I thank the Senators for their wide-ranging questions. With the Chair's permission, I will take them in order
Senator Paul Daly asked a really important question about how Ireland, as a country and a people, politically and administratively, would manage its relationship with the European Union when our closest neighbour and ally was no longer beside us at the table. I will make one point which might refer to some of the questions. European Movement Ireland as an organisation has a voluntary branch in Brussels. We do a lot of work in engaging and making sure the Irish voice is heard at all levels of the various associations, institutions and bodies. Having been in this role for more than six years at this stage, I can honestly say Brexit, without parallel, has been the single issue where I have seen a complete appreciation, recognition and understanding of how Ireland will be impacted on uniquely. We saw it in President Tusk's comments about money, people and Ireland. There is a recognition, understanding and appreciation that Ireland will be impacted on. The result and the outcome was not something that Ireland wanted. Notwithstanding that there may be some opportunities and upsides in terms of attracting foreign direct investment and things like that, on balance, we believe the negative outcomes and impacts will far outweigh any possible advantage that might accrue.
As for how Ireland will continue to negotiate and ensure we do not, as the Senator said, step on the other member states' toes, if I may use my tightrope analogy again, it will have to be very subtle and nuanced. However, Ireland is a member state. We have a voice and a right to use it and we should not be shy about putting forward out interests and our points of view. We are doing that quite effectively and efficiently. No one wants to see a no-deal situation where the United Kingdom leaves and walks out of the house leaving behind the wallet, the phone and the keys, only to realise it still needs to go back in and get them and still needs to use them. We must ensure it is not a bad Brexit deal or a no-deal situation, while being cognisant and mindful of the fact that Ireland will be one of 27. It will not just be Ireland's concerns; they are the broader EU concerns.
We are up to the challenge but it will not be easy. On the challenge in terms of the rhetoric and the debate, it is welcome to see an evolving and more forthright and frank public discourse taking place in Ireland. That is why the committee is to be commended. We must have this grown-up conversation about the challenges and the potential difficulties that will be encountered. This will not be easy. We are at the start of a marathon that will take place in the next few years with many twists and turns in the tale. It will not be a win-win in every sector and we will not be happy with all the outcomes but we have to ensure we are active, taking part and having our voice heard. There is a responsibility that I would see as being part of the civic dialogues and various sectoral reforms the Chair mentioned. The responsibility is not just on our legislators and political leaders; it is also on us as a civil society, businesses and membership organisation. We must amplify and extend our voice and message across the member states. It is important that this take place.
I know that the Chairman is familiar with this from his time in European Movement Ireland but, in terms of European sentiment, when we first started these surveys in 2013, having commissioned Red C, the first question we asked was whether Ireland should follow the United Kingdom out of the European Union. That was just in terms of the Brexit vote. The sentiment for it at the time was at 29%. Two weeks ago, it has dropped to 16%. It has effectively halfed in the past few years.
Senator Joe O'Reilly had really important questions on changes in the positive sentiment towards the European Union in Ireland and whether European Movement Ireland as an organisation could convey this message to Monsieur Barnier and Task Force 50. We have done so. We had a number of meetings and engagements here and in Brussels with the various officials on Task Force 50. It is reassuring to see the commitment and the understanding shown by the Commission and Task Force 50 in respect of recognising that Ireland should not be uniquely disadvantaged by the Brexit vote.
Notwithstanding this, as alluded to by Senator Michael McDowell, there are the legalities and the complexities. I go back to my devil in the detail story. However, it was reassuring that creative and innovative solutions would be entertained and considered. Again, there is an onus on us all to try to feed into those solutions. This is somewhat unprecedented, notwithstanding Greenland, which had a population of 55,000 and concerned mainly a single issue in terms of fish. I venture to say this is the most complex divorce that will be undertaken for quite some time. There is no template. We have the recent Commission guidelines, which are very helpful, but there is no folder that can be taken down off a shelf and a plan implemented with no hiccups along the way. We have to be mindful of this. European Movement Ireland, as an organisation, will continue to ensure and to give reassurance that Ireland's voice will be heard. It will focus on ensuring that the rhetoric, dialogue and the discourse are kept informed, robust and engaged and on ensuring that people feel their voices are being heard.
On sentiment and the Red C poll, 88% believe Ireland should remain part of the European Union and the figure is 99% among full-time students. It is very high in Connacht-Ulster at 87%. It has continually been more than 80% since 2013. People in Ireland recognise that we have benefited from our EU membership. I would not claim that the European Union and all its institutions are perfect and it is not a panacea for all ills but in an increasingly challenging, complex and multifaceted global environment, our interests are better served as an active, committed and engaged member rather than being outside it. I believe that quite strongly.
