In this region in particular the uncertainty that has arisen from the recent decision in the British Referendum on Membership of the European Union is causing difficulty, even at this early stage, for many businesses particularly those that are focused on exports to Northern Ireland and Britain.
We are now in unchartered territory and this is going to present substantial challenges for the entire island of Ireland. The ramifications of this result are numerous and cannot be easily quantified at this stage.
Ireland must act decisively and we have to ensure that our concerns and our interests are at the heart of the negotiations between Britain and the EU.
We cannot state often enough that we have a unique relationship with Great Britain. The Referendum results mean that we will share a land border with a non EU member state, a land border right across our island. This special circumstance must be recognised in the negotiations.
Our planning in relation to the negotiating process must be comprehensive – it has to be well thought out and very detailed. Literally no stone can be left unturned in this respect. There is no room for complacency.
In this debate we must also outline clearly that we are committed to the European project and the European Union. We must make BREXIT the absolute priority in our public business, across Government, across the political system and across the public service.
Reform is needed within the EU so that it lives up to the principles upon which it was founded. The EU has in recent years struggled to articulate a positive relevance in the minds of its citizens. A renewal of the European vision is badly needed. The culture of a distant centralism has contributed to the disconnect between the EU institutions and its citizens.
In May 1998 the overwhelming majority of the people on this island, both North and South, voted to adopt The Good Friday Agreement. That is an international agreement lodged in the United Nations and the co-guarantors of the Agreement are the Irish and British Governments. Arising from that Agreement we had substantial progress in the development of all Ireland bodies such as Intertrade Ireland, the North South Language Body, Safe Food, Special EU Programmes Body, Waterways Ireland and Tourism Ireland. The establishment of those bodies allowed both administrations to work together in the best interests of the relevant sectors.
Over the years I would have argued along with many others that we needed to create additional bodies working on an All Ireland basis. Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Northern Ireland Invest should have a greater synergy in their workings, similarly Bord Bia and its counterpart in Northern Ireland should have more and more joint trade missions. Let us remember that as an island in excess of 6 million in population that we are a small destination.
When a company or a State Organisation from North or South are doing their marketing in distant Asia the question does not arise whether you are from North or South of the border.
The British decision to leave the EU will have implications for Peace Funding which has been vital in supporting the Peace process and the Peace process has been of benefit to every individual throughout all of this island.
The Peace Programme established in the early 1990’s is unique among the whole of Europe and was created out of the European Union’s desire to build on the opportunities presented by the cease fires of 1994 and 1995. Since then it has committed approximately €2.26 billion in funds to Northern Ireland and the border region of which approx. €1.96 billion has come directly from the EU.
The Peace Funding has been vital in funding the Peace process and has had a very positive impact on communities both north and south of the border. This vital source of funding is now in doubt.