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Brexit has Anglo-Irish relations at 30-year low, Fianna Fáil leader says

Theresa May and Leo Varadkar seem to have no substantive relations, says Micheál MartinRelations between Dublin and London are the worst they have been in 30 years because of Brexit, the leader of Fianna Fáil has said.Micheál Martin, said the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and his British counterpart, Theresa May, appeared to have no substantive working relationship and went for long periods without contact. Continue reading...

Relations between Dublin and London are the worst they have been in 30 years because of Brexit, the leader of Fianna Fáil has said.

Micheál Martin, said the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and his British counterpart, Theresa May, appeared to have no substantive working relationship and went for long periods without contact.

Martin’s party, like the Democratic Unionist party, is in a confidence-and-supply arrangement with Varadkar’s Fine Gael party. He said he was fully aware of the “constructive and chaotic nature” of politics in London but that the two governments still needed to develop and maintain a constructive relationship.

“The drift of recent years and the abrasive public relationship of the last year is very damaging,” Martin told the British Irish Association conference in Oxford on Saturday.

He spoke of a seven-week period earlier this year, during a crucial stage of the Brexit negotiations, when there was no contact between Varadkar and May.

Referring to previous Irish and British prime ministers, he said: “It is inconceivable that Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, or Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown would have gone seven weeks without talking at any time – let alone during a crisis.

“At the inter-governmental level, relations are worse than at any time in at least the last 30 years. The taoiseach and prime minister appear to have no substantive working relationship and go long periods without talking to each other,” he said.

He also took a shot at Varadkar’s deputy, Simon Coveney, for criticising Jacob-Rees Mogg’s comments that it might be an idea to “inspect” people crossing the Irish border after Brexit.

Martin said that while Rees-Mogg’s comments referenced the worst aspects of the Troubles, he made then two years ago and Coveney should not have dignified them with a condemnatory tweet.

“I genuinely cannot see how it is constructive for our minister for foreign affairs to take the time to issue a statement condemning a two-year-old video issued by a Tory backbencher – or for the government to maintain an ongoing public commentary on British politics,” he said.

He went on to criticise Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party for deliberately ignoring the duty of Dublin to protect the interests of that country’s nationalist population, who are neither represented in Westminster nor the local assembly because of the collapse of the power-sharing deal.

“The attitude of the DUP to Dublin continues to ignore the will of the people of Northern Ireland concerning north-south relations,” he said.

However he reserved his sharpest words for Varadkar, claiming he was misjudging cross-border relations and failing to develop a dialogue with unionists.

“When the taoiseach said last December, ‘It’s not my job to deliver the unionists’, he made a startling statement which none of his predecessors in the past three decades would have made,” he said.

He said 2018 was a grave moment in relations between the two islands and all leaders were responsible for mitigating the damage of Brexit.

Separately, Sinn Féin’s chairman said at the same event that the uncertainty being caused by Brexit was creating the right environment for a united Ireland.

Declan Kearney said that while unionists would find this anathema and the Conservative party “unthinkable”, it was something to which many people aspired.

He said Sinn Féin, which for decades was associated with the IRA, would “act as a guarantor for the British identity and the unionist tradition”.

He said the party knew from first-hand experience that unionist and loyalist minorities would have to be supported in a united Ireland.

“The 20% which would make up a new Ireland, who would not identify as Irish, must never feel the exclusion from society that was experienced by Irish citizens in the north under unionist rule,” he said.

In remarks that would rankle many union-supporting voters, Kearney said Sinn Féin recognised that “unionism needs to be persuaded that it can own a significant stake” within a united Ireland and republicans should remember they had a “responsibility” to welcome and cherish them.

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