TÁNAISTE EAMON GILMORE believes there is nothing normal or conventional about British-Irish relations and in a speech tonight will emphasise that a UK exit from the European Union would be bad for the two countries’ relations.
In a wide-ranging speech on British-Irish relations to be delivered at a British Irish Association event in Cambridge this evening, Gilmore says that a British “detachment” from the EU “would slow and limit our efforts towards closer cooperation with each other”.
The current Conservative-led government has committed to holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 2017 if re-elected in two years time with a straight ‘in or out’ choice to be put to voters.
Gilmore also warns that a UK exit could reverse gains made in recent years. He says there is nothing “conventional or ‘normal’” about the two countries’ relations.
“There is no relationship between any two other states in Europe where history, culture, people, economy, land and maritime proximity are intertwined in such a way,” he says.
In his speech, the Tánaiste points to the complexities this relationship pointing out that Irish fans cheered for British boxer Nicola Adams just as British fans cheered for gold-medalist Katie Taylor when the two fought separate bouts at the London Olympics last year
He points to the close relationship Ireland and Britain have economically “to an extraordinary degree” and the dependence they have on one another.
“We each have over $65 billion directly invested in each other’s economy. Our exports to each other support around 200,000 jobs in both Britain and Ireland,” he says.
‘Brexit’ bad for relations
He says that a British exit from the EU would be bad for Europe, bad for Northern Ireland and bad for North-South cooperation.
He adds: “I believe it would be bad for British-Irish relations. I don’t doubt that any consequences would be unintended, and that we would make every effort to mitigate them.
“But at best British detachment from Europe would slow and limit our efforts towards closer cooperation with each other. At worst it could reverse them.”
He says that the Irish government will continue to work to emphasise to British people “the genuine economic and political choices they face as they address their future in the EU”.
The Labour Party leader also says that Ireland will not take a position on the Scottish independence referendum being held next year, saying: “Ireland is not a participant in this debate which is entirely and appropriately a matter for voters in Scotland.”
Gilmore also express concerns about the peace process in the North saying that the past “is exercising a corrosive effect on political life and on community relations”.
“I am concerned at the pervasive and undiminished influence of sectarianism on civil life – and not solely in the more deprived communities,” he says.
He says it is important that the forthcoming multi-party talks being chaired by the US diplomat Dr Richard Haas will see every participant carry responsibility.
He adds that the Irish government needs to “acknowledge those unionists who feel that, notwithstanding the sacrifices made by members of an Garda Síochána and the Irish Army throughout the Troubles, the Irish state could have done more to prevent the IRA’s murderous activities in border areas.”
Gilmore says the Haas talks must provide a clear way forward on contentious issues such as “flags, parades, and the past”.