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Nicola Sturgeon urges Ireland and Scotland to 'send a powerful signal' around the world

Scotland’s First Minister is on a two-day visit to Dublin, but is not meeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

26th Annual British-Irish Council Summit Meeting First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and Taoiseach Enda Kenny meet at British-Irish Council Summit in Glasgow earlier this year. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 13.06pm

NICOLA STURGEON HAS told the Seanad that Ireland and Scotland can send a “powerful signal” around the world on the basis of their shared values.

Scotland’s First Minister is on a two-day visit to Dublin, and today became the first head of a foreign government to address the Seanad.

In his opening address, cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan noted the historic links between the two countries, citing Robert the Bruce, St Colum Cille and the gaelic kingdom of Dál Riada – which included parts of Ireland and Scotland.

He also paid tribute to Sturgeon for “embodying the modern Scotland”.

In her speech, Sturgeon said: “It is a great honour to be invited to address all of you today… it is truly a historic day for all of us. It is wonderful to join you in these absolutely beautiful surroundings.”

She said she had the privilege of seeing the Book of Kells in Trinity College Dublin last night, underlining the deeply linked historic connections between Ireland and Scotland. She also noted the countries’ shared history of emigration.

Perhaps that explains why Scotland and Ireland have responded with such an open heart to the current migration crisis.

Scotland is home to a third of the Syrian refugees welcomed to the UK, and Sturgeon also noted Ireland’s efforts to welcome refugees. Sturgeon said she has been hugely touched by the warm welcome extended to her by President Michael D. Higgins.

“Throughout the last four decades, an important context for our co-operation has been our shared place in the European Union,” she added, noting former president Mary Robinson’s comments on how the EU has heightened Ireland’s national self-confidence.

Scotland’s experience in the EU have not been identical to Ireland’s. We are not a member state. Yet. But… the sense that small countries can be equal in a partnership of many appeals to us about the European Union.

She said it was clear from her discussions with Irish ministers that Brexit is Ireland’s largest foreign policy issue since its entry to the EEC in 1973.

Sturgeon Seanad Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Seanad today. Source: Oireachtas TV

Sturgeon added that by working together, “our small nations” can deliver a big and powerful signal around the world on the basis of the countries’ shared values.

In welcoming the Scottish First Leader, Fine Gael deputy leader Dr James Reilly attempted to share his time with Enda Kenny’s constituency colleague Michelle Mulherin, but was informed that would not be possible by the chair.

Reilly noted that there were “many Celtic fans who follow the soccer” in Scotland in a very serious way.

Kenny meeting

Sturgeon’s visit to Dublin does not include a meeting with Enda Kenny. The Scottish leader said that their diaries meant that they met at the British-Irish Council last Friday instead.

While the UK narrowly voted to leave the European Union earlier this year, a majority in Scotland voted to stay, after a passionate campaign led by Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party. Brexit thus provides much of the backdrop to the visit.

This morning Sturgeon praised the Taoiseach’s support for the Scottish government’s unique position, as it advocates for a ‘soft Brexit’ that will retain access to the EU single market for British – and Scottish – businesses.

Yet the issue is complicated by the opaque negotiating strategy taken by the Conservative government in London, and Kenny’s twin priorities of preserving good relations with the EU – and with British prime minister Theresa May in order to prevent a hard border.

Higgins Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon meets President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Supportive

Sturgeon acknowledged the balancing act Kenny must strike in his bid to preserve a soft border between the Republic and the North.

“Enda Kenny has been extremely supportive of Scotland’s position, but he’s is the leader of an EU member state,” Sturgeon told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“So when negotiations begin with the UK, he’s clearly going to be on the EU side of that negotiation.

I also appreciate very much that, for the Taoiseach, the priority is the all-Ireland issues, and ensuring the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement is protected, and that the issue of the North-South border is resolved.

“I think absolutely, in terms of Scotland, we have a friend and an ally in Ireland and in the Irish government.

I appreciate the support that Enda Kenny has given us, but I also recognise the priorities he is working to as well.

