Politics

Ireland chaos: Brexit panic as Dublin leaders hit by coronavirus – Varadkar on alert

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Meanwhile Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin’s struggling coalition government has been dealt a further blow after it was revealed four ministers – including his predecessor as Irish leader Leo Varadkar – are currently restricting their movements as a result of coronavirus concerns. Mr Coveney, of Fine Gael, is one of them – but was nevertheless clear to meet Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Alliance leader Naomi Long and Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey in Dublin, during which time he outlined his concerns.

Ireland is deeply concerned by the implications of the Internal Market Bill, which would give Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government the power to override some aspects of the withdrawal agreement with the EU in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Coveney used the meeting to outline his Government’s “very real concern” at the UK Government’s plans.

Afterwards, he said: “Since the beginning of the Brexit process, Ireland and the EU have been committed to finding a solution which works for the people of Northern Ireland and for the island as a whole.

There was strong agreement this morning on the vital importance of implementing the protocol in full and in good faith

Simon Coveney

“The protocol does this. There was strong agreement this morning on the vital importance of implementing the protocol in full and in good faith.

“We also noted the particular challenges facing business in Northern Ireland.

“They need certainty, and this needs to be delivered through full implementation of the protocol.”

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Apart from Mr Varadkar, who has nevertheless tested negative for the illness, and Mr Coveney, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly are also taking precautions.

A statement issued by Mr Varadkar said: “Yesterday I was informed that I was a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. I was swabbed yesterday and the test has come back negative.

“In line with public health advice, I will be restricting my movements to home and outdoor exercise.

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“There are no implications for anyone who has been in close contact with me. I am perfectly well and will be working from home.”

Meanwhile Mr Coveney travelled to Brussels for EU meetings on Monday and Tuesday and was tested on leaving the country and again on re-entering.

His spokesman said: “The Minister has been tested on return from Brussels and will be tested again in a week.

“He is continuing his full programme of work.”

Mr Martin has endured a rocky start to his tenure since replacing Mr Varadkar in June.

Last month he was rocked by the resignation of Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary in the wake of “golfgate”, an event he attended in the west of Ireland which breached coronavirus rules restricting indoor gatherings to six people or fewer.

Ireland’s EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan who was also at the social function, also resigned from his post.

Mr Calleary himself replaced Barrie Cowen, who was forced to quit after failing to disclose details of an historic drink-driving conviction.

Speaking to Express.co.uk last week, Ray Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told Express.co.uk: “I have no doubt but that Martin is in serious trouble.”

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