Good afternoon everybody,
It is great to be back in Belfast, all the more so to launch this important book by Mary Murphy.
I had the pleasure of reading it 'cover to cover' on the way to and from the recent EU and League of Arab States’ Ministerial meeting in Athens. I am delighted to conclude that it offers a valuable and definitive evaluation of the relationship between Northern Ireland and the European Union. By linking an understanding of the governance of the North with concepts in European integration it provides a framework for understanding this important relationship now and during the recent past.
It is a deeply serious, very relevant and accessible work of scholarship of which Mary must be proud and for which she must be congratulated. This is also a very timely contribution with debate developing in Britain regarding their future relationship with the EU. It is essential that the voice of Northern Ireland is heard in this debate, not least because you have your own distinct needs and specific issues.
This work notes how the study of European political integration introduces the concept of sharing authority and policy capacity between different levels of government - at a level lower than the nation state, at the nation state and the supranational level, or above the nation state. The objective of this book is to assess if this framework helps to explain dynamics in the relationship between Northern Ireland and the EU.
To answer this question the full spectrum of engagement is explored. The book begins with an evaluation of the economic experience with the EU, and then looks at the political engagement between Northern Ireland and the EU and concludes with a detailed examination of the institutions, parties and stakeholders involved in this engagement.
Mary draws important conclusions from an analysis of this breadth and I hope I can represent them correctly here today.
Her analysis argues that 'there is little doubt that the EU's impact on Northern Ireland has traditionally been most keenly felt in relation to matters economic'. This was delivered through the obvious and highly important channels of agricultural and structural funding. Access to the Single European Market has facilitated inward investment and changed trade patterns. And the PEACE programmes, which we have always sought to ensure the continuation of, have made their very particular contributions here.
Politics - Three Factors
Most of the book focuses on a nuanced analysis of the political relationship. It acknowledges the role of the Union in fundamentally rebalancing bilateral relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Mary points to three factors in analysing the dynamics between the EU and the North. They are:
First, the impact of devolved institutions on Northern Ireland authorities in their relationship with the Union.
Second, the complexity - the necessary complexity - of these devolved arrangements and their impact on this relationship.
And finally, the consequences of internal politics in dealing with the EU.
This book therefore concludes that 'No political system exists in isolation from its own society' and that positive outcomes have indeed been achieved. The focus of the relationship has become 'more appropriate to the needs and interests of the region'. External relations have widened, opening up new areas of influence. I directly experienced this dynamic myself when I appeared before the Committee of the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
But in reaching these conclusions this book also articulates the challenges as well as the opportunities in the relationship. It looks at the role of civil society in relation to the EU. It interrogates the level of engagement of political parties and representatives with the EU.
Many of these challenges and questions also apply to our engagement with the EU. As Minister for European Affairs, I grapple with these issues on a daily basis.
Ireland has a clear stake in this, making these relationships work as well as possible for the EU and for benefit of this island as a whole.
Dublin-Belfast contacts on EU issues
This is why we have at Ministerial and official level the channels and structures to work together on these questions and I will be encouraging that work. Mary has written about the evolution of structures at official level devoted to EU Affairs here in Belfast. We work with them closely – for example, in Dublin we welcome a group from most Departments in the Executive every six months to review the key files and the ambitions of the current Presidency. The last meeting was in January, when 15 officials from 11 different Departments joined us and the next meeting is currently being organised. Of course, more informal contacts run all-year-round between Dublin, Belfast and our offices in Brussels.
We also ensured that during Ireland’s EU Presidency this time last year, there was maximum participation by Northern Ireland Ministers. In all, Ministers were invited to more than 20 Ministerial-level Presidency events across the full spectrum of EU competences. These ranged from Justice and Home Affairs to education, road safety and energy issues. My predecessor as Minister for European Affairs, also addressed Ministers and MLAs at Stormont on the Presidency in March 2013, while I discussed EU issues at the OFMDFM Committee last October.
Throughout the Presidency, our Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels worked together with the Northern Ireland Executive Office, which itself hosted almost 80 Presidency-related meetings. A number of Northern Ireland officials were seconded to the Irish Presidency too, making a valuable contribution and in doing so gaining new experience and new contacts.
So, we engage together extensively on EU issues and that should only grow and develop more.
UK membership of the EU
One area where we should engage together more on is the question of the UK’s membership of the EU. Northern Ireland’s voice must be heard in this debate.
Common membership of the EU has been a force for reconciliation and a framework for cooperation on this island.
Even in the context of the positive state of North-South and East-West relations a British exit from the EU would have extremely serious consequences irrespective of mitigation strategies.
Why is this?
On the economic side, clearly the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been instrumental in fostering the cross border economic relationship. But it has also been facilitated by the parallel development of the EU Single Market. Removing or even shaking this foundation could be very damaging.
Within the broad objectives of the Single Market agenda, there are practical and tangible actions. Some have had far-reaching consequences here – from the liberalisation of the airline sector, with the tourism access it has brought to this island, to something simple yet crucial like the regulation of mobile roaming charges….again so, so important on this island.
The EU has strengthened and simplified police and criminal justice cooperation i.e. the European Arrest Warrant, which has removed the uncertainty and difficulty which used to surround extradition proceedings. Under the European Arrest Warrant, Ireland surrendered 192 sought persons to the UK in the period 2004-2012. In the same period, 199 persons were also surrendered to the Irish State from the UK.
For our part, we fully respect the need for debate and reflection, but Ireland is concerned by the potential for British disengagement from Europe. As I have said, your voice on this vital issue will be necessary and very welcome.
For all of these reasons, I hope that this publication deepens the debate on the relationship between Northern Ireland and the EU. And by deepening that debate, your voice becomes louder and is heard.
What is needed as part of this are :
· an appraisal of where things stand today.
· and, in the context of a potential UK referendum, a clear expression by Northern Ireland’s politicians and wider community of their considered views.
It is not my role to start or settle this debate. But the Irish Government does have a stance in it. Also, in case there is any doubt on the question, our unequivocal view in Dublin is that we are a committed and integrated member of the EU - and will remain so. We also firmly believe that the European Union is stronger with the UK in it and that the UK is stronger in the EU. This is particularly true in today's globalised and multi-polar world.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mary, this book provides a rich framework to help us all understand the nature of our collective engagement with the EU.
And as I said at the outset, the book’s publication could not be more timely given the institutional turnover in Brussels and Strasbourg, as well as the important debate going on around UK membership. Both will be at the centre of the European Council I will be attending in
Brussels next week.
It is an unsettling time now in Brussels and Strasbourg as question marks and general doubt surround these issues. A major debate looms large. Big decisions await. This book will certainly help us all play a more informed role.