The Dublin government’s failure to secure any kind of veto for Ireland in the negotiations following Brexit has been strongly criticised as a dereliction of its duties.
Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail criticised the government after it became clear the Spanish government had succeeded where the 26 County government had not, by obtaining an effective veto over negotiations on the British outpost of Gibraltar, which lies to the south of Spain.
In reference to the north of Ireland, the draft negotiating position of the European Council contains evidence of the aspirational and ambiguous language of the 1998 Good Friday peace Agreement. However, there are no specific protections for Ireland in the case it is outnumbered by the other EU countries looking to close a deal.
Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fail Spokesman on Brexit, asked: “Where was the Taoiseach Enda Kenny when this was being agreed?”
He said the failure of the Dublin government to seek a similar veto over how the EU engages with the north of Ireland was a major dereliction of duties.
“The question that needs to be asked is: did the government seek a similar veto and was it rejected, or did they even know such a deal was being agreed with Spain?
“The Irish Government is relying too much on sentiment and is ignoring the need to seek firm agreements, in writing, on the issues that matter to the island of Ireland.”
Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin said that a veto was needed to help protect the interests of people north and south.
“The most frustrating thing about this process is that as it stands, we have little or no influence over what is happening on our island,” he said. “This is a major mistake by our government and it needs to change before this draft becomes the official negotiation process.”
And speaking from Strasbourg, Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy said the Dublin government had “totally failed” to ensure that Irish interests were defended in the position adopted by the European Council.
“The Council text on the impact of Brexit on Ireland is significantly weaker than the resolution the European Parliament adopted, again reflecting the failure of the Irish government to stand up to defend our interests.”
He pointed to the European Parliament’s draft resolution, which Sinn Fein’s MEPs had helped to write.
“The European Parliament’s draft resolution, while far from perfect, acknowledges that a majority of people in the North voted to remain and it explicitly states that the positions and interests of Ireland need to be represented in negotiations, acknowledging that we will be especially impacted,” he said.
“It expresses special concern about the impact of Brexit on the North, and it demands that the Good Friday Agreement is protected ‘in all its parts’.
“Most importantly it recognises the ‘special circumstances’ confronting Ireland and calls on EU negotiators to ensure that there is no hardening of the border.”
He said the European Parliament’s resolution is far superior on the question of Ireland than the Council’s.
“The Irish Government has clearly failed its first big Brexit test. It now needs to step up to the plate and actually put up a fight. They need to defend our interests in the Council and they need to do it immediately.”
‘UP YOURS, SENORS’
There was a hysterical reeaction in the British media as news of the Spanish veto emerged. Former Tory leader Michael Howard inflamed tensions when he compared the situation with the 1982 Argentinian occupation of Las Malvinas, an archipelago colonised by the British in the south Atlantic in 1833, and now known to them as the Falkland Islands.
Howard told Sky News on Sunday: “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”
As the row escalated, notorious loyalist campaigner Willie Frazer posed for a picture holding a machine gun and standing in front of two military 4x4 vehicles, with the message “Bring it on Spain.”
The Spanish foreign minister suggested that the British commentary showed that “someone in the UK is losing their cool”. Prime Minister Theresa May later moved to cool tensions, dismissing the idea of a military intervention.
However, the prime minister’s spokesman refused to condemn Howard’s suggestion that the use of military force was an option. The EU also said it would not back down in its support for Spain’s stance when it comes to talks.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny denied his efforts had failed to make any headway in the EU negotiating document, or that the language used for Ireland was vague and conditional. Mr Kenny insisted that the guidelines included a “very strong acknowledgement of our unique circumstances and special case”, and that Gibraltar was a different case from Ireland.
“Gibraltar joined the EU with the UK and any change in the status of Gibraltar is a matter between the UK and the kingdom of Spain.”
Sinn Fein’s Sean Crowe said it was “infuriating” that the British government was treating people in the North as “second class citizens” by refusing to acknowledge their situation. Fellow TD Maurice Quinlivan said neither government were acting in the people’s interests.
“Sinn Fein has been advocating since the Brexit referendum, for the [Dublin] government to call for a Special Status designation for the North. This would not only substantially benefit North and South, it would also solve the huge concerns that people have about the return of a hard border,” he said.
“There is no reason the government should not campaign for a Special Status for the North. It is the closest equivalent to the current status quo and it leaves the door open for the North to be reunified easier with the South in the future.”
The Limerick City TD also condemned Stephen Donnelly and Fianna Fail for doing nothing to work towards a Special Status designation for the North within the EU.
“Fianna Fail, the so-called Republican Party, are propping up this minority government, so if they wanted they could insist the government take a harder approach to negotiations around Brexit, and set out their stand on a Special Status designation for the North within the EU.”