Saturday 24 September 2016

Irish exiles 'have big role to play in Brexit campaign'

Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. AP Photo/Bilal Hussein
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has appealed to the 430,000 Irish people in Britain - and the 120,000 British voters living in Ireland - to back the campaign to keep the United Kingdom in the EU.

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Mr Flanagan is in London today for talks with his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, on the British vote in the "in/out" referendum which takes place in little over 12 weeks on June 23. He will also meet with 35 Irish organisations and networks in Britain and talk about the influence they can to bring to bear on the pro-EU campaign.

The minister said he believed that Irish people, with a real stake in British affairs, will find a welcome for their input into the referendum campaign.

"As already stated the Irish Government comes to this issue as 'a good neighbour' whose affairs are in many ways interlinked with those of Britain. We accept that this is a democratic decision for British voters but we also believe we have an important contribution to make to the debate," Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said it was time to ensure that all Irish-born people entitled to vote were registered to do so. He said many organisations and networks for Irish people in Britain can play a role in the EU referendum debate.

"I am asking all Irish people in Britain to use whatever influence they may have in their neighbourhoods, communities and in business and social affairs, to advance the pro-EU arguments. I also believe that the 120,000 British citizens resident here in Ireland, and entitled to vote in this referendum, can have a big influence," Mr Flanagan added.

The acting minister said Britain was Ireland's biggest trading partner, accounting for €62bn worth of business each year.

He said the position of Northern Ireland meant Irish and British interests were totally enmeshed and that the EU had helped underpin peace and prosperity in the North for more than 20 years.

Mr Flanagan accepted that many Irish welfare and other organisations cannot actively campaign in the referendum or take an overtly political stance. But he said they could actively promote debate on the issue and also support the independent "Irish4Europe" group which has been set up to support Britain staying in the EU.

He also welcomed the recent appeal by British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, to British voters in Ireland to back Britain staying in the European Union. He again argued that the EU needs the continued membership of Britain.

Mr Flanagan said he had worked closely with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on a range of issues since he joined Enda Kenny's Cabinet in July 2014. The pair have had regular monthly discussions in the margins of EU meetings in Brussels and also met in Dublin and London in recent times.

The ministers' talks today will also deal with other foreign policy issues. These included Syria, the European migration crisis, Latin America and the recent terrorist attacks in Europe.

Irish officials are increasingly of the view that Irish voters in Britain and British voters in Ireland could play a key role. This is more likely in case of low turnout and a close margin between the two sides.

Opinion polls have shown for several months but recently a distinct advantage for remaining has emerged. The UK parliament accepted the Electoral Commission's wording, which reads: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" Voters can choose "Remain a member of the European Union" or 'Leave the European Union'.

Irish Independent

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