I welcome the Minister.
EU-UK Relations: Statements
I very much welcome the opportunity to address the recently convened Seanad. I wish everybody a successful, busy and productive time in the course of his or her tenure here. In particular, I offer my personal congratulations to the Cathaoirleach on his elevation and appointment to his important national role. I wish him good health in his time here.
I thank the Minister.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue just ahead of polling day in the United Kingdom in the referendum on membership of the European Union. As Senators are aware, it has been a closely fought campaign in the United Kingdom and the tragic events of last Thursday understandably cast a dark cloud over proceedings in the final days. We all felt absolute horror at the murder of Jo Cox, MP, above all for her young family. As parliamentarians with deep links with our communities and constituencies, we find the brutal killing as Jo went about her work at her clinic particularly chilling. She and her family remain in our thoughts.
The Government's position on the referendum should be well known to everybody. We want the United Kingdom, as our friend, closest neighbour and partner, to remain a member of the European Union. This is a view which enjoys almost unanimous support within both Houses of the Oireachtas, although I recognise and respect that there is a differing point of view. The reasons underpinning the Government's position will also be familiar to Senators. They include important considerations relating to the economy, Northern Ireland, the common travel area and, of course, the European Union.
The Government and our diplomatic teams in Britain, Northern Ireland, Brussels and across the European Union have been very active on this issue since the moment the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, signalled his support for the holding of a referendum in 2013. The momentum of this work has never eased at any stage in the past three years. Our first core objective was to help to get agreement on a settlement package for the United Kingdom which would be acceptable to all European partners and enable the British Prime Minister to recommend and campaign for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. The Taoiseach was heavily involved in working to secure such an outcome at the February European Council.
With that agreement reached, the focus turned to the referendum. In tandem with the EU negotiations, since 2013 we have also been systematically setting out the Irish case for the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union. The Taoiseach, other Ministers and I have set out Ireland's position in keynote addresses across Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as with our UK counterparts during regular bilateral meetings. I spoke most recently with the UK Foreign Secretary, Mr. Philip Hammond, on Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg. He knows from our frequent conversations that Ireland is firmly of the view - a view shared by our partners - that negotiation and decision-making at EU level benefit from having a strong British voice at the table.
At all stages other Government colleagues, our diplomats and officials and I have ensured regular contact with Irish communities across Britain and it is to these communities that we appeal for participation in this vital decision for all of us. During the course of a visit to the United Kingdom in early April I identified a desire to hear the Irish perspective among the Irish community, on behalf of the Government and the Opposition. My experience of referendums here meant that I was aware of the sensitivities, but at all stages I was happy to give our perspective, when asked to do so.
In the past three months or so as the formal campaign was under way, Senators will have noticed that the Irish Government, complemented by active engagement by civil society in Ireland, the Irish community in Britain and leading Opposition figures, has made its own contribution to the referendum debate. We fully respect that the decision ultimately lies with the UK electorate, but we strove to put across the Irish perspective, including through a programme of 14 visits at Government level to Britain and Northern Ireland since the beginning of April. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I have managed this programme across government and as part of which I visited London, Belfast, Derry, Liverpool and Manchester. As I stressed during my visits to Belfast, Derry and elsewhere, the fact that Ireland was the only EU member state that shared a land border with the United Kingdom was a particularly compelling reason for the Government to feel obliged to ensure our perspective was known and clearly understood. As a Minister who has spent a considerable period of my time focused on the need to support and sustain political stability in Northern Ireland, I am acutely conscious of the negative implications of a "Leave" decision for the progress that has been made in the past 20 years.
Polling day is tomorrow and the UK electorate will, of course, have the final say on this important issue.
Polls suggest both outcomes are equally possible. The Government is as prepared as we possibly can be for both outcomes; therefore, whatever the result, it will strive to protect and promote the key strategic national interests of Ireland. The Dáil and the Seanad will play their full part in that important work.
I look forward to listening to the contributions of Senators and, if time permits, I will be available to respond at the end of the debate.
I welcome the Minister for this important debate. People in Britain will make a crucial decision tomorrow. While the matter is one for Britain to decide, Ireland is in a unique position heading into the vote this week as the only country in the European Union that shares a land border with the United Kingdom. Britain is our nearest neighbour and largest trading partner. Reports have warned of the repercussions for Ireland across several sectors, including the trade, travel, tourism, energy and agrifood sectors. Although a Brexit would affect us all, Border counties would be most exposed to its effects should Britain decide to leave the European Union. The 310-mile frontier that separates Northern Ireland and the Republic is the only land border between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union. Although heavily militarised, with checkpoints and road closures, during the Troubles, peace has opened up a seamless crossing between the two jurisdictions. Young people today do not recall the Border checkpoints and customs hold-ups we had to endure in the past. If someone crosses the Border today, there is little to alert him or her to such checks; the crossing is seamless. One might notice a red post box, a subtle change in the road surface, miles instead of kilometres on road signs or the disappearance of bilingual signs, but that is all. Thousands of people cross the Border every day on their way to work, to go shopping or on day trips. If one visits a school along the Border, one will find children with parents, grandparents or other family members from across the Border, but it is not only families. Farms, businesses and properties also straddle the Border. Thousands of people from Southern Border counties work across the Border and vice versa. People living in Border counties such as Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Brexit referendum.
The "Remain" camp which includes the Chancellor George Osborne has warned that a hardening of border controls would be inevitable in the event of the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union. Given that migration has been an important factor driving the "Leave" campaign, the British Government could come under pressure to impose Border checks to prevent Ireland from becoming an access point for undocumented migrants. The Chancellor has warned that a vote to leave the European Union would cause an economic shock in the North, forcing the return of Border checkpoints and the slashing of farmers' incomes, at a cost of in the region £1.3 billion. Some time ago he stated, "Let's be clear, if we quit the EU then this is going to be the border with the European Union ... ie new immigration checkpoints, border controls and an end to free movement - that has a real consequence, and there would have to be a real hardening of the border imposed either by the British government or indeed by the Irish government."
