Brexit: ‘Ireland’s relationship with the UK is a high priority’ – Coveney

The Irish Embassy in London remains this country’s largest bilateral embassy globally and has had additional staff assigned to it since the Brexit vote. This reflects the fact that Ireland’s relationship with the UK is such a high priority.

“Ireland’s consulate in Edinburgh continues to be very active, and the consulate in Cardiff has reopened in recent months. I am therefore confident that these existing structures and proposed new arrangements will provide ample opportunity for positive engagement between our two governments into the future.”

These were the sentiments expressed by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, during Dáil proceedings last week after he was asked by deputy Niall Collins (Fianna Fáil) about the steps his department will take “to protect, promote and enhance Anglo-Irish relations” – particularly in the context of Brexit.

Maintaining close links

The minister was also asked if he has considered putting new formal structures for dialogue in place.

I and my Government colleagues have always been clear that we will seek to maintain the closest possible bilateral relationship with the UK post-Brexit.

“On a political level we already cooperate closely through a number of institutions, most notably the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council – both of which are institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,” he continued.

“The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was established to deal with ‘the totality of relationships’ between these islands and to promote bilateral cooperation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of the two sovereign governments.”

‘East meets west’

The minister, meanwhile, went on to say that the conference also provided an important opportunity to consider the east-west relationship and was a forum to discuss important issues including political developments in Northern Ireland, east-west economic cooperation, security cooperation and rights and citizenship.

There have been three meetings of the conference over the past year – in London last July, Dublin in November and again in London on May 8, last.

He continued: “For its part, the British-Irish Council brings together the Irish and UK governments, the devolved administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, as well as representatives of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

“The council continues to work on areas of shared importance, with the Taoiseach and Minister Richard Bruton attending the most recent summit meeting in Manchester two weeks ago.”

Hard work and cooperation

The minister then pointed out that notwithstanding the important work of the institutions involved there was a real danger that, post-Brexit, the two countries could “lose the habit of cooperation that we have developed working side by side in EU institutions since 1973”.

Therefore, we will need to work hard to protect and develop our relationship as close neighbours and good friends.

“That is why at last November’s British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference we discussed a joint paper outlining a possible model to maintain and strengthen the high level of bilateral co-operation between Ireland and the UK post-Brexit,” he added.

“This commitment was reaffirmed at the most recent British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, held in May this year, and officials on both sides have commenced the process of turning these ideas into a detailed practical plan of work with a view to presenting a fully worked through proposal for future east-west cooperation.”