“I am of the view that during the Brexit campaign, not enough consideration was given to the implications of Brexit for Ireland.”

Vatican Ireland Pope Francis meets with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, during a private audience in his private studio at the Vatican yesterday. Source: Alessandra Tarantino/PA

Vatican

“I met Enda on Friday at the British-Irish Council, and I know he was in the Vatican yesterday. I would think I have a got a good relationship with Enda, he’s always very supportive of the Scottish position,” Sturgeon added.

“I had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting the president [Michael D Higgins] and Charlie Flanagan the foreign minister yesterday.”

The Scottish leader said the visit is about more than just Brexit, however. Scottish exports to Ireland are worth €1.32 billion, and Irish investment into Scotland currently supports more than 6,000 jobs.

I’m not remotely surprised [to not meet Enda], I met Enda a few days ago, we had a bilteral meeting on Friday, so no I would have no expectation of a meeting just a few days later.

“I don’t think anyone could look at the visit, and the good interactions between the Scottish and Irish governments and take conclusions from that whatsoever, other than the fact our diaries meant that we met on Friday rather than today.”

Prime Minister visit to Scotland Sturgeon welcomes British prime minister Theresa May to Bute House in Edinburgh in July, in the wake of the Brexit result. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Divisions

Sturgeon believes the rest of the UK is now beholden to the internal politics of the London government – and the Conservative Party.

“I don’t think yet it has a clear idea of what it wants to achieve,” she added.

“There was no planning done for the Brexit vote,” she said, adding that not much seems to have been done in the five months since the Brexit referendum.

We’re all anxious about the situation that lies ahead. I think partly it’s because there are deep divisions within the [UK] government and within the Conservative Party.

“So whichever direction the prime minister [Theresa May] chooses to take, she is at risk of upsetting one wing of her party.

And we saw that last week when she hinted at the possibility of a transitional agreement with the EU, and immediately hard Brexiteers in her own party began to speak out, saying she was selling out the referendum result.

“And immediately she backtracks on that, or appears to backtrack on that. So I think it crystallizes the position she is in. The party is divided.

Unfortunately, this is about much more about than the Conservative Party. The interests of the UK, and within that the Scotland, are on the line. So the sooner the prime minister gets a strategy together, the better for all of us.

Sturg 3 Sturgeon at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Single market

While a narrow majority in England and Wales voted in favour of leaving the EU, those campaigning for Brexit insisted that businesses across the UK – including Scotland and Northern Ireland – would still gain access to the single market.

Yet the consensus across the European Union is that the UK cannot pick and choose to which of the EU’s four freedoms – goods, services, capital, and people – it adheres. And the leading Brexiteers in the Conservative Party are keen to reduce immigration.

Yet Scotland still harbours faint hopes that a compromise can be engineered.

“I want the UK to stay in the single market, I strongly agree that’s the least worst option in the wake of the Brexit result,” Sturgeon said.

I don’t think there is a clear majority anywhere in the UK to leave the single market.
We know that coming out of the world’s single biggest single market will have a significant impact, and a significantly negative impact, on jobs and trade and economy.

“So I would hope that we can persuade the UK government to stay in the single market. I readily accept, the signals are not promising,” she added.

“I want to explore options for Scotland to do that… none of them are straightforward.

We’re very much in uncharted territory, and there are no rules for what happens.

Scottish independenceThousands of people march for Scottish independence through Glasgow city centre in July, in the wake of the Brexit vote.Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Independence

Sturgeon also left the door open to another independence referendum, if the UK goes for a hard Brexit without access to the European single market.

“If we get to a situation where Scotland is being taken off a hard Brexit cliff-edge, with seriously damaging implications for our economy, jobs, investment and living standards, then I think in those circumstances, Scotland will have the right to decide that that’s the direction it wanted to take…

“That’s very much on the table.”

Read: ‘Have cake and eat it’ – Photographed notes appear to show Brexit strategy

Read: Phil Hogan says the UK is ‘going to learn a hard lesson’ over Brexit

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