For the first time in a generation, Border controls and customs checkpoints between Northern Ireland and the Republic have become a distinct possibility. We remember the hassle, the nuisance, the cost, the queues of trucks and the waiting overnight. We are not looking forward to their return. A Brexit would be an obstacle to the cross-Border economic co-operation that is profoundly benefiting both states on the island. It would also damage trade and investment, North and South. The reality is that those campaigning for a Brexit are asking people in Northern Ireland to swap the benefits of membership of a single market with 500 million people for an uncertain future, where free trade would be curtailed and new tariffs would undermine the competitiveness of Northern Irish exports. Locals in the Border region fear that such factors and the reinstatement of checkpoints would be a deterrent to trade and travel. We know from experience that there will be knock-on effects.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, who is campaigning on the "Leave" side claims that, in the event of a Brexit, the Border would remain as "free-flowing" as it is today. Ireland and Britain had a common travel area before either became a member of the European Union and that arrangement has prevailed during the years, but Ms Villiers has been contradicted by the Governments in Dublin and London which have left open the possibility of new controls being introduced. It is difficult to imagine a situation where there would be no controls or checks in the movement of goods if the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union. It would inevitably involve additional costs and there might conceivably also be British as well as EU measures. In Amsterdam in January the Taoiseach said that if Britain were to leave the European Union, we would be looking at Border controls in Ireland, despite the fact that there was a common travel area. That view has been echoed in London, where a report by the British Government Cabinet Office in March warned that if the United Kingdom was to leave the EU customs union, "it would be necessary to impose customs checks on the movement of goods across the border". It further stated, "Questions would also need to be answered about the common travel area which covers the movement of people".
In the Border counties and frontier towns such as Monaghan, Cavan, Dundalk, Sligo and Letterkenny the economy is very fragile. We need freedom of movement for visitors, in particular. Reports suggest unemployment could rise by as much as 14,000 in Northern Ireland over two years if the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union, with 2,000 being added to the youth unemployment figure. It must be remembered that many of those employees are from this side of the Border. Fewer jobs in Northern Ireland and possible knock-on effects on business and employment on this side of the Border would see family incomes hit and the value of people's homes and pensions falling.
The United Kingdom has had a greater influence on the European Union's development than it realises and if it chooses to stay, it can and will continue to have a major influence. I hope that when people in Britain and our friends in Northern Ireland go to vote, they will make the right decision and vote to remain as part of the European Union.
People in Britain will go to the polls tomorrow to decide whether they should remain in or leave the European Union. It is the second time a referendum on the issue has been held in the United Kingdom. In 1975 a large majority - 67% - voted to remain in what was then the EEC.
Throughout the current campaign many issues have been debated vigorously, including immigration, security and the economic consequences of remaining or leaving the European Union. Some months ago I had the good fortune to be invited to speak in London to the Irish4Europe organisation. I said we had a history of referendums in this country - people in the United Kingdom are not that familiar with them - and that often people did not answer the question put to them. They might dislike the Government or have a problem with various issues but sometimes the compelling question is not addressed in referendums. That is democracy, but the important message in terms of immigration, security and the economic consequences is sometimes missed in the debate. This day week I was heading into Belfast when I heard a powerful but, I believe, factually incorrect advertisement on a local radio station - it may have been Downtown Radio. It referred to the hundreds of millions of pounds being given every week and the fact that 300,000 immigrants, equivalent to the population of Cardiff, were coming to Britain every year. That hit a nerve and it can be said by those on both sides of the debate. I congratulate the members of Irish4Europe for the work they have done.
My father worked for most of his life in London and I know many people who worked in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, but in the past 50, 60 or 70 years we did not mobilise in the way we should have. I put this down to not having the confidence to mobilise or not being as mobilised as other nationalities. I thank the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for all the work they have done, but I also thank all parties, North and South, for their involvement in trying to ensure the Irish in Britain will vote to remain in the European Union.
It is a decision for the British electorate. We have to look at it from the outside. However, we must have a say and I believe we do. If one thing happens as a result of this referendum, I hope it is that Irish people who are in favour of the European movement will once more mobilise in a united way to pursue and support all aspects of Irishness in the United Kingdom. I hope our voice will be heard a little more. It is wonderful to see all the various people working behind the scenes. I remember that people of all hues and from all parts of society were at the meeting I mentioned. Their voices were being and must continue to be heard. We have come a long way and can now stand up as a nation and as part of a republic and more or less state we have a voice.
The economic arguments in favour of the United Kingdom staying in the European Union are compelling. Some 45% of the United Kingdom's trade is with the European Union, courtesy of its access to the Single European Market which is free of tariffs and border controls. It is estimated that approximately 3 million jobs in the United Kingdom are tied to the European Union. Economic data demonstrate that Ireland's relationship with Britain has been and continues to be incredibly valuable. The United Kingdom is Ireland's second largest trade market after the United States. The United Kingdom exports more to Ireland than it does to China, India and Brazil combined. I will set out some of the data in more detail. Goods and services worth more than €1.2 billion are traded between our two islands every week. Some 200,000 people are employed in Ireland as a direct result of the export of Irish goods to the United Kingdom. This accounts for 10% of all employment in Ireland. In 2015, 3.5 million UK tourists visited Ireland, while 2.6 million Irish tourists visited the United Kingdom.
When I have to travel to England or elsewhere in Britain, I can take a flight or travel without a passport. Ryanair and Aer Lingus flights are very good value, but it can cost over €200 if one has to book a flight on the day. One can get on a boat at 8 a.m. and be in London for 6 p.m., having completed one's journey by train, for just €53. One does not need a passport, although one sometimes needs identification. These are things we take for granted. I travelled to Cardiff for the opening of the Welsh Assembly two weeks ago. It was a lovely journey and nobody looked for a passport. I ended up in Cardiff at 9 p.m. that night. I fear what will happen in the event of a Brexit.
The previous speaker rightly referred to the possible reintroduction of Border controls. Thirty years ago people were smuggling little items like butter across the Border where I remember queueing in previous times. I live 40 miles from it. I used to represent the constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim right beside the Border. We take for granted the great work done on the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement, into which all of the major parties have put great work. In the past three years the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association has met in Stormont and this august Chamber. It has gone unnoticed that members of all the political parties in Northern Ireland and the Republic have attended meetings of the association. I really think we should rejoice because we have come a long way. I am worried that people will vote in favour of Brexit, but I hope that on Friday the people of the United Kingdom will vote to remain.
I welcome the Minister. I was touched by his references to the late Jo Cox. Last night I watched an interview with her husband and was immensely impressed by his dignity, self-control and concern for the real issues that lay at the heart of this terrible and tragic political murder, if one can call a murder by a madman a political act.
I am a reluctant supporter of Britain staying in the European Union, in which I have always believed. The European Union in which I believe is a union of people, a social Europe, rather than a Europe of financial institutions. In recent times we have seen the naked exercise of power by unelected and unaccountable European financial institutions, to the great detriment of the peoples of Europe who are fed up to their back teeth. There is not a country in Europe where there is no revulsion against the European Union and its dictatorial attitudes.
The holding of this referendum was a particularly stupid idea on the part of Mr. Cameron. I bet he is now regretting that decision because the margin is too tight to call. Nobody actually knows how it will go and the reason they do not know is that they are not discussing the issues at all. They are discussing everything else. Not a single major company is in favour of Britain leaving. I have not heard of a single reputable economist who is in favour of it leaving. Not a single country is in favour it leaving.
