A senior Fine Gael politician has questioned whether Ireland can stay in the EU if Britain decides to leave later this month after its controversial Brexit referendum writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter.
Party MEP Brian Hayes, who was Fine Gael's director of elections in the run-up to the February 26 vote, said the comment "is not some academic question" and "will have to be faced in a post-Brexit environment".
Speaking at an Association of European Journalists event in Dublin this afternoon, the former European Affairs Minister said Ireland "needs to prepare for the worst" due to the upcoming British referendum.
While he said key "red line" problems relate to the financial impact on this country due to a loss of trade and other matters if our nearest neighbours leaves the common market, Mr Hayes added pointedly that Ireland may be unable to stay in the EU in the medium term if Britain chooses to leave.
"There is an urgent need to put in place a stable government to prepare for the real prospect of Britain leaving the EU," he said.
"We joined [the EU] with the UK because we couldn't have joined without them.
"The question must now be asked honestly; were they to leave now, could we stay in the EU without them?
"This is not some academic question. It will have to be faced in a post-Brexit environment.
"I'm satisfied that we could and should remain in the EU without Britain. I'm satisfied that it's in Ireland's national interest to remain.
"But most definitely we would need a new agreement with the EU, post-Brexit. We would also need a new agreement with the UK."
Mr Hayes also said Ireland is facing a genuine financial crisis if Britain departs from the common market.
He said there is an "urgent need to put in place a stable Government" which can protect the country the knock-on effect to trade, financial services, border control, the peace fund package and other matters.
However, hitting out at the ongoing delays in agreeing a new Government, he said the reality is Ireland has yet to set up a "serious contingency plan" to tackle the issue - and urged action on the issue now.
"I am not convinced there is enough contingency planning being done at government level on the Brexit referendum. There is an urgent need to put in place a stable Government to prepare for the real prospect of Britain leaving the EU.
"Failure to prepare adequately for such an eventuality [Brexit] would be a serious dereliction of duty by all Irish politicians.
"There is a real danger that the present protracted negotiations on the formation of a government are distracting attention from the bigger danger ahead.
"A British decision to leave the EU will be a profoundly disruptive economic and political event - for the EU, Britain and Ireland. We urgently need to prepare for that outcome.
"If Britain decides to leave the EU currency traders are predicting parity between the sterling and euro by the end of this year.
"Should this happen there would be extremely negative consequences for Irish exports to Britain.
"The competitiveness of the important tourist sector will also be hit badly by a big fall in the value of sterling; the British segment accounts for 40% of the Irish tourist market.
"After more than 40 years a member, divorce proceedings between Britain and the EU will be protracted, complex and very messy.
"We must not allow Ireland to be a victim of the separation negotiations that would follow.
"In effect Ireland will require a new agreement with both the EU and Britain in key areas, so as to ensure that we are not disadvantaged.
"That will be very difficult to envisage, but we badly need to think about what that deal might be and what red line issues we require," he said.