Over 40 years ago the UK and Ireland joined the European Community, embarking on a political experiment that would see the two countries working side-by-side, as equals and good colleagues, for decades to come.
As a committed and passionate pro-European I am disappointed by the result of the referendum but the special relationship between Ireland and the UK is well recognised by our EU partners and the imperative to preserve the existing high level of cooperation is in all our interests.
It is also our duty to uphold and maintain our close relationship with the UK as it embarks down this difficult path – a path on which it may not find many allies.
The Common Travel Area, pre dates the existence of the European Union going back to 1922. The links between the two jurisdictions have been strengthened in recent years by the introduction of agreements such as the British Irish Visa scheme which allows certain third country nationals who require visa to travel to both the UK and Ireland on the one visa.
The Common Travel Area arrangements were preserved when we joined the European Union and the special relationship has been given legal recognition by Protocols to the European Union Treaties.
The European Union has also been a key enabler and supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The PEACE programmes have supported very many community initiatives for reconciliation across Northern Ireland over the years.
And Prime Minister Cameron made a clear statement that Northern Ireland’s interests will be fully reflected in the British Government’s negotiating position.
However, the eventual departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union does mean that the only land border between the European Union and the United Kingdom will be on the island of Ireland. Normally a land border of the EU has significant implications for the movement of people and attracts a particular EU regime. However ours will be geographically isolated from the rest of the European Union and in particular it will be outside the Schengen area so the integrity of the border controls of the Schengen area will not be affected in any way.
It is a priority of the Irish Government to maintain the Common Travel Area. It is clear that the UK share our view that it should be preserved. This afternoon I spoke to the UK Minister of State for Security and Immigration as a first step in this process and we agreed to have ongoing contact and further detailed discussions while maintaining our excellent relationship on security issues.
There is a long traditional of bilateral cooperation between the Garda Síochána and their counterparts in the UK. In recent years, a more international dimension has occurred for example in the drugs trade but the fact remains that the UK police services continue to be our main partners in a policing context. This operational cooperation will continue.
A number of institutions and instruments have been developed to further improve the framework for police and judicial cooperation throughout the European Union. The European Arrest Warrant has replaced the traditional extradition process between EU states and has proved very successful. Europol has enhanced police cooperation between the member states and now is a standard part of many investigations with several thousand queries a year going to and from the Garda Síochána and Europol.
These two EU measures have made obvious and practical improvements in the level of police cooperation across Europe. It would be a setback if the UK were to withdraw from these measures.
Across Europe there is a focus on countering terrorism and in particular protecting borders from infiltration by terrorists. On a monthly basis I have been meeting with my counterparts in the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the EU where UK has frequently taken a leading role. I cannot see the European Union or the United Kingdom doing anything that would reduce the existing level of cooperation between the police and judicial authorities.
Finally Ceann Comhairle, I believe that this result presents an opportunity for the European Union to assess its current position and its future.
Across Europe disenchantment with the European project, combined with a perceived lack of democratic accountability, is manifesting itself through increasing support for anti-EU political parties.
There is a responsibility on the European Union and its member states to determine why this is happening and how it can be addressed.
I am a strong and passionate believer in the European Union as a force for good.
In 1946 it was Churchill who first spoke of the need to create a “European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.”
That vision came to pass in the intervening years. Now all of us who are pro-European have a responsibility to keep the family together.
The European Union began as a peace project by promoting economic co-operation. It became an economic enabler, but more importantly a social champion.
For example in Ireland membership the European Union led to real changes for women through removal of the working ban for married women and the equal pay directive.
The European Union must again be identified with making people’s lives better. In recent years it is seen by too many people as a restricting rather than an enabling force, focused on economic theory rather than social progression. That must change and now is the time to begin.