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Unbending on border, Ireland says there is work to do to get Brexit deal next month

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland, armed with an EU veto and insistent on an open Irish border after Britain leaves the bloc, is hopeful agreement can be reached by mid-December but believes sufficient progress has yet to be made.

FILE PHOTO: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Ireland Simon Coveney speaks on stage during the Fine Gael national party conference in Ballyconnell, Ireland November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Thursday his country needed more clarity from London.

The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will be the UK’s only land frontier with the bloc after its departure, is one of three issues Brussels wants broadly solved before it decides next month on whether to move the talks onto a second phase about trade, as Britain wants.

“I am hopeful this can be reached in December, but it is by no means pre-determined... We need a lot more clarity,” Coveney told a parliamentary committee while repeating that with three weeks to go, Dublin has still not received proposals from London to allow talks to move on.

Before it can sign off on the first phase of talks, the Irish government wants Britain to spell out in writing how it intends to make good on its commitment that the 500-km (310 mile) border will remain as seamless post-Brexit as it is today.

Dublin has said this can be best achieved if London commits, on behalf of Northern Ireland, that there would be no regulatory divergence north and south of the border. Coveney said that includes all areas from agriculture to state aid rules.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said Dublin would continue to resist the idea expressed by some British ministers that talks need to move onto the trade phase before the border issue can be resolved.

“They are asking us to take a leap in the dark and we are not going to take a leap in the dark. We need something more concrete,” McEntee said.

The border question is particularly sensitive given the decades of violence over whether Northern Ireland should be part of the UK or Ireland.

Some 3,600 people were killed before the 1998 peace agreement.

“We have been very clear in terms of what we’re asking for, that hasn’t changed for months. What has changed, perhaps, is the expectation that Ireland, maybe when we came under a bit of pressure, that we might back off or accept that this would be deferred into phase two,” Coveney said.

“Some people seem to be surprised that that’s not happening, maybe they weren’t listening when we told them the first time, or the second time or the tenth time but I think people are listening now.”

Additional reporting by Conor Humphries and Luke Baker in Paris; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt