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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland needs to use "creativity" to ensure Brexit is as painless as possible, but must not negotiate directly with London, the European Commission's second-in-command said on Tuesday.
With an economy highly dependent on trade with Britain, and the only land border with the UK, Ireland is widely considered the country with the most to lose when its bigger neighbour quits the European Union.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny said last week it was of "vital national interest" that no physical barrier or customs controls be put back on the border with Northern Ireland, but neither Dublin or London have clearly said how this can be achieved.
"I'm here to stress very clearly that the European Commission will be at Ireland's side when we need to take into account the very special circumstances Ireland has to deal with in the Brexit debate," Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans told an Irish parliamentary committee.
"But for that to be successful we also need your very active engagement in this, all the creativity Irish people can muster to make sure that we find the best possible solution and do the least harm possible to all the parties involved."
Timmermans also said there was a duty to maintain the "miracle" of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
But he said that which Ireland was a "very, very special case", it must resist the temptation to start parallel, bilateral talks with London which will spend the next two years negotiating with the EU about post-Brexit conditions.
"Let me brutally clear about this. Yes, exceptional circumstances. No to bilateral negotiations. That is exactly playing into the hands of the Brits who are trying to play off one country against the other," Timmermans said.
"They (Britain) will try with ever single member state. That's in the nature of diplomacy, and I don't blame them. They're fighting for the interests of their country like we are fighting for the interests of the remaining 27 countries."
Editing by Robin Pomeroy