Taoiseach Enda Kenny has visited Belfast to urge people to vote in the EU referendum, stating that the result will be ‘as important for Ireland as the Good Friday Agreement’.
Speaking at Ulster University on Monday, he stressed how important his relationship with the British prime minister in positively supporting one another as Members of the European Council.
He described the upcoming vote as a ‘truly momentous decision’ and that a vote to leave Europe is one ‘we would very much wish to avoid.’ Starting his speech he reflected on the North in the past 18 years since the Good Friday agreement and how politics, business, the arts and academies had reaped the rewards of the building of ‘peace and stability that we now enjoy’.
“I know that this was not always easy work. Sometimes it was risky. There were many sacrifices,” he continued. “But it has been worth it. Many of you who have worked so hard are here with us today. Thank you for your enduring contribution to peace on these islands and in this city.”
He said the decision was “as important for Ireland as the Good Friday Agreement”.
He also highlighted the fact that without David Cameron at the European council meetings, he would be the only representative from these islands at them and that there would be ‘no voice’ for the north in Europe.
“In that capacity, I will of course do my best for Northern Ireland and for all the people of these islands. But we cannot speak for the UK. If we have learnt anything on this island in recent years, it is that engagement is the key to a better future.”
He also emphasised the question of how free movement from the six counties into the Free State would change should Britain opt to leave Europe.
“We are standing here today less than fifty miles from the United Kingdom’s only land border. Can anyone credibly suggest that nothing would change if that became the western border of the European Union ?”
He then listed the reasons both economic and social why it was beneficial to maintain ties between the north and south.
“One of the most beneficial effects of the peace process and our common membership of the EU has been the virtual elimination of that border. Today many tens of thousands of people cross the border each day to work, to do business, to see family and friends, for tourism, for trade.
“This traffic is growing, in part because we have worked together, through Tourism Ireland, Intertrade Ireland, in common endeavours, to build links to our mutual benefit.
“There are jobs. Jobs in small businesses, with one or two employees. The joiner crossing the border to put in a kitchen.
“The cattle sold to a meat processor on the other side. The client who visits Dublin and Belfast in the same trip. “All of which build on the links, the confidence, the opportunities of a single market in an atmosphere of peace and stability, hard won through the efforts of many.”