Working together for Stability and Prosperity
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you all today at Ulster University’s York Street Campus.
Particular thanks are owed to Paddy Nixon, Vice Chancellor at Ulster University for making today’s event possible.
This new building, part of the University’s project of reintegration into city centre life, is an important statement of confidence in Belfast.
It is a perfect illustration of today’s theme - Working together for Stability and Prosperity.
As I looked out the windows across North Belfast before coming in here I reflected on the journey this city has taken in the eighteen years since the Good Friday Agreement.
I think too of the hard work of so many, at community level, in politics, in business, the city, the arts, and the academies, over the past eighteen years to build the layers of peace and stability that we now enjoy.
I know that this was not always easy work. Sometimes it was risky. There were many sacrifices. But it has been worth it. Many of you who have worked so hard are here with us today. Thank you for your enduring contribution to peace on these islands and in this city.
Of course this is unfinished work. The labour of peace, of stability, of prosperity never ends.
The children of 1998 are now the new entrants to Ulster University - its future, our future.
They can look forward with optimism just as we can look back with pride on a peace now coming into maturity.
But as the peace process comes of age, we must also take account of the risks and challenges that we face into the future.
My address today is about what I firmly believe is the biggest challenge and the greatest risk – the forthcoming referendum on UK membership of the European Union.
Later this month the people of Belfast, of Northern Ireland, of the UK as a whole, are being asked to make a momentous decision.
That decision is as important for the future of this island as when we all voted for the Good Friday Agreement.
At the outset, I want to say very clearly that the Irish Government recognises that the decision on 23 June on the UK’s membership of the EU rests firmly in the hands of the electorate in all parts of the UK.
Nonetheless, it is no secret that the Irish Government very much wants the UK to stay as a member of the EU and work with us to make it better.
The prospect of Northern Ireland being outside the EU is one we very much wish to avoid.
Ireland has a unique perspective on the outcome of the referendum given the close and multi-layered nature of our relationship with the UK.
This relationship is expressed in so many ways across all aspects of life in these islands – in sport, in culture, in tourism, in business and in so many families and enduring friendships.
These ties find their political expression in the relationship between the two Governments, between the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, including through the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.
Crucially, for over 40 years, they have also been expressed through our common membership of the European Union.
I meet the Prime Minister every year to oversee the development of our bilateral relationship, and I meet him several times a year as a fellow Member of the European Council.
As Taoiseach, I have a responsibility as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.
And I am also a party to the agreement that the Prime Minister reached with his European Council colleagues on the future of the UK membership of the EU.
I spoke up loudly and clearly in support of the Prime Minister in Brussels, and was happy to do so.
It is very important that everyone realises that, if the UK votes to leave the European Union, I will in future be the only political representative from these islands at the European Council table.
There will be nobody there – no voice at the most powerful table on our continent – to represent or speak for Britain, for Scotland, for Wales...or for Northern Ireland.
That is why I am here today – to speak up for what I sincerely believe to be in the best interests of everyone on these islands.
That is why the Irish Government has been working hard to ensure that our perspective is heard in the UK and throughout the EU.
That is why we attach such importance to the decision that you will make on 23 June.
The top priority for all of us is to ensure the continued success of the peace process.
The peace process was built by the people of this island coming together and that will of course continue.
But we must not ignore the international context which helped to bring peace and to sustain it.
When the Good Friday Agreement was concluded 18 years ago, the detail of the negotiations and the agreement itself were brought about as a result of intensive engagement by the British and Irish governments in conjunction with the Northern parties.
But also vital, and quite often underestimated, was the international support for the process, not least that of the European Union.
I very firmly believe that our common membership of the EU provided an important backdrop to the Irish and UK governments working together to secure peace in Northern Ireland.
Working together in Europe over the course of four decades on common policy matters has helped build trust between our political systems, our administrations and civic society.
The EU itself has played a very constructive role in fostering that peace and has provided a framework for cooperation – whether between North and South, East and West or between unionists and nationalists.
EU funding has also supported the creation of many uncontested spaces in which both traditions can work together.
