Brexit negotiations must be priority
THE events of last week, the resignation of a Government minister and a consequent threat to a much-needed national infrastructure project has underlined the precarious nature of domestic politics — but these events are set at naught against the background of negotiations around Brexit, a significant milestone which will be reached next week, with the prospect of further important developments next month.
Ahead of other important issues over coming months, the negotiations around Brexit must take priority.
It was inevitable that domestic politics would come to the fore again after the third and scheduled final budget of the often criticised but still functional ‘confidence and supply’ agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to support the formation of a Fine Gael-led minority government.
That agreement has served a useful purpose in that it has provided the country with a stable form of government for almost three years. Its negotiation, and the manner in which it has been implemented, is a credit to the two main political parties in this country, and also to the Independent TDs who support it. For all the criticism, the deal agreed in 2016 has served the country reasonably well at a difficult time internationally, not least in relation to Brexit.
It is often forgotten that the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union only after a minority government was put in place here. Indeed, at the time of the formation of the Fine Gael-led government, few foresaw Brexit as a reality. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail now have the added responsibility of negotiating the country through this most difficult period. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the agreement had come to a scheduled end at precisely the time the Government’s focus must be squarely on events related to Brexit.
Last week, the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, wrote to the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to offer that they both agree not to bring down the Government at this most critical period in the Brexit process. Fine Gael, perhaps understandably, is suspicious of Mr Martin’s motivation, although there is little or nothing to gainsay the Fianna Fail leader’s offer. On the face of it, it is a reasonable request.
Likewise, Mr Varadkar’s request for a speedy review and negotiation of a new ‘confidence and supply’ deal has merit. It is for both men to agree whether the agreement should be extended at all, not to mention for the remaining full two years of the lifetime of this Dail. Of course events may transpire in Brussels this week, and next month, which will reassure the Taoiseach as he considers the prospects for a new agreement with Fianna Fail and Independent TDs, and whether or not he should consequently seek a dissolution of Dail Eireann and a general election. These are difficult considerations.
However, no decisions should be taken which could be deemed reckless or even politically opportune for either party. The priority now is for a relatively successful withdrawal agreement between EU and UK, in which Ireland will have significant input. It is only then that political leaders should fully turn their minds to the provision of continued stable and functional government here.