Government will be 'clear and firm' in Brexit talks, Coveney warns
The Government has warned UK Prime Minister Theresa May it will stubbornly defend Ireland's interests in relation to Brexit negotiations.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the Government will "not be picking fights for the sake of it" but stressed it will be "clear and firm" on what is essential to ensure the best interests of Ireland.
Responding to the UK government's Brexit position paper, Mr Coveney said while he welcomed the commitment to avoid any physical border he warned moving away from the status quo on the island of Ireland "will be difficult" and therefore "imaginative and flexible solutions will be required."
He added that during Brexit negotiations the Government will be "realistic and fair, but also stubborn in relation to defending Irish interests".
Mr Coveney said: "I think this is a good test of the European Union in terms of protecting the interests of small countries as well as big ones.
"All of our interaction with the Barnier Task Force has reinforced the point that he (Michel Barnier) made when he said Ireland's interests is Europe's interests."
He added: "What is happening here is not by Irish design. The British people have decided to leave the EU.
"That has very significant consequences for us and it is my job to make sure I protect Irish interests in the context of negotiations to facilitate that exit.
"From that point of view we won't be picking fights for the sake of it but we will be firm and clear in terms of what we regard is important and essential for Ireland to be able to support a future deal."
Referring to the border issue, Mr Coveney said that, while the position paper is a step forward, "significant questions" still remain.
He also warned that delivering on the "aspirations" within the customs and border position papers will be difficult.
"What we don't have is the detail of how it is going to work and so we will be consulting in some detail with the Michel Barnier Taskforce in terms of how we approach the next round of negotiations on the 28," he said.
"There are still significant questions in terms of how we are going to manage and remain as close as possible to the status quo on the island of Ireland in terms of the free movement of goods and services, and ensure we maintain an invisible border on the island of Ireland as you move north and south seamlessly as you do today - that is the manifestation and evidence of a successful peace process."
He added: "There are issues still to be resolved but I think it is a step forward. Delivering the aspirations in these papers will be difficult. When there's a statement made by the British Government, the assumption by many is 'That's it then, that's what is going to be achieved'.
"(But) it is a negotiating position that needs to be teased out and agreed."