The Brexiteers are saying they do not want to be bothered with all the experts. If they are not going to listen to the experts, to whom are they going to listen? Are they going to listen to Mr. Boris Johnson? We all know damn well that he only threw his hat in the ring and changed his position because he had his eye on the leadership of the Tory Party. He is also a liar. We saw him approximately six months ago talking about Turkey which he was encouraging to join the European Union. He was saying this would be wonderful, but now it is the biggest scare tactic there is. It is being suggested all of the Turks will jump into Britain and overwhelm it.
This immigration business is utterly obscene, disgusting and repulsive. It does not do credit to a great country like Britain. It is a very complex issue. When I was watching television the other evening, it was staggering to hear two people raise the issue of immigration in the most negative way. One was an Afghan immigrant to Britain, while the other was a Moroccan. It is the usual human thing that the minute one gets in, one pulls up the ladder to stop anybody else from getting in. Morally, it is very repulsive.
People are disillusioned with the European Union. We can consider what it has done to this country as an example. I do not want anybody to tell me that Ireland is a net beneficiary. The European Union is a beneficiary, or perhaps a bene-fishery because it has received €200 billion of our fish stocks for nothing. An awful lot would have to be paid into the Irish Exchequer to get that back. We also need to look at what the European institutions did to this country. They humiliated the people. They forced a transfer of bank debts onto the shoulders of ordinary Irish people. They did the same in Cyprus and Greece. That is how much they care about the ordinary people of this country. Despite our alleged economic growth, we are still slave labour for the German and French banks, to which this country was indentured in a most disgusting way. People are disillusioned. I agree with the Brexiteers who believe there is a lack of democracy in the European Union. How many people could name those who are actually running it? They are unelected, paid enormous amounts of money and not accountable. There is a fundamental lack of democracy. I hope Britain will stay in, even though the result will be on a knife-edge. I hope that with the assistance of this country, Britain will help to push through real and radical reform of the European system. The whole European project was very badly thought out. The euro is a mess. It was not properly regarded or analysed before it was instituted. The expansion of the European Union, when it took in a load of eastern European countries in a sudden burst without really investigating them, was far too rapid and we are now paying the results.
We have skin in the game. In this global world it is perfectly legitimate for us to make a case because it will affect us.
As I told a group of distinguished visitors from London with whom I spoke in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland a couple of weeks ago, one argument - they said it had not been made to them previously - was that we would be lonely in Ireland without the British because they shared our language, culture and, by and large, financial interests. I hope Britain will stay in by voting in favour tomorrow, but I hope it will lead to a more humane, decent and compassionate European Union, one that is not ruled exclusively by financial concerns.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and wholeheartedly support his comments. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute on what is one of the most crucial referendums in the United Kingdom or the Republic that we will see in our lifetime. Tomorrow millions of British citizens, from Belfast to Bristol and from Dover to Dundee, will have the opportunity to vote on Britain's membership of the European Union. We can all agree that it is in our nation's best interests that these millions of voters vote to remain as part of the European Union.
As a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I have been following the referendum debate for some time. A. A. Gill, writing in The Sunday Times at the weekend, wrote: "The dream of Brexit isn't that we might be able to make a brighter, new, energetic tomorrow, it's a desire to shuffle back to a regret-curdled inward-looking yesterday." He was quite right. If one listens to any of the language being used by those advocating a "Leave" vote, it is always about wanting to make Britain great again, taking back power from Brussels and the other assertions we have been hearing for weeks. The majority of those who want to leave - they are a mixture of voters, although some claim they are older - are looking back to the bygone days of their youth which they remember with a certain sentimental value. They believe they can recreate them by voting to leave the European Union, but never has a group of people been so misguided. The European Union and its predecessor, the European Economic Community, wanted to promote interdependence, peace and economic prosperity among the nations of Europe and make another continental war unthinkable. They have succeeded in that regard. If Britain was to turn its back on the European project, it would be turning its back on the most successful political project the world has seen. It would be turning its back on a shared European history, of which we are all part. In doing so it would find itself isolated and alone, much like the United States was during the 1930s.
From an Irish perspective, Britain leaving the European Union would have serious consequences, north and south of the Border. As our closest neighbour, the United Kingdom is naturally one of our most important trading partners for goods and services, as has been the case since the foundation of the Irish Free State. For example, we export goods worth €14 billion and services worth €20 billion to the United Kingdom. The ESRI has asserted that, if was a Brexit was to occur, it would reduce trade flows between Ireland and the United Kingdom by 20% on average, with the impact differing significantly across sectors and products. Can we credibly say nothing would change along the Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland? Of course, we cannot. It is unrealistic of people to suggest matters would remain the same. We would have an EU border stretching from Dundalk to Derry, similar to the Greek-Turkish border.
The Republic of Ireland holds its breath as we await the outcome of the referendum. For our sake, I hope the British people will make the mature, smart and right decision to remain part of the European Union. Consider the effect on tourism. The British are our best customers. The numbers we receive each year have been mentioned. Thanks be to God, sterling is strong. Last year we had our best season and this year it has been even better. One cannot find a hotel bedroom in Dublin, except at an awful price, but that is a separate issue. Recently, the stock market became jittery and volatile because the "Leave" side was dominant in the polls. Thanks be to God, they are back in sync; the markets have recovered somewhat and sterling has strengthened again. The British are our most valuable customers and we need to hold onto them. They are playing with fire, but we will have to wait until tomorrow to know the outcome. I hope the right decision will be made from their point of view, as well as ours.
I support everything the Minister, his colleagues and everyone in the other parties have been trying to do in campaigning to ensure Irish voters, the number of whom is large in Britain's cities and the countryside, will come out tomorrow to vote.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a bheith anseo linn chun an t-ábhar seo a phlé. Tá sé pléite againn le cúpla lá anuas ach sílim go bhfuil sé iontach maith agus iontach dearfach go bhfuil an seal againn le díriú isteach ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo fá choinne mhuintir na hÉireann san iomlán. I thank the Minister for appearing before us to discuss this important issue. It is an eleventh hour debate in terms of what we can contribute, but the issue has been raised in the Chamber in the past two weeks and we are unified in our concern about what a Brexit might do to the national interest. Other Senators have eloquently and comprehensively laid out the potential economic dangers and the impact of a Brexit on the State and the entire island, North and South, all of which would be negative.
I was going to make a lengthy speech, but I will not now, as I am in the unique position of having a vote on Thursday and I intend to use it to vote in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union. This is not a quick-witted, gut or knee-jerk reaction but a considered and tough decision, as I am sure has been the case for many across the North.
