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Brexit talks: French President backs Republic of Ireland’s 'special place' at negotiations

By Kevin Doyle

Published 21/07/2016

French President Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) during a joint press conference at the Goverment buildings in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
French President Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) during a joint press conference at the Goverment buildings in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

The Republic of Ireland is entitled to “a special place” in the negotiations on the UK’s departure from the European Union, French President Francois Hollande has said.

In a major boost for Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the President acknowledged that the Good Friday Agreement and land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland will need to be at the centre of Brexit talks.

French President Francois Hollande (R) gestures toward Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) during a joint press conference at the Goverment buildings in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
French President Francois Hollande (R) gestures toward Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) during a joint press conference at the Goverment buildings in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

He said that while France and Ireland are the UK’s nearest neighbours, Ireland is "even more of a neighbour than France”.

He said his country understood the stance Ireland must take in advance of the Brexit talks and he intends to note the Irish situation when he meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mr Hollande’s intervention is particularly significantly as German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week played down the idea that Ireland would be able to get specific guarantees around trade and the movement of people in any negotiations.

The French President met with Mr Kenny for almost an hour at Government Buildings to discuss Brexit and the ongoing terror threat around Europe.

They also witnessed the signing of a new agreement that will see the transmission of electricity between the two countries.

Both leaders stressed that they want the British government to trigger Article 50 which formally sets a Brexit in motion “as soon as possible”.

Mr Hollande took a particularly hard line, saying that British politicians needed to act on the result of the referendum.

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French President Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) during a joint press conference at the Goverment buildings in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
French President Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) during a joint press conference at the Goverment buildings in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

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“It’s the British that will have to bear the consequences,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande (centre) speaks with President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins as he leaves Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin. PA
French President Francois Hollande (centre) speaks with President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins as he leaves Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin. PA

He also offered assurances that Ireland’s controversial 12.5pc corporation tax rate is not under any threat as a result of Brexit.

“In terms of taxation or tax harmonisation, that has nothing to do with Brexit,” Mr Hollande told reporters.

He cited the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, saying: “I do recognise that there is a special place for Ireland. A special place has to be found in the negotiations.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he wants Britain to maintain “the closest partnership” possible with the EU.

He said that his discussion with Mr Hollande led him to believe that “both countries have quiet specific and unique concerns in the forthcoming negotiations".

He said the Good Friday Agreement has been back by the EU which had contributed greatly to the peace.

“That element of the negotiations is unique to Ireland. The French President understands that,” Mr Kenny said.

The Taoiseach also expressed the sympathy of the Irish people to France in the wake of the Nice atrocity.

He said: “An appalling litany of outrage was inflicted on Nice and the people of France”.

Mr Kenny said we all now live in “a turbulent and dangerous world” and Ireland would work in whatever way possible to fight terrorism, while also protecting our neutrality.

Mr Hollande said he accepted Ireland’s neutral stance in relation to closer co-operation on defence issue but said the Irish government had responded to his call for solidarity after the series of terror attacks.

“I will never forget that,” he said.

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