Brexit process at moment of undeniable crisis, says Irish opposition leader

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Ireland’s opposition leader Micheal Martin has hit out at the UK Government over its handling of the Brexit process and reiterated calls for Northern Ireland to become a special economic zone.

The Fianna Fail leader made the comments at an annual political event in Co Donegal on Monday.

During his speech, Mr Martin accused the Irish government of helping to “dramatise” the debate surrounding the backstop arrangement.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School – where political discussions take place – the TD said the Brexit process is at a moment of “undeniable crisis”.

“Today’s Tory Party is beyond satire and has long ceased to be amusing,” he said.

“It has put to rest any lingering sense of the seriousness of the self-regarding and childishly erudite class of public figure which emerges from many of their most prominent schools.”

He added that the moment of truth on Brexit and Northern Ireland has been reached.

“The choices facing us are starker than ever, the room for manoeuvre is becoming narrower by the day – there is no more time for delay,” Mr Martin said.

He also addressed the issues around the Irish border and what he described as the “irreconcilable demands” of having no checks between the east and west.

“Clearly we have to look for an approach which overcomes the fears of a constitutional sleight-of-hand created by the ridiculous and almost messianic over-spinning of the backstop last December,” he said.

Mr Martin said the “best opportunity” for Northern Ireland was for it to become a special economic zone.

He said that Northern Ireland would benefit from the “best of both worlds”, with access to both the UK and EU markets, and that special treatment would give it “in certain circumstances” a competitive advantage.

Monday marked 560 days since the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed due to a bitter fallout between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

On Thursday, the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference will take place for the first time since 2007.

Mr Martin said he hoped the meeting will mark some “major initiative” to restore Northern Ireland’s institutions.

“Until this happens, whatever is the Brexit outcome will lack essential democratic legitimacy,” he added.

“I don’t want to blame the violence of recent weeks on the Brexit debate, but there is no doubt that the political vacuum in Northern Ireland is creating a dangerous climate.”

He also hit out at former Tory leader David Cameron over his decision to hold the EU referendum, describing it as one of the most “disastrous failures of leadership in a modern democracy”.

“It is not just that the people were presented with a dishonest and incomplete question – it showed a cavalier disregard for one of the greatest achievements of modern democracies, the peace and reconciliation agenda in Northern Ireland,” he said.

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