The Minister and many other colleagues will appreciate that I do not want to be a victim of Little England. I do not want to be a victim of David Cameron's attempts to see off Nigel, Boris and the rest of those on the far right. What a political masterstroke holding the referendum has turned out to be for him. It is a sad reflection that our fortunes, North and South, could be damaged and impeded by that ill-considered move. At its heart, the referendum is about immigration. It is not about Britain's membership of the European Union or the benefits it brings to Britain and this island. It is simply a gut reaction to the pressure exerted by immigration. What a sad reflection on the political leadership of that country.
I do not need to remind the Minister that he has a duty of care to Irish citizens across the island, North and South. In the event of a Brexit, it is imperative that the State ensure there will be no subversion of the institutions which were hard fought for and hard won under the Good Friday Agreement. This issue must take precedence. The State must ensure the political protection of citizens, North and South. It must build on the eloquent points made by Senators about solidifying the peace process and building reconciliation across the island. The European Union has played a key role in that regard through, for example, human rights legislation. The Minister knows, however, that the British Government is trying to claw back on the Human Rights Act and that there is no such Act in the North. If we were to lose membership of the European Union, it would have a detrimental impact. Human rights, employment rights, maternity leave and trade union rights are affected day to day by membership of the Union.
A notable issue for me and many others in an ever growing community in the North is that of the failure of the British Government to introduce, as agreed at St. Andrews, an Acht na Gaeilge. The only legislative protection for the language is provided by European legislation, namely, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Losing it would hit the many thousands of páistí atá ag dul tríd an earnáil gaelscolaíochta. It is fair to say we have no friends in the British Government when it comes to upholding their rights.
Other Senators have referred to the PEACE funds. Previously, I was employed in a position in north Belfast that was funded under the PEACE III programme.
I was legacy co-ordinator with Bridge of Hope, an organisation based in north Belfast that works to bring together grassroots community leaders, former combatants and political prisoners, as well as victims and survivors of the conflict in peace building initiatives. This work is invaluable and, as the Minister appreciates and understands, vital for peace building, community relations and sustaining and embedding the peace process, particularly as we head into the summer months when we will face the challenges and difficulties that occur every year.
We have the infrastructural benefits of being part of the European Union. The recently opened £30 million extension to Belfast Waterfront was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund. This facility will be critical in attracting tourists to Belfast and the North in general. We appreciate what tourists bring to the economy. The Border must not be hardened, nor can we return to Border checks and all of the problems and nastiness to which previous speakers referred.
The British Government will not reimburse the North for the loss of European funds because it is, in the first instance, a government of Tories driven by an ideological position that supports austerity and, second, it has already cut €4 billion from the North's block grant. That is the agenda it is driving and it will mean that farmers, ordinary citizens, workers and Irish language speakers will lose out, as will, ultimately, the peace process. We must ensure the interests of Ireland, North and South, will be placed front and centre.
I appreciate that the only certainty in the referendum has been uncertainty. I also appreciate the restrictions that apply to the Minister and his position. Nevertheless, a carefully thought-out process will be required in the event of a Brexit. While I hope Britain will not leave the European Union, the Government must have in place a process for such an eventuality, one which will ensure the Good Friday Agreement will not be subverted, the peace and political processes will be sustained and the rights of Irish citizens, not least freedom of movement, will be protected and upheld.
I thank the Minister for joining us and facilitating this important debate.
Many Senators spoke eloquently about the impact and economic costs of a British exit from the European Union. There is an irrefutable economic case for supporting a "Remain" vote in the referendum. Substantial costs would have to be borne if the British people were to choose Brexit, especially in Northern Ireland, as has been eloquently and clearly set out. What I will focus on initially are some of the other costs, namely, the human and social costs, that could flow from the referendum.
In the past five years alone 90,000 Irish people have travelled to live and work in the United Kingdom. Many of them were driven by a period of austerity and recession. Building on generations of complex interrelationships between the Irish at home and living in Britain, we now have families with members from England and other European Union member states. People now have a network of complex family relationships which in many cases involve partnerships with citizens from elsewhere in the European Union, including the United Kingdom. Families regularly cross borders, whether it be the Border with Northern Ireland or Britain when they fly or take a ferry to the United Kingdom. I share Senator Frank Feighan's interest in the ferry service as I like to travel by sea. There are constant communications with the United Kingdom and many people have working careers that span Britain and Ireland. All of these people who are living complicated lives will face undue further complications if a Brexit takes place. Those who must already navigate complex families bred across nations will face further obstacles.
On a human and practical level, the European health insurance system will not apply in the United Kingdom and the many Irish people who have spent part or all of their working lives in Britain will face unanswered questions about how pensions will be negotiated between Ireland and Britain.
People who are married to European Union citizens would face serious obstacles, particularly in travelling and crossing borders. There is no doubt that the Border would also be hardened in the event of a Brexit, while customs and associated obstacles would be strengthened. Social, creative, cultural and human exchanges which have led to deeper connections and a deepening of the peace process in recent years would be placed in jeopardy.
In addition to these consequences for Ireland, I will speak briefly about Europe as a whole. There is no one Europe. It is neither a beneficent monolith nor an instrument of repression but a ground on which we are all active and engage. There is no consensus in Europe because multiple opinions are battling out on what type of Europe we should have. I share the concerns of many, for example, about trade, having campaigned against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP. I am also concerned about the potential impact of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, between Canada and the European Union. Major concerns arise about the austerity policies that have been pushed through the semester process and the downgrading of the much more ambitious and important Europe 2020 commitment to sustainable and inclusive growth.
There are visions of a social Europe, but they are narrowing and there has been an erosion of democratic accountability. These are real concerns, but our allies in these concerns are each other. It is only by working together across Europe that we can tackle these issues and ensure we will have the type of Europe we want. I assure those who are worried about the erosion of workers' rights in the United Kingdom that the European trade unions are their allies. Those who wish to protect public services are part of many movements across Europe. For my part, having served on the executive of the European Women's Lobby, I have seen the strong support the European Union has given to women's rights in Ireland during the years. We are now seeing a backlash against women's equality in many eastern European countries and a conservatism that is sometimes frightening. Being part of the European Union, whether in its women's lobby or other such movements, is a resource for civil society in these times.
Many of those who wish to create obstacles to the free movement of people are not averse to the free movement of capital. Again, it is the European Union that has sought to impose constraints on the free market, while many of those strongly advocating a Brexit are happy for their money to travel at will to offshore locations. The challenges we face are global. One cannot run away from the collective action needed on issues such as climate change and the building of peace. These are collective issues and no border or decision can make them any less collective. I ask and encourage all those living in Britain and Northern Ireland to vote to remain in the European Union, to be part of the collective struggle and reinforce the peace process while working for peace across Europe. If we see a victory for xenophobia and the types of anti-immigration message we have seen in the media, the message against peace will have ripple effects across the rest of Europe. I strongly encourage a "Remain" vote.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to exceed my speaking time.
