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Signs ahead of key Brexit dinner this evening not encouraging

Inside Politics: All eyes are on the Covid rollout plan and the priority groups

Good morning

Another day breaks on the blessed sunlit uplands of Brexit Britain where happy denizens pass blissful days, irradiated by the glow of bountiful trade deals and the most meaningful of relationships with its friends in the European Union.

Well, not quite. As we report in our lead story today, the Brexit negotiations are going down to the wire. Even for Brexit, this is tight, and the signs in advance of a key dinner between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson in Brussels this evening are not encouraging. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told the Dáil that it could soon be discussing preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and cautioned against misinterpreting progress on last year's deal to avoid a hard border.

Indeed, it seems like there was one step forward, two steps back on the Brexit front yesterday. The agreement on implementing the Northern Ireland protocol paves the way for London to scrap controversial legislation, which would have made a deal impossible, but major points of disagreement remain.


Furthermore, as my colleagues Pat Leahy, Denis Staunton and Simon Carswell report this morning, the resolution of the Border issue may make it easier for a US-UK trade deal, even if there is a no-trade deal Brexit.

Those on the front lines are pleading for more time, with Swedish company Stena Line asking for a six month “implementation period” as many businesses are not ready. During a lengthy briefing yesterday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the Cabinet that talks came close to collapse on Monday. Mr Coveney warned that even if there was a deal, it may be a “skinny” one that will not avoid many of the downsides of a no-deal outcome.

Our lead story is here. And Cliff Taylor breaks down the cold hard economic realities for post-Brexit Ireland here.

Covid immunisation plan

All eyes are on the rollout of the Covid vaccine rollout programme, with interest groups queuing up to make the case for their members to be in a priority group, as we report on our front page piece today.

Several unions and other representative groups are letting the Government know where they stand, and which of the priority categories they think their members belong in. Much of this will come out in the wash, and many of the union’s demands are reasonable and well founded, but as is the case with anything of this scale there will be hard cases.

Consider, for example, the meat plant workers. During the summer, food processing facilities were ground zero for the ripples of what was to become the second wave, as asymptomatic spread mixed with workplace conditions that favoured the virus to drive rapid spread of the disease.

Greg Ennis, Siptu’s lead official for the sector, is arguing that meat plant workers should be vaccinated in tier six of the Government’s vaccination plan, which can broadly be understood as the first non-healthcare worker, non-vulnerable or older person category. Ostensibly it’s for key workers, but the Department of Health says it’s more specifically for those providing services essential to the vaccination programme – for example, logistical support.

From the Government's point of view this is entirely reasonable. Having drawn up its plan on the basis of protecting the most vulnerable, there is a logic to quickly vaccinating those involved in the rollout of the programme to protect the scheme itself. But equally, meat plant workers, who have been centre stage for so long, will not be happy at having to wait until tier nine or 10 before getting the jab. This may be one to watch between now and the end of the year. The full list of categories within the vaccination programme can be viewed here.

Best reads

That noise that you can hear in the background may not be approaching sleigh bells, but rather the jangling nerves of public health chiefs as we begin to see signs that recent positive trends in Covid numbers are turning. Health editor Paul Cullen parses the latest letter from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan here as Ireland suddenly registers the fifth fastest rising seven-day incidence in the EU.

Our Northern Correspondent Freya McClements reports from the Scottish port of Greenock, where fishermen are warning of a "perfect storm" driven by Brexit and Covid. "It's just one big mess at the minute and nobody knows what way to turn," warns trawlerman Alistair Roberts.

Kathy Sheridan warns that we may be enjoying the Brit-bashing a bit too much.

"If he were a builder pricing a job, this is when Micheál would have narrowed his eyes and sucked the air through his teeth, shaking his head". Miriam Lord on the Taoiseach's bucket of Brexit cold water in the Dáil yesterday.

And if you fancy a break from Brexit, Brit-Bashing and Covid, Derek Scally's account of a giant dirt-eating, concrete laying monster that laid Berlin's newest U-Bahn line is strangely soothing on a cold December morning.



Action in the Dáil kicks off today with private members time given over to a motion on mental health from the Regional Group. That’s followed by Leader’s Questions at 12pm with Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, Solidarity-PBP and the Independent Group.

In the afternoon, Taoiseach’s questions are at lunchtime and Government business will cover the Social Welfare Bill, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill and the Finance Bill.

The full schedule is here.


In the upper house, Senators Alice Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane will bring their deportation memorandum to second stage, while the annual national transition statement on the climate action and low carbon development act will be presented by the Department of the Environment. The full schedule is here.


It's a packed day of committee action with pre legislative scrutiny of the Government's anti-ticket touting bill at the Enterprise, Trade and Employment Committee at 9am. At the same time, the Joint Committee on European Affairs will hold an engagement on Brexit with politicos from Westminster, including Labour's Hilary Benn and Stephen Kinnock. The Joint Committee on Health will hear evidence on the State's cancer screening programmes, which have been badly hit by Covid, at 11.30am. At the same time, the Transport Committee will launch a report on issues affecting the aviation industry. We have a tee-up of that report here.

There are grandees aplenty in the afternoon, with Congressman Richard Neal, chair of the congressional ways and means committee and Irish-American political heavyweight, giving evidence to the Seanad Brexit committee. That's at 5.30pm after newly minted European Commissioner Maireád McGuinness appears before the finance committee at 2pm. The full schedule is here.