Former President of Ireland Professor Mary McAleese was the main speaker at Irish4Europe’s campaign to encourage the Irish community to Vote Remain organised by IIBN and TLICN and Irish Architects in Britain.
The event was sponsored by Ballymore Group whose Chairman Sean Mulryan is allowing his workforce to have time off to ensure they vote on 23 June. Many other leading Irish companies in the UK are doing the same.
Addressing the fact that both the pro-Brexit and Vote Remain groups have at times exaggerated the pros and cons of being in the EU, Professor McAleese shared fresh insights as she answered a number of questions from the audience on the Irish perspective, stating that the EU was not meant to last for just 43 years.
She said she believes firmly that the EU “must be locked into people hearts” despite the many problems and frustrations but said these can be worked through – both for the benefit of the original states and newer countries who have joined from Eastern Europe.
She reminded people that some of the newer member countries are not originally democratic and there is a real opportunity for older democracies to share good practice on issues such as gender equality, racism and equal opportunities.
Ballymore’s Sean Mulryan, who sponsored the event, is giving staff time off to ensure they vote
These matters, she said, will always be of concern and a strong Union enables all European countries to support their people by working together. Individual EU states may have their own particular worries, strengths and weaknesses but it can only be better to have “the wise, strong, experienced voice of Britain arguing its case from within rather than from outside”, she said.
Is the European Union perfect? Not at all. Is it better than anything previously devised to secure peace, partnership and prosperity? It most assuredly is. Has it structures ordered to its own reform and development? Yes, it has. It has 28 guiding hands, among them the powerful and influential hand of the United Kingdom,” she said.
Acknowledging that fears about migration are motivating many to want to vote to leave the EU, Professor McAleese reminded her audience that “we Irish are an emigrant people” and as such – with centuries of shared experience – can help other emigrants integrate.
“We have been welcomed and excelled worldwide and while undoubtedly many had a less positive story to tell, the fact that they overcame adversity is inspiring,” she said
This works both ways, she said, with 13 per cent of Ireland’s population now “non-Irish”.
“Under Brexit, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would become the sole land border and a crucial frontier post between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
“In addition to the half-million Irish-born people living in Great Britain, there are 300,000 British-born people living in Ireland. The Treaty of Rome guarantees their freedom of movement. No one can say for certain what rules would apply to the movement of peoples between our two islands after a Brexit.
“Bilateral trade between Ireland and the UK is worth over £1bn every single week. Thirty per cent of imports into Ireland come from the UK. We are the biggest single purchasers of British food and soft drinks and the second-largest purchasers of British fashion and footwear. The vast bulk of our energy requirements is purchased from the UK.
“It is simply not possible to predict what model or models of trade relationships would emerge after a Brexit, so when the Brexiters tell me that all those jobs and contracts are perfectly safe, I know it is a prediction they are not in a position to make. She pointed out that many are very well qualified and make a huge contribution to life in Ireland and the phenomenon has been reflected in the large increase in the numbers of language courses available at schools and colleges.
This, she said, will be a big plus when trading with overseas countries. On the question how a British exit from EU would affect peace in Northern Ireland, Professor McAleese replied that we “must not underestimate how uncertain life could become.”
“One cannot predict for certain what impact this would have on the 300-mile border between the North and South. Thirty-thousand people people now cross the Border to go to work every day – with an ease that was unthinkable in the early 70s, she said. She said the collateral benefits of EU membership worked on many levels.
When MEPs met over the years at Brussels the language of engagement led to cordial relationships, she said. Most importantly, she reminded people, the late Albert Reynolds and Sir John Major originally got to know and trust each other as Finance Ministers at EC meetings.
This in turn led to the development of the peace process which, in turn, was taken on by their successors as Prime Minister and Taoiseach, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, leading to the Good Friday Agreement, she said.
Pick up a copy of this week’s paper to find some of the IIBN, TLICN and Irish Architects’ members.
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