If speakers confine their remarks to six minutes, everyone who wishes to speak will be able to do so, although that does not appear likely. I am not referring specifically to Senator Alice-Mary Higgins because all speakers are stealing a few extra seconds.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for his contribution. It is only fitting that I join in the many expressions of grief and sympathy following the assassination of Jo Cox last week. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum tomorrow in Britain, the campaign will be forever remembered as forming the backdrop to the brutal murder of an excellent Member of Parliament, a loving mother and a dedicated wife.
With less than 48 hours to go in the campaign on British membership of the European Union, many will have made up their minds and many more will have already voted through postal ballot. At this stage, we must start to address the range of issues and challenges that the campaign has presented. I request the Minister to return to the House next week to hear what might perhaps be more reflective statements on EU–UK relations in the wake of the result, as is being done in many other member state parliaments and assemblies.
We need to prepare the European Union for change. Regardless of the result of the referendum, it is clear that the European Union needs to change. For me, growing up in Ireland in the 1980s the European project represented something big but still tangible. Our copybooks were adorned with maps of the then EEC countries in order that we could learn off their capital cities and perhaps dream about visiting these countries with ease, on holidays with our families in France or Spain, or perhaps even working in some of the great cities of the world such as Rome and Amsterdam. It was impossible to drive down any new road in Ireland without seeing - rightly so - huge signage plastered with the European flag, informing us that the new roads were being built with the assistance of Structural Funds. For older generations, my parents and grandparents, the European project represented something a lot simpler, namely, bringing peace to our continent for the longest continual period in history: there would be no more ration books, no more air raids, no more fear of men and women being once more called up to "do their duty".
Unfortunately, the contemporary European Union has drifted. It has become the very definition of meddling bureaucracy and micro-intervention, an entity the image of which is one obsessed with regulating and intervening in areas and issues that are removed from so many people's daily lives. Too often national governments, including our own, are to blame for this. Governments are too quick to blame Brussels for all the bad news and jump on the bandwagon and claim credit for all the good news coming from the European Union. To counter this, to quote Mr. John Major, the European Union needs to get back to basics. We need to see more of a focus on the positive, obvious initiatives. Following on a period of austerity, the European Union needs to be front and centre of a new, modern infrastructural programme. Let us clearly show the ordinary people of Europe how the Union works for them. A rare recent success in this regard was the new regulations on roaming charges.
We need to champion, not admonish, the four defining freedoms of the European Union. Let us not pick them apart for niche negatives or focus on isolated incidents often taken out of context. The European Union needs to improve existing initiatives and scale back the bureaucracy that stops good programmes such as Erasmus+ from flourishing, preventing many European citizens from reaping the benefits provided due to something daft like a 52-page application form.
The vote tomorrow in the United Kingdom represents the greatest threat to stability in Europe since the Second World War. Regardless of the result, the United Kingdom's relationship within or without the European Union will be changed forever. It is in this context that Ireland has the greatest challenge to face and perhaps the most important role to play. I take a moment to thank the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, for their visits to the United Kingdom in recent weeks. I also give credit to Sinn Féin, which is rare for me, for its activities in the North and the campaign it has run. The campaigns of Sinn Féin, the SLDP, the Alliance Party and the UUP will have a major impact which I hope to see reflected in the result.
That said, I conclude by outlining what I have been annoying many of my friends and family who are voting tomorrow with for the past few weeks, be it on Facebook, in text messages and e-mails or as part of European Movement Ireland's postcard campaign. I make one last sincere appeal to the good people of the United Kingdom, especially the massive Irish bloc who are entitled to vote to please vote to remain.
I welcome the Minister. History does not repeat itself as much as it rhymes. In 1975, instead of the Conservative Party tearing itself apart, it was the Labour Party that held a referendum in the United Kingdom against the backdrop of the exact same arguments being made today. Ironically, the current leader of the British Labour Party, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, voted against remaining in the EEC at the time and the same arguments made in 1975 are being made today by the former Mayor of London and Mr. Nigel Farage, that their wives will not be able to get into hospital and that their kids will not be able to get into schools. We are hearing the same arguments being made.
What we must understand is that when the United Kingdom joined the EEC in 1973 and started the process over a number of decades, it was doing so from a position of weakness rather than being positive about its engagement with the EEC, as it was at the time. It was doing so against the backdrop of the loss of its empire. At the end of the Second World War the United Kingdom was in charge of nearly one quarter of the planet, with 630 million people under its control. By 1961 only 300 million people were under the control of the British Empire and its dominions, at which time it was engaging with the EEC not because it wanted to do so but because it saw the Commonwealth and its responsibility, power and influence being diminished. It considered the EEC as a way of getting it through what were very tough economic times. It had also gone through its own form of a bailout programme with the IMF.
What the President of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, and others have said about Britain within the European Union is that the Union does not diminish the United Kingdom's role but actually magnifies it and its ability to engage with what is now a larger bloc and to have its influence, which, as other Members said, is very important in lessening the power of the bureaucrats. In many ways, the European Union has lost its way because it is no longer and many would say it never was a democracy. To some extent, the European parliaments and those governments that assisted the European Union and those that are part of it do not want it to be a democracy, but that means that the public, the general population, the citizens of Europe, do not have any trust in what are unofficial, unelected bureaucrats. That was the argument made by those who were against remaining in the EEC when the previous referendum called by the British Labour Party was held in 1975 and it is now being made again by the Conservative Party which is stating the European Union is heading towards federalisation and that this is not something the citizens of Europe favour, as we saw when the United Kingdom voted against the referendum to introduce a European constitution. That proposal was abandoned by the bureaucrats because referendums kept being lost. They were lost in France, Ireland and the Netherlands. Of course, as good bureaucrats do, they found another way and brought forward a treaty that was ratified at parliamentary level in every country, except Ireland. Of course, we were asked to vote on it again. There is no longer any faith in the European Union as an institution because it has been designed by bureaucrats to be run by bureaucrats.
The most fundamental failing of its citizens by the European Union occurred when the banking crisis hit Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Cyprus. It was the citizens who suffered, while the people who benefited the most were the millionaires and billionaires. There is no way the European Union can regain that trust, unless it gives power back to the people. The Minister will be aware of the different reports compiled by the ESRI in November 2015. The ESRI talked about the trade, foreign direct investment, energy and migration issues that will affect us if the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union. If there is a Brexit, everything about this has the potential to result in negative outcomes. Teagasc's report on the impact on the farming sector stated it would affect us negatively and result in a direct loss of between €150 million and €800 million. IBEC has also looked at the issues that would affect us directly.
