On behalf of the Fianna Fáil party I would like to thank you for taking the time to address this joint session today.
Your eagerness to listen and respond to the concerns of Ireland continues an approach seen during the many important roles which you have held in the French government and in the European Commission.
This is not an occasion where we can or should get into the deep specifics of the negotiations. I am confident that your team and the European institutions will continue to be accessible for constructive discussions.
Fianna Fáil sees this exchange of views as an opportunity to link our approach to these negotiations with the fundamental issue of Ireland’s place within Europe.
This is not just about the outcome of the Brexit process but also about how we see the long term future of relations on this island, with our neighbour and with our partners in the European Union.
No one underestimates the scale and complexity of the task which you face.
Last year’s referendum was an ugly and negative affair. No amount of warm words and earnest statements can cover this up.
There was no strategy for implementing Brexit, there was just a strategy for winning the vote through a combination of bluster and aggression.
It was not a positive assertion of sovereignty; it was the culmination of 30 years of an increasingly corrosive scapegoating of Europe and immigrants for the home-grown divisions in British society.
Those false prophets who promised an economic bonanza are now claiming that they have defied the critics and Britain is booming. This is nonsense. Public borrowing and taxes have already risen since the vote and the long-term damage to employment and standards of living is becoming ever more certain.
Fundamentally, the narrow Brexit majority represented a rejection of strong rule-based cooperation between states. It asserted a narrow vision of sovereignty which developed in the 19th Century and directly led to the two bloodiest wars in history.
Let there be no doubt about where Ireland stands.
We want nothing to do with a backward-looking idea of sovereignty.
We remain absolutely committed to the ideals of the European Union.
We see the Union for what it is – the most successful international organisation in world history.
And while the extremes of right and left join together to attack it, they have no credible response to the fact that every member state has secured a significant rise in living standards and a continent once defined by conflict is today defined by cooperation.
The Union is flawed, but its successes are undeniable.
Certainly there are different views here. There are those who buy into the anti-EU narratives, but the overwhelming majority of the Irish people are determined that Ireland’s future will remain a European future.
It is important for you to understand that Ireland’s approach to Europe and to international commitments is deeply intertwined with our national identity.
Last year we marked 100 years since the most important founding event of our republic. The nationalism of the Rising of 1916 and the Proclamation of Independence is a generous one. It defines the Irish nation as having diverse elements and seeks a state which works with others.
Our republican constitution, adopted in 1937 at a dark moment in world affairs, goes even further and explicitly recognises the role of international law and cooperation.
We have no nostalgia for a lost empire and no wish to assert superiority over others. We have never sought to stand apart from the world, jealously guarding the right to say no to everything.
We fully understand that only when states work together can they secure peace, progress and prosperity for their people.
That is why we will remain active and constructive members of the European Union.
The most basic challenge for the agreement which you will negotiate is to protect the essential contract which underpins the European Union.
This essential contract is that all members must have the opportunity to achieve progress. When new circumstances arise new responses must be possible.
If Europe ceases to be a vehicle of hope then it ceases to have a purpose.
Brexit represents a dramatic disruption which poses permanent challenges which are unevenly spread within the Union.
The referendum result and the British government’s decision to opt-out of both the Single Market and the Customs Union are deeply destructive for businesses and communities on this island.
The only long-term option for us is to take a more ambitious and urgent approach to diversification and innovation. Even more importantly we must now find a way of fixing the damage caused to the agreed approach to building a lasting reconciliation in the place of sectarian division.
I remember well that when a government of ours approached you concerning EU support for the Peace Process you were active, engaged and generous. We have no doubt that you will do everything possible to honour the clear support for the Good Friday Agreement contained in the negotiation guidelines.
It is important to emphasise that the Good Friday Agreement establishes structures and policies which are intended to evolve over time. It is not a question of having either the status quo or reunification.
In fact the real spirit of the Agreement is to be found in provisions which allow for greater shared action over time in important practical matters. The text incorporated in our constitution allows for this parliament to delegate functions to bodies not solely under our direction. Tourism, trade and EU funding programmes are three of the areas already covered.
Whatever is agreed in the negotiations must do nothing to undermine the ability to allow shared, cross-border institutions and action to develop.
In terms of the wider trade arrangements, we believe that maintaining a close trading relationship with the UK is in Europe’s interests.
Given the scale of disruption which Brexit will cause even with a ‘soft border’, we believe that a form of special status should be considered in the negotiations. There are many models of special economic zones in the world which could be adapted.
The rights of persons born in Northern Ireland or long-term residents of Northern Ireland to Irish and therefore European citizenship must be protected fully in the final agreement.
We welcome the reassurances provided on this as well as the commitment to maintaining the Common Travel Area.
As you know this commitment is currently referenced in Protocol 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This protocol is essentially meaningless once the UK leaves the Union because Ireland’s rights are defined in terms of its relations with another contracting partner to the Treaty.
This raises what may be a fundamental practical issue with the negotiations – which is the status of the agreement which emerges.
The guidelines limit what can be agreed to measures which conform to the existing EU legal order and laws. It is frankly very difficult to see how issues to do with Northern Ireland, or indeed the Common Travel Area as well as essential economic adjustments can be addressed without some new EU legal measures.
We hope you will be willing to recommend new legislative acts where these may be required.
However, where there is a doubt concerning the Treaties we believe the final agreement should provide a means of adopting some new measures such as an enabling provision which would allow new North/South arrangements following Council unanimity.
The ratification process for the Brexit agreement is similar to that adopted for accession treaties. It should be possible to agree minor treaty provisions at the same time if they are essential to meeting basic objectives
This session does not allow for more detail, but we will forward to you specific proposals once the negotiations are underway.
On this very day 45 years ago the votes were counted in our accession referendum. An overwhelming 83% voted in favour of membership.
The campaign saw many scare stories promoted about how Europe would reduce Ireland to a barren wasteland, build nuclear plants on every crossroads and parade missiles down our main streets.
The people chose to place their faith in the positive vision of Ireland growing and prospering within the European community of nations.
Our European path was in fact the final public contribution of our great revolutionary generation.
As a 16 year old boy Seán Lemass escaped from home in order to fight in the Rising.
As a politician a decade later he read and was inspired by the idea of a United Europe proposed by the great French statesman Aristide Briand.
When Lemass became Taoiseach at the end of the 1950s he called for our country to open itself. His governments laid the foundations for sustained progress – and central to this was securing agreement to apply for membership of the then European Economic Community.
He told us there would be challenges, but the opportunities would be far greater.
This father of our European path and of modern Ireland died on May 11th 1971 exactly one year before the result of our accession referendum was announced. His legacy is as important today as it ever has been.
Europe faces a moment of great uncertainty and in many ways fear.
There is no positive side to Brexit.
But if we look to our shared history we see that we have come through many difficult times before.
If we remember the core ideals of the Union, we will get through this process and secure for another generation the promise of shared progress and prosperity between the nations of Europe.