Communities have been assisted in embedding the possibilities latent in the Good Friday Agreement – first through the EU's contribution of €200 million to the International Fund for Ireland and then through PEACE programme funds.
In terms of peace and reconciliation on the island, under the various EU funded PEACE programmes since 1995, Northern Ireland has directly benefitted from close to €1 billion of ERDF funding.
The new PEACE IV Programme which was recently launched will see the island of Ireland benefit from almost €230 million of direct ERDF funding over the next 6 years, €180 million of which is being directed to Northern Ireland.
Throughout the Island we have worked together, and with Scotland and Wales on Interreg projects, supporting our cohesion and our infrastructure - including, very recently, the upgrade of the Enterprise Train service between Belfast and Dublin.
And the farmers of Ireland, North and South, have benefited hugely from the Common Agricultural Policy.
While in monetary terms, all of that EU investment has been important, perhaps more important has been the people to people connections we have built.
There are the ever stronger links between communities, whether travelling on roads or across bridges built with EU assistance, or learning each other's culture in places such as Derry's Siege Museum, which received significant grant assistance from the European Union.
Across Northern Ireland and the border counties, we can see the dividends of peace for society and for the economy in terms of jobs and growth.
Standing here today at the centre of this exciting new development for Ulster University, we can see in a very literal way how the strong foundations of peace are giving rise to a bright and dynamic future for the North.
It is another example of how the European background has been an important part of that process - with this project directly benefiting from financing from the European Investment Bank.
The EU also makes an important input to the third level sector through the Erasmus programme and Horizon 2020. Many students and staff from this University have participated in the Erasmus programme, bringing European students to Northern Ireland and offering that fantastic opportunity to Northern Irish students to spend time studying in another EU location. Overall, over 3,000 students from the south and over 500 students and staff from the North have benefitted from taking part in this programme.
The research capacities of our universities have been financed and maximised through our shared membership of the EU, through the Horizon 2020 scheme for example. In terms of EU funding specifically for research and innovation, Northern Ireland benefitted from over €90 million under the various Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation between 2000 and 2013.
And we’re working together to boost these supports considerably. Under the current €80 billion Horizon 2020 programme, collaboratively we aim to jointly draw down some €175 million on North South projects, benefitting universities and students, business and jobs on both sides of the border.
Education, skills, research and investment are the foundation of a successful modern economy.
Investment in any economy is a vote of confidence by the investor.
When I became Taoiseach, at the absolute depths of a terrible economic crisis, a key message I got when I spoke to those who invest and create jobs in Ireland is that they need stability and predictability.
People often cite the Republic’s tax rate as a source of competitive advantage, and of course that is a factor.
There are other factors too – such as our talented people, our supportive business environment and our track record.
But, investors in America and around the world repeatedly tell me that what they value most is the confidence they have in the stability of our policies.
Investors take the long view – and Governments must too.
Stability and certainty are absolutely essential to successful small open economies, such as Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Continued membership of the European Union offers stability and certainty.
The alternative – by definition – can not, does not and will not.
For Northern Ireland, continued stability depends on the continued success of the peace process and access to the support and markets that have been an intrinsic part of EU membership for the North.
Our economies are closely-aligned because of our common membership of the single market. We have benefited from our joint access to a single market of 500 million people. It is so much easier for us to build on North South trade when we are both members of the European Union.
There is a large body of research that suggests a UK exit from the EU would have serious negative consequences for the UK economy overall.
Similarly research shows that, given the close ties between our two economies, a UK exit could have a very direct impact on Irish economic growth.
And there is no doubt that leaving the EU would involve changes to the trading rules between Britain and Ireland and North and South.
All of this would be particularly bad news for the Northern Ireland economy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are standing here today less than fifty miles from the United Kingdom's only land border.
Can anyone credibly suggest that nothing would change if that became the western border of the European Union ?
We remember when it was a hard border.
We remember the delays, the cost and the division.
One of the most beneficial effects of the peace process and our common membership of the EU has been the virtual elimination of that border.
Today many tens of thousands of people cross the border each day to work, to do business, to see family and friends, for tourism, for trade.
