Michéal Martin TD, Leader of Fianna Fáil

Speech at Opening of All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit

Dublin Castle, Wednesday 2nd November 2016


It is over four months since the result of the Brexit referendum was announced. In the period since then there has been little or no progress is defining what Brexit actually means. Uncertainty has grown and apprehension is being replaced with a real fear of what is happening.

We could spend a lot of time here talking about the politics of what has happened but this would help no one. And the politicians present need to give the wider interests represented here the space to be heard.  

Today and as this process moves forward we have to take a different approach.

There is an urgent need to quickly move forward. We can’t let the confusion and complacency of others dominate.

A clear majority on this island voted for membership in the entry referendums in the 1970s. And a clear majority in Northern Ireland has just voted to remain – in fact a larger majority than voted in favour of membership in 1975.

So the people of this island have been persuaded of the benefits of membership of the EU. Now they are faced with the fallout of a divisive and damaging result not of their making.

We all know that Brexit has profound short, medium and long-term implications for this island. 

These concern the full range of economic, social, political and cultural issues. No matter what your politics or tradition this is an issue which affects you.  

We have a shared interest which simply cannot be denied. It is time for us all to work together to define the challenges we face and develop a comprehensive response.

We need this all-island dialogue to show urgency, to be genuinely inclusive and to focus on specifics.  

Yes, let’s talk about problems, but it’s the solutions which matter most. Our agenda is the clear one of wanting to minimise the damage and division of Brexit and to maximise progress for all parts of this island.

Take reasonable scenarios and talk about what can be done. Let’s explore radical ways of softening Brexit, but we also have to talk about the crude and chaotic Brexit which some in the London cabinet appear to be advocating. 

Unlike the Foreign Secretary, we don’t have the luxury of being pro-having the cake and eating it.  We have an urgent and practical task and no time to waste.

Let me set out a few of the questions I think need to be addressed.

The massive uncertainty and decline in sterling is already hitting business, particularly in the Border region and critical exporting sectors. For them Brexit isn’t happening in March 2018 it’s happening now.

In your opinion, what should be done to address the immediate, pre-Brexit impact on businesses and communities?

On a longer term basis we need to protect growing cooperation on the island and to protect our ability to compete in the export markets which are central to prosperity.  

How can we help to transform communities and sectors and how can we help them compete?

Freedom of movement on this island, including cross-border working, education, recognition of benefits and so on are a core part of life for large numbers of people. What are the ways in which this works in practice that we have to protect?

The European Union itself has an obligation to stand by the pro-EU majority on this island. It cannot insist on business as usual in how it develops programmes, allows state supports and implements broad EU policies. The principle of helping states meet unique challenges was embedded within the Union when the single market and monetary union treaties were agreed. It must continue.

One outcome of the negotiation process has to be the development of a specific package which recognises the unique economic and social impact of Brexit on Ireland.  

I have very definite views of elements of what this should involve, but how do you want it to be shaped? In what areas is flexibility required to allow us to respond to specific challenges?

And of course we have to respect the will of the majority in Northern Ireland and equally the majority in this jurisdiction which voted overwhelmingly for a political settlement which sets a shared European context for overcoming the legacy of sectarianism and violence on this island.

No one has a right to try to abuse this situation to push other agendas. The principle of consent on political union remains central to the constitutional settlement.  

However, European citizenship and the entitlements which comes with this should be protected at a minimum for all who wish to maintain it.

From the point of view of the groups and communities which you represent How can the pro-EU position of the majority in Northern Ireland best be respected?

On behalf of Fianna Fáil I would like to express our thanks to you for participating in this process.  
In the months and years ahead we will continue to be active advocates for action on tackling the impact and further threats from Brexit. 

I can assure you of our commitment to listening to your views and reflecting them in our work.