their special committee and says he agrees now is not a time for a border poll.

Senator Alice Mary Higgins says she wants assurances that there will be no militarisation of a European army as she says it will impact on Ireland’s neutrality.

That’s it, they all got to say their piece. There will be a press conference in little over an hour with Barnier and the Taoiseach, so stay with us and we’ll bring you the latest.

Leaders’ Questions is kicking off at 2pm – so join us then.

We’re back and it’s time for Leaders’ Questions.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is up and she is sure to be grilled about the Garda Commissioner.

Jim O’Callaghan says it won’t come as a surprise that he wants to talk about the Garda Commissioner.

He says scandal after scandal about Gardai and it’s destroying morale.

He asks why the Commissioner didn’t inform the Minister for 14 months.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald says she doesn’t want to underestimate what information has come out of the PAC meetings.

She said she can’t interfere with the proceedings of the committee – but said she will be watching it “very carefully”.

She said she will not hesitate in taking action if she must intervene.

Fitzgerald says she can’t have a running commentary on the issues.

O’Callaghan said government are letting it drift from one scandal to another. He wants to know if she is satisfied she was notified in time – or do you think it was delayed?

Fitzgerald says most contact between here and the gardaí do not require Section 41 in most cases and says it is rarely used.

You are happy to be left in “blissful ignorance” says Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald.

She said it is quite unbelievable and says it is disgraceful that the justice minister refuses to hold the Garda Commissioner to account.

When will you stop bluffing and remove the Garda Commissioner, asks McDonald.

Fitzgerald says she thinks the public will find extraordinary is that McDonald – a member of the PAC – has given her opinion here without the investigation coming to an end.

“That is what they will find extraordinary,” she says.

“So don’t talk to me about Garda reform,” said Fitzgerlad, who said garda reform is happening.

“We set up the Policing Authority… to ensure the garda would be publicly accountable,” says Fitzgerald.

All your hot air amounts to little, McDonald tells Fitzgerald.

She said the PAC have accepted the facts that have been presented to them in evidence presented to them.


Labour’s Brendan Howlin says she finds the Tánaiste’s response “really depressing”.

He says civilians are now speaking out about the garda management. He says auditor Niall Kelly says the breath test figures which the management keep referencing could not be regarded as an audit and were not done by him. He talks about John Barrett, the Garda HR boss, who he says evidence is profoundly disturbing.

We spoke to vice-chair of the PAC Alan Kelly about this case – you can read it here:

‘Garda HR boss has done a great service to the country’ – Alan Kelly

Tánaiste says the government are committed to bringing more civilians working in the gardaí.

Fitzgerald says it is in the interest of the force that the work to the reform the gardaí continues.

She avoids the question as to whether she thinks it is in the interest of the force for the Garda Commissioner to stay in her role.

Howlin makes a plea to the Tánaiste. He says he knows her to be a very compassionate and capable politician, but pleads with her to not make herself an obstacle on this issue.

“I think every member of this House can see the police force is not served by the status quo… The fact you can’t see this is very concerning,” says Howlin.

He asks her to do the right thing.

“I will do what I believe is the right thing to do,” says Fitzgerald.

Michael Lowry is up now and he wants to talk about Bord na Mona job losses.

69 employees are affected by the Littleton facility closure production and a further 56 employees are impacted at the peat harvesting facility in Littleton.

He says there was a meeting held and it was very heated, understandably.

Lowry says there needs to be a renegotiation of the redundancy package and a delay in the date of the plant closure.

He called on Bord na Mona and unions to sit down and talk.

Fitzgerald said she is acutely aware of the difficulties those workers are going through. She said there are to be no redundancies this year.

Bord na Móna cites declining sales due to increased competition, low oil prices, carbon tax and other factors as contributing to the decision.

Fitzgerald said Bord na Mona have announced they are getting into the business of renewable energy, biomass production, which she says will result in sustainable employment.

Lowry says there is one man who has given his life to the company having worked there over 30 years and is only getting over €30,000 in redundancy.

Fitzgerald says Minister Naughten is very open to exploring a range of options.

In terms of redundancy, she says Naughten will discuss it with the Minister for Public Expenditure.

That’s it for Leaders’ Questions today folks, thanks for staying with us for the days events at Leinster House. Join us back her next week.