Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD delivered a keynote speech at the Killarney Economic Conference this morning.
The conference focused on Brexit, with speakers from politics, business, and academia exploring the challenges Britain’s exit from the EU will have on business, future politics, and daily life.
DUP leader Arlene Foster also spoke at the event, saying Brexit is “not about cutting ourselves off from our neighbours”, and compared Northern Ireland’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland to that of a semi-detached house.
“The houses may look the same on the outside but inside they look different and we do many things very differently… no matter how contrasting the interiors are they are tied together and part of the same neighbourhood, and what happens on one side of the fence inevitably has an impact on the other,” Foster said.
Micheál Martin says that Brexit is a “once in a generation challenge” that is already “causing damage.”
He also highlighted that if a customs border is put in place using “light-touch technologies”, it will not look like a border, yet it will damage businesses and communities on both sides.
“Brexit isn’t a minor side issue or abstract concern – it is both urgent and one of the defining issues of our time,” he said.
“The failure of this government to engage actively with Northern Ireland other than in the context of major crises has wasted enormous opportunities. It has also caused real damage by reversing the previously strengthening and constructive relations. The narrative of conflict has been followed by one of complacency.”
He highlighted how Brexit, and the negotiations surrounding Brexit, carry with them permanent consequences for the social, economic, cultural and political future of our countries and Europe as a whole.
“Irrespective of where you stand, the increasingly undeniable reality is that Brexit is already causing damage.”
The Fianna Fáil leader also slammed anti-EU campaigners’ “dismissive approach” to what comes next.
“I fully accept the sincere personal beliefs of anti-EU advocates – but their campaign was shabby and squalid. It was largely based on fear-mongering and outright falsehoods. As the many insider accounts of the campaign have revealed in the last year – the overall Leave strategy was to say or do whatever was necessary and to hell with the facts and the consequences.”
Martin says that as Brexit shockwaves will be felt through Ireland – we have the right to explore options such as a United Ireland.
“We have a right to express our aspiration for a single state for all on this island without this being presented as a threat to anyone. And I think through my words and actions I have more than earned the right to speak on this topic without being accused of following the agenda of Sinn Fein – which is in fact this island’s most entrenched anti-EU party.
“For all parts of Ireland, there is no good Brexit.
“If what we end up with is a new customs border with light-touch technology administering it, it may not look like there is a border, but it will be there and it will be damaging businesses and communities on both sides.
“The UK not being a member of the EU is a material change to our conditions of membership and we are entitled to support for adjusting to the new situation. Time is already running out if we want to be ready for any scenario next year.”
He says that there will probably be a new “Canada-like trade deal” to be finalised during the transition period, however this will mean new regulations and costs for businesses. He says that we must also prepare for the possibility of no deal at all.
“The mess of the last year and a half has been the outcome of people making things up as they go along. It is borderline absurd that the UK government took 18 months before it stated in broad terms the type of post-Brexit relations it wants with the EU – and it is deeply worrying that we are still not beyond generalities when it comes to relations within these islands.
“The UK has made its choice, though it is one which is far from uniform and is not net articulated beyond generalities. Ireland has made its choice and we stand with the European ideal which has delivered so much for us and Europe.”
Future negotiations, he says, need more cooperation, more urgency and more ambition, and we must be open to new models of cooperation and development.
“This is a once in a generation challenge and we must stop the drift and damage which has defined the issue since June 2016.”
Martin said that the concerns of the Welsh and Scottish administrations should be central to the discussion as well, and adds: “In the case of Scottish voters, their vote to remain within the European Union has been shown even less respect than the similar vote by the people of Northern Ireland.”
To read the Martin’s full speech, you can follow this link: