Irish representation on Barnier's negotiating team

The latest breakdown in the Brexit negotiations isn't surprising, given the news emanating from both sides in recent weeks.

What IS surprising, however, and I've said this from the very start, is that there isn't a single Irish representative involved in the negotiations, certainly not on Michel Barnier's team but I believe the same holds true on the UK team. In fact I'd go beyond surprising; in a situation where Ireland and the border was ALWAYS going to be a major problem, that neither side had an Irish representative at the very forefront of negotiations is truly baffling, even more especially given that we've proven ourselves before in this type of situation, and relatively recently at that.

The Good Friday Agreement - that which Arlene Foster and her equally hard-line DUP objected to at the time and are now very deliberately trying to unravel - brought an end to decades of violence in the north-eastern part of our island. It involved tricky negotiations, hard negotiations, and between people who had been violent enemies. And it was done.

Why in God's name wasn't that kind of expertise used on this occasion? When I suggested a few months ago in a face-to-face meeting with Foreign Minister Simon Coveney that even at that late stage Ireland should look to have someone added to Barnier's team, he scoffed at the idea. That told me all I need to know about Mr Coveney.

I'm astonished at how so many in Ireland still believe that there is some greater competence in Europe, that somehow when it comes to good governance and good decision-making, they are just so much better than us. But just look at the evidence - recent evidence.

The euro as launched was a catastrophe, a monstrous edifice built without proper foundations. In less than a decade it collapsed, brought debt and social and economic destruction to nearly half of those Member States who had signed up to it.

Even more catastrophic, however, was the EU's response to all that debt and destruction. It doubled down on the earlier errors, and with policy after austerity policy that have all now been exposed as counter-productive even by their erstwhile partners-in-crime, the IMF, it made a bad situation worse. Greece is the worst current example of that, and what the EU - the ECB especially - did there is unforgivable. But we too are still paying an enormous price for the EU misdeeds in Ireland.

Have the hardliners in Brussels learned from that? Absolutely not, and now they're trying to do to Italy what they most recently did to Greece, and use their combined political power (the Commission and the Council) and economic muscle (the ECB) to bully and blackmail them into submission. It won't work, but - sadly, and I get no satisfaction from saying this - it WILL precipitate yet another crisis in this crumbling 'Union'.

It's time for the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to intervene here, time to show REAL leadership and INSIST on Ireland having someone on that negotiating team. Time also for all those in the north other than the DUP to get together and insist on having someone on the UK team. And perhaps then, and only then, with all that 'skin in the game', will we see genuine progress, and a satisfactory end to this debacle.