Ireland Needs Experienced People for 2020 Brexit Negotiations

[Republic of] Ireland needs experienced people in office to navigate the challenges of 2020, which could be the most consequential year for the century. It wouldn’t be in Ireland’s interest to entrust the 2020-Brexit-negotiations to well intentioned, but inexperienced, amateurs.

[John Bruton | Oped Column Syndication]


The Irish electorate are too complacent about Brexit. So too are the parties that precipitated the present Election.

A bad Brexit would threaten Ireland’s ability to earn the money abroad, that it will need to pay for the improved services, that the electorate is so insistently demanding. All these services have to be paid for, by taxes raised from Irish people. Our debt levels are already so high to do it any other way. [In these circumstances] Ireland simply cannot afford a bad Brexit.

The trade negotiation with the UK, that the EU will soon start, will be the most hazardous part of the entire Brexit process for Ireland.

Every other EU country will have interests to defend. Some of these will differ from Irish interests. Trade offs will have to be made around the EU Council table. If it makes negotiating errors, Ireland could find itself alone. An outcome that MUST be avoided.

That will require immense diplomatic skill, and the use of an extensive network of contacts and understandings, at political, even more than at diplomatic level.

It will not be a job for ministerial novices, learning on the job, however bright they may appear. Remember the negotiations will take place within an irresponsibly rigid, and short, time limit. There will be no time at all for learning through mistakes. That might be possible in a normal negotiation, but this will not be a normal negotiation, because of the time limit of October 2020.

This is why I believe it is in the national interest that Helen McEntee, and the existing government as a whole, continue in office. They need no apprenticeship period.

We really do need experienced people in office, if we are to navigate the challenges of 2020, which could prove to be the most consequential year for a century.

The existing government have learned the hard way. They have mastered their briefs. They know how the Irish civil service and the European Commission work. Over time, they have learned how best to implement policy, not just how to make it.

It would not be in Ireland’s interest to entrust the Brexit negotiations of 2020 to well intentioned, but inexperienced, amateurs. The time lines are simply too short for us to afford that luxury.

This argument applies with greater force to Helen McEntee than to any other Minister. Helen McEntee has mastered every aspect of the forthcoming trade negotiation with the UK. She will know, better than anyone, who to call when a threat emerges during the negotiations.

She knows the key people in every one of the 27 EU states. She has visited them all. She has built up a reservoir of trust. I saw this when I saw her meeting delegates at the recent EPP Congress in Zagreb.

She will be able to use her contacts, as a vice President of the EPP, the EU’s biggest party, to rally support for Ireland’s position, something that Irish diplomats are not able to do.

For these reasons, I hope the people of Meath East will re-elect Helen McEntee. We need her now more than ever. That would serve the national interest.


John Bruton is the former Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland  (1994-97) and the former European Union Ambassador to the United States (2004-09). He had held several important offices in Irish government, including Minister for Finance, Minister for Industry & Energy, and Minister for Trade, Commerce & Tourism.


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