Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions must be pri­or­ity

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Comment -

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.

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