The next few years will be a defining moment in our history and in the history of Europe.
The stakes could not be higher. The need for a determined political response could not be stronger.
That is why we must now move to bring some structure and clarity to what will happen.
We must be clear on Ireland’s fundamental policy towards Europe. We must develop a new framework for relations with the UK. We must prepare for new threats and possible opportunities.
Most of all we must take a stand against the ideologies which were central to this result and which are a real and rising threat to shared democracy, human rights and development in Europe.
Let’s start the debate about where we go from here by remembering why the European Union matters.
We should never forget something very simple and uncontested – the European Union was the driving force behind turning a century of war and destruction into a time of peace and development. Both of the world wars had their direct origins in the fact that nation states developed without strong rules-based cooperation to enforce basic principles and ensure cooperation.
The EU turned this around and no one has come up with even the most basic argument about how peace and rising living standards could have been achieved without the EU.
However Europe has become an all-purpose whipping boy for those who seek ideological purity or a return to days when they could dominate large empires. It has been so successful in its core mission that it is taken for granted.
And should those on the right and left who want it to disappear be successful what possible means is there to stop a return to the cycle of destruction and depression we saw the last time European nations went their own way?
For Ireland, the rise in living standards and reduction in absolute poverty of the last four decades would have been impossible without participation in the EU. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and many vital public services and supports are directly linked to our position as members of the Union.
Ireland must be absolutely resolute in reaffirming its position as a committed, constructive member of the European Union.
The outcome of this referendum was decided by a relatively small margin of UK voters but its potential impacts are deep for people throughout Ireland, Europe and the wider international community. It poses immediate economic, social and political threats more severe than anything faced in the last seventy years. The threats for our country are grave and they require an urgent and comprehensive response. Overcoming the inevitable damage from this vote must now be an absolute priority.
There is a mandate for the United Kingdom to leave the EU but for nothing else. No one, especially those who pushed for this result, knows what comes next. They have not even made up their mind when they want to trigger the process of negotiating departure. The political firestorm of an empowered far right and far left in Europe may be contained or it may lead to a period of growing extremism and xenophobia.
Let no one be in any doubt about how this result came about. There are many who are trying to spin it and play-down what everyone could see for themselves. We have heard this already from some groups in this House as they try to claim the result for their own cause. But please stop the attempt to cover-up what everyone can see.
This is the result of a relentless campaign of attacks on Europe and the promotion of an anti-foreigner agenda.
You don’t get to claim the result for your ideology and ignore the campaign which secured the result. The sinister poster of hordes of Syrians waiting to invade Britain is a part of this result and you don’t get to ignore it. The demand to end the automatic right of travel for all Europeans is part of this result. The promise to opt-out from European Convention on Human Rights is a part of this result. The deeply cynical promise of 350 million a week more for the health service is a part of this result.
And let’s not forget that “Take our country back” is the current preferred slogan of extreme populists throughout Europe and the wider world. For them there is always a group which can be isolated and blamed. It’s about scapegoating others and building a politics of grievance.
For those who claim it was a vote against ‘austerity politics’, please have the honesty to admit that the UK is not in the Euro, is not subject to its fiscal rules and has been master of its own economic destiny in recent years. Yes there is anger in many English communities about insecurity and living standards – but it is the Westminster government which sets the core fiscal and economic policies of the UK.
It is those who want to end most workers’ rights, gut consumer protection, oppose environmental protection and deny climate change that ran and funded the Leave campaign.
You can’t brush that aside and claim that somehow voters were motivated by a different agenda which miraculously matches yours.
And for those who claim that there is a backlash against so-called European ‘warmongering’, remember that the UK actually acted against EU opinion when it participated in the invasion of Iraq – and it is the UK which has been strongest in opposing common foreign and defence policy.
We also heard the idea that British identity was undermined by the EU – that to be patriotic you had to be against it. This idea is a perversion of history. The EU is a construction of a generation of patriots who fought for their countries – whether in the World War or to win independence. They understood that the only way to protect nation states was to create treaty-based organisations which forced cooperation. And they were spectacularly right.
