Labour claims Taoiseach "sleep walking" into Brexit talks

The party also says a referendum on the final deal may be needed

Labour claims Taoiseach "sleep walking" into Brexit talks

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister Theresa May at Government Buildings in Dublin | Image: RollingNews.ie

A seminar is calling for special status for the island of Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.

The event, hosted by the Labour Party, also examined investment, jobs and training in the context of the British exit from the European Union.

The party wants to see Ireland as a separate component within the talks that deal only with Ireland-UK matters.

The party's spokesperson on finance, Joan Burton, has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to do more.

"The Taoiseach is sleep walking Ireland into a position where we will be in a side room when UK-EU talks get going, just one small country among 27.

"One EU negotiator, former commissioner Mr Barnier from France, will carry out the negotiations behalf of all member states.

"The final agreement will be between the UK and the remaining EU states, including Ireland. Ireland will be small fry easily dominated by the Franco-German alliance and other alliances among the 26 states.

"I’ve no doubt that the 26 remaining countries recognize Ireland’s particular difficulties and interests - but that is no guarantee that the ultimate agreement will protect our position.

Joan Burton speaking at a press conference in 2016 | Image: Rollingnews.ie

"I believe the Taoiseach has to look for a way that places the specific interests of Ireland at the centre of the talks between the UK and the EU.

"I have closely questioned the Taoiseach in the Dail on Brexit on many occasions. I know his intentions are well meant but at times he seems adrift and insufficiently prepared.

"Pats on the head by Angela Merkel may be nice for the Taoiseach, but they do nothing to secure Ireland’s vital strategic interests.

"It’s not good enough to have Ireland’s vital and unique interests merged in with general European concerns after the UK triggers Article 50 in March.

"A line has been crossed now that the British Prime Minister has opted for a hard Brexit strategy. The people get it. The Taoiseach needs to get it too. He needs to act for Ireland and to speak clearly for Ireland.

"It’s time to get real, Enda."

Referendum?

It comes as the Labour spokesperson on jobs, Alan Kelly, believes the Irish Government should consider holding a referendum on the final deal negotiated between the EU and Britain.

Mr Kelly said: "No one can predict how this will pan out. This has never been done before, but once the British Prime Minister triggers Article 50, negotiations will commence and we need our partners in the other member states to realise that these negotiations are critical to the future of this country and this island.

"We need to put our best foot forward and have a significant presence on the EU negotiation team and we need to ensure that Ireland's agenda across so many different areas is at the forefront.

"There are numerous ways in which the final Brexit negotiations could conclude. Everything from a hard Brexit to a well-structured negotiated arrangement that works for both parties is possible.

He says any Brexit agreement will have to be ratified by the European Council, passed by a majority vote in the European Parliament, and to be agreed by each existing member state.

"Every country has their own way of ratifying EU changes such as new member state accessions or in this case a member state leaving. In Ireland unless there is a substantive change to the EU treaties such changes are ratified by the Irish Government by means of an Act of the Oireachtas.

"Where there is a material change we have to have a referendum.

"In my view it is highly unlikely that Brexit will not result in a change to the EU treaties, given the fact that the UK is referred to approximately 120 times in EU treaties and protocols."

Mr Kelly also says there is "a strong possibility" that any agreement will create new bodies or organisations, thereby again possibly necessitating a referendum.

"Given all of this we need to consider not just whether or not a referendum is necessary following the final deal, but more so whether or not it is actually in our best interests now in advance of the British Prime Minister triggering Article 50 to say to our EU partners that we will have to have one anyway.

"This would certainly concentrate the mind of Mr Barnier and his negotiating team and furthermore elevate our unique status and issues on their priority list."