There is now the distinct possibility that another referendum on Scottish independence will take place in the next decade or so. This is obviously a longer term, decades long issue based on what could happen in the referendum tomorrow if the United Kingdom decides to leave the European Union. That is not to say the Scottish National Party, SNP, is campaigning to leave the Union. It is telling voters not to make this a referendum on independence. That is, however, one of the foreseeable outcomes which in itself, with the loss of 31% of Great Britain's territory, would mean that the foreseeable outcome of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is that Scotland would leave the United Kingdom. Consequently, Northern Ireland would then become a real issue, as my colleague from Sinn Féin has pointed out. Nobody knows what would happen on the Border. What would become very obvious to everybody, however, is that a border re-established in Europe at a time when everybody else was getting rid of land borders would be a disaster for Ireland, North and South. That could precipitate a longer term discussion of whether Northern Ireland should remain in the United Kingdom. All of these issues are foreseeable. The outcome, therefore, for Mr. Farage and Mr. Boris Johnson, when they are talking about trying to leave the European Union, is that Scotland and Northern Ireland could leave the United Kingdom which would then comprise only England and Wales. The country that would lose most, however, and which, outside Britain, has most to lose is Ireland because of our strong trade links, the common travel area and the fact that, apart from the Taiwan-China route, the busiest air route in the world is that between Dublin and London.
I ask Senators to imagine the chaos in having increased security and border checks as a result of Britain deciding to leave.
I again repeat that if everybody steals one minute, some Senators will be disappointed, as I will not be able to get everybody in.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, back to the House and congratulate him on his reappointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I look forward to working with him, as I am now Labour Party spokesperson on foreign affairs.
I commend the Government for the work that has been ongoing, as detailed by the Minister. It has included interventions such as the Taoiseach's article in The Guardian, supporting the "Remain" side, while being sensitive to the fact that this is a matter for decision in a different jurisdiction. However, it is clear that we have a major interest in it as citizens and residents of the neighbouring island. The Labour Party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, was in England last Thursday campaigning on the "Remain" side among the Irish community.
It is impossible to take part in this debate without mentioning, as others have done, the brutal murder on Thursday of Jo Cox, to whom we paid tributes yesterday. We note that today would have been her 42nd birthday. For many of us, the ugly rhetoric that had come to characterise some of the anti-immigration arguments on the "Leave" side consolidated our strong support for the "Remain" side. That ugly rhetoric was perhaps summed up on the awful poster revealed by Mr. Nigel Farage, MEP, last Thursday which clearly played on racist sentiment.
We have a direct connection and a very close relationship with Britain, but for some of us, it is even closer. I emigrated to England and voted in previous British elections as an Irish citizen resident in England. As a Dublin University Senator, I represent many Irish citizens who have a vote in the referendum. Some weeks ago I spoke to Trinity alumni in Derry and have been in contact with Trinity alumni branches throughout Britain and Northern Ireland. I am very heartened to hear back from so many of our graduates there who are passionately on the "Remain" side and have been doing a great deal of work in canvassing other Irish citizens resident in Britain to seek their support. I speak to people such as Mr. Nick Beard whose blog on headstuff.org provides very compelling reasons for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. I also speak to Mr. Brian O'Connell from the Irish4Europe campaign group. He has noted that, with over 600,000 Irish-born people living and working in Britain, it is a larger group than citizens from many other EU jurisdictions and could be very influential in terms of the result of the referendum, particularly given how close the two sides appear to be according to the polls.
As many have said, if the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union, one of the main concerns for us on this island would be the citizens in the North. Most of us are very dismayed at the position the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, has taken on the "Leave" side, in not seeming to recognise, as the historian, Roy Foster, has said, that a vote for a Brexit could be disastrous for the advances we have seen in relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland. We should not take for granted the huge role the European Union has played in British-Irish relations and its role in the peace process. British and Irish partners sitting as equals side by side at international tables of the European Union from the early 1980s onwards arguably did more than many other things to improve British-Irish relations and begin the processes which lead to the Good Friday Agreement. That is an important factor for us.
It is also important not to be dismissive of all of the arguments on the "Leave" side because clearly there are people on that side who genuinely believe in Brexit without adhering to the horrible rhetoric of Mr. Farage and his allies in UKIP. Some of the arguments on the "Leave" side indicate a very high level of disillusionment with the European Union, a sense of a democratic deficit, as Senator Alice-Mary Higgins mentioned, a sense of concern about democracy and decisions being made by an unelected European Commission. Many of us believe consolidated action is required to tackle this. We need the added voice of Britain at the table to help us in countering it and putting the case, for example, for a social Europe and on the need for the European Union to have a united front in facing crises such as the economic crisis which was felt so recently, as well as the crisis resulting from so many refugees seeking to enter Europe.
There are very strong arguments in favour of remaining on economic and social grounds, in particular, the strong economic evidence to which so many have pointed. The ESRI, for example, has pointed to enormous losses for Ireland as a crucial partner with the United Kingdom. There are many reports on the adverse economic effects for the British economy should the Brexit side prevail. However, there are also very strong social arguments in favour of remaining in the European Union. We should not forget that the Nobel committee presented the European Union with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, noting its work over six decades in advancing peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. The European Union serves as an example for many other countries of what can be achieved through solidarity and transnational co-operation. The European Union's work in seeking to progress equality measures, in particular women's rights, should not be taken for granted. The SNP leader, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, has emphasised the progress made for women as a result of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union. Also in Britain, Ms Frances O'Grady of the Trades Union Congress published a report entitled, Women's Rights and the Risk of Brexit, in which the point was made that Brexit ran the risk of turning the clock back decades on hard-won rights. The socialist movement in Europe has a strong tradition. The red flag of the Labour Party was first marched under in 1831 in Merthyr Tydfil by oppressed miners and red remains the colour of many of our social democratic partners in Europe, including the SPD in Germany. We are seeing a strong sense of European and national identity emerging from these movements around workers', trade union and women's rights.
While the decision clearly rests with others tomorrow and is not one to be made in this jurisdiction, for us the Brexit debate raises many worrying sentiments. We need to challenge some of the arguments made in favour of a Brexit and meet them with confidence because the European project, encompassing an open society and involving international solidarity of trust and mutual co-operation, is an ideal that is worth supporting and building on in co-operation with our neighbours. We need to have the confidence and leadership here and elsewhere to counter racist and narrow-minded commentary about immigration. We also need to plan for a brighter future. My hope, with that of so many others, is that the United Kingdom will vote to remain and that we can all work together to face the crises that will confront the European Union in the rest of the 21st century.
I welcome Councillor McGuire from Westport who is in the Visitors Gallery. I have to be strict on time because we have to call the Minister to reply at 3.55 p.m.
I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his reappointment. I wish him well.
The European Union was set up after the Second World War when it was agreed in the spirit of Schuman and others that we would be creating a Europe in which war would never happen again. However, there was also an economic context to it.
