North was key reason for Brexit canvass
Published 23/06/2016 | 02:30
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has urged politicians at Leinster House "to phone a friend" in Britain and ask them to vote Remain in today's EU referendum.
Mr Flanagan was speaking in the Seanad, where Trinity Senator David Norris described the former London mayor and Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, as "a liar". Mr Norris claimed that Mr Johnson had switched to the Leave campaign to advance his chances of leading the British Conservatives.
Mr Flanagan said the Government had undertaken 14 ministerial visits to various parts of the UK, trying - as friendly neighbours - to boost the Remain vote.
There were, he said, many reasons for Ireland's involvement in the campaign, which focused on the Irish community and business links - but the main one was the position of Northern Ireland.
"Polls suggest both outcomes are equally possible and the Government is as prepared as it possibly can be for both outcomes. Whatever the result, the Government will strive to protect and promote Ireland's key interests," Mr Flanagan told the Seanad. He suggested that Senators should contact relatives, friends or associates and stress the role of UK-Irish links in the poll.
The minister added that the Government would do all it could to defend Ireland's trade interests.
Sinn Féin Senator and former lord mayor of Belfast Niall Ó Donnghaile said he was the only Oireachtas member to have a vote and he would be voting 'remain'. He warned that the London Government would not reimburse large EU grants lost to the North in event of a 'leave' outcome.
Seanad Leas-Cathaoirleach Paul Coghlan said he believed a Brexit would have to mean a return of the Border.
"We would essentially have a European Union border stretching from Dundalk to Derry," Senator Coghlan said.
Mr Flanagan said it was too finely poised to call a vote result. But he noted that most contributors to yesterday's Seanad debate called for a more "humane and socially progressive EU", which was also the Government's view.
The minister again said that if British voters opted to leave the EU, it would take a minimum of two years before a complex set of negotiations on exit terms, and a new EU-UK relationship, could be completed.