Ireland’s Foreign Minister leads appeals to Irish community in UK
By Bernard Purcell
Ireland’s caretaker ministers are to step up their appeals to ‘500,000 Irish voters’ in this country to do what they can against Brexit.
Acting Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan, appealing to Irish World readers, urged them to just look objectively at the economic and political benefits to both the UK and Ireland from membership of the EU.
He said he hoped that armed with those objective facts they might also persuade their friends, neighbours and colleagues in this country. His latest intervention and appeal come on the heels of warnings against Brexit from the International Monetary Fund, Chancellor George Osborne, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, the Home Office and even former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Meanwhile, North Secretary Theresa Villiers – a pro-Brexit campaigner – found her insistence that a UK departure from the EU would not mean customs and border controls contradicted by Home Office officials.
Ireland’s acting Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan, who two weeks ago met Irish groups in London, is to expand his anti-Brexit ‘hearts and minds’ offensive to will target Irish communities in Liverpool, Manchester and the northeast as part of the Government’s campaign to keep Britain in the union.
“Ultimately this is a matter for British people to decide, in accordance with their sovereign electoral system, but I come here as a friend and a neighbour but also as a stakeholder, an equal stakeholder to Britain, as a member of the European Union.
“(As such) my concentration is on the importance of the relationship between Britain and Ireland in the European Union.
“We both joined on the same day in 1973 and a very brief reflection on the state of our relationship then, portrayed two islands with very little in terms of engagement.
“Since then under the umbrella of the European Union our relationship has flourished,” he said.
Mr. Flanagan rejected suggestions that in saying, on the one hand, he did not wish to interfere with the vote while, on the other hand, urging Irish voters here to turn out against Brexit, he was guilty of double standards.
“No, I believe it is important we have an appropriate level of information (out there). I don’t believe anyone votes in any…context without having an appropriate level of information.
“My advocacy is to ensure that the Irish community (here) in particular have an appropriate level of information to allow them make a judgment on what is a hugely important issue,” said Mr. Flanagan, a Laois-Offaly TD.
He was asked then if this meant, by logical extension, he accepted that some Irish may choose to vote for Brexit?: “Ultimately people will make (their own) decision. However, the clear message from the Irish government is that our relationship with the UK, under the umbrella of the EU, has been hugely positive and I point to trade figures in excess of €62 billion per year.
“I point to jobs as a direct consequence of that trade and I firmly believe that it is in the interests of our respective futures that the UK and Ireland remain in, a reformed, European Union.
“It is important now that over the next few weeks that we focus on the issues involved here, the nature of the relationship between the UK and the EU,” he said. Mr. Flanagan repeated earlier warnings by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that Brexit would destabilize the gains made in Northern Ireland by the peace process and see the return of border and custom controls between Ireland and the only country with which it shares a land border.
“A vote by the people of the UK to leave the EU will undoubtedly destabilise a number of factors including many in relation to Northern Ireland.
“As far as the Border is concerned, these are issues that would have to be considered in the context of the entire EU and not just exclusively between the UK and Ireland,” he said.
“From a European perspective, membership by the UK of the Union has been hugely significant and important.
“Ireland is a neighbouring state with a similar institutional framework, a similar legal system, a similar political institutional framework, a common language, (and) close proximity,” said Mr. Flanagan.
He was asked if he saw any irony in a government that had done nothing to extend votes to emigrants in this country asking them to use their democratic mandate in Ireland’s interests.
“I’m speaking here to an Irish bloc or vote that could well be in the region of 500,000 people.
“I don’t wish to overestimate or over-emphasise the importance of the Irish vote here, it could well be in single figures compared to the overall electorate here percentage-wise.
“Nevertheless I feel I have a duty and an obligation as Foreign Minister to make the position of the Irish government quite clear,” he said.
On the question of allowing Irish emigrants in this country to vote in Irish elections, such as choosing the President, Mr. Flanagan said: “We have just completed a general election in Ireland. This will be a matter for the incoming government. We have already set a process in train under the Department of the Environment and that will be a matter for the new government to take on board.
“Our Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan had a most successful tenure in the Department of Foreign Affairs (but) he was unsuccessful in is attempt to retain his TD’s seat so I’d like to acknowledge his huge personal contribution.
“I expect that should Fine Gael from the next government there will be a Minister for the Diaspora. I think it was hugely important, such a minister has a huge role to play in terms of looking after the needs and indeed the requirements and relationship between Ireland and our citizens overseas (and was) instrumental in commencing the process that will ultimately lead to votes for emigrants,” he said.
Mr Flanagan’s comments clash with those of Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, who said borders will not be affected by a Brexit, for which she is campaigning.