Also for the weekend, with Brexit still hiding in as yet an amorphous form, Newton Emerson is concerned with the strange in-caution of the Republic’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs:
Speaking to RTÉ from negotiations in Brussels, he said: “What we do not want to pretend is that we can solve the problems of the Border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on. That is not going to work.”
This comment verged on setting up a straw man argument.
Nobody is pretending the post-Brexit Border can be purely electronic – only that such technology can make it, in the words of the Northern Ireland Office, “as frictionless as possible”.
The UK will not have to install customs posts on its side of the frontier and has said it will not do so, but everyone accepts the Republic will have to perform some checks on behalf of the EU as a whole.
The Irish Government has made detailed work on this public. Last August the Revenue Commissioners revealed plans for a soft Brexit electronic system on the assumption of a UK-EU free trade arrangement.
This would allow most lorries to cross the Border non-stop, but there would still be physical clearance facilities for occasional customs checks, preferably at existing tax offices rather than at the frontier itself.
This February, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan confirmed contingency planning for a hard Brexit electronic system, involving fixed customs posts on main routes – again well away from the Border – with portable inspection facilities elsewhere.
In April, the Revenue Commissioners advised the Dáil that this would mean checking the paperwork of between 6 per cent and 8 per cent of freight movements, with a “small number” of physical inspections.
Having ignored all this work by his own Government, Coveney then toppled his straw man onto Stormont.
“Any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process,” he said, apparently unaware of the Border there already.
“All of the parties in Northern Ireland, whether they are unionist or nationalist, recognise we want to keep the free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods.”
If Coveney realises all parties in Northern Ireland share roughly the same Brexit objectives, where does he think the threat to peace or even the political process comes from?
It may be the that having been parachuted into the post with little notice (and little sign of prior interest in the subject), he’s working on advice rather than experience.
But Charlie Flanagan (a regular at BIPA meetings for nearly 20 years), is unlikely to have risked such hostages to fortune.