On Friday morning, I received a text at approximately 4.45 a.m with the result of the UK’s vote the day before on its membership of the EU. I got up when I received it, but I was not surprised, given the results that had been coming in the previous night. Like many other people who are interested in the matter, I watched the news and then daily life had to begin. I walked into my son’s room to get him ready for a day in school. As I helped him get ready, it dawned on me that the political freedoms I have enjoyed and had assumed would be passed to the next generation are now in doubt as a result of the vote. That kind of assumption about the freedoms we all earned and have, at times, taken for granted is now fracturing. This must harden the resolve of all of us in this House, both in government and outside it, to reattach ourselves to the principles of the European Union, what it means to be a part of it and what it can mean for Ireland in the future.
FUTURE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
An assumption that has been articulated during the debate which concerns me is that the future faced by the European Union is one of the current European Union minus the United Kingdom. In fact, that is just one of many scenarios that could unfold in the coming years and beyond. What we are now seeing happening in the United Kingdom, following the result of the exercise of the democratic right of its people, is something that may have consequences for the foundations and structure of the European Union for decades to come. This risk is something that must make all of us rethink how we view Europe now and in the future.
SINN FEIN’S CUMULATIVE COMMENTS
I listened with great interest to what Deputy Martin Kenny said and I understand the case he is making regarding the need for a fund for Ireland to deal with many of the legitimate concerns he articulated. I hope Deputy Kenny accepts that I make this point in a non-partisan manner, but what I am struck by is that his party, Sinn Féin, has campaigned against the European Union for many decades. I have been in this Chamber and heard Sinn Féin Deputies describe the European Union in terms which would of course cause doubts, and I accept their democratic right to do so. However, we should not be surprised, after decades of comments on this project, in what were at times exceptionally negative terms, that that would have consequences in terms of how people feel about the European Union in the here and now. The treaties that Sinn Féin and others campaigned against are the very treaties that they want Northern Ireland, and that I want Ireland and Northern Ireland, to be party to. I make the point in the spirit of our need to understand that the cumulative effect of decades of such comments, sometimes made in the heat of political debate, have combined to create an environment in which the political well of public opinion that the European Union depends upon is now at the very least muddied, and we know it could go well beyond that.
REBUILDING THE EU
There is a need for all Members of the House to look at the principles and the vision that led to the foundation of the European Union and ask, through that prism, how we can stand over and rebuild what is now there, because the need has never been greater. I will conclude by confirming two matters. The first is that the budgetary assumptions that have underpinned the budgets for 2016 and 2017 will not change as a result of this vote. However, there will be bigger impacts in the future that could well have an effect. This is something the Government has already acknowledged. The second point, with which I wish to conclude, is that we have seen people on the far left blame much of what is wrong with the European Union on the role of elites and we now see people on the far right blame much of what is wrong in the European Union on immigration. The common casualty in both narratives is Europe and the European Union. It appears to me that it is now brave to be moderate when it comes to causes such as this one. We all need to articulate that moderation more, and in doing so promote the values of compromise and consensus. In doing that, we must not shy away from acknowledging the immense value of a European Union; one that now faces as many threats as it does opportunities.