Statements on Brexit

5th April, 2017


It is worth noting that it is less than ten months since 52% of the British people voted to leave the European Union. In the space of less than a year, the political, social and economic debate in Ireland, the UK and Europe has been transformed.


That referendum, which was followed by other extraordinary electoral outcomes elsewhere, most notably in the United States, has changed utterly the political dynamic.


Where once we were certain, now we are less so. Institutions we took for granted now look less assured.


The challenge for all of us in this house to offer reassurance, stability and hope, to our own citizens and voters who may be watching the news every evening with some trepidation, but also to our European and global neighbours that we will get through this upheaval, and get through it together.




I can certainly state unequivocally that the Government is under no illusion about the nature and scale of the Brexit challenge. How we deal with Brexit will define the future of our island for decades to come.


But our priorities are clear:


  • Minimising impact on trade and the economy;
  • Protecting the Northern Ireland Peace Process;
  • Maintaining the Common Travel Area;
  • Influencing the future of the European Union.


And we have a plan:


  • Deep analysis has taken place across key sectors;
  • The critical negotiating priorities have been identified;
  • A programme of dialogue with key stakeholders is underway;
  • Engagement with other Member States ,the EU institutions and the Barnier Task Force had intensified;
  • State agencies have been motivated and economic opportunities are being pursued.


Consultation is a key part of the Government’s preparation for Brexit and there are ongoing meetings with industry and civic society to verify our analysis and research.


The All-Island Dialogue has seen  a range of sectoral events across a diverse range of sectors – Agrifood, Enterprise, Transport, Tourism, Energy, Education to name but a few – as well as tow plenary sessions, most recently in Dublin Castle last month, with over 1,200 delegates representing industries and organisations from across the country.


I am also pleased to say that my own party is hosting public meetings around the country on the subject.




But just to make it crystal clear, Ireland will remain at the heart of Europe.


Ireland is fully committed to our membership of the European Union and to the Eurozone. 


EU membership remains central to the success of our open, competitive economy.  It has been the cornerstone of social progress in Ireland over the last generation.


Public support for the European Union in Ireland remains high.


And our shared problems – international peace, climate change, terrorism, migration – can only be addressed in an integrated, international way.


Our interests are best served from within the European Union, helping to shape and influence our times ahead.



There are wider implications from Brexit that I feel need to be included in this debate.


I said in a recent speech to the Institute of International and European Affairs that 2016 will be remembered as the year in which populism found its people – and the people found it.


Populists, to quote Jan Werner Muller, professor of politics in Princeton University, are those who claim that “they and only they represents the real people”.


This approach is evident in many places in Europe, including, I believe, our own.


Too often, particularly since last year’s election here, some on the fringes of the Irish political spectrum have claimed a monopoly on authenticity where the compassion, not just the competence, of those of us in the governing centre is challenged on an almost daily basis.


The institutions of State, the systems in which we organise our society, are thus undermined.


This is an enormous challenge for Ireland and Europe. 


I believe that all of us in this House have a duty to protect a Union that has brought peace and prosperity to our continent and our country.

To do otherwise is to throw our lot in with those who have exploited division and wreaked havoc in many countries.




I have already said that the Government is fully committed to protecting the Northern Ireland peace process and the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement.


In the context of Brexit, this has implications for my own Department which is responsible for the cross-border PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes.


PEACE and INTERREG are the two North-South cross border programmes, managed and implemented by the Special EU Programmes Body; one of the cross border bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement.


Since the referendum we have secured the programmes for the short-term.


The medium term objective is to ensure the full and successful implementation of the programmes to 2020. 


In the long term the objective is to ensure that there will be successor programmes to the current programmes.




To restore and maintain faith in the European Union at home and throughout Europe, I believe we need to ensure that economic growth means inclusive growth.


That means recognising that a job does not necessarily mean security and that we need to ensure we are creating well paid jobs, that engage the intellectual or artistic or creative talents in us all.


This is recognised in the European Commission’s Europe 2020 strategy which says that “in a changing world, we want the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy”.


Inclusive growth means investing in infrastructure and in education – in people and the institutions to help people realise their potential.


Look for example, at our national and European efforts to build the infrastructure of the future.


Our national Capital Plan, which I am currently reviewing and will strengthen across this year, will see tens of billions of euro invested in roads, public transport, schools and hospitals by the start of the next decade.


The so-called Juncker Plan of investment across the EU will see €500 billion worth of investment by 2020 that will benefit 290,000 SMEs and has been credited with the creation of 100,000 new jobs.

The same ambition applies to education – for example, the European Investment Bank, over the last five years, has provided more than €7 billion for investment in universities across Europe, including €512 million in Ireland.


Ireland is actually the fifth largest country of operation for European Investment Bank support for universities and only in November agreed loan funding for Trinity College of €70m and €100m for UCC in Cork.


This is inclusive growth in action.


But we can only have inclusive growth if we have the sound public finances to fund it- which is why our membership of the Eurozone and our adherence to the fiscal rules, which help insulate ourselves from the ups and downs of financial markets, is so vital.




I am proud to be Irish and proud to be European.


I am saddened by the decision of the British people to leave the EU.


But I am not despondent.


We face the challenge in Ireland of responding to Brexit, and protecting our economy and attracting investment in its aftermath.


We also face the responsibility, as a member state amongst 27 EU member states, in renewing and revitalising the Union for the sake of our collective future.


I am confident we can succeed.