21 April 2016
By Tom Collins
What are Cork’s TD’s doing ‘up in the Dail’ this week?
Micheál Martin wears many hats. Here at TheCork.ie we love all things Cork so we refer to him as “Cork South Central TD Micheál Martin” but elsewhere he is “Fianna Fail Leader Micheál Martin”. Whatever prefix he enjoys Deputy Martin today made a lenghty contribution in the Dail about the consequences for Cork – em sorry… I mean Ireland! – on a Brexit. Below is his speech in full.
Ceann Comháirle, the issue of Britain’s possible exit from the European Union has been raised regularly in this chamber by Fianna Fáil from the moment Prime Minister Cameron first promised an In/Out referendum. The record of the house shows that I and Deputy Smith were consistent in calling for Ireland to adopt an active approach to the issue.
In the last year Minister Flanagan has taken a number of important and welcome initiatives to state Ireland’s position and to indicate that we are seeking to be prepared for any eventuality.
The issue will shortly come to a head and no one is currently capable of saying with any confidence what the outcome will be.
This is no time for the populist Euroscepticism so favoured by many of our smaller parties. Ireland has to be very clear where it sees its interests and how it will react whatever the outcome of the referendum is.
Let’s be very clear – Brexit would be bad for Britain, bad for Ireland, bad for Europe and, as the IMF said last week, bad for the world.
The economic and political case which is being made for Brexit is simply risible. As Britain’s own review of EU regulations showed, the vast majority of them are actually an aid to business and trade. They are the foundation for fair and open trade. They provide the practical foundation for the bulk of worker’s rights and have been proven time and again to be the most powerful weapon available to support socially and environmentally responsible development.
Member states retain the ability to shape their own destinies. What the European Union does is enable them to maximise this sovereignty in an era where prosperity is impossible without strong international cooperation.
At the heart of the Leave case is an expectation for how the departure negotiations will proceed which is very similar to the nonsense spoken here by our own Eurosceptics when they oppose every change in Europe. The idea that Britain could leave the EU but retain all of the benefits of being a member is a profoundly dishonest argument. There is simply no way that the EU could or should allow membership to be stripped of all practical benefits.
And this is where the concern for Ireland is most acute.
We have a strategic national interest in relation to having a European Union which is more dynamic and addresses clear failings of current policies.
We also have a strategic national interest in being able to have the freest possible interaction of people, trade and capital with Britain.
Reconciling these interests has always been difficult. In the context of Brexit it could rapidly become impossible.
Over the years we have worked in the EU to be constructive relating to the concerns of Britain. We have actively worked to keep the discourse respectful when others have been playing to domestic political audiences.
Clearly Ireland has to be ready for either outcome. If Britain takes the road of leaving the EU there is no positive outcome. There will simply be two years of working to limit the damage.
If Britain chooses to remain a member, we have to move forward and end the damaging rhetoric of the last 30 years. Turning every issue into a matter of national sovereignty and the search for new and more creative way to show you are “standing up to Brussels” is the direct cause of this situation.
Pandering to insular and often xenophobic expressions of nationalism has led many politicians who should have known better to enhance the growth of English Eurosceptic.
There are parties and Deputies in this House who subscribe to the view that the European Union is a vast neo-liberal conspiracy designed to suppress workers. As we can see in Britain the overwhelmingly dominant voices in the Leave campaign are right-wing, neo-liberals who claim that the European Union is a socialist conspiracy designed to destroy capitalism.
It is highly instructive that the British trade union movement is strongly supporting the Remain case. This position has changed evolved dramatically over the last forty years due to the undeniable evidence of the EU’s role in defending workers.
For many, and particularly the more centrist elements of the Conservative party, instead of taking the balanced approach of being critical but nonetheless clearly supportive of the EU, they demonised it and used it as a cheap populist applause line. If the Remain side is to win it should remember that pandering to scepticism has led to a vicious circle of ever-expanding aggression against the EU.
Equally, the deal which reached with Prime Minister Cameron cannot be invoked to prevent the Union reforming its work to make it more effective in serving the people of Europe.
Fianna Fáil is absolutely committed to the position that Ireland must remain a committed member of the EU no matter what happens. There is simply no credible case for suggesting that Ireland would benefit from being outside the EU and there is a growing argument that a strengthening of the Union’s powers in certain areas would benefit Ireland.
In the past I have raised the issue of the potential impact for the residency, welfare and other rights of Irish citizens in Britain of a Leave vote. Reassurances seem to have been given on this front but the full extent of them is not clear.
Obviously the position in relation to the impact between the two jurisdictions on this island is very serious.
There is no need to go into the extent to which the free movement of people and trade on this island is of benefit to all communities. In fact, the failure to move forward with more ambitious cross-border activities in service provision and economic development represents one of the greatest missed-opportunities of recent years.
I welcome the fact that the party which is today called Sinn Fein will, for the first time since its foundation in 1970, be supporting a pro-EU vote. Having opposed EU membership, campaigned against every Treaty and accused the EU of provoking Russia to invade its neighbours this support for the Remain case is clearly pragmatic, but it is welcome nonetheless.
Other parties including the SDLP and Alliance have of course a lengthy and principled stance of seeking to use common EU membership as a way of enhancing connections between both sides of the border – as well as between often hostile communities.
The Dáil should note the consistent and generous record which the EU has in supporting peace, reconciliation and development on this island.
Those in Northern Ireland supporting the Leave position have yet to address any of the major concerns about the economic and social impact of the possibility that the North will no longer be a member of the Union.
Clearly a position where the will of a majority in England on this matter is forced on other parts of the Britain and Northern Ireland has not been thought through by many of those campaigning for a Leave vote.
There is no point served by speculating now on its impact. One thing which is for sure is that the case of Scotland’s possible membership of the EU as an independent state will become a lot less complicated.
There has been some considerable speculation about actions Ireland might seek to mitigate the inevitable damage caused by a Leave vote. Rather than spending time on this, we should agree that we will have a dedicated session on this issue immediately after the vote. In addition, should there be a Leave vote Fianna Fáil will seek the appointment of a special committee of the House to oversee policy in the two-year period of negotiations and we will seek a number of other specific actions by government to ensure that our interests are protected and promoted.
I have outlined in great detail my party’s approach to the reform of the EU in a series of speeches in the Dáil and elsewhere. In addition, we set out our position on both reform and Brexit in our election manifesto.
We believe that Ireland has to be more assertive in supporting reform which deepens the ability of the EU to support growth and not just to control public spending. This point remains irrespective of what happens in June.
This referendum is the inevitable outcome of thirty years of a steadily worsening rhetoric in British politics where blaming Brussels has taken centre stage. Whatever happens we need this to be the end of the destructive cycle and the beginning of a more sustained focus on delivering a European Union focused on the needs and aspirations of the citizens of all of our countries.