‘If Irish here love the UK urge voters to stay’ says Taoiseach Enda Kenny
• If you care about this country then urge it to stay within Europe, Taoiseach tells Irish businesses in Britain
• Ireland and Europe ‘worse off without Britain in EU but Britain would also be worse without EU and Ireland’, he says
By Bernard Purcell
Irish voters in this country, UK voters in Ireland and Northern Irish voters can have a decisive influence on the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s EU membership, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said as he urged them to make the most of their influence here.
Taoiseach’s 1916 centenary invitation to Prime Minister
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street on Monday where he invited him to Ireland to take part in Ireland’s 1916 centenary commemorations marking rebellions against British rule. The invitation is being considered by Number 10.
With UK voter support for remaining within the EU now ‘wafer thin’, according to Britain’s Ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott, the outcome of Prime Minister David Cameron’s referendum hangs in the balance.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who was in London earlier this week to offer his support to Mr. Cameron, said Irish voters in this country – alongside UK voters in Ireland and Northern Irish voters – could swing that balance.
Mr. Kenny told a British Irish Chambers of Commerce gathering at City law firm McCann FitzGerald that while this was a matter for British voters he was urging all Irish directors on UK businesses and Irish business people here to tell people what was at risk.
“We don’t yet know the date of the Referendum but Britain is beginning to enter a critical phase, a profound choice for the people of Britain is fast approaching,” said Mr. Kenny.
“We in Ireland are not disinterested observers, nor should we be. Britain and Ireland are more than just neighbours, we are friends and co-guarantors of a historically significant peace process – the bombs and guns remain silent (in Northern Ireland) – and Irish people and businesses here have played no small part in that,” said Mr. Kenny.
“That trust was forged in part through years of working side by side in Brussels since 1973,” he said.
“We share a history and continue to write its newest pages,” he said.
He reminded his audience that the Queen spoke Irish at the former seat of British power in Dublin Castle during her visit in 2011, and that since then President Michael D Higgins had stayed in Windsor Castle and accompanied Prince Charles to commemorate those Irish and British who fell in Gallipoli.
Mr. Kenny said he had accompanied Prime Minister Cameron to First World War graves in Flanders as they recalled “those who died for the freedom of small nations and the future of Europe”.
“As Britain’s closest neighbours and friend it is important we should not be afraid to say, and say so publicly, that it is in its interests, and ours, that Britain stays in the EU and so should you. It is absolutely critical that your voice be heard in this crucial debate,” said the Taoiseach.
“Britain is entering a critical phase and must make a profound choice.”
There will be many business people here with Irish connections but you are all pragmatists.
“Sentimentality will not win the argument it will be a decision based on hard realities and on calculated judgements,” he said.
“At the worst point of the recession Ireland was the only country required to have a referendum on the Fiscal Stability and the people voted 60:40 in favour of it when people might have been tempted to give the government a kicking but they decided their future was linked to Europe,” he said.
“This is the important bit: it wasn’t the politicians and it wasn’t the political process that explained to people how important it was to link our future to a Europe of 500m people, it was the business people,” said Mr. Kenny.
“Clearly, in many parts of Britain there are divergent views and a great deal of cynicism and some saying you would be better off out of Europe. Whether David Cameron’s EU renegotiations conclude in February or March in any event you are going to have a referendum on the ultimate question and this is going to be very critical and very decisive for the UK.
“Freedoms we have enjoyed for 40 years as highly cooperative partners may be put at risk if taken for granted by this current generation.
“At risk is our common travel area and its particular advantages and freedoms, we also risk freedom to move capital and services.
“New arrangements could, of course, be put in place but we don’t know precisely what they would be and the uncertainty of navigating those waters – and the complexity and time consuming nature of renegotiating various technical, legal and administrative arrangements and agreements – would be fraught indeed,” said Mr. Kenny.
“This is a choice for British voters but it is one with consequences,” he said.
“In Ireland voters have experience of voting for referendums on Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, and Lisbon. Irish voters understand the difference between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, with respect to British voters, they have not had their experience.
“So Irish people working for, and on the boards of, British businesses here should ask them and their fellow voters to realise how important this is not just for them but for their children and grandchildren,” said Mr. Kenny.
Europe and Ireland would be weaker without Britain, but it is important that voters in this country realise how much Britain would be weaker without Europe and Ireland and how much stronger it would be in a Europe of 500 million people, he said.
“The implication for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (of Brexit) speaks for itself,” he added.
“Ireland will promote and defend the potential that will follow from Britain staying within the EU.