|Paul Coggins and Martin Mockler , London Irish Construction Network, Brexit debate in House of Commons|
|Frank Feighan with Alasdair McDonnell, Leader
Many thanks for inviting me today.
I would like to preface my remarks by saying that as the 31st Dail was dissolved earlier this month, I am today speaking here essentially as a private citizen, and my views are my own. So if you take issue with what I am about to say, I alone am responsible!
During the last Dail I was privileged to hold the offices of co-Chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Association (BIPA) and Chairman of the Oireachatas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. And in these roles I took, and indeed still take, a keen interest in Ireland’s relationship with the UK, as well as developments in Northern Ireland.
Indeed when BIPA last met, the implications of a possible UK exit from the EU was the topic of substantial and lively discussion, not only among elected members of the Irish and Westminster Parliaments, but also among members of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who had their own perspectives on the debate.
Whatever your views, it’s clear that the coming referendum will have profound implications for the UK, including its devolved nations, as well as for Ireland and the rest of the EU.
So this gathering today is important, and also timely, coming after the publication of a draft basis of agreement by EU Council President Tusk. Governments will be studying this text very closely, and we can expect substantial discussions and intensive negotiations in the weeks ahead. We may see the referendum take place as soon as this summer.
Let me be clear that Irish people naturally respect the right of UK citizens to determine their own future. But Ireland is a close friend and neighbour of the UK, and there are huge trade, social and historical ties between our countries. Members of the London Irish Construction Network understand that well. So of course Ireland takes a keen interest in this debate.
I personally would not like to see, for example, an EU border run through the island of Ireland. And any changes to the UK’s EU membership are bound to impact the very substantial trade between Ireland and the UK, valued at over €1 billion each week in goods and services, which takes place under the umbrella of the EU’s common market. And the EU has, of course, been a substantial investor in Northern Ireland.
It is for reasons such as these that, as the Taoiseach has stated, Ireland is working as far as practicable to ensure the UK’s concerns are addressed in the negotiations. And from the draft text which has been published, we can see that far-reaching changes to the workings of the EU are on the table.
I hope that an agreement can be reached which accommodates the concerns and needs of the UK. Ireland sees the UK as a close ally and friend within the EU. It is without doubt better for Ireland that the UK remains in the UK. It is also better for the EU that the UK remains a full member. But I also firmly believe that it is in the UK’s own best interests to remain a member of a reformed EU.
For these reasons I have no doubt that I and my fellow countrymen and women will be watching the debate on the UK’s future relationship with the EU in the coming months with great interest.
On that note, may I sincerely congratulate the organisers for this evening’s most timely event, and thank you again for the opportunity to share my views.