Republic of Ireland news

Jean-Claude Juncker receives GAA jersey reflecting European unity during Croke Park visit

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker with President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin Picture by Tony Maxwell/PA
By Michael McHugh and Rebecca Black, Press Association

Jean-Claude Juncker received a GAA jersey reflecting European unity on his last day in Ireland.

The European Commission president was handed a Cork shirt with the number 27 in acknowledgement of his role representing the EU27 members.

During his two-day trip to Dublin he has joined other European leaders in pledging the bloc's solidarity with the Republic over the border uncertainty with Northern Ireland created by Brexit.

As he visited Croke Park that fellowship was reciprocated in a parting gift from the Irish government.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who represents part of Co Cork handed Mr Juncker the shirt in his county colours.

Former Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin – an All-Ireland medal winner – and Stacey Cahill, from Kildare, demonstrated their skills.

Of Gaelic games Mr Juncker said: "It is a vocation not a job."

The future of the Irish border after Brexit is one of the most vexed outstanding issues facing negotiators in Brussels.

European leaders meet in Brussels next week but a deal is not expected to be struck on the divorce's implications for the 300-mile border with its multiple crossing points until at least another European Council summit in the autumn.

A time-limited "backstop" option agreed in principle but not in detail between Britain and the EU has been interpreted by Europe as meaning Northern Ireland would effectively stay within the bloc's regulatory rules on issues like customs to preserve the currently invisible and frictionless border arrangements.

Mr Juncker has raised the prospect of Britain leaving without a deal during his visit to Dublin.

He also said no deal was as good as being in the EU as he toured Dublin accompanied by chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Mr Barnier has warned the European Arrest Warrant, pivotal to north/south policing cooperation, could be among deals under threat.

On Friday Mr Juncker met President Michael D Higgins at his official residence in Phoenix Park.

He complimented Mr Higgins on his "beautiful" home, Áras an Uachtaráin, gesturing around the state reception room with its views across the park.

Mr Juncker met Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina and there were warm greetings as he thanked his hosts.

He took Mrs Higgins' hand and planted a kiss on it, before giving her a kiss on the cheek and signing the visitors' book.

The trio posed for photographs as Mr Juncker urged Mr Higgins: "Present us to the world."

The pair held a short meeting along with their delegations, including Clara Martinez-Alberola, head of Mr Juncker's cabinet, Gerard Kiely, head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, legal adviser Michael Shotter and financial adviser Paulina Dejmek-Hack.

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