Barnier's Brexit approach is to be commended
Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator dealing with the United Kingdom in the Brexit talks, has written a most thoughtful article for today's Belfast Telegraph.
In this he demonstrates a good knowledge of the situation here on both sides of the border.
This stems partly from his experience from 1999-2004 as the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy. As he notes: "Northern Ireland was very much part and parcel of my working life."
There are no startling admissions in his latest article, but it is good that he has added to his previous knowledge of life here by visiting us personally.
He makes it clear that his role is not to mediate between different views on Brexit in London and Belfast, or on our internal difficulties. While he is being diplomatic on this, the reality is that all these issues - including the current deadlock over Stormont - are complex and interwoven.
He is no doubt also aware that the exchanges between politicians of all parties in the North and South have greatly inflamed an already febrile public mood.
Certainly, they have done little to help untie the tight knots into which the protagonists have tied themselves, which makes it all the more difficult to find a way forward.
Mr Barnier's approach seems eminently sensible, and he states bluntly: "My job is to ensure that the entire UK leaves the EU in an orderly fashion, rather than in a disorderly fashion."
He is equally clear that his major role is to "negotiate on behalf of the 27 Member States, and to look for practical solutions to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland".
This is proving to be immensely difficult for all concerned, and so far no-one has come up with a satisfactory solution.
It is clear, however, that the EU regards this as a major factor and possibly a huge sticking point.
Mr Barnier is rightly recognising the need for progress and cool heads all round, as well as a determination to get the best deal for Northern Ireland which should be the aim of all our politicians.
Sadly the Northern Ireland problems have proved intractable for a very long time, which makes it even more important that calm deliberations such as those of Mr Barnier prevail.
This remains a stern test of leadership all around.