Many strands of English opinion want to return to some pure vision of a glorious past. In doing this they ignore the historical fact that depression and destruction went hand in hand with the Europe of competing states which they aspire to. It is true that many working class communities were persuaded by the tory-led campaign that they should vote to Leave – but it is also the case that working class communities in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
There are many legitimate reasons to criticise the EU and there are many opponents of it who are not committed to the hyper-nationalist agenda – but the absolutely core argument used for Leave was that Europe and foreigners were to be blamed for all hardships. Building on forty years of tory anti-EU rhetoric and the near hysterical campaigning of many media owners, people with legitimate economic and social grievances were directly encouraged to blame the outsiders.
It is a warning to all people who believe in constructive politics and who abhor the divisive and cynical politics of the anti-EU populists. You cannot indulge their arguments and tactics. You cannot simply blame the EU every time you have to do something unpopular. You must never stop making the positive and constructive case.
From the point in 2012 when David Cameron announced his intention to hold this referendum my party has addressed the issue of Brexit repeatedly and at length. We set out our position in a series of detailed statements at the IIEA, at our Árd Fheiseanna and in our election manifesto.
Our policy is not being developed today – it is secured by the mandate which we received from our members and from the half a million people who voted for us. Some people questioned why we were spending time talking about a matter which did not seem to be of immediate importance, but I believe we were right to identify this as a priority and to be clear in our policy.
It is our absolute position that the economic, social and political case for Ireland remaining in the European Union is overwhelming. Even the suspicion that we might consider leaving would cause immense damage – threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs and permanently devastating funding for public services.
Its long-term impact would go far beyond the recent recession and return us to an economic model which we abandoned nearly sixty years ago.
Our message must be that we will be constructive and active in the period leading up to the UK’s exit, but we will under no circumstance join them.
In the last few days I have talked to business people, farmers, workers and other groups about their attitudes. There is a huge level of concern about the future and a desire to see an active agenda to minimise damage.
The first thing we need is to make sure we fully define our objectives and have an inclusive national-approach to the negotiations. We all need to be wearing same jersey.
I welcome the briefings provided last Friday and the assurance that parties will be fully consulted in the future.
Given the scale of the threat and small amount of time current arrangements should be built upon. A cross-government task-force should be in place with officials who are seconded full-time to working on this issue. A formal update should be published at very least monthly from next month onwards.
Employers, trades unions, farming organisations and others must be full-partners in the process of analysing Ireland’s needs and negotiating positions. They are expert and they are constructive. Clearly a permanent consultative approach is required rather than occasional meetings.
Obviously the impact on our relations with Northern Ireland is a distinct and vitally important concern. This requires a distinct response.
The Northern Secretary’s statements during the campaign were at best dismissive of major concerns. She refused to acknowledge or make any preparations for the adverse impacts feared by the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
We must make sure that the voice of the people on both sides of the border is heard and that the threats to them are minimised.
We should seek urgent meetings of the various consultative institutions of the Belfast Agreement and establish a formal structure for consultation and policy agreement. I welcome the fact that there will be a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council and this should be followed by a series of sectoral meetings.
As for the issue of calling a unification referendum, our position remains that one should be called when it is clear that there is a possibility that the vote would pass. At the moment there is no evidence of this. If it changes because of forced departure from the EU then it may be the time for such a vote – yet this has not yet been demonstrated. The North has had enough of the politics of gestures and votes used to assert difference rather than build consensus. The cynicism of Sinn Fein on this is dramatic even for that party.
For four decades Provisional Sinn Fein has opposed Europe in everything. It opposed membership and every referendum. In the European Parliament it spends its time condemning the EU. It shares a group with parties opposed to the existence of the EU. It even refuses to oppose the Russian invasion and partition of European states but supports resolutions blaming the EU for Russian aggression.
If Sinn Fein wants people to take it seriously in arguing for Northern Ireland to stay in the EU it should start by finding a positive word to say about the EU in relation to anything.
I think it would be best to await some clarity on timetables and impacts before we discuss the serious issue of the fact that the Belfast Agreement, and the international treaty which underpins it, are based on the principle of both Ireland and the UK being members of the European Union. No useful purpose would be served by addressing that at a moment of such uncertainty.
The issue of Scotland’s position has already been placed to the fore by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The future of Scotland within the UK is a matter for the people of Scotland. However the future of Scotland within the EU should it leave the UK is a matter which concerns all EU states.