I welcome Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile's comments on the civic dialogue. As an organisation, we have a voluntary branch with our colleagues in European Movement Northern Ireland. As part of our efforts to continue to further the all-island debate, we are delighted to be hosting them, as well as representatives from Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom in June. I extend an invitation to all members of the committee. We would be delighted to welcome them to the town hall debate on Brexit on the two islands on 13 June.
In terms of the special status and Northern Ireland, as the Senator mentioned, there is a huge amount of work, debate and dialogue. The island of Ireland has been recognised at an unprecedented level in terms of the negotiations, as mentioned, and its specific concerns have been prioritised as the European Union's concerns. This is something we hugely welcome and in which we put great store. We should not underestimate the significance of this. However, the Senator knows far better than I do the 499 km and the 30,000 or so people who cross the Border seamlessly every day. No one wants to see that change. No one wants to see a hard border. Monsieur Barnier's comments in that regard were very welcome. The challenge will be giving substance to the positive rhetoric, which will not be easy. We look at the fact that POLITICO recently noted that approximately 20,833 laws and regulations would have to be analysed in the two-year timeframe. That is approximately 40 a day. I am sure somewhere someone has been beavering away on at least ten regulations. That underlines the complexity we are facing.
The Chairman asked a very important question about the views of the European Movement councils in the member states. We forget sometimes in Ireland that further to the east, things like defence and security have great significance, while the eurozone challenges and the migrant crisis are huge issues of concern for our Italian and Greek colleagues. Attending some of the sectoral dialogues was really useful for me as there was a deep focus on the specific challenges facing the different sectors. In addition to the sectoral dialogues, there was the plenary forum. I was not as familiar with the complexities around children's issues. The plenary forum was an opportunity for me to get a greater appreciation and understanding. There is merit in having both. It is absolutely worth fighting for. I would not be here if I did not think so. We tend to forget in Ireland not only the benefits that our membership of the European Union has given us but also the important contribution Ireland has made to improving the Union. We have a voice. It is not them versus us. We should not be reticent about making our voice heard.
Senator Daly asked how Ireland should upscale following the structures. Every year European Movement Ireland does an accountability report, which I am happy to forward to the committee. It provides a report card, as it were, tracking, analysing and measuring Irish engagement at all levels and comparing it with the other members states. For example, we look at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs, the Taoiseach's attendance at the European Council, various Ministers' attendance at ministerial councils, and our MEPs' speeches and parliamentary questions. We acknowledge that it is only a statistical snapshot but nonetheless we feel it shines a light on Ireland's relationship and engagement with the European Union. The findings have been quite positive. We are seeing an upward trajectory in most indicators and scorecards.
The Senator touched on the issue of subsidiarity. It is very important for the Oireachtas to continue to analyse legislation and directives coming from Brussels, to make sure they are robustly interrogated. I would never claim that the European Union is perfect. From European Movement Ireland's experience of the Brexit debate, it is encouraging to see the shoe leather expended, not only in Brussels but across the member states, by our politicians, the various committees, the Government and the sectoral interests. It is ensuring the unique impact of Brexit on us is being heard about. We have an opportunity to maximise this and ensure the least worst outcome.
As for Brexit happening, I would be delighted to come back at a later date and spend many hours talking about it. As members of this committee will appreciate, it was impossible for a four-month campaign to reverse 40 years of negative media and public discourse constantly denigrating and blaming Brussels for absolutely everything. The referendum result proved this.
Senator Michael McDowell mentioned Professor Laffan's excellent article. We could talk forever about how we frame polling questions and the 57% in respect of the defence question. We wanted to get a snapshot of whether people felt Ireland should take part in increased EU defence and security co-operation. The Commission's reflection paper on the future of European defence is due to be published in the coming weeks and will include options for the member states on the way forward. A high-level conference on security and defence is also being held in Prague on 9 June. It is not a question of boots on the ground in terms of an EU army or the broader defence issue. More recent developments in EU defence and security co-operation have been focused on pooling resources and efficient spending. It will remain a national competency for member states. The Senator mentioned Sweden. Without commenting on specifics, some member states do not have embassies here that have them in Britain. However, there is positive engagement, even where there is no presence. I do think it is important to acknowledge the hard work that is being done by the admittedly smaller and more meanly resourced Irish diplomatic service across the different EU member state capitals. It is being recognised. It is a very long process. The work will continue in the coming years.