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Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny TD
at the Bloomberg Conference on the Implications of Brexit for Ireland
Gibson Hotel, Dublin
Friday 13 May 2016
My thanks to Dara Doyle, Bureau Chief for Bloomberg News for organising today’s event.
It gives me an opportunity to speak to you on a topic that is of such major importance to all of us. Not just in the UK and Ireland but also in the wider EU and international community.
First of all, I want to clearly acknowledge that the UK’s decision on EU membership is, of course, solely a matter for UK voters.
That said, I think it is fairly widely accepted that as the UK’s closest neighbour, Ireland has a unique perspective and interest in the outcome of the referendum.
It is our sincere hope that the UK will decide to stay and work with us for a better, more effective European Union.
That was the position of the last Government. It is the position of the new Government.
Why we want the UK to remain
Since Prime Minister Cameron made his landmark Bloomberg Speech in 2013, this has been high on our agenda.
Why is it such a high priority for us? For four good reasons:
First, for the sake of the EU itself. The EU needs renewal and we need a strong UK on board to help the Union become strong again through new reforms to deliver new jobs and opportunity for our people.
Second, for the sake of Northern Ireland. Joint EU membership will help Northern Ireland transition to its full economic and social potential.
Third, to ensure that the strong bonds between Britain and Ireland are preserved. This includes the Common Travel Area which has existed since the foundation of the State and allows us to travel easily across these islands.
Fourth, for the sake of sustaining our mutual economic growth. We trade around €1.2 billion euro of goods and services every week between our two countries.
New Irish Government & Economic Progress
Before I continue I want to take this opportunity to update you on Ireland’s development and future ambitions.
As you are well aware this day last week a new Government was formed. A different type of Government to any ever seen in the Republic of Ireland before.
Throughout the recent economic crisis Ireland has proven time again that it is flexible enough to do what is necessary to recover and rebuild a prosperous country.
In that vein this new Irish government is ambitious and optimistic.
All the parties to the talks on Government formation were agreed that, economically, Ireland was going in the right direction. And for our country’s future, we must ensure this continues.
While the sense of economic crisis has passed we still have much work ahead of us to ensure that jobs and opportunity is present for all families across Ireland.
Ireland’s economic recovery remains central to our work and the Irish people have worked hard for this progress.
That is why our new agreed Programme for Government commits us to meeting in full the domestic and EU fiscal rules as enshrined in law. By adhering to these rules and by delivering steady economic growth, we will eliminate the remaining Government deficit by 2018, and keep the public finances broadly in balance thereafter.
Today Ireland also faces other challenges in the areas of housing and homelessness, in healthcare provision and in providing relief for working families. A fair society must lean on a strong economy.
We are still growing at the fastest rate in Europe - with growth of 7.8 per cent recorded in 2015.
Our enterprise policy is still to rebuild a sustainable export led economy with growth across all sectors and regions. We expect that 50,000 new jobs will be created this year.
The unemployment rate has fallen to 8.4% and it is expected to fall to 8% by the end of the year. We continue to see significant declines in long-term unemployment.
The economic foundations have been put in place to deliver a strong economy that can support a social recovery.
We would see the UK leaving the EU as a considerable concern because successive economic studies show that the impact on Ireland would be proportionately greater than on other EU Member States.
Most credible economic assessments conclude that in a ‘Leave’ scenario the negative impact on the UK’s GDP could range between 1% and 5%.
According to the ESRI’s research, in turn, every 1% decrease in UK GDP could normally be expected to result in a decrease of 0.3% in Irish GDP.
We are the UK’s fifth biggest market. The UK exports more to Ireland than China and India combined. 37% of Northern Ireland’s exports are to the Republic.
We can argue all day about what new arrangements could be put in place after a “Brexit” and how long that would take.
However no alternative arrangement will be better than the one we have: a single market and seamless flows of goods, services, capital and people.
This trade sustains approximately 200,000 jobs on each side of the Irish Sea.
That means 200,000 households in the UK are directly supported by trade with Ireland. Households in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and elsewhere.
Equally, 200,000 households across Ireland are supported by trade with Britain.
How would those household incomes fare under new trade arrangements if the UK left the EU?
There are a myriad of different trading models that could be put in place.
Each of the alternatives would impede - not improve - trade flows.
They would build in extra bureaucracy - not reduce red tape.
They would raise costs for the companies that support 400,000 workers - not grow jobs.
The households supported by those jobs would be more uncertain, less confident of spending, less able to invest in their children’s future.
In considering potential negative impacts of the UK leaving the EU, Northern Ireland would be the most adversely affected region of the UK.
While it is not always sufficiently acknowledged, the EU has made an important contribution to sustaining peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. It has provided a broader context for relations on these islands.
The British and the Irish Governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Our officials and agencies work together every day in very many small and big ways to support the social, economic and political transition of Northern Ireland.
The trust that enables that kind of close cooperation was forged at least in part through years of working side by side in Brussels since 1973.
North-South cooperation - a keystone of the Good Friday Agreement - is so much easier when both jurisdictions are members of the same Union.
The EU has directly provided much-needed funding, including through programmes like PEACE and INTERREG, which will provide almost €3 billion in the six years to 2020.
A closer look at what this EU funding means on the ground reveals funding for new investment in infrastructure, research and innovation that is supporting a transition in the Northern Ireland economy and creating new sustainable jobs.
In a jurisdiction that still has “Peace walls” physically dividing communities, the importance of the EU’s support for these small building blocks of economic and social infrastructure should not be taken for granted.
Common Travel Area
We are also the only EU Member State to have a land border with the UK.
The Common Travel Area which has been in existence since Irish Independence is an important feature of the close relationship between our two countries.
It allows free movement between Ireland and the UK and ensures that Irish citizens and British citizens are treated on a par regarding access to social welfare.
It is particularly significant on this island where the border is largely invisible.
The CTA has only ever operated where both Ireland and the UK were either outside of the EU, or within it. So, we do not know how it would work if the UK leaves the EU.
9% of all visitors to the UK are from Ireland – significant when you consider the size of Ireland.
The Dublin – London route is the second busiest air corridor in the world.
In 2014, some 3 million tourists from Britain visited Ireland, spending close to 1 billion euro.
Do we want to put extra barriers in the way of tourism, of business travellers, of families visiting each other?
While this is clearly a matter for the British people themselves to decide, it is of profound importance to the EU and to Ireland.
In the run-up to the referendum on 23 June, I believe that it is important that the Irish position is understood.
I intend to make a number of visits to Britain and Northern Ireland over the course of the next two months.
I will also be asking a number of Ministers to visit Britain during this time to reach out to Irish citizens living there; to engage with friends of Ireland and the wider business community who have an interest in British-Irish economic cooperation.
Because I strongly believe it is critically important that our voice is heard, as Britain’s closest neighbour and indeed friend, on this issue.
In outlining our position we do so as a close neighbour of the UK, an ally, a European partner and a co-guarantor of peace in Northern Ireland. And as a friend.
Our relationship is historically complex and deep.
So, in closing, I have three final messages.
First and foremost, we want the UK to remain a part of a strong EU and work with us to make it better.
Second, Ireland will remain a committed member of the EU, regardless of the outcome of the UK referendum.
Third, we will preserve the strength of the British-Irish relationship that has been carefully fostered over the years.
And yes, we will work to do so even if the UK votes to leave the EU. The people of Northern Ireland would expect nothing less.
However, I believe that, 100 years on from 1916, our ambition should be greater than just preserving what we have. We should build on it. We should dismantle even more barriers not put them back up.
We have become close. We should stay close. And stay together in Europe.