Northern Ireland

Von der Leyen quotes The Saw Doctors when speaking about Brexit in the Dáil

Talks between the EU and UK will be done with an ‘honest heart and an open mind’, says EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 1st 2022, 4:05 PM

EU COMMISSION PRESIDENT Ursula von der Leyen quoted “the great Irish band” the Saw Doctors in her address to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas stating that when the EU sits down with “our British friends” it will be done with an “honest heart and an open mind”. 

The lyric comes from the song ‘To Win Just Once’ from the 1996 album Same Oul’ Town.

“I’m glad that today our talks with London are marked by a new, more pragmatic spirit because the European Union and the United Kingdom are still members of the same extended family, even if we no longer live in the same house,” she said.

By applying “common sense and focusing on the issues that really matter in Northern Ireland”, von der Leyen says she believes progress can be made in resolving the practical issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We’re listening closely to the business and civil society stakeholders in Northern Ireland, but the consequences of Brexit and the kind of Brexit chosen by the UK cannot be removed entirely.

“The solutions we find must ensure that the single market continues to function in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union.

“I think if both sides are sensitive to this careful balance, a workable solution is within reach. I believe we have a duty to find it,” she said. 

No hard border 

She received a round of applause when she told TDs, senators and MEPs her contact with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been “encouraging”.

I trust we can find the way. Let me reassure you, Ireland can always count on the European Union to stand by the Good Friday Agreement.
There can be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

Von der Leyen also said that the consequences of Brexit are most “deeply felt” on the island of Ireland.

“Europe’s role in the peace process brought Europe right back to its roots and this has made Brexit even more painful for all of us,” she added.

She said Europeans understood at the onset of Brexit how important it was to preserve peace on the island of Ireland. 

“One thing is absolutely clear. Brexit will not become an obstacle on the path of reconciliation in Ireland,” she said. 

Ireland’s success story 

Speaking about the European Union, she said Ireland has been a success story in the union.

“Joining the European Union has unleashed Ireland’s immense potential and has profoundly transformed this country in 1973.

“Ireland’s GDP per capita was around half the European Union’s average. Today, it is double the average and this is thanks to our unique single market and thanks to the ingenuity of the Irish people.

“You have just made the best of all the opportunities that are there and that comes with a freedom of trade, to travel, to study, to work all across the European Union.

“Irish society has blossomed too. When I was a teenager, married Irish women were banned from working in the public sector for whatever reason, but because of your accession to the European Community in 1973, this parliament passed its first gender equality legislation.

“Since then, the rights of women in Ireland have come such a long way.”

The EU Commission president also said that Ireland has gone “above and beyond” in its support for Ukraine.”

Speaking about the “five Irish virtues” that will help the EU face our common challenges ahead, von der Leyen said the first is the “Irish passion for freedom”.

“This country knows what it means to struggle for the right to exist,” she said.

“Today another European nation is fighting for its independence. Of course, Ireland is far away from the frontline in Ukraine, but you understand better than most why this war matters so much to all of us,” she added. 

“Just like our friends in Eastern Europe, you know that in Ukraine there’s more at stake than the future of one country only.

“Ukraine is fighting for freedom itself, for self rule for the rules based global order and Ireland has gone above and beyond in its support to Ukraine.”

Energy security

Speaking about energy security, she said “we are safe for this winter”, but added that Ireland is an important player in moving towards sustainable energy supply, stating that Ireland is a “wind energy superpower”.

Responding to von der Leyen, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the war in Ukraine has only reinforced the need to step-up investments in energy infrastructure, including interconnections.

“There is no time to waste. Last week in Paris we signed contracts for the Celtic Interconnector project. A remarkable 575km of cable will link Cork to Brittany. Over half a billion euro has been contributed through the EU Connecting Europe Facility, and the interconnector will bring real benefits to the citizens of both France and Ireland.

“It is a further practical demonstration of the mutual benefits of cooperation through the European Union,” he said.

On Ukraine, he said the Irish people have, in the face of this destruction and devastation, opened our communities, our homes and our hearts to more than 65,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Ireland since the end of February.

“We remain unswerving in our political support for Ukraine, including in championing Ukraine’s path towards EU membership,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald thanks the EU Commission president for Europe’s steadfast support in protecting the Good Friday Agreement. 

“We must see calm and clear leadership from those at the negotiating table. We’ve heard words from the new British Prime Minister Sunak is committed to restoring the political institutions and resolving issues around the implementation of the protocol and of course, those words are very, very welcome. But they must be matched by action and by meaningful talks between the British government and the European Commission,” said McDonald.

She also raised the issue of Ireland’s neutrality, stating the presence of military neutrals and the non-aligned can be a critical players in the work of peace, disarmament, and social justice. The next step is the recognition and acknowledgement of military neutrals and the non-aligned within the European treaties, said the Sinn Féin leader. 

‘EU can’t remain silent on other war crimes’

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett said he would not be thanked if he used his time to continue with the “backslapping”, stating that he wanted to raise some necessary criticisms of the EU. 

Speaking about the the EU should take responsibility in the austerity that it “rammed down the throats” of the Irish people which has resulted a “devastating” homeless and housing crisis.  

Boyd Barrett said he welcomed von der Leyen’s calls for a tribunal into war crimes committed by Russia, however he called for consistency in Europe’s foreign policy. 

He said a similar tribunal should take place into the war crimes committed against the Palestinian people by Israel.

Europe cannot call for an investigation into Putin’s war crimes, while “remaining silent” on the criminal actions by Israel, he told the EC president. Instead of sanctions for Israel, we given them favoured trade deals and deepen their relationship with the EU, said Boyd Barrett. 

He also called out the EU’s use of oil from Saudi Arabia, stating that while the EU cuts ties with Russian oil, it is replacing it with the oil of “one of the most brutal dictatorships”.

If the EU is “going to condemn war crimes of Putin, we must simultaneously condemn all war crimes”, he said, even those that are perceived allies of the EU, added Boyd Barrett.

“We have to have consistency in our foreign policy in our ethics and in our morality if we are going to be taken seriously as defenders of human rights and opponents of war,” he concluded.

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