Irish government accused of dramatising 'backstop'

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

FIANNA Fáil leader Micheal Martin has accused the Irish government of helping to "dramatise" the debate around a so-called `Northern Ireland backstop' after Brexit.

He was speaking yesterday at the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal, an annual political gathering which also heard from from Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion MP, DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly and SDLP assembly member Claire Hanna.

Mr Coveney insisted "nobody wants a no-deal Brexit, it would be catastrophic for Britain, but also very bad news for Ireland", adding that he was "optimistic" that a way forward would be found

But Mr Martin attacked both the British and Irish governments for their handling of what has become a moment of "undeniable crisis".

"Today's Tory Party is beyond satire and has long ceased to be amusing," he said.

Mr Martin said the choices facing both governments are "starker than ever, the room for manoeuvre is becoming narrower by the day - there is no more time for delay".

"Clearly we have to look for an approach which overcomes the fears of a constitutional sleight-of-hand created by the ridiculous and almost messianic over-spinning of the backstop last December," he said.

Mr Martin wants Northern Ireland to become a special economic zone with access to both the UK and EU markets.

However, he warned, without political instituions in the north, "whatever is the Brexit outcome will lack essential democratic legitimacy" and the current political vacuum "is creating a dangerous climate".

Mr Coveney, who visited Derry's Fountain estate for the second time in two weeks yesterday, said "there simply isn’t anything remotely anti-British in the positions we are taking to protect peace and both the spirit and realities of partnership".

He insisted a year into the negotiations there is "even greater understanding across Europe of why Irish issues need to be - and are - at the forefront of the debate" and the British government "has pledged internationally" there will be no hard border and "if no other solution is agreed... (by) a legally operable text for a backstop".

Meanwhile, in Croatia as part of his mini European tour, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted that a hard border could not be contemplated.

"There is a real understanding from every member state that we need to avoid that, first of all through the withdrawal treaty, and then through the final relationship," he told reporters.

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