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'Treated like Nelson Mandela or JFK': International media say Ireland is trying to woo EU Brexit boss

There was a lot of pomp and ceremony for Michel Barnier – the man who will lead Europe’s Brexit negotiations.

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier with Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny in the Taoiseach’s office in Government Buildings today as Michel Barnier signs the visitor book
The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier with Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny in the Taoiseach’s office in Government Buildings today as Michel Barnier signs the visitor book
Image: Leah Farrell

FRESH FLOWERS WERE placed at either side of the stairway which leads to the Dáil chamber, the curtains were dusted down and everyone was looking their best at Leinster House today for the visit of Europe’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

After a quick photo in front of a host of European flags in the lobby (placed there to mark Europe Day earlier this week) the Frenchman was lead in to the chamber, which was packed to the rafters with foreign diplomats and foreign media reps from the Washington Post, Die Welt and Le Monde.

There was certainly a buzz in the air. It is not often someone gets to address a joint sitting of the Dáil and the Seanad (others in the past include Mary MacAleese, Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair – who Enda Kenny is meeting tomorrow, as it happens).

The Financial Times reported that Barnier would be treated to “the trappings of a visiting head of state” during his visit.

And, reflecting on the day, that can’t be denied. (However, it is worth noting that Barnier was not permitted to stand at the top of the room, but addressed politicians from the opposite end of the chamber).

Meanwhile, the UK’s Business Insider said Ireland is wooing Barnier, hoping that special treatment for the Frenchman will help secure a good deal for the country in Brexit negotiations.

Its headline points out the people that have preceded him in addressing senators and TDs:

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Under the headline, ‘Michel Barnier’s Irish Pledge’, Politico.eu said the chief negotiator had “struck a reassuring, even paternalistic tone” during his address to Irish lawmakers today.

But the Financial Times reported on what it thought was really at play here:

That an EU official has been accorded such an honour shows just how important Brexit is to Ireland’s future. That an EU official has been accorded such an honour shows just how important Brexit is to Ireland’s future.

And the importance of Brexit was not lost on Barnier today.

Speaking in the Dáil today, he was keen to flatter the Irish, by quoting Seamus Heaney, and said Ireland’s interest will be Europe’s interest too.

However, he then got down to business and warned that Brexit would come at a cost.  

He said he would work to avoid a hard border, but said customs controls – something the government have campaigned to avoid – are part of EU border management

3899 Brexit negotiator  copy_90511255 Source: Leah Farrell

Whether Ireland is trying to woo the man who will (hopefully) be fighting Ireland’s corner in the Brexit negotiations, there were two notable contributions in the chamber today.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, who took a few digs at Britain’s Brexit vote, and Solidarity-PBP’s Richard Boyd Barrett, who said he found it difficult to trust Europe.

Martin said there was no strategy for implementing Brexit.

“There was just a strategy for winning the vote through a combination of bluster and aggression.

“It was not a positive assertion of sovereignty; it was the culmination of 30 years of an increasingly corrosive scapegoating of Europe and immigrants for the home-grown divisions in British society,” he said.

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.

Richard Boyd Barrett said: “I don’t trust the European Union, Mr Barnier.”

Source: People Before Profit Alliance National/YouTube

Today was all about smiles and niceties – and there were plenty more to be had over at Government Buildings in the afternoon when Enda Kenny welcomed Barnier to his office.

Harking back to the international headlines, Barnier was in the company of the very people the foreign press said he was in the same league as now. Surrounded by photos of Enda Kenny meeting important figures like Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth, and a sculpted bust of JFK on the mantelpiece, Barnier signed the guest book.

Flanked by a painting of Michael Collins, another man who had struggles with Britain over borders, and the spectacular landscape of a Paul Henry painting, the Taoiseach said Barnier understands Ireland and its concerns very well.

We hope he does – for all our sake.

As it happened: Brexit’s top negotiator reassures Dail ‘the Irish interests will be the union’s interest’>

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