The decision by the UK electorate to leave the EU was certainly not the result most of us here in Ireland had wanted. But we must respect their decision and work with it.
Ireland, the UK and the EU now face a period of great challenge. The Government has been working on contingency measures for some time. Considerable work has already been undertaken right across government to prepare a contingency framework to address the sectoral issues that will arise.
This contingency framework, a summary of which was published yesterday, is based on contributions from Government departments which identify the key strategic issues which now arise. This framework will ensure that the Government is able to focus on the key policy areas/issues to be addressed in the exit negotiations which will take place in the coming months. Priority issues identified include the UK-EU negotiations, bilateral British-Irish relations, Northern Ireland, trade, investment, North-South border impacts, competitiveness and macro–economic issues, research/innovation funding and energy.
I and my department are playing a central role in this work, in partnership with the Taoiseach and colleagues across government. As work gets underway immediately in line with this framework, I want to set out some core principles guiding me as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The first of these is that Ireland will remain in the EU and in the eurozone, while we will also do everything to protect our political, economic and people-to-people links to the UK. Also, as part of the Government’s contingency framework for the UK exit, I will ensure that our diplomatic resources are utilised to the full in the important period ahead in Ireland, the UK, in Brussels and elsewhere.
Secondly, a key priority for me will be the ongoing work to support stability, reconciliation and prosperity for the people in Northern Ireland. The UK’s exit from the EU will bring changes, but the Irish Government has emphasised all along — with EU partners, the UK government and the parties in Northern Ireland — that the Northern Ireland and all-island dimensions will be an area for priority attention in all post-referendum negotiations processes, including in relation to the status of the border. In contacts I’ve already had in the last 24 hours with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland political leaders, and with a number of European foreign ministers, I have emphasised the importance of this for Ireland.
Thirdly, it is important to recognise that the UK is not leaving the EU immediately and that all arrangements, rights and facilities linked to EU membership still apply in full. A negotiation process will get underway and will take a minimum of two years prior to a UK exit. During that time the UK remains an EU member state and participating in the workings of the Union.
There will be further actions too. I have asked Irish Ambassadors from key EU capitals to travel to Dublin to discuss next steps, which will include high level political contacts with the EU. On Thursday, polling day for the EU referendum, I addressed all EU Ambassadors to Ireland and outlined the government’s priorities for both possible outcomes of this referendum.
We will also work with all stakeholders, including with Irish employers’ representatives who trade with the UK, and with whom I discussed contingency planning in recent weeks when I convened the Government’s Export Trade Council. Irish Embassies and Consulates will work closely with state agencies to continue to develop all of Ireland’s dynamic trading relationships, including of course the hugely valuable business links with the UK.
I wish to highlight the importance to the government of the Irish community in Britain, many of whom engaged with energy and determination in the referendum debate over recent months. I fully intend to maintain the outreach and engagement with the community to ensure their concerns are addressed as the negotiations process moves forward.
As I said at the start, the UK exit from the EU will present us with a challenge, but Ireland and its people have dealt with major challenges before. While the outcome of the UK referendum is clearly disappointing, the Irish government is determined to ensure that the peace, stability and prosperity achieved over recent decades is protected and sustained.
Charlie Flanagan is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
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