The European Union's draft guidelines for the Brexit negotiations have highlighted Ireland's "unique circumstances" and stated that "flexible and imaginative solutions" would be required in order to avoid a hard border.

The guidelines, however, state that any solutions on avoiding a hard border would have to respect all EU rules.

They also suggest that the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland would be recognised by the EU when the negotiations get under way.

A senior EU official acknowledged that there would be "a new quality" to the border in Ireland as it would be the EU's external frontier with a non-EU country.

"Everybody understands the complexity of this issue and everybody is ready to make a real effort to try to mitigate as much as possible the situation," he told RTÉ News.

"But again I think it is important to understand that this situation is created by the UK decision."

Trade talks may start before final Brexit terms agreed

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the draft guidelines will be dealt with at the European Council summit on 29 April.

Speaking in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Mr Kenny said Ireland has made a particular case about its priorities, which include the economy, the border, the peace process and the Common Travel Area.

The draft, which sets out the EU's principles and objectives once the negotiations start, says the EU would recognise all existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the UK and Ireland "which are compatible with EU law."

This is taken as a reference to the Common Travel Area.

The guidelines state: "The [European] Union has consistently supported the goal of peace and reconciliation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, and continuing to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process will remain of paramount importance.

"In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order.

"In this context, the Union should also recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland which are compatible with EU law."

The senior EU officials said that the EU's top three priorities when embarking on the negotiations were the rights of EU citizens, either in the UK or UK citizens living in the EU, the question of how much the UK would have to pay on exiting in terms of its budget liabilities, and thirdly, Ireland.

The official said: "There will be a new quality to this border because it will be an external EU border, it will be an external border of the customs union and the single market, there will be two sets of rules on each side of that border, there will be a different of institutional framework for those rules.

"That does raise questions [such as customs checks, animal health, food safety, labelling rules]. There the commitment is to be flexible and imaginative in doing that, but of course without undermining the EU legal order.

"It's also about not undermining the single market, and that's also in the interests of Irish producers.  Everybody understands the complexity of this issue and everybody is ready to make a real effort to try to mitigate as much as possible the situation.

"But again I think it is important to understand that this situation is created by the UK decision."

The EU's draft guidelines present a tough response to the British position in the run up to the triggering of Article 50.

Farm leaders meet to discuss challenges of Brexit 

The head of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has said that the negotiations over Brexit will present agriculture in Ireland with its most serious crisis in 50 years.

The president of the IFA, Joe Healy, was speaking at a meeting of farmers’ leaders from the UK and Ireland. The heads of the main farmers' groups in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales met in Co Down today to discuss the implications of Brexit and to co-ordinate the approach of farmers' leaders to the negotiations.

Mr Healy said he expected the Government to launch a major diplomatic offensive at EU level "that places our issues at the heart of the negotiations".

Spain must have say over Gibraltar after Brexit - guidelines

Spain must have a say over whether any deal after Brexit applies to the British territory of Gibraltar, over which London and Madrid have rowed for 300 years, EU guidelines said.

"After the United Kingdom leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom," the guidelines say.

The tiny British overseas territory on Spain's southern tip has long been the subject of an acrimonious sovereignty row between London and Madrid, which wants Gibraltar back after it was ceded to Britain in 1713.

Spain has proposed that Gibraltar be allowed to remain in the EU in exchange for shared sovereignty with Britain over the Rock.

But residents overwhelmingly voted to remain with Britain in two sovereignty referendums in 1967 and 2002.