I and my party believe that it would be unacceptable for Scotland to be treated as a normal candidate country should it seek to remain as a member of the EU. It currently implements all EU laws. It manifestly would not need to be reviewed for its standards of governance and ability to implement EU laws. It has a strong administration, a distinct legal system and an absolute commitment to European ideals.
Scotland is strong enough to advocate for itself, but Ireland should be its friend and demand fair play should it seek to remain in the EU.
As for whether Scotland could effectively veto Brexit, we have to play this straight leaving this to the administrations concerned. Europe must under no circumstance interfere.
As to the timing of negotiations, it is reasonable that the UK government be allowed the time to change its leadership assuming that this is fully completed within three months. Prime Minister Cameron clearly does not have the legitimacy to lead any Article 50 negotiations. However, these negotiations should begin immediately upon this transition happening. The UK has no right to inflict ongoing uncertainty on the other 27 member states.
In relation to our interaction with the 27 other member states, the Taoiseach must bring to the Council the message that the overwhelming majority of this House and of the Irish people are committee to membership and that Ireland’s unique concerns must be recognised.
We need an assurance that Ireland will be fully represented in negotiations. We don’t want consultations, we want representation.
This is one of the messages I will be bringing to a pre-summit meeting of the ALDE party in Brussels tomorrow.
Because this is an issue of treaties and future relationships which are not just between the EU and the UK, the primary negotiations should be carried out by the Council and not left solely to the Commission. The Council should appoint negotiators who are representative of member states, and especially those with major national interests involved. There can be no tolerance of any attempt by larger countries to dominate. This is a matter covered by unanimity. Ireland has the right to assert its interests and other states must be fully aware of this.
Given the complexity of negotiations, the Department of Foreign Affairs and all other Departments should immediately review the number of personnel required and substantially increase the full-time personnel working on bilateral relations with other states. We need all other countries to be up to date at all times on our concerns and we do not have the staff in place to achieve this at the moment, especially in relation to sectoral issues.
Relations with the UK are far from the only issue of concern to Ireland. The future workings of the Union must be addressed. We must promote reform which delivers a Union more focused on key economic and social objectives. In particular we must promote reform which addresses key causes of the recent recession and continued slow growth.
These discussions have to be inclusive and they have to run parallel to the UK negotiations. However this cannot be an opportunity for certain states to resurrect policies such as tax harmonisation which have no popular legitimacy and no likely economic benefit.
And while these negotiations are ongoing we need the EU to be able to function and to progress with the urgent agenda it has in hand at the moment. We can’t afford Brexit dominating everything.
It has not yet been proposed how to deal with the UK presidency of the Council for the second half of next year. It would be manifestly absurd to have the UK in charge of negotiations within the Council at the same time as negotiating to leave the Council.
In the past there have been a number of examples of countries delegating specific roles to other countries due to their size or lack of expertise. The legal basis for the UK handing over the chairs of ministerial councils is clearly there. If necessary, Ireland should offer to take over some of the roles as part of a group of countries.
The outcome of this referendum was the final outcome of four decades of rhetoric which blamed Europe and foreigners for everything. It followed an incoherent and pointless period of negotiations focused on marginal issues.
In the end the regional and age divides in the vote were striking and will cause serious issues to the very future of the United Kingdom.
Ireland must take a different route. We do not have their nostalgia for empire or fear of outsiders. To be successful, to offer a future for our people and to have a voice in the world we must be active members of the European Union.
The generation which founded this state was absolutely committed to the ideal of Ireland as a member of a community of nations with responsibilities to each other. The men and women of 1916 were modern and outward looking – defining nationalism in an open and inclusive way unlike so many elsewhere.
The first meeting of Dáil Éireann expressed the desire of this republic to work with other states and sought security through cooperation.
Our republican constitution, adopted by the people at a dark time in world history, puts international cooperation and international law at the heart of Irish statehood.
The stand taken by our Taoiseach Eamon de Valera at the League of Nations, where he predicted that only destruction would come from ignoring rule-bound international organisations remains one of the most important statements of Irish statehood.
It is this tradition, a tradition which stood against destructive competition between states and fear of outsiders, which we must now reaffirm. We are a European state. We are a state which believes in binding commitments between states. We believe in cooperation as the only way to achieve social, economic and political progress.
We have a difficult few years to negotiate posing an enormous political and administrative challenge. Meeting this challenge must be an absolute priority for us.