Belfast Telegraph

Irish opposition leader calls deal ‘best of both worlds’ for NI

Micheal Martin said some concerns remained for small businesses and exports.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party has called the proposed Brexit deal the “best of both worlds” for Northern Ireland.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, whose party currently uphold the Irish government in a confidence and supply arrangement with Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael, said in Brussels on Thursday that, although he welcomed the deal, some concerns remain for small businesses and exports.

“I welcome the fact there has been an agreement between the UK and the European Union which essentially avoids a disorderly Brexit,” Mr Martin said.

“That will bring a lot of relief to people in general, in terms of the impact no deal would have had, and does avoid a physical hard border on the island of Ireland.

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Anti Brexit billboards on the northern side of the border between Newry in Northern Ireland and Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

“That said on the east-west front there are some worries down the line, this is a harder Brexit in the sense that Britain is leaving the customs union and single market, excluding Northern Ireland, and that is worrying for down the road in the agrifood industry and those who export to the British market.

“Of course we’ve been here before, whether the British parliament supports this particular deal, it’s over to the British government.

“I think the arrangement is complex and challenging, but does allow for the unique situation in Northern Ireland, of course there are a lot of complexities around that that will need to be ironed out.

“On the face of it it gives the northern Ireland economy the best of both worlds something we’ve been advocating for, a special economic zone, so far they have access to the UK market but still be part, in practical purposes, in the EU customs union.

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A Holyhead to Dublin cruise ferry arrives into the Port of Dublin (Chris Bacon/PA)

“It’s regrettable in that context that the DUP can’t find it, or don’t seem to be in the position to support this deal, but I think it would be good for the Northern Ireland economy.”

Mr Martin suggested that, if some of the EU’s concessions on Thursday had been made while Theresa May was in government, time could have been saved.

“I think on reflection one would have to ask if lesser accommodations had been made with Theresa May would we be in a different situation now?” he added.

“It is some distance away from the backstop, there’s no doubt about that but I often feel that that moment, in terms of negotiations between Theresa May’s government and Europe was an opportunity lost because that was a softer Brexit for us all round, this is a step back from that.

“We’re not comfortable with Brexit full stop but I acknowledge this has been difficult journey all round, and we are up against the clock and the prospect of no deal was looming.

“This is only the beginning this is an exit deal, my worry really is the east-west relationship, with Britain out of customs union, what are the implications for our exporters?”

PA

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