Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan, was in the northwest of England last week for a two-day pre-referendum trip
Visiting Liverpool and Manchester, he met with political leaders, business contacts and members of the Irish community living in the UK to speak about the EU referendum, which will be held on June 23.
He made particular reference to Irish citizens’ right to vote and the value of the trade relationship between Britain and Ireland.
During the visit, which was part of a coordinated programme of ministerial engagements, Mr Flanagan was keen to stress the importance of the Irish in the UK exercising their right to take part in the referendum.
And he had no doubt that people would not waste the opportunity to vote, given the impact it will have on both countries.
“I know that for some voters, the Irish perspective may be one of the factors they consider when informing themselves about the issues at stake in the forthcoming referendum.
“In particular, I know from previous visits that there is a strong interest among the Irish communities living in the UK,” he said.
Mr Flanagan expressed the need for educated, measured debate when it comes to an issue such as this, rather than adopting tactics of scaremongering.
“Our own experience of referendums had made clear that a well informed public debate is really important,” he explained.
This is something he engaged in while in Liverpool, where he was part of a heavyweight panel at an event held by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies.
He was joined by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, as well as Conor McGinn, MP for St Helen’s North and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Irish in Britain; and Grainne Mellon, head of the London Irish Lawyers Association and co-chair of Irish4Europe.
Here they discussed the upcoming referendum, in addition to the potential for further expansion in links between Ireland and Liverpool and the city’s role as part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
“I am excited by the next steps Ireland, Liverpool and this dynamic region of England can take together in the coming years for each other’s mutual benefit,” Mr Flanagan said.
“Let’s do this work together with both countries in the EU rather than under a cloud of uncertainty.
“That’s the Irish perspective I offer and I urge everyone to be active in this debate and to cast their vote on 23 June.”
In Manchester, the Minister met with the city’s interim Mayor, Tony Lloyd, and took part in a community event at the Irish World Heritage Centre. He also attended a business breakfast hosted by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
Here he re-emphasised the importance and scale of the two-way trade between the UK and Ireland, which stands at around €1.2 billion per week.
Speaking in Manchester, he said: “I hope that you might think of home when you go to cast your vote – to think of the impact of this once-in-a generation decision on everyone here and on everyone in Ireland.”