This traffic is growing, in part because we have worked together, through Tourism Ireland, Intertrade Ireland, in common endeavours, to build links to our mutual benefit.
There are jobs. Jobs in small businesses, with one or two employees. The joiner crossing the border to put in a kitchen. The cattle sold to a meat processor on the other side. The client who visits Dublin and Belfast in the same trip. All of which build on the links, the confidence, the opportunities of a single market in an atmosphere of peace and stability, hard won through the efforts of many.
It is hard to imagine life without this free-flow. It is the easiest way to manage our interlocking value chains, where 85% of Northern Irish milk is exported to the South. Where we have an all island electricity market. Where we have cross border workers, such as in Seagate or Norbrook, or Paypal or the Financial Services Centre in Dublin, drawing on the pool of skilled labour on both sides of the border.
An island where research on one side of the border can help business on the other side. I think of companies such as Devenish Nutrition in this.
The re-establishment of customs checks on the border, or indeed of any customs arrangements, would be a regrettable and backward step for North-South trade and cooperation.
The situation would depend on the future arrangements to be put in place between the UK and the remaining 27 EU member states, including Ireland, following a UK departure.
We would certainly do our utmost to preserve the Common Travel Area.
But it is difficult to imagine a situation where there would be no controls or checks on the movement of goods if the UK left the EU.
Those who advocate for Leave simply cannot guarantee otherwise.
The simple fact would be that the border of the European Union would run from Dundalk to Derry.
No matter how successfully we negotiate any new arrangements, we all know that cannot be good for this island.
It is also important to recall the role of our common membership of the EU in developing co-operation in justice and security matters – for example through the European Arrest Warrant.
In this regard, too, we are better working together within the EU.
The final point I wish to stress today is the benefits for Europe of British membership of the European Union.
The European Union has been much the stronger for having Britain as a member.
The UK is an important voice at the table in Brussels and we want that voice to continue to be heard.
We are allies on many of the key issues facing the EU, above all on economic issues.
We share a broadly similar vision for Europe.
We agree that the EU needs reform and we want to continue to work with the UK to achieve that.
We want to see a Union that is globally competitive, with a fully functioning single market – including in the digital area -internally efficient and outwardly coherent on trade, innovation and world affairs, including migration.
We also want a Europe that respects and draws strength from the differences between Member States.
The withdrawal of the UK would change the balance of opinion within the EU.
It would weaken the EU internationally and at home, in terms both of substance and reputation, at a time of serious challenges.
Of course, whatever the outcome of the UK referendum, Ireland will continue to be a committed member of the EU and of the Eurozone.
Our position on that is clear and unambiguous.
But there is no doubt that the European Union is better - better for Ireland and better for Europe - with Britain as a leading member.
In summary, therefore, I offer a positive case for the future of Northern Ireland within the European Union.
It is a vision for a brighter future for this island and for Europe – based on engagement and on working together in the modern world.
With respect, the alternative is fraught with negatives and with uncertainty - on the economy, on trade, on the future arrangements for the border.
It means an end to EU funding and to the benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy for Northern Ireland.
It means no voice at the top table, at the European Council.
It would mean that I would sit at that table as the Head of Government of one of the remaining 27 EU member states, to discuss the future relationship between the EU and the UK.
In that capacity, I will of course do my best for Northern Ireland and for all the people of these islands.
In years to come, I am sure that my successors will do likewise.
But we cannot speak for the UK.
If we have learnt anything on this island in recent years, it is that engagement is the key to a better future.
In a complex modern world, we must always be at the table.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The debate in recent weeks and months has been intense and it has been divisive.
I have made my own views clear today, as I have on previous occasions.
In politics, it is good to have a free and frank debate.
And it is important to listen to all voices.
Voters can then judge for themselves.
In this debate, the voters of Northern Ireland have not just heard my voice and the voice of the Irish Government in support of the Remain side.
You have heard the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party.
You have heard former Prime Ministers and former Taoisigh – all of whom have records of support for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland that speak for themselves.
You have heard friends from further afield – President Obama and former President Clinton.
You have heard voices closer to home – trade unions, employers and others.
Very soon, all the talking will be over, and it will up to you to decide.