Atmosphere between Kenny and Foster hardly warm

Posted By: July 06, 2016

Pat Leahy. Irish Times. Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The way forward for cross-Border negotiations post-Brexit will be mapped by London.
The Taoiseach’s discomfiture at the peremptory rejection by Northern First Minister Arlene Foster of his big idea for a North-South Brexit forum was obvious yesterday.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Dublin Castle, along with Foster, Martin McGuinness and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, the Taoiseach first sought to maintain nothing had been formally proposed, and so nothing rejected.

However, the enthusiasm with which his Ministers had propagated the idea over the weekend meant everyone knew what the score was, and the Taoiseach ruefully accepted a forum needed “buy-in” from everyone – which clearly would not be forthcoming.

Why the idea wasn’t floated privately with the First Minister’s office isn’t clear, but Foster was seemingly irritated by it. Despite reports of constructive meetings, you could hardly describe the atmosphere at yesterday’s press conference as warm.

But Enda Kenny will get over his temporary embarrassment. He always does. The more significant matter is not how the northern and southern administrations chart a way forward in the post-Brexit world, but rather what the direction is, and where the ultimate destination lies.

Yesterday’s post-conference communiqué suggested a well-developed level of co-operation between Dublin and Belfast. Despite Foster’s rejection of the Taoiseach’s initiative, the document describes quite a high degree of existing co-operation between officials on both sides, and expresses the determination to intensify that further.

Enormous sensitivities

The official framework for co-operation between the administrations is more extensive than some of the stiff platitudes from the press conference would suggest. But there are clearly enormous sensitivities for unionists and obvious differences within the northern executive.
For McGuinness it is simple: “The British government doesn’t give a tuppenny damn about people in Ireland, ” he told RTÉ yesterday. He repeatedly pointed out the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland had voted to remain.

“The fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain cannot be lightly dismissed by the British government . .  . It’s quite clear that the people of Northern Ireland see their future in Europe. That poses, obviously, a huge challenge.” But that’s not the question they were asked, Foster pointed out. People in the North were asked whether they wanted the UK to remain in the EU. And the UK – including the North – has decided to leave.