Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was "extraordinarily competent" in his ability to lead Ireland into the Brexit negotiations, but that the task facing the country was about "more than one individual". 

The minister is in Brussels to attend a council of ministers meeting, and delivered a speech to the Brussels branch of the International Institute of European Affairs on Ireland's place in Europe post Brexit.

He said that Europe risked alienating EU citizens unless the Union became a "Citizens Europe".

He said: "Too often, the EU sometimes resembles a Europe for corporations rather than for citizens, governed by legal principles and treaties rather than by values and the democratic wishes of its people."

He urged the EU to have a more "impactful" role on managing migration, securing external borders, combating terrorism, and negotiating global trade and climate change deals.

Minister Varadkar also called on the EU to loosen fiscal rules to allow greater investment spending on infrastructure.

He said that, post-Brexit, Ireland had to forge new alliances with like-minded countries.

He said: "Unwittingly, Brexit may present Ireland with the chance to seize the next phase in our development and maturity as a sovereign state.

"It will force us to forge relations and shape our destiny within the EU in the absence of our near neighbour and strongest ally."

Asked if Mr Kenny should still be Taoiseach in 2018 at a time when the UK-EU negotiations are expected to be completed, Mr Varadkar said: "I think Enda Kenny is a very experienced politician. He's built up very strong contacts across the European Union, has some very good relationships with a number of prime ministers, so I think he has extraordinary competence and is very capable to lead out on these talks."

But he added: "Anything that happens has to be more than one individual, and what's going to be very important is the Government as a whole, our embassies and our people on the ground, not just here in Brussels, but all the different European capitals as well."

He said alliances were being built across the EU, but it was an enormous undertaking. 

"It is the biggest change in our relationship since the 70s," he said.