Belfast Telegraph

Response to Brexit must be stepped up, Enda Kenny warned

Enda Kenny is being told to step up Ireland's response to Brexit amid warnings Theresa May's blueprint will reimpose a hard border on the island.

The Taoiseach said he welcomed the clarity in the UK Prime Minister's landmark speech laying out Britain's plans for leaving the European Union, adding that Europe will now have to respond.

In the Dail, Opposition leader Micheal Martin told him Ireland should not be welcoming what he described as "negative clarity".

"Britain is speaking softly but behaving and acting differently," said Mr Martin, whose Fianna Fail party props up Mr Kenny's Fine Gael-led minority administration.

"I get a real sense we are heading down a very difficult road and hence the need for Ireland to argue robustly now to protect our interests, our jobs and companies."

Mr Martin said Mrs May's Brexit speech was disappointing and contained very little about Irish concerns.

"There is no mention of any special status from Northern Ireland, for example," he said. "In fact, it is going in the opposite direction."

Sinn Fein say Mrs May's plan will create a new hard border along the 310-mile frontier that separates Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but which is virtually invisible since the peace process.

John O'Dowd, the party's Brexit spokesman, accused the Tory leader of ignoring the 56% majority of people in Northern Ireland who backed remaining within the EU.

"Exiting the single market and customs union would create a hard border on the island of Ireland and soft words from Theresa May mean nothing," he said.

Mr O'Dowd has also urged Mr Kenny to step up efforts towards a special EU status for Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Moments after the UK Prime Minister's landmark speech, Ireland signalled it will "vigorously pursue" businesses and EU agencies to move to Dublin.

"The Government notes that the British approach is now firmly that of a country which will have left the EU but which seeks to negotiate a new, close relationship with it," a government spokesman said.

"While this will inevitably be seen by many as a 'hard exit', the analysis across government has covered all possible models for the future UK relationship with the EU."

The government said it is "very aware of the potential economic opportunities that may arise for Ireland" from Mrs May's planned hard Brexit.

This included shifting investment, business and job creation as well as luring EU agencies currently located in London - including the European Medicines Board and the European Banking Authority.

Junior finance minister Eoghan Murphy has already predicted a wave of UK-based financial services companies will announce full or partial relocations to the Irish capital over the coming months.

Ireland said its priorities as one of the 27 EU countries in the Brexit negotiations remain its economic and trading arrangements, the peace process and border issues as well as the common travel area.

"In her speech, Prime Minister May highlighted the specific and historic relationship between Britain and Ireland," the government spokesman said.

"In this context, she made clear that her priorities include maintaining the common travel area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland, both of which are welcome.

"The alignment between our concerns regarding the economy and trade, and the UK objective of the UK to have a close, and friction-free, economic and trading relationship with the EU, including with Ireland is also very important."

Mr Kenny is to meet Mrs May in Dublin later this month.

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