As Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for Brexit, I have responsibility for coordinating the whole-of-Government approach to the EU-UK negotiations and to preparations for Brexit, with a view to securing the best possible outcome for Ireland. I work closely with the Taoiseach, who as a member of the European Council, provides strategic direction for our approach to the negotiations.
The European Union Division in my Department is headed by a Second Secretary General with a particular focus on Brexit issues, who works closely with the Director General of the European Union Division, at Assistant Secretary level. The Second Secretary General oversees a dedicated eight-person unit on the EU-UK negotiations in the Division, which analyses developments in the negotiations, prepares policy papers and briefing, and co-ordinates the work of our EU Missions on Brexit. This unit is also the lead unit on contingency planning and Brexit preparedness. The EU Division works closely with the Department’s Ireland, UK and Americas Division, Legal Division and Trade Division, which also deal with aspects of Brexit. There is daily co-ordination with the Permanent Representation. There is also very close contact with the Department of the Taoiseach, which serves the Taoiseach as a member of the European Council. The most senior official dealing with Brexit in the Department of the Taoiseach is the lead negotiator in the preparation of the European Council.
Maintaining frequent contact with EU partners, including the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been a priority for Ireland throughout the Article 50 negotiations process and, as such, the Taoiseach and I both liaise with Mr. Barnier on a regular basis, as appropriate. The Taoiseach also maintains contact with the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council.
I normally represent Ireland at the General Affairs Council (Art. 50), as I did yesterday, when I also met with Mr. Barnier. The GAC (Art. 50) has a key role in providing political oversight of the Article 50 negotiations and in preparing the work of the European Council (Art. 50), where Ireland is represented by the Taoiseach.