Subscriber OnlyPolitics

Terse atmosphere expected for meeting between EU leaders and May

Inside Politics: Donald Tusk’s ‘special place in hell’ comments dominate British press agenda

To Hell and Back . . .

Theresa May travels to Brussels on Thursday to meet EU leaders including president of the European Council Donald Tusk. His comments on Wednesday that "there was a special place in hell" for those Brexiteers who were happy to leave the Union without any plan has set the tone for what will be a terse and distant meeting.

What was Tusk playing at? It was a clumsy and insulting comment. Sure it might reflect his frustration but it’s hard to imagine a member state leader making such a direct attack on another country like that.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who happened to be with him at the Brussels press conference, was caught off-microphone telling Tusk he would get a pasting from the British press. He was right.


British politicians also got in on the act. House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom described them as "pretty unacceptable". Sammy Wilson of the DUP portrayed Tusk as a "devilish, trident-wielding euro maniac".

As I listen to the BBC4's Today programme this morning, the "hell" comments dominate its agenda. It also forms part of our main lead by Denis Staunton.

So that sets the atmosphere for Thursday's meeting between EU leaders and May. As part of her packed diplomatic shuffle ahead of next week's meaningful vote in parliament, Mrs May has also visited Belfast and will meet Varadkar in Dublin on Friday.

Yesterday, Varadkar received the assurances he received on the backstop, and also spent a lot of time talking to EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker on no-deal arrangements for the Border.

Strangely enough, it's not all as bleak as it has seemed. At least May is going to Brussels with a specific proposal – that the back-stop must not be permanent. In other words, it must be time-stamped. Is there a solution there? And if so, what is it? Five years? Ten years? Certainly nothing as insulting as the three months suggested by Dominic Raab.

And also, as the BBC and Guardian are reporting this morning, we have finally got clarity from Labour's Jeremy Corbyn. In a letter to the prime minister, Corbyn says he will back her if she agrees to five conditions.

The main one is that Britain joins a permanent customs union – in a relationship not too far removed to the one that Norway has with the EU. He also seems to be ruling out a second referendum, which will not go down well with the substantial amount of Remainers in his parliamentary party.

Hell-bound Brexiteers won't be too happy about it but Labour argues such a solution could command majority parliamentary support. Nothing is surprising anymore about Brexit.

The (Two) Billion Dollar Baby

Perhaps Barry Cowen was right and the Government would be gone now was it not for Brexit. Certainly the spiralling costs of the national children’s hospital is one of those issues that infuriates voters – a project that involves a wanton waste of public money on a biblical scale.

To add insult to injury, it appears that the two Departments with a handle on the project seem to have taken their eye off the ball. Why did it take so long for the exact amount of the over-run to be disclosed to Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Health Simon Harris? Should their officials have disclosed the details earlier? Should the Ministers have made a greater effort or asked the right questions earlier?

All of those issues of the half a billion overspend have continued to be thrashed out this week. On Wednesday it was the turn of the Oireachtas Health Committee and the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, where both Ministers made some concessions on details but defended their handling of the situation.

Donohoe told a meeting of Fine Gael on Wednesday night he took overall responsibility. It comes as it emerged that officials from his Department and from Health had failed to arrange a meeting on the issue for over a month last autumn.

Mr Harris also insisted he was not aware of the exact over-run until November although he knew there was an issue in September. He admitted he should have said, in response to a parliamentary question in September, that a process was in place to “crystallise” the exact overall cost of the project.

Here is our report on Wednesday's developments.

Best Reads

Miriam Lord touches on the over-run in her column.

As Simon Coveney visits Washington, Suzanne Lynch reports on American insistence on the upholding of the Belfast Agreement.

Patrick Smyth analyses the dim prospects for agreement in Brussels today.

Stephen Collins takes a fierce swipe at the proponents of the Occupied Territories Bill.

Pat Leahy argues the Government cannot give in to the demands of the striking nurses.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has the biological age of an, erm, 53 year old after taking a test on Operation Transformation.

Marie O'Halloran reports on a fierce Dáil row involving Brendan Howlin and Michael Healy-Rae on Wednesday.

PAC chairman Sean Fleming denies it is poaching the headline-grabbing issues from other committees.

Our series on the housing and homelessness issues continues withan assessment of how Rebuilding Ireland has been faring.



10.00: Government Business: Statements on Nurses and Midwives Industrial Action.

12.00: Leaders’ Questions with Simon Coveney taking questions.

12.32: Questions on Promised Legislation.

12.47: Weekly divisions. Votes on all the private members motions.

14.10: Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe will be taking questions. A lot of questions will focus on the national children’s hospital.

15.40: Statements re Fourth Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

17.48: Committee Report: Motion re Report on Tackling Childhood Obesity


10.30: Commencement Matters

12.45: Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018


09.00: Public Accounts looks at costs in President's Office, and in Taoiseach's Office, with Martin Fraser, secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach.

09.45: Foreign Affairs and Defence looks at issues for the Reserve Defence Forces.

10.00: Housing, Planning and Local Government looking at impact of Brexit on Ireland’s housing market.