We cannot ignore the advance of people such as Mr. Nigel Farage, MEP, and his party, UKIP. If the United Kingdom had our electoral system, UKIP would have seats in Parliament, but this does not happen under the first-past-the-post system. We cannot ignore, however, that there is disenchantment with much of what has happened in Europe. From our point of view, the design of the euro and the establishment of the European Central Bank initially did not favour small nations. It was set up on a principle preferred by the Germans which was based on an inflation rate of 2%. There are elements at which we have to look.
We cannot ignore the reasons the referendum is being held. Taken in context, it is not good for Europe overall. The European Union will be weakened if Britain decides to leave. Britain would also be weakened in leaving. For us in Ireland, there is no benefit. It is a question of how exactly it would impact on us. It would impact on us in a number of areas. Clearly, it would impact on us economically. If sterling was to weaken, our exports would be less competitive in a British market and that would cost jobs. We do not know how many, but jobs would be lost.
Many Irish students attend college in the United Kingdom. Brexit would probably have implications in terms of the fees paid by them and their parents.
On travel and the free movement of people, there would be implications for us. However, there would also be implications for British workers in travelling throughout Europe and for workers entering Britain.
If Irish people travel anywhere in Britain or elsewhere in the European Union, effectively they have access to the same health services as they receive in Ireland. More than likely, that would change.
The energy sector operates on an all-Ireland basis. There is effectively a common energy market which could be affected.
Could there be implications for the peace process in the North? Yes, there could. These are all factors that we have to take into account.
The decision to be made by the people in Britain is monumental. Some 600,000 people who were born in Ireland live in Britain. There are 2 million to 3 million second and third generation Irish. One of my complaints is that in debates people are made to take polarised sides and there is no common sense. The normal rules by which people debate almost seem to go out the window. This morning I heard a man from Britain being interviewed. He stated he did not know how he would vote as he could not get a clear pattern of the implications. After the Second World War Winston Churchill called for a united states of Europe. A couple of decades later we have many Conservatives - Mr. Churchill was once of a different party, the Liberal Party - looking to leave the European Union. They are doing the people of Britain an injustice because I cannot see how they would benefit. They would not benefit economically or socially or from the European movement. I am concerned that people will vote based on emotions and how they feel about what is happening in Europe. They might believe certain factors are not working in their interests and rather than voting on the issue-----
May I have silence for the speaker, please? It is very noisy in the Chamber.
I cannot hear a thing.
People will play the man rather than the ball when voting on this issue. I cannot see how it would benefit Northern Ireland if the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union and hope common sense will prevail. Jo Cox's husband, Brendan, asked the British people to vote to remain. I hope that in her memory and the interests of Britain, their families and the Irish in Britain, as well as the European Union, they will vote to remain. Are there elements of the European Union that do not work? The answer is probably "Yes". Is the European Union in need of reform? The answer is yes, absolutely, but one does not throw out the baby with the bath water. I hope, therefore, that the people of Britain will vote to remain.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for participating in our proceedings.
The Lisbon treaty inserted an article in the treaties which govern the European Union giving each member state the right, in accordance with its constitutional arrangements, to withdraw from the Union. It provided for a two-year negotiated exit mechanism and if there was to be an extension of that two year period, it would have to be done with the unanimous agreement of all member states. I will come back to this point.
What is in the interests of the United Kingdom is a matter for the people of the United Kingdom and they will not listen to what is being said here and change their views based on what we say. We must be very clear that if there is a Brexit, Ireland will lose us its strongest possible ally at the European Council table. I know that the Minister will agree with me because I speak from experience in this respect. The United Kingdom and Ireland are close allies on a great many European issues and we cannot afford to be left alone in dealing with them without a strong ally.
People have spoken about Ireland's economic interests. No matter how closely the post-Brexit arrangements would approximate to the Norwegian and Swiss arrangements, there would be economic barriers between this state and the United Kingdom which would cost jobs and raise costs for Irish industry.
Ireland's interests are also at stake in the case of Northern Ireland. Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement would be seriously undermined if the land boundary from Derry to Newry was to become a tectonic plate similar to the San Andreas fault and a demarcation line between two states moving in different directions, with one harnessed to the European project and the other moving in a different direction.
An issue the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, recently mentioned was that the peoples of Europe had been left behind by federalist rhetoric at the centre of Europe. People such as Jean-Claude Juncker, Guy Verhofstadt and Daniel Cohn-Bendit have articulated a model of the European Union, a strongly integrated federal superstate, which leaves most people cold. It is not just in the United Kingdom that there is a difficulty in this respect. There is also a difficulty in this country. The Irish Times, a strongly pro-European Union newspaper, conducted an Ipsos MRBI poll to see where Irish people stood on the issues that had arisen in Mr. David Cameron's negotiations with his European partners. By a margin of 2:1 or 3:1 further integration along federalist lines was opposed by the Irish people. On other issues they are not aligning themselves with the federalist model being articulated on our behalf by some who are enthusiasts for the project.
The debate in this country is very stilted. It is between those who are negative and anti-European Union, on the one hand, and wild enthusiasts, on the other. The great majority of Irish people belong in neither camp and find themselves without a champion and anyone to speak up for their view that the European Union should not be a federal superstate but a partnership between sovereign states, sharing sovereignty, where necessary, and retaining it, where appropriate. This is the vision of the European Union most people have, not just in Ireland but throughout Europe. As has been said, the constitutional treaty was rejected in all countries where an attempt was made to put it to the people. The Lisbon treaty was a half-hearted attempt to achieve many of the same results.
The international trade agreement, the TTIP, has been mentioned. Recently, I received a circular stating I could go to a room somewhere - I believe in this building - and, provided I put away my camera and telephone and entered into a pledge of secrecy, I could examine the current state of the negotiations. We all very courteously received this invitation. It underlines the fact that if there is a democratic deficit in the European Union, it is strange that elected representatives - Deputies, Senators and parliamentarians throughout Europe - are not entitled to see the negotiating documents on which our economic future is being decided. This is the attitude that must change. If, as I earnestly hope and strongly believe, a Brexit will be rejected in the referendum tomorrow, we, in this country, must articulate a different view of the European Union, stand up for our vision and against the values which are alienating the peoples of Europe from the European project.
To include Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, I ask Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh to share time.
Ba mhaith liom freisin a bheith luaite leis na smaointe ó thaobh an fheisire Jo Cox, a clann, a muintir agus a comrádaithe faoin uafás a tharla ansin. If fate had treated me to a different hand, I would have the opportunity to vote in the referendum tomorrow, as somebody born to Irish parents and brought up in England.
