02 November 2016

Remarks by Brendan Howlin TD at the All-Island Civil Dialogue

This forum presents a unique opportunity for those of us involved in the political space to hear from civic society – the sectors both economic and social that will be impacted by the momentous decision of the British people to exit the European Union.

I certainly want to spend most of my day hearing that, and seeing how we can address those challenges that you comprehend and understand, and reflect those within the political families that each of us work with across Europe.

With about four months to go before the British Government triggers Article 50 it is clearly important that we speed up our efforts to reach in so far as is possible a cross-community, all-island approach to how we want this process to be managed.

As the Taoiseach has said after Article 50 is triggered we in the Republic will be on the 27 side, and we need to see how we can exercise our influence to the best advantage of the people of the island as a whole.

I welcome the remarks of the Taoiseach that this is just the start of a process as it is clear that continued and deeper discussions must be planned.

I note the work being done by the Department of Agriculture to create a consultative committee in relation to issues that impact on the agri-food sector, probably the first sector to be significantly impacted upon to date.

This is a sensible move though the exclusive of employee representatives from that process is an odd decision.

Brexit will clearly have an impact on jobs and we have heard already the strategies being deployed by the agencies across this island to see how we can compensate for that by attracting new investment and new jobs.

But it is clear that the new jobs gained won’t necessarily compensate for the jobs lost. The sectors impacted will be different, and the regions most likely will be different. So we need to have a set of proposals that will mitigate the impact regionally as well as sectorally.

One of the ideas that I believe deserves serious merit is seeking to allow expenditure under the European Globalisation Fund to support reskilling and retraining opportunities in those sectors worst hit by Brexit.

Clearly Ireland will be proportionally most affected by Brexit, so EU structural funding should be deployed to mitigate the impact as far as possible. I would be interested in hearing how we are interacting with the European Commission to ensure that funding that is there, that we negotiated in our own time, can be deployed effectively.

We must also understand and I presume there is consensus in this room – that there can be no hard border in Ireland. Our top priority must be the protection of the Common Travel Area and in taking that stance to be aware of the seemingly hardening position within some elements of the British cabinet in relation to freedom of movement, and the incompatibility of that with full access to the single market.

It seems to me that the British Cabinet has not thought through in detail the implications of Brexit on the legal instruments that underpin the Good Friday Agreement, and that in turn must lead us to thinking in very broad terms about the island of Ireland, and the Northern Ireland question.

This is the type of thinking on the North that we haven’t done since the peace process and the Forum on Peace and Reconciliation in the 1990s.

These are just some of the agenda items that will begin to be analysed and addressed today.

Finally, we are not operating in a static political situation, politics is a moving event, and we need to show the agility and sure-footedness, firstly to work towards a consensus approach, and then for all of us to play our individual parts in getting the best outcome for all our people.

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