Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach is setting wrong tone on Brexit

Editor's Viewpoint

One of the first points made by EU negotiators as they prepared to engage with the UK over Brexit was the special position of Northern Ireland and the need to protect the spirit as well as the letter of the Good Friday Agreement in order to ensure the peace process is not damaged.

That was both a pragmatic and a sensitive approach to the situation in the province, the only part of the UK to share a land border with another EU state. It was clear that EU negotiators recognised the need to tread softly.

Thus it is disappointing that new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and some other politicians in the Republic have taken an approach that will win them no friends among unionists.

Mr Varadkar, who is due to meet DUP leader Arlene Foster tomorrow during his first official visit, has been particularly outspoken on Brexit.

He has expressed the hope that it may not even happen, which certainly runs contrary to the UK Government's position, and has angered politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea by saying that the Republic will not help design a border for Brexiteers.

Such remarks coming alongside a report from an influential committee of parliamentarians in the Republic that says there is a need to begin preparing the case for a united Ireland, will do nothing but raise alarm among unionists.

While the Good Friday Agreement says that a poll on Irish unity should be held if there is a realistic likelihood that it could succeed, there is no suggestion that such an outcome is possible, never mind probable, in the immediate future.

All this discussion on the border and the somewhat belligerent tone of the Taoiseach do is bring an unwelcome blast of cold air to relationships between the two parts of this island at a time when co-operation is desperately needed.

Brexit is the biggest challenge facing Ireland, north and south, and this is not a time for megaphone diplomacy or raising tensions.

Of course, it is a matter of regret that Northern Ireland does not have a functioning power-sharing administration through which proper discussions can be channelled and a more measured tone adopted.

We know the impact toxic exchanges can have on the political climate, as seen in the deepening rift between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Politicians from the Republic should be careful not to add to it.

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