It is important to note that the Irish diaspora in Britain is vast. There are different estimates, but the figure is between 500,000 and 600,000. Up to 24% of the population of Britain claim Irish ancestry. I welcome all attempts by the Irish in Britain and those made by the Taoiseach and Ministers to engage with them to try to ensure a positive vote in favour of the "Remain" side. If there is a Brexit, I hope the Government will show the same zeal, if necessary, in seeking a Border poll on a united Ireland. It may be necessary to do this post-Brexit, if Britain decides to leave the European Union. We will push the Government on that issue on a different day.
Many arguments have been made, but I have no doubt that a Brexit would leave the agrifood sector, North and South, in a difficult position in terms of access to export markets. Farmers in the North receive €326 million annually in support. This money is particularly important to the agriculture industry. Farmers in the North have also secured £186.5 million in EU funding under the new rural development programme, money which would be sorely missed.
If the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union, it will inevitably lead to customs and immigration checkpoints being re-established on the Border, which would be a significant setback for the political process in the North. In all likelihood, it would also undermine the protection of human rights and workers' rights. It would be a significant move away from building an all-Ireland economy, creating an all-Ireland tourism destination, an improved all-Ireland transport structure and having an all-Ireland approach to agriculture and food production.
Sinn Féin is an all-Ireland party committed to Irish unity. We have no wish to see only part of the island of Ireland being in the European Union. Sinn Féin is the only party which has MEPs elected in each of the four European constituencies in Ireland. We speak with one voice - an all-Ireland voice - and perspective within the European Union. Sinn Féin is critical of many aspects of the Union, in particular, the democratic deficit at its core. However, the possibility that a part of the island of Ireland could end up outside the European Union is not one that would benefit the people. Those who live on either side of the Border cross it to work, shop and visit relatives, often on a daily basis. Brexit threatens that free movement.
It is important to note that the British Government led by Mr. Cameron plans to repeal the UK Human Rights Act. A pro-Brexit vote will encourage this proposal and put at risk crucial human rights legislation underpinning the Good Friday Agreement. We want to remove the power of the British Government to impose its policies in any part of Ireland and believe a Brexit would increase that power. We want to bring partition to an end, but a Brexit would increase the power to entrench it. It would hamper trade and investment across Ireland. Successive British Governments have set aside all human rights norms in the North. That is why the European Convention on Human Rights is a central tenet of the Good Friday Agreement. In the event of a Brexit, the British Government could repeal the Human Rights Act and walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights.
The fact that EU funding is available to address decades of under-investment by successive British Governments in the North is a crucial consideration. History demonstrates that EU funding lost to the North will not be replaced by the government in London. Recent estimates put the cost of a Brexit to the Northern economy at €1 billion per annum and to the Southern economy at €3 billion per annum. The agriculture sector in the North stands to lose €326 million in direct agricultural support payments. These are some of the arguments we make.
I will give way to my colleague, Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh muintir na hÉireann sa Bhreatain ag tacú leis an bhfeachtas chun fanacht.
The best I can do for Senator Gerard P. Craughwell is less than two minutes.
I will not speak about the grand United Kingdom, nor will I try to influence anyone living in the United Kingdom, as I do not think people living there are watching the Oireachtas television channel today. What concerns me is the loss of corporate knowledge of the management of the Border in the event of a Brexit. We once had the military patrolling the Border. There were Customs service officials and Garda stations along the Border. At a conference I attended recently in Dundalk these were the issues that were alluded to. In the unlikely event of a Brexit, will the Minister advise us whether there have been reconnaissance patrols with a view to ensuring we will be able to secure the Border correctly? We know what has been happening in the case of diesel, cattle, cigarettes and so on. If there is a Brexit, we will have a serious problem on our hands. By the way, I should have said at the start of my contribution-----
They might get me also.
The Senator is welcome to the House. They might stop him and he might have to bring his passport with him.
I have an Irish passport.
I am delighted that the Minister has been reappointed to his position.
I acknowledge the importance of this debate and the informed contributions Seanadóirí have made. On the occasion of my first visit to the new Seanad I am struck by the number of Senators present for the debate which underlines its importance. I avail of the opportunity to wish all Members, including the new Senators, a fulfilling time, personally and professionally, although, looking at some of the faces, it may be more appropriate for me to wish them a short tenure, as I know many of them would wish to avail of the opportunity to travel across the building to the Lower House.
In closing the debate I wish to address briefly the core elements of what might take place after the referendum once the result is known later this week. If there is the preferred outcome, a vote in favour of the United Kingdom remaining firmly and positively as a member of the European Union, the next steps will be somewhat straightforward. The settlement concluded in February by the EU Heads of State and Government will take effect immediately. The agreed measures on economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and freedom of movement would be effective straightaway. In parallel, work would progress in amending or complementing existing EU regulations to implement the measures agreed to in the case of social benefits and addressing the abuse of the concept of free movement.
I have been struck by the number of Members who have called for a reformed European Union to take a more socially sensitive path. On behalf of the Government, I not only note the point but say it is something I will take in hand.
We need to consider plans in the event that there is a vote to leave by the people of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, as well as those British citizens residing in this country. Should there be a desire on their part to leave the European Union, the next steps obviously are more uncertain and less clear. Procedurally, the expectation is that withdrawal negotiations would take place in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union following the submission of a formal notification to the European Union by the United Kingdom of its intention to leave. This point was referred to by Senator Michael McDowell.
Negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship would also be required. These negotiations would probably take place in parallel with the negotiations on withdrawal. The two sets of negotiations would be expected to last for a period of two years. However, as Senator Michael McDowell said, we might well be dealing with a far longer timeframe. In this regard, it is important that we emphasise that the United Kingdom will not leave the European Union immediately if on Thursday it votes to leave. It will continue to remain a member state throughout the negotiating period. The least that can be said at this point is that it would be a lengthy and complex process. EU leaders, including the Taoiseach, would be in a position to discuss the outcome together almost immediately when they meet next week at the European Council.
One thing is certain: regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Ireland's position on EU membership is unwavering. As part of a competitive and diversified global economy, we will continue to remain a committed member of the European Union and a full member of the eurozone. Ireland will have a clear plan in place to deal with the implications in the event that there is a vote to leave. A framework has been developed on a whole-of-government basis across a range of Departments to identify contingency plans in the days, weeks and months ahead. As I stated, the key priority for the Government at all times is to protect and promote Ireland's key interests. On Friday I hope we will continue our journey together in a renewed union of 28 member states which will work together in facing the many challenges that face citizens, not only in Ireland but throughout the other 27 member states. In spite of some misgivings, everyone has stated it is his or her wish that the United Kingdom will vote to remain. In that regard, I remind Senators that they have the opportunity in the next 24 or 48 hours to phone someone on the register, a friend, a relative or an associate, in the United Kingdom. They might like to take the opportunity to do so to impress on them the need to bear in mind the importance of British-Irish relations in the context of the very important vote to take place in the United Kingdom on Thursday.