Brittle EU-UK relationships are now blighted by a severe ‘touch of Frost’
Trials will take place only to assess damages
FOR some in Brussels, it was really a blast of the kind of frost which afflicts gardeners who are over-active in March, seeking early autumn crops.
The Frost in question here is David Frost, an unelected member of the House of Lords in London, given a seat in the British cabinet and once more in charge of Brexit talks aimed at ironing out various unresolved and unforeseen problems in the aftermath of the EU-UK divorce. We note the unelected bit here because of Brexiteers’ continual self-same refrain about EU officials.
David Frost is a career diplomat, former UK ambassador to Denmark, who has been relied upon by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for some years now. He advised Johnson when he was a lacklustre and gaffeprone foreign minister for the years 2016-2018.
When Johnson was elected prime minister in July 2019, Frost was seconded as a key EU adviser. In January 2020, he became London’s chief Brexit negotiator, and he soldiered through opposite the EU’s Michel Barnier over the ensuing 12 months.
An attempt by Johnson to appoint him as a major security adviser did not quite work out. So, on February 17, Frost’s cabinet appointment and return to the EU negotiating coalface was announced to take effect from last Monday, March 1, replacing Michael Gove as Brexit minister.
Gove was a committed EU Leave campaigner and a no-nonsense negotiator. But he got on well with the EU’s main point person now, Commission vice-president Maros Sevcovic. By contrast Brussels officials remember Frost as rarely referring to the European Commission by name, preferring in negotiating sessions with Barnier to dub it “the institution you represent”. He was seen as Johnson’s “Euro Rottweiler”.
So, suddenly in the UK corner it’s now David Frost versus Maros Sevcovic in the EU corner. It is interesting how personalities and political optics can impinge on the future of Ireland’s border.
Nobody in Brussels needed proof of Frost’s obdurate approach. But his unilateral move on extending the North’s EU product and customs checking regime “grace period”, two days after getting his legs back under the desk, was for home consumption.
It won back some credibility for Boris Johnson among
the uber-Brexiteers. It offered some solace to the embattled members of the Democratic Unionist Party, whose belated campaign against the reality of the North’s special post-Brexit status is as a much a product of disillusion with Johnson as anything else.
It caused a mix of dismay, anger and puzzlement in Dublin, Brussels and in other EU capitals. But that is something Messrs Johnson and Frost can easily cope with – for now.
British sources framed the argument that London was merely acting quickly to protect UK business generally, and Northern Ireland shoppers in particular, as time was scarce. The main time-pressure was the upcoming expiry of grace periods, calling for a dramatic increase in EU checks on product entering the North from March 1.
Some sources will tell you that it was likely the EU was going to grant an extension of these grace periods, perhaps even for as long as the new October 1 deadline to which they have helped themselves. So, what odds?
Well, the harsh reality is the burnt-up goodwill in an ongoing relationship. It is the second time the UK has taken unilateral action on the North’s trade status and flouted international law in the process.
Trust is central to any ongoing negotiation – and it is hard to build and easy to damage. The UK still needs the EU goodwill and co-operation to iron out existing Brexit aftermath problems. It badly needs to frame a new relationship for its finance and banking sector in the City of London.
The European Parliament decision to put back ratification of the EU-UK post-Brexit trade deal postponed a vote expected later this month. There were strong signs that the MEPs may block the deal if the North’s special status is not guaranteed.
There are no immediate plans for both sides to get around the table. It will take time to put things back.
A SERIES of High Court rulings mean that when at least six illegal adoption cases against St Patrick’s Guild go to trial it will be solely for the assessment of damages.
The court orders were made after the former adoption society’s liquidator did not appoint lawyers to defend claims against it.
The cases include a lawsuit over a baby mix-up where a mother who briefly left her daughter at the guild’s infant hospital in Temple Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin, for safekeeping in 1966 was given the wrong child when she returned.
Helen Maguire discovered only half a century later that the girl she raised as her own was not her biological daughter after a DNA test.
The babies were swapped and her biological daughter was adopted. There has been no explanation for what happened.
Another of the cases involves Line Of Duty actor Patrick Fitzsymons, who was illegally adopted in the 1960s.
The plaintiffs in those six cases are all represented by Dublin law firm Coleman Legal Partners.
The High Court gave judgment in default of an appearance against St Patrick’s Guild in two cases earlier this week, including the Maguire lawsuit. Similar orders were made in four other cases between December and February.
While the rulings are a boost to the litigants, doubts remain over what level of damages can be obtained from the guild. A meeting of creditors last year heard it had just €251,000 in assets.
There are currently about two dozen lawsuits against the former adoption society.
While lawyers have been advising liquidator Anthony Weldon as he seeks to wind up the adoption society, none were appointed to defend those cases.
In a Companies Registration Office filing in January, the
liquidator said the winding up had been delayed by legal actions.
However, the document also stated the winding up will probably be completed within 12 months.
The court orders do not apply to other defendants in the cases, the State, the Adoption Authority of Ireland and a representative of the Sisters of Charity, which ran the society.
However, in the absence of a defence being mounted by the adoption society, the State could come under pressure to ensure claimants are compensated.
St Patrick’s Guild handed its records over to Tusla in 2016.
In the deed conveying the records to Tusla, there is a provision for the State to step in where a “strategic claim” is filed against St Patrick’s.
Two years after the files were handed over, the Department of Children revealed Tusla had discovered 126 cases where births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969 in the records of the society. That number later increased to 148.
In many cases children were incorrectly registered as the biological child of their adoptive parents.
But the recent report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation revealed that authorities had known what had gone on much earlier.
It said that in the early 1990s, the Adoption Board became aware of “adoption at birth” cases at St Patrick’s Guild and was told by the adoption society there were 74 such cases on their books. However, the Adoption Board decided it had no further role when the birth mother who had originally brought the issue to its attention decided not to pursue it.
Further revelations about illegal adoptions and St Patrick’s Guild were outlined this week in an RTÉ documentary – RTÉ Investigates: Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions.
It detailed how a son of former President Éamon de Valera, consultant gynaecologist Professor Éamon de Valera Jr, facilitated illegal adoptions through his medical practice.
The programme also detailed how nuns pursued a birth mother for maintenance payments for her daughter, long after she had actually been adopted.